Feb 14 | “Glory is just around the corner,” (Sermon, Transfiguration Sunday 2021)

From the light of the star that guided the Wise Ones we’ve come to the unborrowed light of Transfiguration Sunday. In the Godly Play Sunday School curriculum, the star of Bethlehem is called The Wild Star, and throughout the season of Epiphany we’ve followed this Wild Star up hill and down dale, around twists and turns and corners, and now it has settled once again to show us that Wild Stars point to Wild Gods.

For from this season, bracketed by Light, we’ll walk down from the mountaintop and into the shadowy season of Lent, marked with ashes and lonely mortality, as we have before and maybe as we feel we’ve been doing since…well, last year, maybe?

No wonder Peter wanted to stay up there. I do too.

Can we just…not go down the mountain this year? Can we stay, faced with the undeniable truth that we are in the presence of the Holy, where there’s no doubt or questions? Can we stay up here and leave behind that uncomfortable conversation about Jesus being called not to raze the Empire with a sword, but to suffer and die? Can we just avoid the call to follow him on that weary way again, now when the weariness has never felt heavier in our brittle ashen bones?

Unfortunately, as Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church says, “As long as there is life there is always the possibility of a sudden reversal.”

But in the same sermon, Bishop McKenzie also says, borrowing words from Eugene Petersen’s The Message: “Glory is just around the corner.”

The Transfiguration was an astonishing, multileveled experience that could be and has been unpacked throughout generations. This far from Christmas, God kept one last present, unwrapping it on the mountaintop for those closest to Jesus. Not because they were better than everybody else, but because they were going to need the strength to help carry the others around the next corner of the journey. Jesus needed the recklessness of Peter, James, and John, the willingness to take risks without counting the cost. A Wild movement from a Wild God needs Wild people.

The Transfiguration, by Raphael (Source: Wikipedia)

Take comfort, friends, that since it’s the Gospel of Mark, we know that they’re not perfect. They fail pretty spectacularly a lot of the time. They stumble and bicker and misunderstand and fall asleep and lie and betray and flee when Jesus needs them most. But even then, they are not denied this stunning golden realization, in the high heady mountain air. They are not denied the comfort of certainty and awe for a time. Wild Gods are not in the business of only parceling out mountaintop experiences to quiet, cerebral, civilized people. The most problematic, doubtful, impatient, and bumbling among us receive revelation too.

Peter, James, and John turned the corner and Glory was waiting.

And, eyes seared by grace, they receive the booming command to listen as well as look.

And who wouldn’t want to stay, and build these dwellings, these tabernacles, as the word can be translated from Greek, like the one that the ancient Israelites built for God while journeying through the wilderness? Who wouldn’t want to mark this occasion? Some folks might think that Peter is being ridiculous, even idolatrous, but Peter, like Jesus among Moses and Elijah, is standing pretty firmly within tradition. Didn’t Abraham and Jacob make altars to God? Peter’s sin isn’t his suggestion, but his tendency to get ahead of himself, to trip over his own feet.

The command that comes as Jesus burns without being consumed – like the bush that halted Moses, like the chariot that bore Elijah upward – is “Listen.”

“Hang on, Peter. Just take this in for a moment. Just as Love comes before Covenant, Gift comes before Commission. This is Glory for its own sake and yours. Take this in, and then wait for instruction.”

You’ll notice as well that Peter is never rebuked for his suggestion. The light simply dissipates and his Teacher is there again, as he always was. And then they’re told to keep the secret.

WHY?!

That question has many answers, some lost to the sands of time. The Messianic Secret is a strange theme that pops up a lot in the Gospel of Mark. Mark loves irony and sudden reversals.

Glory was around the corner, and now they’ve turned another corner, and the mundane has returned.

But you can’t unturn that first corner, can you? The mundane looks different after Glory brushes by you on the street, or in the wilderness, wherever you find it.

That was the whole point.

As they go down the mountain, you might also wonder, how the heck could they forget who he was after an experience like that? How does Peter end up denying, and how do the others scatter in the face of Jesus’s arrest, after finding themselves brushed with Glory?

Oh, how could we not?

There are just so many more corners to turn. I’ve had mountaintop experiences that lost their intensity over time. After three hundred and thirty-six days of social isolation, those weekly mountaintop experiences of being with all of you in person, of singing and praying and taking Communion, feels impossibly far away and faded, like a pencil drawing erased that leaves a light imprint, a shadow of what was once there.

The wheel of the year is spinning back round and I’m caught up short by how much heavier its weight is now. The adrenaline of those early days of the pandemic has been dulled, and like every burst of adrenaline it leaves the body exhausted.

That is what our souls are feeling.

Personally, my faith is still strong, but I’ve become aware in an entirely new way of the limitations of what many call “personal faith.” It is not enough for me to go about my personal spiritual business. It is not enough for me to have me and Jesus and no-one else. I need Peter, James, and John. I need all of you.

In a normal year, I’d tell you that the days of the Messianic Secret are over, and we post-Easter disciples, we Apostles, are called instead to go back down the mountain, to follow the advice of the angel who meets the women at the empty tomb at the end of Mark: to go and tell the others that Jesus is leading us back to Galilee, to the beginning of the story, to live it now with new eyes, knowing who he is, the Risen One who brings all things into resurrection and freedom.

And that’s still true. This is a unique struggle in the history of humanity, but it’s not unlike ones we’ve gone through as a species in the past.

And like Peter some of you might be raring to go. Maybe that’s the message you needed to turn that next corner, ready for Glory.

But maybe you’re not quite there yet. Maybe you’re not ready to go down the mountain. Maybe you just want to sit down, with Peter, James, and John, and look, and listen. Maybe you need to rest in Glory for just a minute, before the light dissipates and you are left alone with the mundane and the monumental task of weathering the next reversal, turning the next corner and descending to this strange and dusty world.

And I’m here to tell you that that’s okay too.

Let’s sit down together and bask in the Glory of this present moment, drinking in the light, light warm and heavy as pure gold, light that Moses had to veil from his people to protect their eyes, light that seared the eyes of Elisha, commissioning him as a prophet, light that I saw on every face as we lit our candles on Christmas Eve, making each little Zoom window its own Wild Star.

We’re circling back to leaner times, dusty times, times of ash and shadow – but we have time.

And remember, friends, that all the time, there is the possibility of sudden reversal, the possibility that Glory may be just around the corner.

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