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Friday, February 17, 2012

Mark 9:2–9

Transfiguration Sunday 2012

1. Today is a tale of two mountains – one we see clearly and the other lurks in the background. The Mount of Transfiguration right before us and Golgotha – the Mount of his Crucifixion. The place of Jesus’ death off in the far distance.  

2. The Mount of Transfiguration is the place of mystery; a place where God’s voice is heard, God speaks to us and points us again to Jesus, God’s Son, the Beloved. Like Peter we want to build some houses and just camp there forever. God is there and there is nothing else to distract us, nothing else to do but watch and listen and experience God’s presence in and through Jesus. I mean, where else would we want to be?

3. As an older teen, church camp was like that for me. And after my first summer, even a head on collision that totaled my mom’s 72 Chevy station wagon and left me, the driver, sore and bruised and a bit dazed, could not keep me from attending. After that week up in the mountains, after faith stirring experience after faith stirring experience, we wept when we had to leave – older teenage boys bawling uncontrollably (though trying to hide their eyes from the teenage girls standing next to us) . We never wanted to leave that mountain. We wanted to freeze time itself and allow the holy light of Christ itself to warm our soul for endless moment upon endless moment.

4. The second mountain isn’t as obvious - but it lurks behind the entire story. Why did Jesus climb that mountain? Was it so he could spend time with God in prayer upon a sacred and holy place? Perhaps. But let me ask you this - What are Moses and Elijah doing there? Talking to Jesus. Not talking about the weather, either, we imagine. Or his inability to choose disciples who prefer ministry to sleeping. No. We know what awaits Jesus and we imagine that so do they: His suffering; His crucifixion; His death. At the hill called Golgotha. The place of mocking, of suffering, of abandonment. Of death.  It is the Mountain of Psalm 22 which Jesus will quote in some of the last words that he will speak:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The psalm continues
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Have you ever been to that mountain?

5. Golgotha is the place where God seems so far off it is as if God moved and forgot to leave a forwarding address. I remember visiting a woman in her final days who was dying at home under hospice care. She felt abandoned by God because she had abandoned God in her youth and never returned By the time of my visit her final days had been with fear and fixed by uncertainty.

Have you visited this mountain? Experienced a moment where God seemed so far off, beyond your sight? It can be a very difficult place to be. Alone. Unsure. Uncertain. Even though we know the promise of God that God is especially with us in this place, on this mountain, yet sometimes our faith has trouble comprehending it. Like the man seeking Jesus’ help we shout “I believe! Help my unbelief!”  

6. Most of life is often lived somewhere in between – in the valley. And the valley is a place of great temptation. On one mountain, God seems perfectly present. And on the other God seems perfectly absent (though again, God is in truth  especially present). But in the valley we face the temptation to not care either way. To simply not care. To be indifferent. To even make up our own gods as we need them like when Moses goes up a Mountain while below the people force Aaron to make for them other gods whom they could see and then they party – and in the end it doesn’t get them very far.] Sometimes people make up their own gods, too, as Martin Luther tells us, “that to which our heart clings is our god” and we may find many things for which our heart might cling to get us through the day, through the difficult times, to lose ourselves in something, anything. The valley is a place of great temptation.

7. The valley is also where are churches have their existence, too. Oh, we like to think that they are up there on the first mountain – hanging out with Moses and Elijah and Jesus and taking in the awesome voice of God. But churches, they live in the valley. Where they face temptations, too. The temptation to forget whose church they truly are – to have a crisis of pronouns  - “This is my church!” they shout, forgetting that it is Christ’s church, built upon his body, his gift, his grace. And if we believe that it is our church then we fall into the temptation to put ourselves first as we make decisions. If it is Christ’s church, then we seek to do his will, which according to scripture usually involves serving the other and giving oneself away. In the valley there is always a great temptation to believe that what belongs to Jesus really belongs to us.

8. In the valley we as both individuals and congregations may also fall into the temptation of just keeping busy, of trying to do good, of keeping busy doing lots of good things, but these are not an acceptable substitute for the radical life of faith to which we are called. The Christian faith is not about just trying to keep busy being good people. In Christ we have become new creations! In Christ everything old has passed away and we have been make new and called to be ambassadors for Christ proclaiming in words and deed the Good News of Salvation, and embodying the in-breaking Kingdom of God in our lives. A Kingdom of justice, of compassion, of reconciliation, of hope that carts out fear, of a faith that will not disappoint us. This is not just about trying to be good people living good lives.  

9. But look beyond the next hill. Past Golgotha dawn is breaking. Can you see it: The rays of light divided into in colors beyond comprehension, that defy description?  

10. We are a people of already, but not yet. Easter has come and will come. But first a time to help us see, to hear, to discipline ourselves, a time of returning, to open our hearts, to allow us time to remember our own humility, our recall our total dependence upon God, to see the unfolding love of God embracing us and the world.

The season of Lent awaits us here in the valley. It is time to leave the first mountain and take the journey before us. AMEN!

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