Powers and Principalities
Sun, Feb 11, 2018

What goes up must come down


Duration:18 mins 58 secs

Introduction to Scripture:

Today we continue our journey through Mark. The previous week’s passages have helped shaped our understanding of what is about to happen on the top of an unnamed mountain. We will accompany Peter, James, and John as they go with Jesus into a truly Kairos moment, experience the in-breaking of the Kingdom, and then have to walk the long walk back down to head out the figurative door and into the world with this knowledge. The disciples have certainly witnessed the healing miracles already recorded in Mark as well Jesus’ authority over demons. They know Jesus’ power comes from God, but their understanding of the fullness of his identity is about to be expanded in a profound way. So let us join them on their journey as we come to Mark 9: 2-13. And as we prepare to receive this Word and proclamation, let us pray…

Mark 9:2-13

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. 11Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12He said to them, “Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? 13But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.”

This is the word of God. Thanks be to God.

Sermon:

I am not what you would call a “morning person.” I don’t leap out of bed and sweep back the curtains with an eager hand and a broad smile. No, to be honest, I need an alarm and a back-up alarm and even then, there are no guarantees. I covet sleep which might be a sin, of sorts, so I am here to confess it before you all, acknowledging that it takes a fair amount of effort to just wake me up and get me out of bed for a regular work day – so anything that would entail my waking before the sunrise would have to be pretty compelling. And on those rare occasions when necessity requires me to rise in the wee hours, I am only ever really half-awake most of that time.
But recently I read Eugene Peterson’s recollections of working the night shift for the department of street maintenance in the city of Kalispell, Montana the summer before he left for college, and I thought perhaps there are things worth being fully awake to receive no matter what time it is. He writes that it was his job to water the grass in the medians that went down the wide boulevard, and where the street split and opened into a park, he watered the trees, and shrubs, and grass there as well. His work began at 1:00am when the streets were quiet except for the occasional long-haul trucks and he could pull the heavy hoses across the lanes and work in the cool of the darkness. He says that after about four hours he would begin to anticipate the daylight, and said “some nights seemed to last forever – would the sun never come up?” Around that time he began to meditate on Psalm 108…he says, “I found my text [that summer]: I will awake the dawn!” From that point, he writes, “my job expanded exponentially – beginning with the modest responsibility of keeping the grass a welcoming green…, I now found myself in charge of praying the sun up and over the mountains.” He soon realized, however, that this verse was not actually the one he needed to pay close attention to, and soon two others began to work on him in a way he could not have expected. From verses 1 and 2: Awake my soul. Awake, O harp and lyre. And he began to ask himself these questions: “Was I awake? Truly awake? I was out of bed; I had my eyes open, I was going through the motions of my work. But was I awake – God-awake? Was my soul awake?” Questions he has asked himself ever since. Questions we’ll come back to ourselves, but first, we have a mountain to climb.
I wonder about those three disciples and how their day may have begun with Jesus. It says Jesus led them up a high mountain…not a berm, not a hill, but a high mountain. I’m guessing such a trek must have started very early, perhaps before the dawn, with Jesus rousing Peter, James and John from their slumber and telling them, come with me. I imagine them bleary eyed and half-awake, falling into auto-step behind Jesus and trying to keep pace. After a few hours perhaps they, too, watched the slow receding of the deep night sky and welcomed the day – same sky, same sun that rose over Kalispell, Montana, that rises over us in Augusta. And so they watched and walked and climbed to the top of this high mountain with Jesus, for what reason, they did not know. They simply went where he led them, wondering.
They could never have imagined, however, what was about to transpire at the summit. There before their eyes, Jesus suddenly glorified in dazzling white robes so bright they defied description and beside him Elijah and Moses. The disciples are astonished and terrified all at once – James and John are rendered speechless while Peter desperately tries to make sense out of something that has thrown his mind into a tailspin. In an effort to take this truly Kairos moment and pin it down to earth, Peter suggests building three dwellings right on the spot for them all to stay. Never mind that there are no tools lying around at the top of a mountain. Peter is in a state of awe and wonder. Perhaps he even questioned whether it was real, or whether he was dreaming. But Peter, James, and John weren’t dreaming, they were awake and they were standing at the Kingdom threshold with all God’s glory breaking in upon them like a thousand suns rising all at once. And to underscore this revelation, the voice of God declares: This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.
