The following is a transcript of my homily preached Friday morning, 2/4/2011, at Shepherd's Heart Fellowship in Pittsburgh, PA. It is based on the lectionary gospel reading from Mark 9:1-13.
In our gospel reading this morning, we’re exposed to an unusual and unique moment in the life of Christ. Jesus’s closest disciples—-Peter, James and John—-witness a startling revelation of the glory of God in the physical person of Jesus. It’s called the transfiguration and is a surprising and shocking moment in the gospel story, especially in the book of Mark. Over and over again Mark’s gospel sees Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons yet strongly commanding others not to tell anyone who he is. As if his true identity is hidden—-a secret, an unknown.
Because as far as anyone could tell, he was a powerful miracle worker, but not necessarily more than that. Undeniable miracles would have been impressive and unusual to the people of Jesus’s day, no doubt, but it would not have occurred to them to call him a god. Let alone a cosmic judge or eternal king of glory. Jesus managed to confuse even his closest followers on this point.
Simon Peter figured it out, saying, “You’re the Messiah—the divinely appointed king who has come to set things right.” He must have been excited. Life in his world was hard, cruel, confusing. Painful. How excited he must have been when the holy revelation struck him—-“This man is the Messiah—-the king who was promised. Yes! Hallelujah!”
But Jesus yet confounded him. The Son of Man had to suffer, he said. Be rejected by Israel—the people of God. “This can’t be, Lord!” Peter cried in protest. But, shockingly, his protest turned out to be the words of Satan, in direct opposition to the will of God. Indeed, the whole gospel of Mark is a headlong rush to the cross. A few short chapters filled with healings and brisk teachings and then the Son of God is hanging and bleeding on the Roman cross.
So as our story begins today, and Jesus is leading Peter, James and John up a high mountain, it is actually a moment of confusion for his close followers. The ones who thought they knew him well might have been questioning themselves, questioning Jesus. Because the problem of a dead Messiah struck right at the heart of their deepest hopes and fears.
Jessu reassures them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” That might have sounded to them something like me saying to you all in the room this morning: “Some of you here will live to see a day when humans live in peace and prosperity with one another. When suffering, poverty and sickness have ended. When human beings have been freed from sin and stopped treating each other terribly. When no one has to worry about where their next meal will come from, or where they will sleep on a cold night.”
But Jesus brought a different message. He didn’t proclaim an immediate end to human suffering, but of the soon beginning of a time when humans might be restored to their true potential. And—WHAM—he let the disciples have it with a disply of divine glory. Jesus is shining with an intensely bright light. Moses and Elijah show up. It shocks the disciples senseless. Mark even notes that Peter began talking about building tents because he’s simply confused as to what to say. Then the voice of God himself declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
This startling event is called the transfiguration of Jesus. It was when Jesus gave a select three men a sneak peek at the resurrection, at what lay in store for him and for all of humanity. They beheld a transformed human being, filled with they glory of God. After seeing Jesus shine with blinding white light, surely Peter, James and John could lay any doubt to rest. Surely this man was the Son of God.
But as they’re coming down the mountain afterwards, Jesus returns to that pesky prediction that he will suffer and die. “He is to go through many sufferings and he is to be treated with contempt.” The man filled with the glory of God is the one rejected and killed by the people of God.
Jesus came not only as a conqueror, but also as a sufferer. He demonstrated through his death and resurrection that he can bring life from death, health from sickness, freedom and peace from demonic bondage. He went right into the middle of humanity’s mess and caught the business end of a nail for his efforts. Jesus’s transfiguration would help its witnesses hold onto hope through that dark hour. It reminds us that, though he died in shame, he purchased the right of every person to be filled with the glory of God.
God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Each one of us here has the potential to be filled with God’s glory. To have the life of God flowing in our lives, even in the midst of pain and suffering. So I exhort you all now as I exhort myself: Jesus is God’s Son, listen to him! Pay attention to his actions, his words, his love for the hurting and the lost. That is what it looks like to be filled with God’s glory. That’s what it looks like to be truly human. Jesus shows us what God’s original intention for human beings was. Being saved by Christ is more than the hope of initiation into paradise. Jesus is calling all of us to join him in living heavenly lives on this often dark and messy earth. He is God’s Son, the Beloved; listen to him!