Transfiguration Sunday: Remaining Faithful
Transfiguration Sunday. The Sunday before we begin Lent. I looked at my notes from last year’s sermon. As February drew to a close, an uneasiness was settling in on us. News of a virus from Asia was raising concern. There were only a handful of cases in the US and the president assured us that everything was going to be all right. It was under control. It was not. It still is not.
On the previous Saturday, I had done a funeral for a LunchTime Ministry Guest who died in a park here in Hoboken. His name was Jose. His family believed that it was from exposure to the elements. On that Sunday, I gave thanks for our shared ministry together. And talked about the hard life Jose had. I said that this place had been a mountain top experience for Jose and his for many. The place where people go to get out of the valley for a few minutes. To encounter a little love and a little respite from a weary worn world.
Looking back on it, that Sunday was full of portents of the disaster that was about to befall our world in general and our country specifically. A half a million people in our country dead, a battered economy, a compulsive liar in the Whitehouse who insisted all was well, an economic disaster and too much heartache and fear to count. Alienation from one another.
A year later there is hope that this said chapter of disappear may be reaching an end. A heartbreaking end with much more suffering for sure but an ending never the less.
The point of the sermon a year ago was that the story of the transfiguration begins on Mt Hermon but is continued on Mt Zion in Jerusalem and comes to a climax on Mt Calvary outside the gate to Jerusalem. The point made was that the disciples and all of us for that matter want the Jesus we see on Mt Hermon. Dazzling, a clear voice from God. A religious experience of profound magnitude. A clear sign of God’s love. That is the Jesus we want. But the Jesus we get leads the disciples over a pain rocky road.
Let’s map the journey beginning at Mount Hermon- the high mountain of the transfiguration, the highest of the mountains a place of visions and vistas and some unusual visitors Mosses and Elijah – the superheroes of the bible– . For us it would be like seeing Jesus, Spider Woman and Black Panther. For the disciples all is well with the world in fact it is better than well- it is spectacular and magical. This is the Jesus they want in splendor and glory- one theologian says this is the Los Vegas strip Jesus- lights flashing, the lure of riches, neon and glitter. This is the Jesus that they want. SO moved by this they leave the mountain in silence, the must have been asking themselves, as we do, at religious experiences, did this really happen? Was I dreaming? Was I seeing things, trying to make sense of it. Probably at some point in life you have had one of those experiences where you felt all was right with the universe, that you had been touched by the divine, seen a glimpse of heave, only to have our rational mind dismiss it later as a dream or silly superstition – the coincidences that collide with the cod reality of the world – and we wonder if it was all true.
This is the Mountain they want. This is the Jesus they want. This is the Mountain we want, the Jesus we want.
But it is not the Jesus they get.
Then our trip takes us up to Jerusalem set upon Mt Zion – the city of David the place of kings, power and the home of mount Moriah- the temple mount- A spectacular place for all the world to see. Here a plot will hatch to kill Jesus and this movement that preaches reform of the temple and the worthiness of every human being. Finally on our tour we will see another mount- Mt Calvary – that limestone outcropping sitting at the gate of Jerusalem- where Romans executed their criminals for all of the city to see.
Lent like life is bookended by these two mountains- these two events these two encounters with God.
They move from the Mount of Transfiguration to the Mount of disfiguration
How we all wish we could stay at Mt Hermon. I wish I was there right now. You probably do to. A place where homeless men don’t freeze to death in our parks, a place where broken relationships are healed, a place where schools are not shot up, walls do not divide, terrorist do not threaten. A place where pain is forgotten and death is held at bay. This is the mountain we want. This is the Jesus we want. It is not the Jesus we get.
We all want to return to the mountain top right now. To undo the pain and alienation that the last year has brought. We can’t.
A stunning detail of this story is in the verse that come next. Jesus and the disciples encounter a man who says his son, his only son is sick and dying. The wretched pain of a parent facing the death of a child. : Teacher, he says I beg you to look at my only son. A spirit seizes him and he convulses and foams at the mouth. I begged you disciples to heal him. I begged those to heal him that could have or should have but no healing has come, the disease continues. I have looked for relief to find none. I am hopeless and scared, my child, my future, all in doubt.
This is the Jesus they get. The one who leaves the mountain to go to a valley of virus.
That is the God we get.
Life is hard – we turn to denial, abuse, refugee in riches to hide from the pain and stay on the mountain. Transfiguration is the story of Jesus coming down from the lofty place to where the man suffers and his child suffers. Jesus meets him in his pain. Transfiguration is God coming down from the mountain top with his only child to be with the man’s only child. This is the God we get. The God well acquainted with our grief. A God who knows our fear. A God who is in this valley with us.
Last year’s sermon was a thanksgiving for our ministry on the mountaintop. This year it is a thank you for your faithfulness and struggle with the Jesus of the valleys. Thank you again this morning for the witness of the funeral a year ago. Thank you for remaining faithful, for supporting Lunchtime ministry and all of our myriad of ministries but thank you for holding on to the God of the mountains and valleys.