Psalm 50:1-6; Mark 9:2-10
February 21, 2020
If that is David’s psalm, 900-1000 years later, God did shine forth.
Jesus shone forth. Through God’s present Holy Spirit, the glory of God in Christ shone forth. What is that shining all about, though?
One moment, all is normal. Jesus invites three of his closest disciples and friends to go up on a mountain. I have seen the historical mountain, the one identified today as that mount. It stands up above the other mountains and hills around. Jesus and the disciples go up there for who knows what. At least that is in the mind of James, John, and Peter. We can safely assume they do not know what they are in for.
The next moment, all heaven is breaking loose. A peaceful, day-like-every-other-day moment is shattered by complete change in Jesus’ appearance, a blinding change – that shining that only comes from God. Moses and Elijah miraculously appear, the two biggest figures in Jewish history, the lawbringer and the chief prophet – maybe something like George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. for us. How did the disciples even recognize them? There were certainly no history books back then. Maybe God’s Spirit dramatically filling our space made it so incredibly obvious. Peter (like the others) is terrified out of his mind. He does not know what to do but thinks he needs to do something, so he offers to build those little shelters, tents, booths, to honor them. And then for the second and only other time, God directly speaks into the Gospel story – this is my special one, listen to him. This entire experience is careening off the rails; this is way too much to try to comprehend, mind blowing, like nothing they had ever beheld, and then just like that, everything is back to normal the way it was before, just like it never happened. Moses is no longer there. Elijah is no longer there. Just Peter gathering wood for booths and looking kind of silly.
This could so easily be some big movie scene: silence/terrifying brilliance and glory/silence. It has the weight of tremendous dramatic effect.
After everything else was gone, all that was left was the memory of that brilliance. The glory of Jesus was burned on their thoughts and hearts, the glory shining forth. They had never seen bright shining like that and never would, again. We should appreciate that juxtaposed against a world that had no dazzling human made lights, no Hollywood magic, no ability to capture and share brilliant glory other than by word, not even a light switch – the radiance of Jesus would have been staggering, AND he told them to say NOTHING. It is stark just how jarring these notions must have been, to see something so powerful in silence.
As I composed these thoughts, I was sitting in the dark myself where just a small, weak light could stand out in dynamic ways. It is something profound the way light can pierce the darkness with its shining. And I think that is the point.
Right here in the gospel story, Jesus was starting to enter the deeper, darker times of his life. In Mark’s Gospel, we get this picture of God’s glory shining through Jesus right in the middle of occasions when Jesus begins to speak openly about his death. More openly, more plainly, Jesus is admitting what is coming. Peter, just before this passage, identified Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus told him that he must suffer and die. And then, Jesus told his disciples that they all must take up their cross and follow him. That is about the most shocking thing Jesus could have ever said. He was setting them up for something completely different. In a way, he is saying, “You think you know what is coming, but you have no idea. Even when I tell you, you still have no idea. The truth, the power, the Kingdom is bigger than you can imagine.”
This passage is the lynchpin in Jesus’ life-work between his earthly ministry and his divine appointment on the cross. We call this story the transfiguration because Jesus was transfigured and his appearance changed, but it is hard to even know what that means. We have never seen anything like it ourselves, but this is key from getting from the teacher, preacher, healer Jesus to the Lord, Son of God, Messiah who died on a cross and rose from the dead. Oftentimes, we are not really quite so sure what to do with this story so we pretty much skip it over. Also, since we are right at the beginning of the season of Lent, this passage is associated with this season of hardship, darkness, and death. Transfiguration wins no one’s favorite special day.
And yet, we do need Transfiguration, or at least this story of God’s brilliance, God’s shining into the dark times, pointing the way into what is coming, highlighting God’s redemptive power in the darkness of the world, pointing out Jesus’ path into the suffering of God’s people and inviting us to follow him into the brokenness of humanity so that we might also share in healing the world by his grace.
Every follower of Jesus must ask themselves what it means to truly follow. We have to be more than fans. We have to be more than spectators. We have to follow the light into the dark. This world needs more light in dark places.
You may have heard about the two FBI agents (Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger) who were killed in the line of duty recently while working on a child exploitation case in Florida. That was their job, handling child exploitation cases, the really difficult ones – the ones you don’t talk about in polite company. Both had been on the job for years and had handled numbers of cases. They both had their own children also to come home to each day, a reminder of why they did such an impossible job. And they both gave their lives metaphorically and literally to protect and save some of the most vulnerable of our society. Both of them were killed in a raid on the home of a terrible person. They saw the absolutely worst of humanity as they walked into the dark on a daily basis, but they knew they were also shining light where it needed to go, looking for people hiding in shadows and under rocks. They were following what was good and true and pure, the care and protection of the innocent, even if it cost them their lives.
Now, obviously, the call is not to that we all become FBI agents. That job is not for everyone, and we should greatly value those with the constitution to do that work; however, it is the call of every one of us to follow the light of Jesus, to find where God is shining, to shine with light especially in darker places. There are dark places around us right now as people are struggling to find adequate healthcare or just vaccines. People are easily getting lost in the darkness of loneliness and can really use a friend. We have even created dark spaces between us with politics and social unrest, and all dark places need some light.
People just like you and me have innumerable gifts for shining. We have creativity and willingness and ability and the Spirit of our Lord to do good in the world, some good, our own good. It is going to get more difficult in these nearer days, however, before it gets better. We are not out of the woods, but we should more and more catch glimpses of the sun shining, and by that I also mean the Son shining.
No one knows what is even going to happen tomorrow. We cannot predict five minutes from now. Things will always pop up and throw us a curveball. I had no idea my life, my family’s life would change so dramatically in the last year. Jesus is also with us, though. The same Jesus who is calling us to follow in his bright and glorious work is the one who goes first. We are following, after all. He expects us to go nowhere he has not already gone. All roads begin with our Alpha and end with our Omega. He is our source and our goal.
The one who said he is the light of the world wants to shine in the most brilliant ways ever. He wants to confront the brokenness of this world and the sin that divides us with the healing, reconciling light of his love. It is the love of God that gave Jesus his brilliance. He shone even as he prepared to march to his death.
That’s why Moses and Elijah were there. They were helping Jesus to prepare for his walk to the cross. That light loves us into being lights ourselves as we follow in sacrificial love. He wants something different for us all, something completely different. Light shows us where we are connected, where we share humanity, how we reflect God’s image and how we are all covered in God’s fingerprints. Every single one of us is precious in God’s sight. There is beauty in God’s good creation all around us, if we can see it.
As we give ourselves to the real, difficult, worthwhile work of bringing light, we will struggle, but we will also bless if we open ourselves and allow ourselves to shine. We would not be here if we did not have a spark from God in our hearts. Shine, Jesus, Shine. To God be the glory. Amen.