Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Missing the Point


Mark 9:2-9

Transfiguration Sunday, February 19, 2-12

Hope United Methodist Church

Did you ever not “get it?” You're in a room full of people and someone tells a joke: everyone laughs but you. Not because you don't think the joke is funny, but because you just don't get it. Or maybe you listened to one of my wonderful sermons and went home wondering what I was talking about. What was the point? There are a lot of things I don't get the point of: football, rock music, Why Paris Hilton is a celebrity,quantum physics, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to name a few. But then I don't think I'm alone. We've all missed the point at least once in our lives. In fact, somewhere in the boxes of books I have amassed is one titled: Adventures in Missing the Point. Missing the point is part and parcel of our humanness, and in this morning's gospel lesson Peter misses the point.

It was just six days after Peter had rebuked Jesus for announcing that he would be killed by the chief priests and rulers and rise 3 days later that the Lord took Peter, James and John to the mountaintop with him. There, after a time of prayer and meditation Jesus' appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus.

And just then, good ole point-missing Peter blurted out: “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Mark tells us “He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.” And who can blame them. If suddenly I began to shimmer and glisten you would probably trample each other trying to get out of here. Even after they were all enveloped in a cloud and heard the divine voice say: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” they still weren't sure what it all meant: and I'm not sure we do, either.

To understand the Transfiguration, we need to understand that Mark saw the coming Kingdom of God not as some future apocalyptic event that will bring about the end of the world, but as a continuous process through which God's will is realized in the world. It includes the establishment of righteousness, the destruction of evil and the punishment of Israel's corrupt leadership. The transfiguration casts Jesus in the line of Moses, the lawgiver and Elisha, the greatest of the prophets, and again, as at his baptism, identifies him as he Son of God. For Peter, seeing Jesus radiant, like Moses when he came down from Sinai, proves his earlier proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah—even though he has yet to understand what this proclamation means.

For us, two thousand years later, the story is more quaint than scary. But like Peter, even though we may know and believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, we aren't sure what that means. The dictionary defines a messiah as: “anointed,” “someone who is anticipated as, regarded as, or who professes to be a savior, a liberator. The anticipated savior of the Jews. In which case the transfiguration serves as and identifier. Without the transfiguration, Jesus becomes just one more wandering rabbi, indistinguishable from the rest; and we are like the salesman who
knocked on the farmhouse door. When the wife came to the door, he asked, "Is your husband home, Ma'am?"
She said, "Sure is. He's out with the cows."
The salesman responded, "I've got something to show him. Will I have any problem finding him?"
"Shouldn't have any problems," she said. "He's the one with the beard and mustache."  

But more than an identifier, the transfiguration also begins the end of Jesus' teaching and healing ministry and the start of the trail to the cross. Jesus is truly a marked man, and the mark he bears will lead him to the cross.

The transfiguration is, of course,about more than identifying Jesus as the Messiah. It is, for Peter, John, and James a transforming experience. Never again will they view Jesus the same. They see from a different perspective the Jesus who turns his face to Jerusalem: who continues to speak of his forthcoming death, who shares his last meal with his friends in an upper room, who goes to the cross and rises three days later.

Just as the transfiguration transformed the three disciples, we, too, have transforming experiences of the risen Christ. We, too, have those times in our lives when we realize that we are loved and wanted beyond our comprehension. We, too, have those times when God's grace pours over us like the water from a shower head. Nine years ago, when I came to Yoncalla to be introduced to the SPRCs of the two churches, one of the Yoncalla folks asked me to tell her about my “conversion experience;” about my new birth. Now I know there are many who can tell you the month, day, date, and time of their conversion, but there are many of us with a different experience. So I told the SPRC that was impossible: I grew up knowing Jesus and cannot remember a time when he wasn't a part of me. That being said, there have been times when I have felt closer to God than I usually do. 

There was Easter Sunday, 1965. I was an 18 year old airman walking a lonely post, protecting Nebraska from the communist hordes. I was working the midnight to 8 AM shift, and the commies had not planned an attack for that night. Bored stiff I found myself walking along singing hymns, trying to remember all the details of the Easter story and praying. Then, just as the sun came over the eastern horizon I looked up. Running north to south there was a long narrow cloud turned blood red by the rays of the rising sun. Running through the cloud from east to west and forming a cross was the pure white fantail of a jet. As I looked I felt the presence of the holy in a way I never had before. I knew I was not alone, that I was loved and wanted; that my wilderness time was over.

We were fighting the Tillamook Blimp Hanger fire. The fire was still inside the hanger when I was told to take a hydrant across the street and about 40 away. I turned on the hydrant and discovered it was dry—not drop of water #1 came through he hose. Just then my truck returned: “Jump on the back, we gotta get out of here!” I started to disconnect my hose when they said don't bother, 'It's been cut.” I jumped on the back of the truck and we raced off. I looked back to see a red hot chunk of metal about as long a car that had been a roof patch bounce off the hydrant where I had been standing. That was another moment that changed my life and demonstrated just how closely Jesus walks with me.

Have you had your transfiguring-transforming moment? Have you felt the closeness of Christ living in and through you? Or are you waiting? Maybe you're still out in the wilderness, maybe your just investigating this Christian faith? Maybe you're not sure what a transforming moment looks like. That's OK? Come. Come to the one who was transfigured. Come the one who transforms. Come to the one who empowers and heals. Come, as we stand and sing #258, O Wondrous Sight, O Vision Fair. Come, the one who is the Son of God is waiting.

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