First Congregational Church
February 14, 2021
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Transfiguration & Valentines Day
Mark 9:2-9, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
After digging to a depth of 10 feet last year outside Buffalo, New York, scientists found traces of copper cable dating back 100 years. They came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 100 years ago.
Not to be outdone by the New Yorkers, in the weeks that followed, a Los Angeles, California, archaeologist dug to a depth of 20 feet somewhere just outside Oceanside. Shortly afterward, a story in the LA Times read, "California archaeologists, reporting a finding of 200 year old copper cable, have concluded that their ancestors already had an advanced high-tech communications network a hundred years earlier than the New Yorkers.”
One week later, a local newspaper in St. Paul, Minnesota, reported, "After digging 30 feet in his pasture near the community of Lake City, Minnesota, Ole Olson, a heck of an engineer and a self-taught archaeologist, and his friend Sven, reported that they found absolutely nothing. Ole has therefore concluded that 300 years ago, "Minnesota had already gone wireless.” I can understand if it weren’t for the days-on-end below zero temperatures, this sort of discovery would make anyone want to be a Minnesotan.
So follow my tracking here. Minnesota. St. Olaf. Golden Girls. Ma. “Picture this.”
One day Jesus calls for a disciple-scout retreat to a mountain. It’s Pete, Jim, John and Jesus. They were sitting around the campfire, probably eating s’mores in the middle of the day, all by themselves, and while they’re sitting there, Jesus’ clothes become white, like a satin, sequin, sparkly white. And then, out of the blue, Elijah and Moses show up and start talking to Jesus. They knew it was Elijah because he was wearing his favorite yak skin tunic and leather belt, and they knew it was Moses because he was holding the staff he used when he parted the Red Sea - just like Charleton Heston.
A lot of important individuals could have shown up that day. But Elijah and Mos - these were the two so intimate with God, it’s said that they didn’t even die! They went straight to heaven, no passing Go or collecting anything, much less $200.
Obviously, Pete and Jim and John were stunned at what they saw - right before their very eyes. And as they watched and observed all this, it occurred to Pete that they needed to mark this occasion, because it was so crazy dope. So he suggests that they make three shelters - like tents or markers - so people could find them and sit in this same holy spot. Or they could take the shelters down the mountain and have all kinds of people see them and be in the holiness of this miracle.
And while they were discussing whether to use pine or cedar branches for these tented shelters, this fog-like cloud settled over all of them - and they couldn’t see each other. And then, you know how quiet it is when it’s foggy or snowy outside, this voice came through the cloud - a different voice than the six that were there at that moment. And the voice said, “This is my son, the one I’m crazy about. Listen to him!”
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
Thank you, ___. I gave all of us that very modern - and might I say spectacular - version of Jesus’ transformation, because I wanted us to get drawn in to what that scene might have looked like, and the supernatural voice of God, directing our attention from the visual to the audio - from seeing to hearing - because we know how easily we can get those two things confused. blue/red card
It’s interesting, too, that the word that the writer of Mark used a word for the shelter tents that is more like the word “tabernacle.” What makes that interesting is that later, John would write his Gospel using that same term, tabernacle, “that the Word made flesh lived in a a “tabernacle” of flesh” - word with a capital W - meaning Jesus. Maybe John used that word, tabernacle, because he was thinking back to this moment, because as quickly as the Transfiguration had begun, it ended and the disciples were left with just Jesus, as Scott Hoezee noted. “The real tabernacle containing the glory of God was still right in front of him.” (them)
In his “Theological ABCs” book, Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner muses on the Transfiguration this way: “[In the Transfiguration] it was the holiness of [Jesus] shining through his humanness, his face so afire with it that they were almost blinded. Even with us something like that happens once in a while. The face of a man walking his child in the park, of a woman picking peas in the garden, of sometimes even the unlikeliest person listening to a concert, say, or standing barefoot in the sand watching the waves roll in, or just having a beer at a Saturday baseball game in July. Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it’s almost beyond bearing”
Those displays of glory may, in these grey days of distancing, seem far away. But the next time you catch your spouse looking out the window, really take in the sight - the hair, the lighting, the wrinkles, the energy - or lack-there-of. Or the next time you Zoom with a grandkid, look for those raw moments where you catch them in the midst of displaying that ‘glory display’ of divine life shining through them. Or the next time you get to a restaurant, take a moment to close your eyes and drink in the sound of life buzzing around you, that - and all those sorts of moments - that’s when you’re on holy ground.
And then, when you’re alone the next time, and have a minute, go back to those previous moments of pure holiness, and relive them in your mind. We may be covided, but we are not alone, even though it might strongly feel that way. As we end this season of Epiphany, this season of light and revelation, it is obvious that this scene of Jesus’ light and revelation makes sense. But maybe not to everyone.
To some people, the Good News of the gospel is veiled, like the veil that we see of brides in old movies. Or the veil of Middle Eastern women that allows for only the eyes to be seen. - Oh! Like medical masks in the US and all over the world. Underneath the masks, there is so much more! We get that. But not everyone.
Whether it be cynicism, pain, anger, grief, unresolved conflict or relationships, there are so many “gods of this age” - multiple layers of veils that can blind us to the light of Christ’s glory. Prayers - unanswered yet or answered in ways we didn’t want can add a layer, not of fine, delicate gossamer, but of the thickest, itchiest, warmest wool.
You know what else is amazing about this passage? The great retired Methodist preacher, William H. Willimon nearly copied my thoughts exactly! He wrote, “I’ve preached this text as a mystical, transcendent moment, a fleeting glimpse of eternity. This time around I’m reading it as a story, not as fleeting, mystical, and incomprehensible, but as a time of stunning revelation. God loves us enough not to leave us in the dark. There is given us a voice, a vision to indicate explicitly who Jesus is. We have a wonderfully self-revealing God who does not leave us to grope around trying to make sense out of ourselves and the world.” How on earth could that man know what was going on - not only in my mind, but in my heart?
Then he wrote this. “On Sunday mornings our job is not to try to laboriously climb up to God because in Jesus Christ, God has climbed down to us. In Jesus, God has self-revealed to us, spoken to us. All we’ve got to do is to listen.” Seriously! I’m thinking William should start giving me some credit with thinking this same stuff. Even if I didn’t get any royalties, just the acknowledgement would be most excellent!
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. God made God’s light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. It’s possible that one could spend a good ten minutes on this idea, emphasizing different words of 2 Corinthians 4:6 - and be humbled with the ramifications.
When I started to think about a title for this message, it sort of came from Minnesota, from my mom’s cousin, Auggie Anderson, who used to be the window dresser for THE downtown Minneapolis Dayton’s/Hudson’s store. We’re talking an entire block’s worth of those huge glass windows, that required huge, stunning displays. So then the brain went to other displays, like the pyramid displays of fruit or canned goods in old movies that somehow became the Wreck of the Hesperus. Or displays of paint chips in Menards or Lowe’s or Hope Depot - perfection of symmetry, transition and orderliness.
God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ, displayed in you and you and you and me. Through time and on into eternity. Humbling, overwhelming, personal and private and public. What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, the image of God. We’d best get to prayin’ about that.
Holy, Holy, Holy, God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, who are you to think of humanity, much less humans, much less individuals like each of us? You are God, and there is no other. So thank you: for your love and grace and mercy and joy and accessibility and promise and light and glory. Thank you for wanting us, mere humans, to be part of your work to make this life better than any of us can imagine, right here, right now. Forgive us when we fail you, fail to be what you know us to be. Thank you that each day begins anew, with new opportunities to see you and those miraculous displays of Christ’s glory in each other. And all your human glories say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.