Transfiguration Sunday - Sermon on March 2, 2014

Scripture: Mark 9: 2-13

Rev. Lucy Waechter Webb

Today we find ourselves at a pivot point, at the end of one season, and facing a new one with Lent starting this Wednesday. We are at the end of one, where we have spent two months studying together the political Jesus and then asking ourselves questions about how the church is called to be political as we seek to follow this guy, this political dissident! Now enter a season of reflection and a season at Summit where we are going to be thinking about our own call to discipleship.

Which is perfectly fitting for today’s story. Jason read us the story of the transfiguration of Jesus, which is the pivot point located right in the middle of Mark’s gospel. And it functions in many ways as a point point in the journey where Jesus’s followers are called deeper into discipleship after having experienced some of the work of building the Kin-dom with him. They have learned, watched, even taken action, and then they go up the mountain and experience an even deeper call to discipleship.

Mark has led his readers through the first 8 chapters of his story, showing how Jesus is challenging the systems of the day. The very topics we have been studying. Jesus has challenged the authorities of the Roman Empire which has political and military control over the region, and he has challenged the authorities of the Temple, the religious authorities who have contributed to the suffering of the people. In addition to challenging the authorities, Jesus has begun to demonstrate a new way of life, he paints the picture of the Kin-dom of God, by living into the vision of a new order. He does just say this is not how to live, he says, the kin-dom is like this - and he also offers a new way. And it is an order of full inclusion, where the leper, the paralytic, the woman, the child, the demon possessed, Gentile, and the Jew are included. Jesus breaks one social code after another, crosses boundary after boundary to offer love and healing and wholeness to the entirety of a the community, and especially to those who are suffering the most.

As he goes, Jesus has called people to join him in this movement, creating a band of disciples who begin to travel with him along the way, as they begin to discover the call… and they follow that call, living into this vision of the Kin-dom of God, and see this new social order they realize it is not as easy as they thought. And in fact it has permeated every facet of their life. It has demanded much of them personally, as they left their families and their jobs behind, both of which were the entirety of their social network and security in Jewish life. And they also make their faces public with him as he challenges authority out in the public square, in the temple, in the streets. This call requires transformation for the disciples both in the public square and in the home. Because a new social order, The Beloved Community, the Kin-dom of God will only be fulfilled when people stop suffering in both places, when all of the life embraces this vision.

We know that just because we change laws that doesn’t automatically mean the vision has arrived. Many of us are studying that this week as we head down south to talk about the civil rights movement.

We passed many laws, but history shows us that that just because it is on the books doesn’t mean the attitude of the public, or that the relationships in the home or the private life have embraced the new order. Reconciliation and Kin-dom Vision Eyes must be focused on the state house and the family house, the international church, the local church, and the relationships that exist to make up the church. This is the breadth of the call to discipleship.

And though the disciples have traveled so far with Jesus through chapter 8, they still do not see fully. They have not yet understood the consequences of this call. And in fact, this middle section of the gospel is framed by stories in which Jesus is making the blind to see and deaf to hear. Right before this middle section, Jesus heals the blind man at Bethsaida.  But he isn’t successful the first time. The first time the man can only see vague blurry images of sight, the people looks like trees watching. It takes a second touch. And Jesus lays his hands on him again and the man’s sight is fully restored.

Jesus must touch the disciples eyes, he must speak plainly in sermon and in the stories of parables, he must correct them and even rebuke them when they still remain confused!

One of the things that they are confused about that Jesus addresses in this section is their vision and definition of the Messiah.

Right before they head up the mountain, Peter answers Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter gives what we think is going to be the ‘right’ answer, He says, you are the Messiah! And Jesus begins to teach about what the Son of Man must undergo, he will experience great suffering, this Messiah, and will be killed, and Peter pulls Jesus aside and says What are you talking about? And then Jesus responds as if a demon is before him that he must exorcise! And he says Get behind me Satan!

Jesus is teaching about the call of the Messiah. And it is not what they expected, it is the way of the cross.

Their vision, their hope for the coming Messiah was likely of someone who would come and restore the political fortunes of the Jewish nation! Jesus was to be that King in the Royal line of David, Jesus was going to be the guy that rode into Jerusalem triumphantly ending the reign of Caesar over the Jewish people! Instead, Jesus was challenging the scribal codes, the Temple, the  very house of God’s presence! And now he was talking about the way of the cross? The cross only had one connotation. It was not a spiritual symbol as it is today. People did not hang the cross around their neck, because it was the death chamber for the Roman empire. It was the tool used to punish those who were political dissidents and criminals. It had a very specific purpose. And Jesus is now saying not only will he suffer, but to follow means to take up the cross. For those who want to save their life will lose it, for those who lose their life for the sake of the gospel will save it. No wonder Peter thinks he has lost his marbles.

