Mark 9:2-9/Psalm 50: 1-6 2.11.18
I was struck by the amazing feast for the eyes during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in South Korea. The Olympic opening ceremonies are certainly not your run of the mill celebration, and this was no exception. The use of light was almost supernatural, especially the use of a flock of drones which lit up into the form of a person and then dissolved into the night sky, only to be reshaped again. But perhaps the best glimpse of something out of the ordinary was the union of athletes from North and South Korea walking into the stadium together under the same flag, a nation split for more than 60 years. It was a shimmering sign of hope in a divided world.
Most of the time we live our lives behind what scholar NT Wright calls “the veil of ordinariness”—that which normally keeps us from seeing what is really inside a person, a situation, an event. We are human beings, after all, and we can only look at the world around us with human eyes and human understanding. But once and awhile that veil of ordinariness parts and we get to see something very un-ordinary, very special, very unique, something that illumines the very essence of God. Many of us would put the birth of a child in that category. Some would include being at the bedside of a dying loved one. I think the united Korean athletes were in that category. So was the transfiguration of Jesus on top of the mountain.
On Tuesday I told this Bible story to the children at our chapel time at the THOR after school program. Several of the children commented afterward: “Pastor, you told us that story last year!” And indeed, I had. I was proud of them for remembering, and I told them so. Perhaps I am a good storyteller, or perhaps it stuck in their minds because it is so unusual, so different, so outside the ordinary. That mountain top experience had to be the kind of thing you want to tell your family and friends about, so how hard must it have been for Peter, James and John to follow Jesus’ instructions to keep quiet about it after they got back down the mountain to the ordinary world. Jesus’ real identity had just been revealed in a way that could not be ignored. They had seen Jesus shine like the sun, they watched him conversing with heroes long dead, they stumbled around trying to figure out how to respond correctly, and they had heard the voice of God coming from a cloud. But only a small group got the glimpse of the other side of the veil. The rest of the world would not really get it until the resurrection.
What happened on that mountain was transformative. I really appreciate the way NT Wright describes it in his commentary, Mark for Everyone. His work will be used as a supplement to our “Lenten Journey Through Mark” Bible study, also written by Wright. Check out our special page on our website for daily readings and a place to put your comments and questions. More links to resources will be added during the journey. Wright, a Bishop in the Church of England, writes, “this is a sign of Jesus being entirely caught up with, bathed in the love, the power and the kingdom of God, so that it transforms his whole being with light, in the way music transforms words that are sung.” We can get the picture. Words spoken are totally transformed when they become words sung to music. Let’s try a sample together using a line from our final hymn for this morning: please repeat after me—Shine, Jesus, shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory. Now let’s put those words to music. Let’s do one more line: Blaze, Spirit, blaze, set our hearts on fire. And now let’s sing that line. Music transforms the words! Light transformed Jesus’ very being in a way that the disciples will never forget.
One of the pastors in our Presbytery was selling his book, The Disciple’s Song, on Thursday in our library. Rev. Jack Carlson has written poetic interpretations for the entire book of Mark! Listen to some lines from his poem, Transfigured: “altered, seen in new light (for light it was), so better to be recognized.” They saw Jesus in a new light, in his true light, in a way that they could better understand who he really was, the Son of God who was to be listened to—not only on that particular mountaintop, but any time he taught or preached or healed. His words were God’s words to the world, bathed in love and power. And surely, after this event, this small group of followers looked at him through new eyes.
Rev. Carlson’s poem continues: “Yet as we look upon him now we know that what before had ordinary seemed could not be so, not now, and ne’er again.” The veil of ordinariness had been pulled back. Things would look different from now on. Kind of like what happens to new parents—every decision and plan is affected by the presence of a child, isn’t it? Kind of like what happens to any of us when a loved one dies—the absence leaves a hole and life is different when you no longer have that person to lean on, to get advice from, to call, to tease, to share the burdens with. Things that once seemed ordinary suddenly do not seem ordinary at all when the veil of ordinariness has been pulled back. A brief glimpse of Jesus’ true identity changes what was once ordinary for these disciples, just as the message at the empty tomb changes life for everyone who encounters it. The light which is Jesus Christ changes life, changes our point of view, our outlook, our way of handling the rough places, our
It is important to remember that Jesus’ mission was to show people God and God’s kingdom. He said as much as he began his ministry at the beginning of this gospel: “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” He was calling those who would follow him to become witnesses, living testimonies, to this God who transforms life on this earth and beyond.
Where do you see the light of Christ shining, blazing, touching you with hope for something new and something different?
What makes your life different, your perspective fresh, your hope grow? I checked in with a family from South Korea who lives here to see what they thought about the unified Korean team of athletes. They are wary. They know that there is a lot more to agree on than walking in an Olympic ceremony together. The situation behind the scenes is very complicated. There has been a lot of water under the bridge that can not be retrieved. But it is a step. A peek through the veil of what has become ordinary in that part of the world, separation, division, suffering, threats, posturing. Maybe all it takes is a peek, a glimpse, so that we know, the world knows, life can be different, that God calls us to support one another, not tear one another down.
You see, the power of God to transform is overwhelming. You know people whose lives have been completely changed, transformed, by an encounter with the Lord. Perhaps you can point to a time in your own life when you encountered God. Maybe it wasn’t a vision or a voice, but a sensing of God’s presence in a new way. Any encounter with God is different from our ordinary human interactions, a pulling back the veil of ordinariness, a shining of light in a place where there was darkness. We were treated to an encounter story on Thursday at our Presbytery meeting from a man named Jay. Some years ago, Jay, a retired engineer from Maryland was out in New Mexico trying his best to love a son who was a heroin addict. In his time there, he took a mountain trail and had an encounter with God which transformed his life. Did he see a light? Hear a voice? He didn’t explain the details, but from that point in his life, he became committed to learning, studying and serving God in ways he never would have imagined. Encouraged by his pastor to follow his call, Jay took a course to become a lay pastor. He met with the appropriate committees at the Presbytery level for approval. He started to serve in his congregation by visiting the sick, working with the youth, and even telling Bible stories to the pre-schoolers, things he had never been comfortable with before. As of Thursday, Jay is now commissioned by the Presbytery as a lay pastor to his home church, where he will continue to do all of those things and can now celebrate the sacraments under the direction of his pastor.
God is a transforming God. God keeps on transforming people, situations, events. God’s light shines forth and can not be ignored. Keep your eyes open for God-sightings. God’s life giving presence can bring a change of attitude, behavior, speech, or passion. Amen.