Transfiguration B Sermon (2024)

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Texts: Mark 9:2-9;
2 Kings 2:1-12; 2 Cor 4:3-6

Facebook Live (sermon begins at 26:00):


A couple years ago, I volunteered to be a poll worker. Well, not volunteer, technically, since you do get paid a little bit. But you don’t do it for the money, right? It’s something you do to help our community because you believe in democracy. This week, I started out on what’s going to be a busy year. The first primary of the year — it’s for our local city offices — is February 20, and this week I worked a couple shifts of Early Voting at City Hall. The local elections and Presidential primary are April 2. The primary for other federal positions, like the House and the Senate, is August 13; and the big national Election Day is November 5. It’s going to be a busy year.

I don’t know about you, but it looks to be a scary year, too. I’m afraid there’s going to be political violence somewhere along the way. Are you? There are so many vital issues before us. For me, especially as I think about my children, the biggest and most existential is still climate change. Not only the dangers of the climate change itself, but also the political upheaval it will cause, as more and more people will seek new places to live.

Things were quiet for this week for early voting, especially since the primaries for city alders are mostly uncontested this time around, so I got a lot of reading done. I read the new book by my friend Brian McLaren, called Life after Doom. It’s not exactly an inspiring title, right? So the subtitle is very important: Wisdom and Courage for a World Falling Apart. Again, the “World Falling Apart” part is kind of daunting. But the point of the book is to face the danger of these times realistically but also with wisdom and courage. It ends up being quite an inspiring book, calling for more people like us to step forward and show leadership.

This is another moment in history when we need great leaders. We need transformative leadership, leaders who can help us to face the reality of the problems before us with wisdom and courage. I dare say that the severity of the crises we face right now call for more of us to become human in new and better ways. I’m sharing with you that I’ve come to believe that that was precisely Jesus’ primary mission in coming into the world, bringing God’s reign with him. He came not to start a new religion to add to the things that divide humankind. He came with a new and better way to be human to begin to heal the things which divide us. So as we enter this precarious, even frightening Election Year, is there anyone on the horizon to provide the kind of transformative leadership that’s up to the task? How do we begin to recognize the leaders who might help us avoid disaster?

Peter, James, and John must have thought Jesus to be one of those transformative leaders, because they had dropped the fishing nets of their family business to follow Jesus. They lived in such perilous, even frightening times when political violence was thick in the air. The Jewish people were fed up with the heavy-handed, oppressive governing of the Romans. There had been a significant, bloody uprising in Galilee shortly before Jesus was born. It had been put down by the Roman army with destructive, lethal force. Jesus and his disciples, growing up in Galilee, were well aware of the hopes of their Jewish neighbors to be freed of Roman oppression. Peter, James, and John had left their families and livelihood behind in order to follow this Jesus of Nazareth.

I want to suggest to you this morning that the Transfiguration story in our Gospel Reading is about their hopes for a transformative leader — someone who could help them face the scary reality of political violence. When today’s reading begins “Six days later,” it is referring to the incredible trip they had just made to the political capital of Galilee, Caesarea Philippi. There, in that obviously political setting, miles out of their normal pathways, Jesus had asked them the million dollar political question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter had apparently answered correctly, when he gave the preeminent Jewish answer to that question, “You are the Messiah.” But afterwards he wasn’t as sure, because Jesus had immediately began talking about something very strange: he had begun “to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).

What, that can’t be right?! A Messiah who would suffer death rather than dish it out to our enemies? Peter had begun to say just that, that that can’t be right, when Jesus had come back to him with even stronger words, “Get behind me, Satan!,” Jesus had said to Peter, “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mark 8:33). Peter was still thinking in the usual human terms of political violence against one’s enemies. But this time around Jesus was truly offering them something completely outside the box, namely, God’s way of thinking. For he follows up his rebuke of Peter, speaking to everyone, about their willingness to take up a cross and follow him, even if it means gaining your life by losing it. Well, Peter had dropped everything to perhaps even give his life for a good cause. But what exactly was the cause Jesus came to lead them into? Jesus’ words must have really confused him.

So now, six days later, Peter, James, and John are up on a mountain with Jesus when they seemingly receive an answer. Jesus shines like the sun in a dark cloud, and he’s standing there with two of the greatest leaders their people had ever had, Elijah and Moses. And suddenly a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7).

Wow! Can you take a hint? Especially when you’re kind of ‘hit over the head’ with it? Peter, James, and John had just witnessed a vision of transformative leadership. God was showing them that Jesus’ leadership could be trusted. In fact, even with two of the greatest leaders their people had ever known — kind of like the George Washington and Abraham Lincoln of the Jewish people — the heavenly voice had explicitly said to listen to Jesus above the voices, through Scripture, of Elijah and Moses. The first thing that comes to Peter’s mind is to build three shrines — you know, something like the Washington Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. We love shrines. But, no, the heavenly voice is giving them a bigger gift than that. Our Lord’s Transfiguration is a vision, in the middle of the story, that his leadership is to be trusted. He shines with the wonder of being human in a new and better way.

Jesus has come to finally bring that transformative leadership which we most need. Not just a greater force of political violence to subdue our enemy’s political violence. No, he’s come to show us the better way of being human which is the only means to finally defeat our belief in political violence altogether. It is as his later disciple, Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “You can’t drive out darkness with darkness, only with light. You can’t drive out hate with hate, only with love.” Jesus came to show us that you can’t drive out political violence with more political violence. Only with suffering that violence in love, with the power of vindication in being raised on the third day. What was truly shining forth from Jesus on that mountain of Transfiguration was a new and better way to be human, a way based on love. A way based on forgiveness and healing. A way which can truly unite us as one human family.

What do you think? In 2024, perhaps one of the most crucial election years we’ve ever faced in this country, will there be a transformative leader to shine forth and guide us through the peril? How can we recognize such leaders? Might I give you some assurance that we’ve already seen the vision of what such a transformative leader looks like? His name is Jesus of Nazareth, and the vision of transformative leadership of Transfiguration Day was not only meant for Peter, James, and John and the perilous times they faced, but it’s also meant for us. In fact, if we learn to listen to him, and to follow his path of becoming human in new and better ways, perhaps we can become some of the leaders that our world sorely needs, leaders who stand always on the side of life and love and healing. Isn’t this an important and ideal time to live into our baptisms when a sponsor held up a candle for us and said, “Let your light so shine!” Under the cloud of so much violence and chaos, can we live into that children’s song we love to sing, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine!” Sing it with me. [sing] Let this be our song for what portends to be a pretty dark 2024. May the light we shine, along with an increasing number of our brothers and sisters in Christ, be the light at the end of the tunnel. Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Bethania Lutheran Church,
Racine, WI, February 11, 2024

Facebook Live (sermon begins at 26:00):

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