Monday, February 16, 2015

Why you can't bottle up the mountaintop

My sermon for this Sunday was based on Mark 9:2-10.

To download an audio of my sermon, click here.

Transfiguration Sunday is actually one of my favourite events in the Christian calendar, and I think it is a shame it generally gets lets emphasis than it deserves.  It is overshadowed by Lent, and is even eclipsed by the Baptism of Jesus (which I think also gets less emphasis than it deserves).  Let me explain why.

There are a couple of indications that for the gospeller, this is an important event in the life of Christ.

1. God talks.  God doesn't talk much in the New Testament.  In this Gospel, God only talks out loud twice: once at Jesus' baptism, the other at the Transfiguration.  Both times, he conveys a similar message: "This is my son, the beloved".  But at the Transfiguration, he adds, "Listen to him".

2.  Moses and Elijah appear.  The person who brought the Law and the person who brought them back to the Law appear and are seen to confer with Jesus.  That's pretty big.

What happened on that mountaintop?  We don't exactly know.  We know Jesus ascended with three of his disciples, and while they were there, Jesus' appearance changed.  He became luminous, his clothes and face glowing white.  God spoke.  Moses and Elijah appeared.  This event was obviously significant of something, but what?  Did God make this happen?  Did Jesus make it happen?  Did the veil of ignorance that generally seemed to be draped over the disciples suddenly lift?

The sad truth is that like so much of the Bible, we are left wondering exactly what happened, who did it, and just what it should mean to us.  One thing is sure, the disciples saw that Jesus was more than they thought him to be.  They realized in that moment that he was part of something greater, that he should perhaps mean more to them than they had previously assumed.  This must have been a wonderful feeling, to have this spiritual and emotional awakening, and their response to that is very human, but typically wrong: they want to hang on to that moment.

The response of Peter, James and John to the Transfiguration is to suggest they build "dwellings" for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  By "dwellings", they probably mean altars or memorials, but they could very well mean houses for all we know.  The bottom line is that they wanted to contain the experience, they wanted to preserve it, they wanted to dwell within that experience forever.  They wanted to live on the mountaintop for all time.  They wanted to bottle up the mountaintop so they could sip from it at their leisure forever more.

But Jesus had other plans, and it is these plans we should follow.

I think we all gravitate towards great people.  We want to be with them, near them for some reason.  Perhaps they make us laugh, feel safe, feel powerful, feel loved, but we obviously want to be around good people.  But the point that most truly great people is that you and I can be great too.  Their principle message and mission is generally to give us the tools and confidence to go out in the world and be a great person for someone else.  Their raison d'etre is to equip us for that task.  Stuart McLean has a line for it: "I orbited around him until I could develop some gravity of my own".

And I think that is largely the point of the Transfiguration.  Rather than stay up on the mountaintop living in that little bubble of awesomeness that was created by the event, Jesus and the disciples were called down the mountain to share what they had experienced with others.  They were called to share the light they had experienced with those who dwell in darkness.  They were called to share God's love, justice, peace and mercy with those who dwelt in hate, injustice, war or cruelty.

Contrary to what some would have us believe, the path of faith is not one of blissful ignorance or feeling good all the time.  Faith is something that calls us to look on the world with critical eyes, and moves us to go out into that world and change it.  Faith calls us to action.  Faith calls us down off the mountaintop.

Have a nice hike!

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