The Transfiguration in Mark, Feb. 15, 2015 in Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, CA
Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, California on February 15, 2015
2 Kings 2:1-12 Psalm 50:1-6 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
The Transfiguration in Mark 9:2-9
What a privilege it is to be able to preach to you this morning about the transfiguration of our Lord! This is the last Sunday of Epiphany and in it we celebrate the transfiguration. Epiphany began with the baptism of our Lord; these two Sundays are like bookends for the Epiphany season, which is very short this year. This week we already have Ash Wednesday and the service is at 7:00pm. Do come. The worship committee has been working hard on the service and Wednesday, the confirmands and their parents just burnt the palms that we use for the ashes.
Transfiguration is the mountain-top experience in which Jesus is already translated into his heavenly form in order to give him the strength to travel through the whole valley of the shadow of Lent, through his passion, dying on the cross, and being raised up by God three short days thereafter.
One of my sisters, Ruthie, used to say that the labor of bringing a baby into the world, giving birth, is like climbing a mountain. Jesus took his inner circle of disciples, Peter, James, and John and climbed a high mountain – whether it was Mt. Tabor or the very high Mt. Hermon to the north, we do not know. And up there he was transfigured before them. The Greek word is “metamorphothē,” like our word “metamorphosis.” His form, his body became filled with light, like his heavenly body. His clothes turned a dazzling white, a white that no fuller could possibly bleach them on earth. The martyrs in heaven are all arrayed in white praising God around the throne.
Psalm 36 calls God the fountain of life and exclaims, “In your light we see light.” In Genesis, God said, “Let there be light and there was light.” (In Hebrew Yehe Or va yehe Or.) Now that was before God created the sun, moon, and stars. What kind of a light could that have been? Luther speaks of three kinds of light: natural light, like the light we see in and the way we understand nature and ourselves. But then we can see the world in the light of grace and as our coming into existence by the Word of God. What cannot be understood in the light of nature can be understood in the light of grace. A casket is lowered deep into the ground or a wooden casket gets burned with fire in cremation, but a band of angels is taking the person up into our heavenly home. (You know the spiritual: “And the Lord shall bear my spirit home.”) But then there is what Luther called the light of glory. What cannot be understood in the light of nature, nor in the light of the word and grace, will one day be understood in the light of glory.
Jesus is filled with the light of glory on this mountain-top. In one sense he stands in the glory of the Gospel, while Moses approaches him in the light of the law and Elijah approaches both in the light of prophesy. The three converse together. The Son of God speaking with the Law-giver, Moses, and Elijah speaking in the light of prophesy – I imagine that they may have been speaking about Jesus’ passion and crucifixion to come, strengthening him for it.
Peter addresses Jesus not knowing what to say, because the disciples were terrified. “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” The Greek word, “skenás” can also be translated “booths, tents, or tabernacles.” Here it is translated “dwellings.” I have often thought that he prophesied the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches. We say to ourselves: “Let’s institutionalize your glory, trap it here on earth, so that we can control and enjoy it.” But we get only glimpses of this glory and only when we obey the voice from the divine cloud, overshadowed by which we can see nothing, but are reminded to listen to Jesus: “This is my Son. My Beloved; listen to him!” This voice from heaven came at Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan by John and now comes again here in the transfiguration.
Mark’s gospel is often considered low Christology, meaning that some theologians argue as if Jesus, the man, was adopted to be God’s Son, instead of his being the heavenly one come down to us on earth. But here the heavenly voice is reported by Mark, saying: “This is my Son, my Beloved!” Often these theologians note that in the same gospel, instead of having resurrection stories, it ends with the empty tomb and the fleeing women, saying nothing, because they were so afraid. But they fail to notice that Jesus predicted his death and resurrection three times in the Gospel of Mark, just like in the other gospels.
The voice of God continues: “Listen to him!” Thus we have to really hear what Jesus proclaimed to us entering the Galilee of the nations: “the time is fulfilled, the reign of heaven is at hand; repent and believe the good news.” That means that the good news of heaven and our access to divine help is only a prayer away. “Listening” can be understood in the sense of obeying. But Jesus is not the law-giver, like Moses. Jesus invites us, encourages and roots for us to win us. And that also comes about by the loving way we listen to each other. At this point a commentary turned to listening, and I will follow, because the way to transfiguration is long and arduous.
Now listening is quite a difficult task for somebody like me, who came from a family of talkers, who always tried to get a word in edgewise, always enduring what another was saying, by thinking, “What will I say next. Won’t there finally be a break so that I can put my two cents in again?” When our pastors’ bible studies were all men, everyone of us talkers, if you weren’t good at elbowing yourself in, forget it. You were not heard! That has changed since most of the pastors in the study are now women. The divine Word invites us to become listeners. Watching Christians listen to each other, the ancients converted to Christ, because they said, “See how they love one another.” Deep listening gets us into the trouble and passion going on in another person’s soul and gets our shoulders under their burdens so we can help carry them.
The problem was not only in our pastors. In our culture we are not mindful of listening, because our talking and our seeing take precedence over our listening. We forget that our faith comes by hearing. Christ calls to us: “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”
Active listening is very hard work, just like prayer can be. It’s the work of the soul. Learning to practice it would take many a workshop. If you go to my website, I have a whole lesson in there on it. (Active Listening) We have to bracket ourselves out, keep our wounds bandaged, so we can uncover the wound of another and help that person heal and grow. Have you ever been listened to in that way and felt your healing and recovery on the way? Have you ever been listened to and been understood by someone far beyond the way you could understand yourself? That listening person is really leading you to Christ, so that growing and maturing you say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Through that kind of listening we are led to the edge of our spiritual growth. In Ephesians Paul calls it growing and maturing into the full stature of Christ. We climb up the mountain of maturity.
So let us become listeners, as Christs to one another, so that when we talk we know how to sustain the one who is weary with a word. We can listen in the light of nature, then in the light of grace, and keep on keeping on to the wonderfully transfiguring light of glory. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as our Lord, because we are all sinners and fall so far short of the glory of God. But we listen to each other for Jesus’ sake. Today we try to fathom the Light of the Word, up there on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, shining in our darkness. Bowing down in awe and wonder, we pray that God might begin to shine in our hearts with greater and greater glimpses of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, our “Beautiful Savior.” Amen.