Text: Mark 9: 2-9 Transfiguration of Our Lord Year B
So it’s Valentine’s weekend, when the secular world likes to turn its attention to all things “love.” And in the church this weekend, we’re celebrating the festival of the Transfiguration of our Lord and focus our attention on God’s great love for us and desire to be in relationship with us. The Transfiguration is an embodied display of divine love.
When I was 12 years old, I met one of the greatest loves of my life. I’m not talking about my husband, Eric -we met when we were 14! The summer between 6th and 7th grade, my mother took a new teaching job at a small Catholic school in Towson, MD, about 45 minutes from where we lived. My mother received full scholarships for my brothers and I to attend, and so we were told during the summer that we were changing schools. At 12 years old, I was SURE my parents were ruining my life. I was painfully shy and the concept of making new friends was terrifying. When I started, I felt economically out of place- I was sure I was the only student whose father drove trucks for a living. I felt awkward in the school uniform. I felt like an outsider. I felt alone. But… after the first few days, I realized that I was not the only student who felt that way. Sylvia and Marianne had moved to the United States from Egypt in elementary school. They also felt awkward and out of place. They welcomed me in and we became fast friends.
Marianne and I particularly hit it off and after several months, she invited me over to her house for dinner. She told me excitedly and nervously that I was the first Caucasian friend she’d ever been allowed to have over! My mother and I approached their white cape cod on a quiet, tree-lined street in the suburbs. As we walked up their front pathway to the door, a statue of the Virgin Mary watched over their little garden of pansies and petunias. I rang the doorbell. After several minutes, someone peeked out the curtain beside their door and then took about 30 seconds unlocking various locks on their front door. It swung open and Marianne’s mother and grandmother greeted me and my mother with hugs and kisses. Grandma, whom I was introduced to as Teta, spoke very little English, but used what she did know to greet me warmly. “You nice girl, how are you? Come in, eat!” My mother left and I crossed the threshold into a whole new world.
There was a cross, an icon, or a prayer on every wall. The smell of cumin and cloves filled the home and called us into the kitchen where potted palm trees grew. The family was very kind and hospitable, but that first visit I could tell that they were assessing me. Was I judging them? Did I appreciate and respect their culture? Was I a safe friend for Marianne to spend time with? Was I a good girl? They showed great vulnerability in letting me into their home.
It was Lent and their devout orthodox home was fasting. We sat down to a dinner of Koshery –a vegan dish of lentils and rice with a sour tomato sauce. It was delicious! They marveled at my love for their food, my desire to know about their culture, my desire to learn how to thank Teta for her hospitality in her own language.
Marianne remains one of the great loves of my life and it all started with that experience of vulnerability which created space for greater intimacy. They desired to be known and appreciated for themselves and I desired to know them at their most authentic.
This happens in every relationship. It’s always a turning point when you bring your beloved home to meet your family! We wonder nervously: Will they still love me after they meet my crazy brothers? Will they see and laugh at all the awkward family photos on the wall? Will my parents embarrass me? To let your beloved into your family system, into your world, shows that you desire to be known and loved as your truest self.
The Transfiguration of our Lord is not just the last Sunday before Lent, it’s not just a mystery, but it is an expression of God’s desire for intimacy with us.
Jesus knows and desires to be known by his inner circle of disciples –Peter, James, and John. Jesus invites the disciples up the mountain and into his holy world. There were a lot of questions circulating about Jesus’ identity. People were questioning who Jesus was and how he could possibly have the power and authority that he did? In the chapter immediately before, he asks his disciples to share with him the latest gossip. “Who do people say that I am?” His disciples respond saying, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others think you’re one of the prophets.” Jesus then asks them to share with him their understanding of his identity. “But who do YOU say that I am?” Peter proclaims without hesitation, “You ARE the Messiah!”
But he didn’t really understand what that meant. In his mind, he knew Jesus was the one they’d been waiting for, but he didn’t think his Jesus needed to suffer as the prophets had said. Jesus could be the Messiah as long as it didn’t involve risk. Jesus reprimanded Peter for his narrow-mindedness. But Jesus didn’t give up on Peter and the disciples.
He invited his closest friends up the mountain for a sneak preview of his glory. They knew Jesus the healer, Jesus the rabbi, Jesus the vanquisher of demons, but there was SO much more of Jesus to know –more than they ever could have imagined! We all desire deeper intimacy with those we love –even when being vulnerable is scary- we all desire to be known as our truest selves. And so, Jesus invited his best friends into his inner world to see him in all his glory and to meet his weird and wonderful family!
Our gospel says, “And he transfigured before them…” In a gleam of light, he changed from the Jesus they thought they knew into the Christ who was, is, and is to come! There he stood, shining in brilliance and speaking with the great prophets, Moses and Elijah! They were already terrified when suddenly they hear a voice from the heavens! God proclaimed out loud what –according to Mark’s gospel- only Jesus heard at his Baptism: “This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him!”
Peter, James, and John are flabbergasted by their experience of the holy, but they do not run away. They experience Jesus for who he truly is. Not just a miracle-working, or rabble rousing rabbi, but beloved and eternal Son of God.
Intimacy –that is, to know and be known by another- is one of our deepest human needs. Perhaps, in our human desire to be known we reflect the heart of God who time and time again reveals God’s self to a company of flawed and failing followers. The transfiguration of our Lord is an act of Divine intimacy. The Father reaches out to the Son, sharing affirmation and love, and the Son reaches out to his disciples, sharing his whole identity, allowing himself to be vulnerable in their presence, and trusting them to hold his confidence until the time to come when the whole world would experience transformation through his Risen glory!
God is still inviting us into deeper intimacy. God is still revealing God’s self to us both on the mountain tops and in the mundane. Sometimes, out of love for us and the world, God shows off! Still, there are other times where we have to force ourselves to be still long enough in the midst of our daily lives to see God’s holy glow. Sometimes, we have to force ourselves to be still long enough to experience the ways God is sharing God’s heart with us.
We are blessed as Lutherans in Gettysburg to have many extraordinary opportunities for mountaintop experiences. We have a college and seminary right down the street that bring incredible speakers and musicians to our backyard. We have Camp Nawakwa just a few miles out of town where numerous people over the years have experienced God’s presence on the mountain and under the trees, in the dirt, and in the crisp air. And we have numerous ecumenical service opportunities in this community where lives are changed for the better and where we are changed by participating in God’s physical work in the world today.
Here at St. James, this weekend we have fascnats! For many in our community, these donuts with the weird name that no one can spell, provide a link to a rich cultural memory. Perhaps for some they are a mountaintop experience in the eating… But those who volunteer to spend all hours of the day and night in their creation certainly also experience God’s presence come close. God is most certainly present in the incredible sense of community that forms each year and in the extraordinary cooperative effort it takes for over 100 people to fold a thousand boxes, to mix up, roll out, and fry nearly 12 thousand fascnats and to lovingly smother them all in raised sugar. It’s all a labor of love.
We’re working hard this weekend as community to send our youth to a transformative mountaintop experience. At the National Youth Gathering this summer in Detroit, the power of 30,000 Lutherans worshipping and working together for the good of the world will transform lives and rejuvenate communities. Youth and adults alike return from these gatherings transformed by their experience of coming to know and love Christ in a deeper way than they ever imagined possible!
Intimacy with God transforms us all! Christ is constantly calling us up the mountain for a clearer view of his presence in our world. Christ is constantly at work in us as we get to know and love one another as our truest selves. And Christ is constantly inviting us to come and see, to know and be known, and to hope in his glorious future. Amen.