Ten Minute Sermons
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Hope and Change!
During the election season last fall <this sermon was written in 2009>, the media focused our attention on these two words: Hope and Change!
Well, I'm here to tell you: it looks like humankind doesn't really change that much. We are still the walking wounded that Mark addressed in his writings twenty centuries ago. We, like they, need a word of encouragement. We, like they, need a word of hope.
The first century people for whom Mark was writing were being openly persecuted. Faced with suffering and anguish, I can easily imagine some early Christians being tempted with doubt: some worried that their faith, perhaps, might waver.
Mark is writing to us as well. Humankind has not really changed. Human caused suffering and anguish quite often breaks into our lives, and its quite human to worry whether one's faith is strong enough, is grounded enough, for the challenges ahead. When we are tested, will we fail Jesus?
Throughout this Gospel, not just our passage for today, Mark gives his readers, both in the 1st century and now, hope in two seemingly contrasting ways: first is the absolute glory and magnificence of Jesus, and the second, the focus for today's sermon, is the total dunderheadedness of the disciples.
They are thick as bricks, and this is a reason for hope. Yes, the dunderheadedness of the disciples, being thick as bricks, should give us hope.
For the first seven chapters of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus' disciples have lived with Him, eaten with Him, learned at His feet, seen His miracles and it has all gone over their heads.
Feeding five thousand and later four thousands…swoosh…over their heads…they have no idea who their rabbi is.
Healing the blind, curing the deaf…swoosh…over their heads….
Walking on water…a girl restored to life…swoosh….
We can see it…THIS IS JESUS…don't' they get it….He is the Son of God!
But, as it says in Mark 6:52 after Jesus calms a storm on the Sea of Galilee, "they were utterly astounded" [that Jesus could calm the storm]. They were a bunch of dunderheads…they don't get it…well, until chapter eight.
In the chapter just before our reading today, in verse 29, Peter finally recognizes that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah. But in the very next verse, when Jesus teaches the "Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again", Peter begins to rebuke Jesus. Peter had just declared Jesus as the Christ, and now he was contradicting Him! To the point, Jesus says, "Get behind me Satan"!
What a rock-head!
And here, in today's passage, we have much more of the same.
We have Peter, James and John, who had been with Jesus since the start of His ministry seeing Jesus transfigured before them. His physical appearance, His clothes, His face transformed before their eyes: Radiant! White! This is awesome!
And then, appearing in their midst was Moses and Elijah. Any informed Christian reader immediately recognizes that here we have in Moses and Elijah the representation of the Law and the Prophets which herald the coming Messiah.
From the Gospel of Luke, chapter nine, we know these two Old Testament saints and Jesus were discussing Jesus' "departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem". They were discussing His forthcoming crucifixion.
Wow! Jesus transfigured…radiant as the sun! Moses and Elijah are attending Him. They are talking about the death, and resurrection, that Jesus had just outlined in the previous chapter as part and parcel of the Messiah establishing the Kingdom of God.
And what does Peter, the rock-head, do? He offers to build three tabernacles, tents, for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Three Tents, places for the three of them to dwell…to be with humankind…to guide humankind: Equal partners in God's revelation.
And in response to Peter's offer, God Almighty descends in a cloud and declares, "THIS is my beloved Son, listen to HIM". THIS (singular)...listen to HIM (singular). You Dunderhead: Jesus is THE Christ…Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, only point to the Christ. When are you finally going to get it! Jesus is the capital HE.
When are they going to get it? We know it certainly won't be at the foot of the Cross…we know, and the early readers of Mark's Gospel know, the disciples are absent when Jesus dies. Absolute dunderheads!
So, how does this give us hope? Well we, like the first century Christians who first experienced this Gospel, know what Peter, James and John become. We know that James is the first of the twelve to be martyred: killed for his faith. We know that Peter, in chains, becomes the Rock on which the Church is built: Peter too slaughtered for his faith.
We know that John, imprisoned on Patmos wrote "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God […] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us". You know, the word John uses for "dwelt" is the Greek word for Tabernacle, tent. It looks like, the disciples, perhaps dunderheads at first, finally get it. Still quoting John, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."
The disciples finally got it, and in the face of anguish and suffering, the disciples didn't lose it. This is hope for the early Christians, their persecutions will not stifle their faith…their persecutions will steel their faith. It is hope for us as well: even though the human condition does not change, individuals do.
Hope and Change. They are interlinked.
Our hope in Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross allows us to approach our Father in heaven and there be changed into new creatures. Perhaps slowly, perhaps through persecution, perhaps through anguish and suffering…but changed nevertheless: Changed into new creatures: Changed into being in Christ.
THIS is change we can believe in.