LET’S STAY HERE
MARK 9: 2-9
I. TRANSITORY TRANSCENDENCE
A. A new church was nearing completion. They wanted to put a scripture verse over the doorway of each of the rooms. They asked parents with young children to suggest a verse for over the nursery room. The winner was I Corinthians 16: 51. It says in the King James “We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed.”
B. Change is hard for some. The old joke asks how many Presbyterians it takes to change a light bulb. And the answer is Change? Or how many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb? One to change the bulb and 3 to talk about how the old bulb was better. Sometimes it just seems like it would be so much easier if we were to keep things the way they are.
C. This story is about change. Jesus is transfigured. That means his appearance is radically changed. The best way we can understand this is to say that the glory of God shone so brightly that it overwhelmed his humanity. The three disciples are witnesses to this. Things are not always what they appear is what they learn. The appearance of Moses representing the law and Elijah representing the prophets provides continuity with the past present and future of God’s relationship with humanity.
D. For Peter, James and John, this is a moment of transcendence. What they experience on the mountaintop is beyond explanation. It is one of those all too rare moments when God pulls back the veil and we are blown away by what the Hebrews called the Shekinah; the glory of God. It’s usually described as bright light. The clothing that Jesus wore, the face of Moses, the resurrected Jesus, the robes of the martyrs in Revelation; all bright with the light of God’s amazing presence. It changes people.
E, We might have to look a little harder to find our moments of transitory Fredrick Buechner gives some examples. (From,Whistling in the Dark p.108)
“Even with us something like that happens once in a while. The face of a man walking his child in the park, of a woman picking peas in her garden, of sometimes even the unlikeliest person listening to a concert, say, or standing barefoot in the sand watching the waves roll in or say just having a beer at a Saturday baseball game in July. Every once and so often. something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it’s almost beyond bearing.”
The challenge for us might be to be alert for those moments of holy transcendence.
A. But the challenge facing the three disciples on the mountaintop was different. They had to come to terms with the fact that transcendence is not lasting. They were taken in by the wonder of this moment of transfiguration. It’s funny. Mark tells us that Peter didn’t know what to say. That would have been a first, but it didn’t last. Finally he speaks up and says, “Wow, Jesus, this is great. It will never get any better than this. Let’s stay up here forever. We can build three booths. There will be one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Oh and by the way, there are three of us disciples here, so that works out perfectly.”
B. I can understand Peter wanting to stay. Maybe there was a little fear at the awesome sight of Jesus transformed at first. But that was nothing when compared to the fear of having to go back into the valley. Things got ugly in the valley. There were sick people and hurting people. There were religious people who hated them. And even if they didn’t like to admit it, even to themselves, they knew that there was a cross somewhere in the valley.
C. So which would you choose? I can go back down off of this mountaintop and face the hardship of the real world. Or I can stay up here in and glory in the presence of God, past present and future. You can get taken in by those holy transcendent moments. We had a few of those moments on vacation. Vistas of green hills and ocean water as blue as in your dreams, a slight warm breeze as you listen to steel drums in the distance sipping a cool drink with the woman you love. It’s tempting to think, “I wish this moment would last forever. I wish we didn’t have to go back.”
III. BACK INTO THE VALLEY
A.But it doesn’t. And you can’t. There will come a time when we will live on the mountaintop of heaven. There will come a time when we will bask in the glory of God’s presence eternally. But not yet. The key verse in this whole transfiguration story is verse 9. “As they were coming down…” Jesus knew there was still work to do in the valley.
B. The artist Raphael understood that too. His painting of the transfiguration depicts two scenes on one canvas. At the top is the story of the transfiguration of Jesus with Moses and Elijah and Peter and James and John. And at the foot of the mountain is the epileptic boy who needed the healing touch of Jesus. The glory of the mountain and the work in the valley could not be separated. There is no glory without the work. There is no work without the glory. There is no praise without mission. There is no mission without worship.
C. The mountaintop moments of transcendence are not meant to last. They are meant to propel us back into the valley of real life with all of its pain and mess and challenge. In a virtually unknown song, John Henry Bosworth, Noel Paul Stookey wrote, “I was wondering if you had been to the mountain to look at the valley below. Did you see all the roads tangled down in the valley? Did you know which way to go? Oh the mountain air breathes pure and clear and I pray to my soul that I could please stay here. But there’s a reason for living way down in the valley that only the mountain knows.”
IV. PERSONAL SHEKINAH
A.I take away two big lessons from this story. The first is that I do not need to be afraid of the Shekinah. My handicap is my education which has been based on rational skepticism. But life has taught me that there are things that go beyond what can be explained. Gordon has helped me to open up to possibilities of transcendence. Are we still open to a new view of reality that transforms our understanding of life and creates moments of awe? When was the last time you were in awe of something? That is, something that you could not put words to, but moved you in a deeper place than rational thought could take you?
B. I think there are more moments of awe than we are ready to admit. There are more transfigurations than we can’t talk about. Some of them, maybe most of them are not religious on the surface. Maybe we are afraid people will think we are crazy. Maybe people will explain it away as psychological or hysterical or emotional or irrational. Maybe we just can’t tell anyone else what it was and why it was glorious. I have learned that you have to be open to it. If you say you will never see God lift the veil, you are probably right. If you say God may grant me a few moments that transcend the senses then you are probably right. I am more ready now for a light that surprises.
C. The second lesson for me is that all the work in the world in the valley is useless unless you have been to the mountaintop. Notice how none of the people in the valley are looking up except the boy. It is the power that comes from the Shekinah that makes the work we do in the valley effective. There is another kind of reality that is ready to shine on our human experience. If we are open to it, we will transcend the limits of sense and rationality. Then we will be empowered to make a difference in the valley.
D. And I was wondering if you had been to the mountain to look at the valley below. Did you see all the roads tangled down in the valley? Did you know which way to go? Oh the mountain air breathes pure and clear and I pray to my soul I could please stay here. But there’s a reason for living way down in the valley that only the mountain knows.