Now that’s a lot to process for anyone! After all God is speaking directly to them, Jesus is transfigured, Moses and Elijah are also before you. In that moment, does time stop? Does every heartbeat thunder in the ears? Does every breath draw from the marrow of your bones? Do fireworks go off in your brain as you try to grasp this revelation? It must. So I understand why the disciples want to stay on the mountaintop reveling in God’s glory, don’t you? For they have found themselves suddenly and completely awake, perhaps for the first time in their lives.
This led me to wonder about the rest of the disciples below waiting for their return – how awake were they, or for that matter, how awake, God-awake, Kingdom-awake are any of us? In the rather quirky and oddly philosophical comedy Joe Versus the Volcano, one of the main characters, Patricia, offers this bit of wisdom: “My father says almost the whole world’s asleep. Everybody you know, everybody you see, everybody you talk to. He says only a few people are awake. And they live in a state of constant total amazement.” I am inclined to believe that Patricia’s father is correct. But for those who are awake, how did it happen that they came to be that way? Well, for us, that is part of the blessing of the transfiguration, for in it we realize the in-breaking of the Kingdom, the nearness of God, the presence of the Lord in our midst and it is not reserved just for the mountaintop, or only for the select few, it is offered to us all. It is the blessing that also comes back down the mountain in order to be shared. As Jan Richardson writes: Believe me, I know how tempting it is to remain inside this blessing, to linger where everything is dazzling and clear. We could build walls around this blessing, put a roof over it. We could bring in a table, chairs, have the most amazing meals. We could make a home. We could stay. But this blessing is built for leaving. This blessing is made for coming down the mountain. This blessing wants to be in motion, to travel with you as you return to ground level.” Because just as suddenly as Jesus was transfigured, he was as they knew him again. A man, standing in their midst, ready to lead them down the mountain and back into the world.
Indeed, what goes up must come down, and so they begin their return. It is the first point in our story at which Jesus himself speaks. He tells them that they must keep this amazing thing to themselves – tell no one – as we have heard him say many times already in Mark’s gospel, but interestingly he adds a time limit on their silence, tell no one, until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead. This statement baffles the disciples who then ask Jesus, How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he must go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? For having witnessed his glory, they could not imagine his suffering and humiliation. Yet, this is part of the blessing too, isn’t it? And the disciples would not understand the fullness of his glory or the weight of his sacrifice until he had died and risen again. As one Marcan scholar says, the “glory and suffering cannot be separated…faith grasps hold of a different reality” – miracles, signs and wonders are not the only revelation of God, for Jesus is also very real and present without them. Tell no one, says, Jesus, until you understand this…that I am the messiah that was promised. Fully divine and fully human.
We cannot understand either until we know Christ crucified as well as Christ glorified. We cannot stay on the mountaintop before the dazzling vision, we must also come back down where there is suffering and sin and betrayal and abuse. However, if we come back down that mountain with our eyes fully open, our souls awake, we may discover that we did not leave the Kingdom of God behind…it travelled with us – in fact, it was already there long before we touched ground level…waiting for us to see. In the midst of the suffering, God. In the midst of the loneliness, God. In the midst of the poverty and neglect, God. In the midst of the violence and hatred, God. In the midst of the most average and ordinary day, God. God who draws near to us, who breaks into our chronos time with his Kairos time. God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who prod us out of our self-serving slumber, out of our apathetic sleep-walking, and says to us…awake! Receive this blessing that came down the mountain…receive the day and know that anything is possible for Christ’s kingdom is all around you, wake up and see for yourself! And then perhaps we, too, will live in a state of constant total amazement.

Amen.