February 19, 2012
It might have been when I first started to study to be a Spiritual Director that I had a conversation with my mother in which she shyly revealed that she had heard God talking to her. What she told me was that she had been so proud that God had taken the time to answer her prayer in such a direct way – actually speaking to her in response to her plea for a sign. She was sure that it was because her faith was so strong that God had taken the time to answer. But, she said, God quickly told her no. It was those who were weak in faith that asked for signs that God heard and to whom God needed to answer. She laughed. She was to go through much more after that in her life that tested her faith, and her trust was solid, it never flagged.
I think that many of us have lived through times that we needed to know beyond a shadow of our doubt that God was there with us, as promised. Maybe you have a story to tell like my mother’s in which you had an experience of God’s voice or God’s presence just when you were desperate for a sign that your faith was founded on something solid, not just a crazy dream that wasn’t going to hold up under the crushing blows of your life falling apart.
These aren’t stories we tell easily, are they? Maybe because we don’t want people to know how really desperate we were or how fragile our faith had been. Maybe it’s because we don’t expect that people will just hear and believe us. Maybe it’s because it’s just too hard to explain in words what our experience really was. We can kind of get a glimpse of what it must have been like for those disciples on that day to have Jesus suddenly revealed as so unique, so glorious, so extraordinary that it was hard to explain to anyone. Peter just blurts out something lame, and it’s obvious that they want to never have to have this experience end, even though it scares them to death.
Here right in the center of Mark’s Gospel story, we have this strange confrontation. It is clearly a sign of something, but what? Mark never really says. Is this infusion of Jesus’ full glory for Jesus’ sake – like getting charged with his full Godly power to arm him for the coming days of torture and ugly death at the hands of the powers ranged against him? Or is it to strengthen the disciples who will become the new leaders of Jesus’ movement after he is gone? They will always be able to look back on this event to remember how humbly he led them when he could have claimed Godship instead? Or is it there for us to see the continuity between the special prophets in the Biblical tradition. Moses was the only prophet to see God face to face and was buried in a place known only to God, and Elijah rode off into heaven in glory without the sad dying all other experienced. Jesus will outdo them both, rising from the grave to return to his place in heaven. In a wisp of cloud God speaks, calling Jesus beloved again, and demanding our listening ears.
And suddenly it’s over. Life goes on as if nothing has changed. But of course, everything has. That’s my experience. You can come back from an experience of great spiritual thrills, but you can’t really express what’s happened to you. Often you set out to do something important now: to pray everyday, or read scripture or go to Bible study, or do something for someone. But the further you get from that mountain and the glory of it, the harder it is to keep on with your good intentions.
Mark’s Gospel makes much of the “messianic secret.” Jesus is always telling people not to tell of their experience. There is much speculation among Biblical scholars about why he would want everyone to be silent about the life-changing things that have happened to them. They never seem to, rather, people are so overwhelmed by the healing and comfort, they tell everyone who will listen.
Perhaps Jesus wants everyone to wait until the story is complete before running off and raving about the wonderful things that have happened. Because the way of Jesus turns out to be more complicated than what you see at first. In his way of bringing God directly to everyday people through his teaching, Jesus confronts the religious and political authorities of his day and their oppression of God’s people in their own grab for power and control. All the evil that power and greed can bring to bear are ranged against him and are responsible for his grizzly death.
Jesus is not just revealed in his glory, he is also revealed in his obedience to proclaiming God’s kingdom for all, outcast, sinner, leper, and gentile. His way is a way against the order of the world, and discipleship is a way of risk, a journey away from security and ego and complacency. His way goes straight through death all the way to resurrection to free us from our own tendency to feel as if we deserve to be God’s specially chosen people. Our place in God’s kingdom was won for us by Jesus’ confrontation with the powers that would keep us isolated, alone, grasping and striving our whole lives long. Thanks be to God that we have been freed from such a lonely life by the faithfulness of Jesus, who won us freedom from the power of evil to write our story.
Throughout this season of Epiphany we have talked about how Jesus has been revealed, and this morning we see the full effect of his glory. But we have learned that it’s only a moment and not the whole truth. We have learned that Jesus is revealed just as powerfully in the smallest ways: by commanding a spirit to leave a man in peace, but raising an old woman to her place in a household, by touching the unclean and taking that uncleanness into himself.
And we have learned that Jesus is still at work in our world. Jesus is at work in the things we do and say in the quiet of our own lives and relationships: when you tell the clerk you’re not in hurry, go ahead and wait on the impatient man behind you; when you send the note to friend you haven’t spoken to in years; when you apologize to the person you work with; when you compliment someone’s work; when you bring lunch to someone who can’t get out, when you go out of your way to pick someone up……well, you know. You are being the hands of Jesus. When someone does something lovely for you, you can see the face of Jesus. This time in the church year is to remind us that Jesus is not gone. Every week we see the possibilities, and as we enter Lent, preparing our hearts to receive the final word about life and death at Easter, I invite you to find the time to reflect on how you have seen and are seeing the glory of Jesus in the world around you. I invite you to join in being on a journey with Jesus to change the world.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.