Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
Mark 9:2-19 (NRSV)
Our story today talks about a mountaintop experience – about people climbing to the top of a mountain and experiencing God. We heard about how Jesus hiked to the top of a mountain and was transfigured, as the voice of God names and claims him for Peter, James, and John to hear. As scripture tells us, “Jesus was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”
Can you picture it? Can you imagine what that experience must have been like? Can you imagine how Peter, James, and John must have felt? Here you’ve been climbing a mountain with your friends. You’re beginning to get tired and hungry, your feet and your legs are getting sore, and you’re probably frustrated because you’re not even sure where you are going or why for that matter. And then, one of your friends, the one that has been leading you on this journey, starts to shine. I mean, physically shine. His clothes become a dazzling white, whiter and brighter than you have ever seen. And then you see two people who you have never seen before. But, wait! You start to recognize them, and you realize it’s Moses and Elijah! Then, all of a sudden, the sound of wind and rustling trees and the chirping birds that you usually hear on a hike stop. It becomes silent, and in the stillness, you hear the voice of God say, “THIS IS MY SON. THE BELOVED. LISTEN TO HIM!!” Can you Imagine? Then, as quickly as it began, it’s over.
What do you think was going through Peter, James, and John’s minds in that moment? They must have been terrified, don’t you think? I would have been! And Scripture tells us that Peter, being who he was, tried to reassure everyone, and he started rambling because he didn’t know what else to do, and he said: “’Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what else to say, for he was terrified.”
Friends, here in the church, we celebrate this “transfiguration of Jesus” halfway between Christmas and Easter. It always comes just before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of lent, because it marks the transition between Jesus’ public ministry when he was teaching and healing and the story of his passion as his final journey to Jerusalem begins. So this story of transfiguration tells us that there is a change coming. After all, that is what the word transfiguration means, “A complete change of form or appearance.”
Now I don’t know about you, but as we hear the story being told and we imagine Jesus, standing there on the mountainside with light shining from him, it kind of calls for our attention, doesn’t it? But what else is happening in that moment? What are other “out of the ordinary” things are happening in the story? What else do you think surprised Peter, James, and John that day? Any ideas? Yes! Moses and Elijah are there. But why? That’s kind of confusing, isn’t it?
Well, when you think of Moses, what kinds of things do you think of? The burning bush? Moses asking Pharaoh to let his people go, and freeing them from slavery and bondage? The parting of the Red Sea, or forty years eating manna in the wilderness? But Moses was also the one that introduced the law. Remember when he climbed Mt Sinai and was given the ten commandments to share with the people?
And Elijah, Elijah was a prophet. I don’t know if you remember his story, but he was the one who challenged the priests of Baal to a contest because Elijah knew that they were false prophets who were leading the people of Israel in pagan ways. Well, after winning the contest, and turning the people back to the Lord, he killed the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal for misleading the tribes of Israel. Upon hearing what had happened, King Ahab – who had been convinced to follow the priests of Baal by his wife Jezebel – ran to tell his wife, and Jezebel was not happy to say the least! She sent word to Elijah that she was coming for him and that she would treat him as he treated the priests of Baal. Sounds like a soap opera doesn’t it!! The brief synopsis of Elijah is that he was a prophet who brought the word of God to the people. And like most prophets, he brought a word that many people didn’t want to hear.
So, why are Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop with Jesus, Peter, James, and John that day? Well, because that is the other part of the change that was happening. Folks, the story of the transfiguration is not just about the way that Jesus looked. It’s not just about the way that he sparkled a few minutes on the mountaintop. It’s the way that God was calling the people to forever change the way that they were living. The disciples were there so that they could get a close-up look and truly see and understand who Jesus was. And Moses and Elijah were there so that the disciples would understand that there was to be a transition from the old Law and the Prophets to following the new way of Jesus.
That’s why all becomes quiet, and God says, “This is my son, the beloved, listen to him,” meaning that the Law and the Prophets must give way to Jesus, that the new and the living way is to replace the old. See, my friends, change is always happening because that’s how the world and our faith works. Jesus didn’t come to earth so that everything would say the same, did he? No! He came to turn everything upside down – to teach, and to preach, and to heal, showing people a new way to live. Not a way tied down by rigid rules and judgments, but a way led by love and grace, service and understanding. The problem is, my friends, there are lots of people of faith who have not yet experienced and truly understood the transfiguration. They are stuck in the past, living by a faith that points fingers and judges other, spewing hate and guilt rather than love.
And to be honest, some of us fall into that same boat. Because sometimes it easier to follow a list of rules and to think of our faith as something that is very cut and dried, right and wrong, black and white. But Jesus, Jesus came to offer us something much more exciting! A life lived out of the box! A life filled with hope and joy! And a life overflowing with abundance and endless possibility!
That’s why during the season of Lent here in Oldtown this year, our theme is going to be “Digging Through the Mess.” And we are going to be looking at some of the difficult words and understandings of our faith through the shining light of Jesus – digging through the mess to uncover the amazing treasures of our faith. We’ll be reflecting on some tough words like: Tempting, Rebuking, Destroying, Condemning, and even Dying. But don’t worry, my friends. We’ll be digging through the mess that those words have left in our lives because of the baggage we carry. And in so doing, we will lean on the shining light of Jesus to search out and find the unconditional love and hope and grace in the midst of them.
Friends, I am excited about the journey ahead, and I hope you are too. But through it all, I want you to remember that God loves us just the way we are, but God also loves us too much to let us stay this way. So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, remember that change is necessary. We’re not called to stay the same because it’s comfortable, but on the contrary, we are called to open the eyes of our hearts to see the possibilities around us and within us, to share the love of God with the world, and to allow ourselves to grow and to change because of it!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!