Sunday, February 14, 2021

Epiphany Last, 21-B: Strengthened and changed

 Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9 

 En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. Int he name of God, who is Trinity in unity. Amen. 

As Christians we are, I hope, dedicated to a life-long journey of formation to strengthen our spiritual muscles, as it were, to continually grow and mature in our faith. Most of us have spent a lifetime already learning and saying prayers, hearing the stories in our Scriptures, and wrestling with what they mean for us today. 

 The skill we use for that is what I call “listening behind the words.” There are the words in our prayers, and the greater truth behind those words given to us by “the Spirit [who] intercedes with sighs too deep for words. (Ro 8:26) There are the stories in our Scriptures and the eternal truth behind those stories that enable us to connect the divine intention to our lives today.

In Mark’s version of the Transfiguration story, Jesus leads his Executive Committee - Peter, James, and John - away from the others. They go up to a high mountain – Bible-speak for a place where God is encountered.

Suddenly, Jesus begins to shine with a light so bright his clothes dazzle and there was a brilliant aura emanating from him. These are traditional symbols for transcendence - the greatness of God, that surpasses all things created. Mark is telling us that what happened on that mountain was an experience that goes beyond the limits of all possible knowledge and experience - an eternal truth about God.

Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appear and they are chatting with Jesus. The two most powerful prophets in Jewish history, Biblical heroes who were long dead and gone, are suddenly not dead or gone. They're right here and Peter, James, and John watch as their ancient heroes chat with their beloved rabbi. In this is revealed the eternal truth that death is not the end for us, but the gateway to eternal life.

Then Peter, God bless Peter, offers to build a shrine to mark this amazing moment. Peter takes some grief for his suggestion, but it wasn’t so out there. People make shrines all the time to leave a visual marker of an important event - like the crosses we see on roadsides that mark where someone died in a car accident, or grottos to Mother Mary in places like Lourdes, Guadalupe, and Fatima. It helps some people to go to a place where heaven met earth and pray there.

Then, Mark tells us, they are overshadowed by a cloud. A cloud is Bible-speak for the Spirit of God, as when Moses was given the stone tablets on Mt. Sinai. And these disciples were overshadowed by the Spirit of God just as Mary was when she conceived the Son of God in her womb, but what they conceive is a transforming truth – one that will take a little time to come to maturity in them. Seeing Jesus glow in that unearthly light and hearing the voice from heaven claim him as Son and Beloved, the disciples now were beginning to understand what they hadn't understood before. They were becoming aware that all of their preconceived notions about Jesus, including their grand expectations of him as Messiah, suddenly seemed so limited, so small, so untrue.

Then, in an instant, the world around them returns to the one they knew and could comprehend. Jesus wasn't glowing anymore. Moses and Elijah were gone. The cloud of God's powerful presence has vanished, and it’s just them again on the mountain, alone.

As they begin their journey down the mountain, the disciples are still in that groggy state of mind that happens when your brain is trying to make sense of something it can't. We can almost hear their unspoken thoughts: What just happened? Was it a dream? It couldn't have been a dream… can you even have a group dream? Wait till we tell the others! As if he can hear their thoughts, Jesus warns his Executive Committee to tell no one until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Did they connect the dots that Jesus, who dazzled only moments ago, is actually the Messiah of God, and said that he will die and rise again? Did we?

The three disciples' journey down the mountain marks the beginning of their journey to new lives as the truth conceived in them begins to take root and grow. The remainder of Mark’s gospel shows us how their new understanding is nourished and expanded by their teacher, Jesus, with lessons on forgiveness, the kingdom of heaven and who belongs to it, healing as a sign of the generosity and accessibility of God's grace, and their call to become servant leaders of this new way of being in the world.

It's a long journey for them. They constantly come up against the limits of their habits and thinking, and Jesus patiently guides them beyond those limits again and again.

On this the last Sunday after the Epiphany, we begin our liturgical journey down the mountain and into the wilderness of Lent. There we set aside time to discover and confront the limits of our habits and thinking and invite Jesus to guide us beyond those limits into a new way of being in the world.

If we are to be “strengthened to bear our cross, and… changed into [Jesus’] likeness from glory to glory, then we must invite Jesus to guide us, to change us and how we live in the world as it is right now… a world where millions of people have insufficient access to safe food, water, housing, and medical care… a world where people are disenfranchised or killed because of the color of their skin or their gender or gender-fluidity… a world where people can get fired from their jobs because they are gay or trans… a world where the “haves” can ignore the needs of the “have-nots” and enforce laws and practices to maintain the status quo they have carefully engineered to keep them on top.

Thankfully, our liturgical calendar offers us the perfect opportunity to be guided in just this way. We call it Lent.
On Ash Wednesday this week, we will embody our awareness of “the shortness and uncertainty of human life” by marking our foreheads with ash in the shape of the cross of Christ, and we’ll begin an intentional journey toward truth and transformation in holiness and righteousness, boldness and compassion, in the manner of Jesus, whom we proclaim as Lord. 

May it be so for each of us and for all of us. Amen.

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