Transfigured (February 14, 2021)
Mark 9: 2-9; John 1: 1-5
This is a story called the Transfiguration. And it’s really confusing. Theologians have tried for centuries to make sense of it, and a lot of them make a lot of very valid points that can’t be included in the same sermon. I don’t want to say they’re contradictory, because this event kind of goes beyond what we can know, and it’s possible that things can be contradictory and both true in this event. This is one of those events where God is able to take what happened and kind of make it work to teach you, as you read in the Scriptures, whatever it is you need to learn. Or as a pastor reads it, the Lord is able to take what is present on the page and give a message through the Spirit a church at a specific time, to work with it and reflect it in a new direction.
What has happened here is that Jesus is taking his innermost disciples; Peter, James, and John; and he’s brought them up on top of what it says is a mountain; probably wouldn’t of been too high, but a good half day’s walk at least away from everyone else at the base of the mountain. And there, up at the top, all of a sudden there in front of them the veil is taken off. Jesus is revealed. We called it “the Transfiguration,” the Scripture says he’s transfigured, but in my opinion it’s better translated to modern as just revealed. Jesus has always been this Divine, but there’s been a veil over him, there’s been a curtain over him this whole time on earth. Now, his divinity is revealed there in front of James, and John, and Peter. And then standing there next to this Jesus-made-light appear at the prophets of old: Moses and Elijah; Moses, who gave the Law, and Elijah, who is said to be the one who will return to announce that the Messiah is coming. And they appear next to Jesus who’s been revealed in this beautiful shining light. The Heavenly kingdom has come down on this mountain and taken residence.
The disciples in this moment are terrified. They’re terrified. Peter kind of gets up and says to do what they do with gods, they’re clearly aware that they are in the presence of the divine, so they should do what they do: build a shrine, a place where they can come and worship what has been revealed. Jesus will quickly shut that down, but this is what is being experienced by the disciples of the stand there unsure of what to do; scared but not running away, wanting instead to stay.
Next we see the cloud appear in the sky and a voice comes out of the cloud speaking to the disciples saying that this being that’s been revealed to them, this Jesus, is God’s Son, and God‘s word is that they are to listen to him. Then, almost suddenly as it disappeared, the veil was thrown back on. Jesus appears human in front of them again, Moses and Elijah and the cloud are gone, and they go back down the mountain.
In the lectionary, this event takes place at the end of what is called “the season after Epiphany.” So we have Epiphany Sunday, which is the first Sunday of January, and then you have a period where it’s green up here called “the season after Epiphany,” and then the last Sunday of that we flip it back to white and we have Transfiguration Sunday, and then next Sunday we begin Lent. And that’s intentionally placed there. One reason is that after this event, at least in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is said to “turn his face toward Jerusalem.” Everything before this leads to the Transfiguration, and everything after it will lead to the cross, and preparing the disciples for that; which is what lent is for us. And we start that next week.
One thing that I saw this year as I explored this passage is just how much it bookends this period of time we call the season after Epiphany. This season begins with God kind of apart, kind of behind the curtain, unable to communicate with humans that well. We have the story of Epiphany, the first story of the season. And in that story God is revealed, Jesus is revealed, through light, through a light shining in the darkness. A star. A star that appears in the night sky. And for those who can read it, those were learned enough (we call them “wise men” for a reason), they’re able to follow that light, and through that light is revealed to them the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God. And they come and worship him. But for everyone else around there, including the religious leaders, including the people of Judea, even the people of Bethlehem who are right there next to Jesus; they can’t see it. God has been revealed in a light, but hasn’t been revealed to the world.
The next week in the lectionary, we weren’t able to do this because I was on vacation, but the second week in January is Baptism of the Lord Sunday, where we read and remember that Jesus was baptized at the very beginning of his ministry. So we talk about Jesus going to the Jordan River, going up to John the Baptist, being baptized by John the Baptist; and if you remember that story, we see that a cloud appears in the sky, is parted, and a dove descends upon Jesus, and God declares to Jesus “you are my son.” I think the message is only given to Jesus, within the passage we don’t even know for sure that anyone else understood or even heard the voice coming out of the cloud, but rather just Jesus. Again, God is present, but there’s limitations. There’s a veil.