And so now they head up the mountain. And this very scene is a familiar one, for the two people who appear in the vision have also hiked up a mountain at a crisis point in their ministry.

Moses’ offering of the law had been smashed by the people and he travels back up the mountain where he experiences an encounter with the divine. Elijah has been rejected by the people and is a wanted man for his preaching (he even says in the story, he is the only prophet left alive!) and so he retreats up the mountain for safety where he too intimately faced God’s presence. And both, both are sent back into the community after their encounter with the Divine. Back to do the work.

Jesus too, travels up the mountain with the disciples. At this point he is a wanted man, and the disciples are hopelessly blind about the call, probably afraid for their own lives and what they’ve gotten themselves into. And they first watch the vision, Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah. And then, Blind-old-Peter again with good intentions tries to do the right thing and says, let’s commemorate the moment! Let’s build three dwellings for you here! And then the cloud comes to the disciples, and they have an intimate encounter with God. The voice says, this is my son the beloved. And they command they hear? Listen to him.” In a state of doubt and fear, and they encounter God in that moment, they encounter God’s presence and have an intimate experience with the Divine. Who responds, Listen! He will show you the Way.

The simplicity of the scene speaks volumes. Have you not yet heard? Do you not yet see? Listen. The very picture of Jesus on the mountain deepens the claim Jesus has made about the inevitability of the cross that is to come. His clothes are transformed into a dazzling white – a symbol of a martyr as see in the book of Revelation. The vision itself reveals the call upon Jesus’ life, the call of discipleship. And in that clarity of call, new garments are given.

I can’t help but think about how Martin Luther King Jr. stands in this tradition. We’ll have the opportunity as a group traveling to be at Mason Temple where he spoke the night before he was assassinated. And if makes you wonder what he knew and how he felt the night before. Because his speech was about how he has been to the mountaintop, and he sees clearly the call, and he knows he must walk down the mountain again and face the people. The people who have put threats on his life time and again, the people who reject his vision. Martin Luther King understood the way of the cross. That to pick up the cross and follow did not mean to just shoulder a burden he was handed at birth and could do nothing about. TO shoulder meant to pick. It. Up. Voluntarily. And to encounter the hostile forces of world that does not see with Kin-dom Eyes. He exhibited great strength and resolve as he walked back down the mountain that night, knowing that the way, the call was greater than him.

I have watched our community blossom into something new in the last two months. We have a kind of clarity that comes at the mountaintop about the vision – we have worked to build the strength and resolve that it takes to have difficult conversations. And we have heard the call to live that call in both the public square and in our homes.

I find this community at this pivot point, at the very middle/heart of the gospel right now. We have heard Jesus challenge authorities, seen him turn the tables, watched how Jesus is building a new order. And we have felt the call to follow that new order, to build the Kin-dom of God together as the Beloved Community. And I have watched so many of you struggle with that call, I too struggle with the call to pick up the cross and follow. Because the Way that Jesus calls us to follow is demanding. And according to scripture, one inevitable outcome of following will be to face the powers, which may have serious consequences for us.

I have two prayers for this community on this day.

New Worship Outline:

My prayer as we enter a new worship outline together is that this new outline will continue to be food for us as we walk this path together. It is as if we have received new garments at the top of the mountain. We pick up the white cloth, eye the cross a bit too, and venture toward it to pick it up together. And it starts here in worship, when we pray, sing, study, laugh, cry, and challenge each other.

The intention of this new outline is to help us be the community we say we want to be. Is it to both nurture the individual, to nurture the household, and to nurture the larger communuity. Because to take care of the larger community means we make stronger people. And to make stronger people means we build a stronger and more resilient community.

Season of Lent:

The second prayer is about the season of Lent – and before I offer it I leave you with one lasting image that comes with the gospel of Mark. There was a young man in the garden with Jesus, unnamed, but one who followed. He’s in the garden watching Jesus being arrested. And as he does he flees and turns and at this point he runs away and sheds his garment, naked, vulnerable, searching perhaps for the way of the cross. A couple chapters later, a young man appears again, in the tomb when the women arrive to anoint Jesus. And he is wearing white and is seated on the right. And he says to them, he is not here. He is risen. The young man too, has taken on the white clothing, picked up the new garments, has seen the new vision, has accepted the call to discipleship, to walk the way of cross.

May this season of Lent be a time where you continue to develop your own identity as a disciple. May you consider how to shed your old garments, for new wine in old wineskins will only make them burst. May you find clarity and new vision in the nakedness you feel when you leave the security of old stories behind. And may you take up the glistening white cloth, and find strength and resolve to turn back down the mountain to enter into the community and the world.