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February 12, 2018

 

READ: Mark 9:2-9

 

Have you ever taken one of those quizzes — you know, like in a magazine or online — where it asks you a host of questions based on your preferences, then your answers are calculated and the quiz makes some sort of recommendation based on your responses?

Your perfect profession, your ideal soulmate, the best dog for your personality… 

The one I like the most is when you put in your responses and it tells you where you should be living, geographically… 

The questions seem so random — like what do you like to do on weekends, what is your favorite beverage, and what kinds of books do you read….

And then, as if the quiz can look just deep into my soul, the answer is always Alaska.

Every. Single. Time…

And why is that? 

Predominantly, it’s because of the mountains, for me.

I love the mountains. 

I love hiking and biking and snowboarding and meditating and just being up there. 

They are a place, for me, that is extremely contemplative. 

And, although I know God is always closer than our breath, still, I somehow feel closer to God when I’m up there, whether I’m alone or with someone. 

It’s a place where God speaks to me, and it’s a place I always stop and listen to hear God’s voice.

Some of my most memorable revelations and most important decisions have come sitting atop a mountain or walking mountain path.  

 

The Mountain Speaks

Mountains are significant in the Bible, too:

Moses and the burning bush; Moses and the 10 Commandments; Moses when God shows him the Promised Land; Elijah after he disposed of Jezebel’s false prophets; Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount; and even Jesus on the Cross…

So many of the biggest biblical events happen atop some higher ground.

In our reading today, we see another Mountain: Mount Hermon, far up in Galilee. 

Mark tells us in Chapter 9, beginning in Verse 2, that Jesus led his disciples, Peter, James and John up this mountain, just the four of them. 

Again, there’s not a whole lot of commentary in Mark: What we see is what we get. 

Luke’s Gospel, which is based on Mark’s, tells us they went up the mountain to pray (Luke 9.28).

But we’re in Mark, and Mark tells us that when they’re up on the mountain, Jesus becomes transfigured right before their eyes. 

The Gospel says:

“And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them” (V.2-3).

The Greek here for transfiguration is more along the term metamorphosis. 

Not just a change of Jesus’s appearance — although that’s very significant — but a full-on change or transformation of Jesus himself. 

There’s a difference there:

If it’s just appearance, then its a bit surface — like God sending a message for us to notice something. 

Like a symbol… 

But there’s more happening here, isn't there? 

The disciples know, and are growing in the knowledge, that Jesus is someone special. 

Called by God, healing people, speaking wisdom. 

That’s why they’re following him. 

They haven’t quite worked all of that out yet.

But here, before them, they see something different. 

They recognize  Jesus as transformed into something more divine. 

Someone who isn’t just a person with abilities not of this world;

but someone who himself is not of this world. 

He’s divine…

 

Parallel mountains

Don’t think for a second that the disciples here don’t know the significance of mountain tops…

They’re aware of those references I pointed to in the Hebrew Bible — what we call the Old Testament. 

And they also know the significance of clouds suddenly forming around people with whom God addresses. 

Again, Moses in both Exodus 19 and again in 24, atop Mount Sinai, the cloud of God appears. 

We hear: “The glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day, He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud.”

Elijah, in 1 Kings 18, Elijah is cowering in a cave on a mountain, and God creates a cloud that first appears in the distance, then in Verse 45: “In a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind; there was a heavy rain.”

And finally, in 1 Kings 19, God tells the great prophet Elijah to cover his eyes, and God passes before Elijah there on Mount Horeb, and in one way, like a storm cloud. 

These appearance of God are what we call Theophanies — a visible manifestation of God to humans… 

And with theophanies come some sort of call to action. 

For Moses, it was to lead the Israelites our of Egypt and also to give them the Law — the Commandments. 

For Elijah, it was to stop hiding and go and do what God needed him to do: anoint two kings and Elijah’s successor, Elisha. 

 

The message

Isn’t it telling, then, that God calls Jesus up onto a mountain, just like Moses and Elijah?

Then God envelopes them in a cloud, just like Moses and Elijah?

Remember, Moses turned white, too, in his meeting with God on the mountain thousands of years prior to Jesus’s transfiguration. 

Moses is physically changed in his appearance, as well as who Moses is. 

A leader. And the one who will deliver the Law to God’s chosen people. 

 Moses speaks with God directly! 

As for Elijah, Malachi tells us Elijah will return to herald the Messiah (that’s in Malachi 4.5-6).

And Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 17.10-13 that John the Baptist was Elijah. 

So if John the Baptist was Elijah who would herald the coming of the Messiah, then who is the Messiah? Right. Jesus. 

Moses and Elijah represent the past; Jesus now represents the present — and the future.  

Their theophanies, then, represent God changing them to do something. 