And now at the end of that season we see almost the exact same thing. God, or Jesus, is revealed to be the Messiah to a new group of people by light, by a bright light shining in the darkness of the world. But this time it’s not a tiny star in the sky, but rather the entirety of Jesus’s being. God‘s light has come, and is able now to stand on earth. And instead of wisemen being the ones who are able to see it, we see fishermen who are able to see it; uneducated men who are really ordinary in the grand scheme of things. We can see how the message of Jesus has been able to pierce through and is now revealed to humans to the world. And we see again the clouds parting, we see again the voice of God coming out of the cloud declaring that this being is his Son, but this time he’s not speaking just to Jesus, this time he’s speaking to those same fisherman; the ordinary people of Galilee. The incarnate Spirit of God, the incarnate word of God has indeed broken through. God is present among humanity. The light has come. And, in the words of John chapter 1, the light has shined in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
As I thought through this story I began to see Jesus as if he were a lighthouse. Lighthouses aren’t as important now with satellites and GPS and stuff, but they’re still in use in some places. Of course, in history lighthouses were the most important thing you could have in a port. In a port you have an area where it is safe for the ships, where they can come in and dock. And then there are areas where perhaps it’s not quite as safe, maybe there is a cliff that can surprise you if you’re unable to see very well, maybe there’s rocks and debris under the water that can rip into your ship and sink you if you’re not careful. And there are times where a ship is arriving at port and things aren’t perfect. Maybe it’s dark, maybe there’s a fog that’s descended upon the sea and you’re just not quite able to see quite as well as you should be able to. So there would be a lighthouse, or multiple lighthouses, that would be up there at the at the front of the harbor or on top of the cliff, and they would warn the ships as they approached where there is danger and where there is safety. If you knew the port, and you knew where the lighthouse was, you would be able to get safely into port even if you cannot see; because there was a light in the darkness guiding you safely to shore.
Here, Jesus acts like a lighthouse; he acts like a light shining in the darkness. That light beckons us, it draws us in and guides us through the darkness, through the trials, through the places where we might mess up, and helps us go safely to shore. And like a lighthouse, Jesus is unmoving. That the lighthouse is on land. It cannot move. Instead, it shines light out into the sea to the things that can move: the ships. In the same way, Jesus is unmoving, but able still to shine a light to a new place, to reflect the light in a different direction, even as he remains stationary. And Jesus, like a lighthouse, can be trusted to always be there through the storms of life. The lighthouse will shine; this we know.
Of course the actual lightbulb of a lighthouse usually is not that big, or at least not as big as you would expect. Even when they were lit by fire, the fire wasn’t as big as you might expect. Instead, what happens is that the lighthouse utilizes mirrors. Mirrors, actually, are what is able to direct the light. If you’ve seen images of lighthouses, sometimes you’ll see that the light extends away from the lighthouse in only one direction, and the way they do that is that they use mirrors. Those mirrors reflect the light, and they usually wind up multiplying the light as they reflect it, making it more powerful and ultimately shooting the light out wherever the lighthouse through the lighthouse manager decides to send the light by shaping the mirrors.
That’s kind of the way the light of Jesus works as well. The light of Jesus shines, and it’s bright. But, that’s not everything that God has in God‘s plan. God also utilizes mirrors: things and beings that reflect the light. They don’t create light, but they reflect the light. Together they can magnify the light and point it in a certain direction. Hopefully you can see where this is going. You are mirrors. You are mirrors of the light of Christ. You receive the light, the light shines through you, and then you reflect it back into your world. Now, it can still be tough. Mirrors need polished, and that’s why you come to church every Sunday, mirrors need polish to reflect the light properly. And the light is still warm, even Peter is scared, but he doesn’t run away. And of course we know from the end of the story that Jesus can become more palatable, and that if necessary Jesus can comfort us and the light can be contained long enough for us to recharge.
Jesus is a light to be shined into the darkness, like a lighthouse guiding people through; and we are to be the mirrors in the darkness, reflecting the light into the places where it is needed the most, reflecting the light to the ships out at sea. That’s a pertinent message for right now. There is darkness in our world. This is been a dark year. And the Word today declares that Jesus is still shining, as John declared today that the Light shone into the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
The question is: where has the light shined into the darkness of your world? If you’re like me, you can think back to the world and figure out all of the places where it was dark. I have a long list of all of the darkness that has entered into my world in the last year. I’m asking you, where has the light shown up? Maybe it wasn’t healing, but rather reconciliation that happens among the family as the loved one is not healed. Or maybe there’s not been a new return to the job, but maybe a new opportunity has shown up, or maybe there’s been a chance to spend some quality time with your family. Whatever it might be, where has the light shown in your life? And the flipside of that is if you are the mirror of God‘s light, where are you being directed? Where is the owner of the lighthouse turning you? Where do you need to shine light into another’s darkness?
It has been my prayer this week that the light might shine into your darkness, that the Spirit might speak to you, that somehow my mirror might reflect the light to you, wherever it is that you are and whatever darkness it is that you are dealing with. But I want to leave you with this: the lighthouse is worthless to a ship at anchor. The purpose of a lighthouse is to shine a light out into the darkness of the sea, to warn the ships of impending danger, of rocky shoals or sudden cliffs; and guide them safely home to the deep waters of the harbor, where they can finally have rest. Likewise, Jesus‘s purpose is to shine a light into your darkness, to warn you of the places of danger, to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” That is Jesus‘s purpose: to guide you safely home to the Kingdom, to the deep waters of the harbor of the Kingdom of God. But if you’re not moving, if you have not unfurled your sails, you’re not being guided anywhere. You must take the risk. You must go. Trust the light that is shining into your darkness, and go. And trust that you’ll be brought safely home. This is my prayer for you, and I hope your prayer for me. Praise be to God. Amen.