Transfiguration B Sermon (2012)

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Text: Mark 9:2-9


I’m not the world’s most observant person. Ellen tells me when she is getting a haircut, because I might not notice otherwise. She can rearrange the furniture or the wall hangings, and it might be days before I notice. Just last night she had worked hours on rearranging kitchen cupboards, which I sat across from at dinner and totally missed.

But even I would have noticed the change that came over Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration. God even provided contrasting figures, Moses and Elijah. They were the two greatest prophets in Israel’s history, but they paled in comparison to Jesus. Apparently, Jesus’ status is kind of a prophet plus. And to make sure that the disciples got the point, God even overshadows them in a cloud and repeats the message at Jesus’ baptism with an important addition: “Listen to him!” the voice says. Jesus is standing with the two greatest prophets of their religious tradition, but Peter, James, and John are instructed to pay particular attention to the words of Jesus.

While the disciples’ basic powers of observation could see and hear what was happening, the meaning of it went over their heads. Apparently, they were not very bright. The Transfiguration was the moment for them to finally understand that Jesus had come to help them see and hear something new and bold, but it was lost on them. They were already scratching their heads on the way down the mountain, completely confused about this ‘raising from the dead’ business.

And Mark is tougher on the disciples than any other Gospel writer. He makes it clear that they never really get it. They run away at the trial and crucifixion, and Mark’s gospel ends before they see the Risen Jesus.

In fact, there is a lot of irony in Mark’s Gospel around seeing and hearing. Our Epiphany theme has been healing. Jesus heals many, many kinds of ailments. At the end of chapter 7, Jesus heals a deaf person. And flanked around today’s reading in Mark 9, Jesus heals blind men in chapters 8 and 10. Catch the irony? It’s as if to say that Jesus has an easier time healing literal deafness and blindness than he does to heal the metaphorical deafness and blindness of his own disciples. At a crucial place (Mark 4), Jesus even quotes when God spoke to the prophet Isaiah and said, ‘This people has eyes unseeing and ears unhearing.’ There is something that God has desperately been trying to get us to hear and see, but even disciples of God’s own Son remain deaf and blind to it.

Two weeks ago I suggested that the number one disease facing humanity since the beginning of time — the one thing that has caused more deaths than anything else — is our own violence. And I believe that Jesus came to show and tell us that the number one cure for that disease is forgiveness. But like the disciples, Jesus’ message of nonviolence and forgiveness goes over our heads. We have trouble seeing and hearing from God because we prefer to try to cure it with a dose of ‘good’ violence, a righteous violence because we are using to stop the other violence. When relationships break with hurt and conflict, we feel it our righteous duty to get even. The cure for crime is armed police forces, prisons, and execution. The cure when violence beyond our borders threatens is war. When it comes to God’s cure of forgiveness in the face of such violence, we have eyes that don’t see and ears that don’t hear.

Mark’s Gospel ends with the violence of cross and God’s loving forgiveness in the Resurrection. In the last week of his life, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, and Mark wrote his Gospel just as this was taking place 40 years later. Jesus’ people endured the terrible violence of the Roman Empire, and the only solution they could see was to fight it with their own righteous violence. But it didn’t end well. Instead of their retaliation working to ‘cure’ the situation, it ended in utter destruction. Jesus’ own beloved people needed to listen to Jesus and see his other solution, but they had eyes unseeing and ears unhearing. Jesus had been able to cure deaf and blind people, but the deafness and blindness of his own people on what counted most, curing the number one disease of violence, fell on deaf ears.

Two thousand years later we have another opportunity to see the brilliant light shining from Jesus and to hear his voice calling across the centuries. Look back just over this last century. Nearly all the churches in Europe have closed, and the same fate is threatening North America, where the last two generations participate in church at about 10%. In my pastor’s column, I mentioned a YouTube video that has gone viral, passed on to me by one of our sons. It’s called “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus.” Its main message is: “What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion? . . . If religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?” After a century that began with Europe as the center of Christianity and ended with the church nearly dead in the aftermath of two World Wars, we of European descent in North America have another opportunity to finally see and hear Jesus.

It’s a colossal understatement to say it won’t be easy. But, brothers and sisters, isn’t this the very heart of our calling? That you and I are finally healed to hear and see what humanity has been deaf and blind to since the beginning of human history? It’s why Jesus had to die a violent death, so that his loving and gracious power of forgiveness could begin to shine among us and transfigure our lives.

Jesus left behind small bands of followers who gathered in homes and small groups to support one another. And we need to start small as well. In our Sunday morning class, we’ve been talking about Twelve Step groups that began with Alcoholics Anonymous and have spread to so many other points of healing. At the heart of the Twelve Steps is that number one cure: forgiveness. Step Four is, “we made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” the next steps are confessing our wrongs to other people and turning them over to God, trusting in forgiveness. It climaxes in Step Nine with: “We made direct amends to the people we had harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Twelve Step groups are one of the greatest spiritual movements ever undertaken. Multiplying small group ministries in our congregation to undertake healing in those areas of our lives where we most need it would advance our discipleship, as we support one another through the healing power of forgiveness.

Where you could use the support of a group? Parenting? Surviving the modern work place? Finances? Living a simpler lifestyle that’s sustainable for our Mother Earth? What are the community groups where we can be a healing presence? Brother and Sisters, the possibilities are endless in a hurting world that so desperately needs the healing presence of Christ’s forgiveness. You and I are healed and called to be that presence. Come to our Lord’s table to be fed, revived and sent out to shine a light that helps our Lord transfigure this hurting world. Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, February 19, 2012

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