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Happy Transfiguration! I think but often happens for Transfiguration is that we hold it as proof of Jesus’ divinity look there you being all shiny. The first hearers of this story were probably reminded of when Moses went up, met with God, and came down from the mountain Shining. Jesus was on this mountain shining.
But most of the time when we come to the story to preach, we just have the story of the transfiguration. This part before that we read is told on a different Sunday and so often we look at them as if they are absolutely unrelated. But today we get there as a continuous story, one in which we could follow Peter from excited correct response about who Jesus is but with the wrong definition of what it means to be the Messiah, perhaps because Jesus is definition of what it means to be the messiah, that the Messiah would we tried would suffer would be killed didn’t make any sense to those who believed the Messiah was coming to establish God’s image of the world onto This Plane of existence- whether that be militarily or politically or spiritually. Not one of those images of what it would mean to be the Messiah involved the Messiah dying. I imagine that when Jesus started explaining what would happen to him the Messiah, Peter’s mind just went completely blank. He might not have even heard the part where Jesus said would rise again on the third day and even if he did it’s not clear he would have understood what that meant.
Even for Peter, it had been a hard bunch of days. They had just learned of the news that John the baptizer, the prepare of the way for the one who comes in the name of god, had been executed by Herod. There were probably some former followers of John among Jesus’ disciples. In the gospel of Luke tells us Jesus and John were of the same age and were of the same age and we’re cousins. It was surely a hard week for everyone.
And Jesus knows everything is about to change. The anonymity and the Comfort they have while being in the Galilee region is going to be lost as soon as they enter the city of Jerusalem. Jesus’ conversations with the religious leaders are going to find themselves more pointed unless friendly than they had been. And knowing what happened to John, someone who upset the powerful Jesus had to know what was to come if he continued on the path he was on. So while Peter recognized new or at least named Jesus the Messiah, the anointed one, the
moment Jesus talked about suffering and Death Peter did exactly what the rest of us would have done if a friend started talking about their death- denial. No. That’s not what’s going to happen Jesus we will protect you we will keep you safe. Whatever will need to be done will be taken care of because that’s not what the Messiah does and that’s not what we will let happen to the Messiah.
And Jesus’ answer sounds really aggressive today. And maybe it was then. But the concept of Satan then was not the same concept we have of Satan now. It was one who tempts one who is an adversary. Mark doesn’t give us a description of Jesus’ Temptation in the wilderness but we see here how Peter might have been tempting Jesus in the same way that the tempter was in the wilderness when he said to just claim your power to rule the Nations to do it the easy way.
And I imagine that if Jesus had let himself go there it would have been really nice to not have to go through what was about to happen.
When Jesus says Get Behind Me Satan maybe what he’s really saying is you who are tempting me find your place line up get on board you’re not leading this. You’re not in charge here.
And then he tells them “if you want to be my follower, it’s not about the things you want, not in a way of completely living an aesthetic lifestyle but to say no to centering yourself and get in line and send her God Center this vision of the world. And this centering God will mean that you love your neighbors and you love yourself. But if you start with centering yourself if you claim your life first as the priority you will never find it fulfilled. You will never have enough wealth, your job will never be enough, the things that you will claim for yourself will never fulfill. But when you center God, when you center the kingdom of God, when you center God’s vision of the world, it points you back to loving your neighbor, loving yourself, and caring for creation; and that is the life of fullness and abundance.
And it’s going to be hard and when you do it right the powers of the world will prefer that you don’t. It may cost. It cost John his life. It cost Jesus his life, and execution by the state at its greatest means of revealing power: violence and death.
And it isn’t this context we have the Transfiguration. Not in an isolated situation, not independent of everything else happening in the lives of Jesus and these disciples. And Peter and James and John get to go with Jesus and see this amazing moment. And it must have seemed to them that Jesus was a little confusing because this was clearly something incredibly divine and that doesn’t make sense if he’s going to be executed by the state. So then we have to wonder why now? Why these three? Why did Jesus need this moment?
When Peter offers to build a tent he could be a tent of worship like the Tabernacle when the Hebrew people were in the wilderness and they did not have a temple. Or they could be talking of the tents people lived in in the wilderness when they were traveling and life was inconsistent. Or they could be talking of the tents or booths people built in the fields when it was time to bring in the Harvest and they worked constantly cuz there was an urgency attached to the work that they had to do but they needed time to rest In the Heat of the day to recover overnight. Today there is still a Jewish holiday that comes after the high holy days when they have spent a month in lamentation. It is a time of enjoying the Outdoor World around you of inviting friends and enjoying meals together.
What if this moment wasn’t first and foremost a gift for Peter James and John but as a gift for Jesus what if his experience of going to the mountain and hanging out with two of his friends was a chance for encouragement as the days were about to get dark and there would be a sense of urgency and what is to come and there would be struggle and that would be grief and it was going to hurt. What if this moment of transfiguration, of talking with Moses and Elijah was a conversation of encouragement of: “you got this;” of: “you’re not going to be alone;” Because
Moses and Elijah certainly felt alone from time to time. And Moses and Elijah certainly felt abandoned by God from time to time. What if this was a moment of strengthening for what was to come for Jesus as it was for the disciples? And the desire to stay up there and that makes a lot of sense to me. I had experiences of the Divine touching earth when I was young and at church camp with folks who even now gather around each other in times of need. If I could have captured those long ago moments and stayed in it forever… but you can’t. Life happens everywhere else. And it’s not like we don’t have interactions with the Divine throughout our days and our weeks here on the level or lower land that is our lives filled with Hills and Valleys and an occasional mountain peak. But I wonder if one of the lessons of transfiguration is not so much about shiny Jesus but at those moments when you need courage and you gather with your community and you get to be real honest and you get to hear and tell your stories and you get strengthened by the community and the love.
But they are rare, those supernatural moments of mountain tops. What if the most important thing is the shine on the faces of each other, the glow when someone gets to be their whole imperfect self? When people fall in love, when communities gather to care for each other, when individuals are held as beloved and held in Beloved Community? When we align ourselves with the things of God and the vision of God and when that becomes our Center and sends us into the world broken is broken as it is, to love our neighbor and ourselves and all of creation?
So what if this place becomes our Mountain Top Where We Gather with friends and get to be honest, to tell our stories, to share our hearts, to prepare for the struggles outside these doors? What if this is our Mountaintop? where we find rest and community and Friends before we go into the world? And we, who have found that place, that shining on each other’s face, on the face of a friend and stranger, can be that place, that courage, that mountain, that shining presence for someone else?