The Last sunday AFter Epiphany: February 14, 2021
Year B: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
“And after six days Jesus takes Peter and James and John and privately leads them up alone to a high mountain.”
That’s the first verse of today’s Gospel in A Translation: The New Testament by David Bentley Hart. It sounds much like what we heard in the lectionary gospel, but there are some subtle differences. Our lectionary texts have a habit of trying to make things smooth and formal. In doing that, I find that sometimes things can take on substantially different meanings, which is why we must always be careful about “what the Bible says”. What does the Bible say exactly?
Just an example or two. Hart translates the word “apart” that we heard to as “privately”. There are differences between those two words. Apart means separated by a distance in time or space. Private on the other hand implies belonging to or for the use of one particular person or group of people only.
So, did Jesus lead the disciples up a high mountain apart, by themselves, or did he privately lead them up alone?”
It’s a truly both and moment here in the text and for the disciples.
I always find the story of the Transfiguration difficult to get a handle on. It doesn’t have the moral, theological or historical content that most of the passages that come up for sermons contain. We have this glowing Jesus, two historic prophets and God’s voice booming from a cloud. What sense does it make?
For me that transition phrase, “And after six days,” that our lectionary omits, provides a clue. The Gospel of Mark almost always marks transitions with the word that means “immediately,” so this is unusual. The historical context here: six days was the amount of time that Moses and Joshua spent under the cloud on the top of Mount Sinai, waiting for the tablets of the law.
But why this pause? What does it mark? If you turn back the Gospel of Mark by one page, the event that happened immediately before this is the most serious conflict between Jesus and his disciples in the Gospels. When Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered that he was the Messiah. But then Jesus began to explain what that meant: suffering, rejection, being killed and rising in three days. Peter got very upset, took him aside and rebuked Jesus. Remember Jesus’ response: “Get behind me Satan!” Not exactly the response that Peter was hoping for.
Now Peter, along with James and John, have been invited to the mountaintop. The transfiguration of Jesus is perhaps the definitive mountaintop experience. Peter, James, and John are left with no doubts as to Jesus’ credentials. In this account from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is filled with the radiance of the presence of God with his “clothes becoming dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”
Then we hear of the presence of Elijah and Moses, further confirmation that Jesus is indeed the long-awaited Messiah. And finally there is the voice of God booming through the clouds declaring, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”
Up on that mountain they had been given nothing less than a glimpse into the future. They saw past the suffering and death of Jesus which Jesus had predicted a few days before. For one brief shining moment God had cracked the door to the end of time and they had seen how history would be worked out, their own and the whole world.
Who could argue with the voice of God coming through a cloud? Well, I’m sure Peter could. In response to Jesus’ transfiguration, Peter, dear Peter, wanted to preserve this moment for eternity. Isn’t that true of us – think of how much effort we spend trying to preserve our experiences. We used to have Brownie cameras, then Instamatics; now we have the ubiquitous selfies that we can preserve our doings forever. And yes, many are learning, exactly how hard it is to delete the digital footprint left by our current technology.
But Peter, to capture that moment, he wanted to capture this event by building three houses: one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Just as Mary Magdalene wanted to hold onto Jesus after his resurrection and never let him go, Peter wanted to keep hold of this moment and preserve it forever.
But this is not how God wanted the disciples to respond. Peter, James, and John were not just invited into the mystery of the person of Jesus. They were also called to listen. The voice of God from the clouds declared, “This is my Son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased, LISTEN TO HIM!”
God asked the disciples to “listen” to Jesus, not to preserve him like a digital archive. “Listen to him.” The phrase “listen to him” in this case carries the Old Testament connotation of “obey” as well as pay close attention to and listen. Through our own Baptismal Covenant we not only accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we also say that we will “listen to him.” We say that we will seek and serve Christ in all persons and strive for justice and peace among all people.
We are all called to seek out the transfigured Christ in the world, and as we do so, we are called not just to wonder and delight in that presence. We are called to listen when our brothers and sisters are suffering, when they are in need, when they are disenfranchised and subject to injustices.
We are called to listen not only as individuals but also as a community, as part of the body of Christ. As a community, we are called to be in relationship with and to listen alongside our sisters and brothers.
This year, our relationships with our sisters and brothers is very different. They are very challenging.
Normally, on Tuesday night we would have a grand celebration with pancakes and then on Wednesday, we would begin our journey of Lent. This year, that pancake celebration won’t happen together. But I invite our parishioners to come to Saint Andrew’s from 11:00 – 12:30 on Tuesday and to Emmanuel from 1:30 – 3:00 to pick up a Lent Bag filled with a savory treat – did you know you can buy individual pancake mixes. No really, individual servings. Those bags will also include Mardi Gras beads (if the postal service ever delivers them), Lenten calendars, other Lent prayers and resources and ashes to impose on Ash Wednesday.
We’re minded in all of this that Lent is a penitential times, but it is not a time to feel bad or guilty. The penitential season of Lent is about facing the truth. We are tempted to hide from the truth, because we are fearful—but Jesus shows us the truth: his Transfiguration into the Glory of God, his Resurrection and defeat of death.
Jesus took his disciples up that mountain so that they could see—not avoiding their difficulties, but knowing that abundant life is here, that freedom is in joining him in faithfully accepting and living in the truth.
Are we ready for an invitation to the mountain top? To be ready we must first make ourselves available. Peter, James, and John were invited up the slope because they were already in the company of Jesus.
Listen to him. Listen to Jesus Christ in worship. Listen to him as we study scripture. Listen.
As we enter into Lent this year, let us keep this vision of the Transfiguration with us. Let us remember “to listen”. We will hear the voice of God in the voice of spouses, siblings, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Sometimes we will hear the voice of God in people we don’t really want to hear it from. But when we make ourselves available to hear that voice, we will be ready to witness our own Transfiguration experiences. May it be so. Amen.
 David Bentley Hart, A Translation: The New Testament, Yale University Press; Translation edition (October 24, 2017), Location 1820, Kindle
 Ellen Madison, Weldona, CO, via PresbyNet, “The View from the Mountain,” 1994
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.