And so in this theophany of our reading today, it speaks something profound to the disciples, who are scrambling around in fear, trying to set up tents and figure out what to feed Moses and Elijah and Jesus… 

God tells them, what?

“This is my son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Exclamation point, if that doesn’t come through in my reading… 

The same words God spoke to those surrounding Jesus when John the Baptist was baptizing Jesus in the Jordan river. 

A dove lights above Jesus, remember? And those same words come thundering from God. 

“This is my son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Luke 3.22)

The theophany here — the message that God is revealing to the disciples — is that Jesus is the divine Son of God. 

The messiah. 

And once they hear this, they are changed forever. 

They are terrified, Mark tells us. 

But as soon as they hear and are transformed themselves, the cloud disappears, as do Moses and Elijah, and they are there alone with Jesus again. 

But, the disciples are forever changed.

Jesus may have been the one who was transfigured — shown as divine — but the disciples will NEVER be the same. 

How could they be?

A theophany like this is completely transfiguring. 

And they will indeed follow Jesus, and then spreading the Good News, and even taking up their own crosses to expand God’s Kingdom. Even to death. 

 

Our mountains

So when was the last time you were called to the mountain? 

I don’t necessarily mean a physical mountain… 

Although it might help. 

But a special place, a place that is quiet and intentional. 

What I mean by that is a place where you are intentionally seeking God’s presence. 

In prayer, in meditation, and in obedience. 

EXPECTING, not just hoping, to see God.

EXPECTING, not just hoping, to be transformed ourselves. 

You see, when God speaks to us, we change. 

And like Moses or Elijah or Peter or James or John, if we were to be asked by Jesus: “Hey, come with me up to this desolate mountain, and the ground will shake, and a big scary cloud will surround us, and you’ll be terrified…”

Is that something you’d want to do? 

Be honest… 

I think very often we avoid journeys to these mountains for a whole host of reasons. 

But primarily, it’s fear, isn’t it?

I mean, don’t we sit and pray for God to make some big changes in our lives?

To show us something about ourselves that will bring us “closer” to God? 

But in the end, we only go so far, don’t we?

Because we’re afraid of how God will change us. 

Let’s be honest.

* We’re afraid that if God changes us, then we’ll have to face the people whom we love or our friends and say, “You know what? I’m giving my life to Jesus. I love Jesus.”

What will they say? Especially those who aren’t believers and think Christianity is a joke. 

Are you ready for that?

* Or maybe we know that if we truly accept the change that God wants for our lives, it may mean facing that addiction or those idols. 

Drugs, alcohol, pornography…. Our dependence on food for comfort or some other way of escaping or avoiding something we don’t want to face?

Or burying our lives in our work, our money, our affluence, our politics? Think about it… 

What saves us? What are those temporary things that we put our faith in? Our fitness, our nest eggs, our race?

Tough questions.

* Or maybe we know that actually climbing that mountain means we no longer can make excuses for our privilege in the world. 

That we are called to love our brothers and sisters — not those who we deem brothers and sisters, but ALL people, of all colors, races, religious beliefs, pasts, politics and sexual preferences… 

To love them as your own. To love them as yourself. To love them as Jesus first loved you. 

People starving. The planet groaning. Children exploited because we chose to prioritize and assign different values to people based on whether we think they deserve to live a good life. 

Or, let’s face it, die. 

That, my brothers and sisters, is a very difficult mountain to climb, is it not? 

Who wants to have to face that? 

The Bible clearly is that mountain for us. 

Jesus’s teachings in the New Testament are pretty clear.

I don’t think that we’re going to be able to stand in front of Jesus one day — and we all will — and say:

 “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

We get really uncomfortable in this day and age talking about sin. 

But that’s the definition right there: 

Turning away from what God has commanded us to do.

And that separates us from God. 

We put the distance between God and ourselves with the decisions we make every day. 

And with those mountains that we refuse to climb when called.

No one wants to have to stand in front of Jesus on that day in that kind of separation. 

I sure don’t… 

 

Good News

The Good News here is that we don’t have to. 

That Jesus died to take away our sins.

Not as a blood sacrifice for a vengeful and angry God;

but as a way to connect us altogether. 

And how beautiful is that? 

“God, take me up to that mountain!”

“Shake the ground on which I stand!”

“Transform me!”

“Yes, Lord! yes Lord!”

###

Following Christ is not an obligation; it is a gift. 

Standing at the base of that mountain, ask God for the courage and strength to climb it. 

Not to just test the trail and the rocks beneath our feet. 

Not to just wade into the woods a few hundred yards…

But to go all the way to the top. 

And stand there, ready to be in awe.

Ready to be amazed. 

Ready to be changed; to be transformed. 

And ready to finally LISTEN to what Jesus tells us.  

And then go out and live it in joyful obedience. 

Thank you God. Thank you God!

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