The Last Sunday after The Epiphany
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Mark 9:2-9

 


The year is 2024, and the United States has just elected the first woman as President. A few days after the election the president-elect calls her parents in Kansas to invite them to the inauguration:

“I don’t think so, honey,” says the dad. “It’s such a long drive; and your mom isn’t as young as she used to be. We’ll have the dog with us and the arthritis in my knee is acting up.”

“Dad, don’t worry about it,” says the president-elect. “I’ll send a private jet to pick you up and take you home. I’ll have a limousine come right to your front door and there will be another one waiting to take you to the hotel.”

“I don’t know. It’ll all be so fancy. What will your mother wear?”

“Oh dad, I’ll make sure she has a wonderful gown, custom-made by one of the best designers in New York.”

“Honey,” her dad complained, “You know your mother and I can’t eat all those rich foods they’ll be serving.

The president-elect responded, “Don’t worry, dad. The entire affair is going to be handled by the best caterer in D.C. and I’ll ensure all your meals are salt-free and just what you want to eat.”

Finally, her parents reluctantly agree, and on January 20, 2025, they arrive to see their daughter sworn in as the President of the United States.

The parents are seated on the stage on the front row, just to the left of the podium, and just next to the senate majority leader. The president’s dad notices the famous senator seated next to him and leans over and whispers, “You see that woman up there with her hand on the Bible, becoming President of the United States?”

“I certainly do,” the senator whispered back, smiling.

“Well,” the father said proudly, “That woman’s brother played basketball at KU.”

Sometimes, we miss the point of the occasion. Sometimes, we place the wrong emphasis on an event, even a significant event. We miss the big picture. That is the case with Peter and the disciples in today’s gospel lesson.

Jesus, along with James and John and Peter, has climbed up the mountain to another lonely place of Jesus’ choosing. And there the three disciples witness Jesus’ transfiguration. Before their very eyes, Jesus is surrounded – consumed – by a cloud of dazzling white. A brightness so great that they have to shield their eyes to see at all. & As they squint at the site before them, they notice that Jesus is no longer alone in the cloud but there with him are two figures that the disciples discern to be Moses and Elijah. They were not unimpressed! If fact, they were astounded – “terrified,” the gospel says.

Peter is so taken aback – so caught up in the moment – that he wants to build three tabernacles to memorialize the event, to hold it in place, in that moment of time, forever. There has never been a more glorious event in Peter’s life. Never has he witnessed anything more significant. How could there be anything bigger than this moment?!

But this is not the moment for Jesus. Not even close. Jesus says, “We must be going. My mission awaits. Jerusalem awaits.”

The Transfiguration is an important preparation, perhaps even a transition in Jesus’ life and ministry, but the emphasis of Jesus’ life and ministry is not here. Peter misses the point by trying to make it the significant event when it is only one event in Jesus’ life and work that takes him to his ultimate mission upon the cross and in the resurrection. He told the disciples as much just before they went up the mountain (“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering . . . and be killed and in three days rise again”) and he told them again on their way down. “Tell no one about what you have seen, until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”

But they wouldn’t listen. Didn’t want to hear. And so, they missed the point and the significance of this event in relation to the mission, the big picture.

Not that it wasn’t significant. It was a significant event. But there is so much more to the immensity and meaning of life than eye-popping sights and quick beating hearts. There is so much more than we are able to capture in our feeble attempts to get it just right – to make it just right. The outer edges, the soaring dreams, the pain too deep, the delight too sweet: these are the things we want to equate with majesty and mystery – both awesome and terrifying and too incomprehensible to bear – all these push us to the outer boundaries or where we think we should find God. And, indeed, God is there.

But, sometimes, most times, God’s most passionate moments aren’t in the earthshaking, power moments, but in the moments we are in contact with dirty faces and hungry stomachs and neglected souls. And those are the moments we often miss (because they’re not as attractive, not as dazzling bright). Those are the significant events we miss and the opportunities we miss to experience God’s true presence and to be God’s presence and to participate in Christ’s mission of love.

The glamour and the glory – the attractiveness – of the Transfiguration event, Peter got. But he missed the gospel, at least for the moment, — at least in the moment.

Peter wanted to stay. But Jesus would say, “We must be on our way.”

What happened on that unnamed mountain—a peak from which they could look back at the spring-like Galilean ministry and then forward to the winter of Calvary—was a dance. The Dance. An improvisational, magical dance between the Holy One Jesus called “Abba” and the “Beloved Son” caught up in the symphony of the Holy Spirit – and witnessed by Elijah and Moses and three astonished disciples.

Rather than building booths to memorialize what they had seen, perhaps, when the dance ended, they should have just clapped in appreciation, and then quietly, solemnly, followed Jesus on his way.

The Transfiguration event was a significant event, but it wasn’t the significant event. It was more a preparatory event, a readiness for what lie ahead.

Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until he had been crucified and raised, because he knew until they had seen and experienced it all, they couldn’t get the significance of it all in the proper perspective. They would miss the big picture. They would miss the point.

In fact, you know what Jesus might have said to his disciples when he saw their reaction to this event? He might have said, “Look guys, Transfiguration happens.” It is a sign, a transition, a preparation for what lies ahead for Jesus, and to strengthen him as he makes his way toward the ultimate event and his true mission.

Meister Eckhart, the 13th century mystic may have said it best: “The ultimate and highest leave taking is leaving God for God.” Leaving, in other words, the god created in our own image and likeness – in our own minds – and experiencing God beyond concepts and notions. The God who is more than our constructs and consciences and categories and conduct. The God who is wholly other, and yet unfailingly present. The God not set apart, but made flesh in Jesus – and in us through the Holy Spirit.

Not the god that we want to put on a pedestal or in a tabernacle – a god of wow and glory and even glitz and glamour, but the God of the gospel, the God of grace, the God of salvation, the God of the cross.

Today, besides being the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, is, ecumenically, World Mission Sunday. It is a day when we especially remember the mission programs and the people serving as missionaries all over the world. But we – all of us here – are called to be missionaries too. And this is what a missionary is called to do.

Just as the three in our gospel today were called, not to tarry on the mountain, in the moment, caught up solely in worship and praise, but were called to be apostles and witness of the crucified and risen Lord, we are called to be and do the same. It is good to be here, for this is where we are fed. This is where we are equipped for ministry. This is where we gather to give our praise to God and even to catch a glimpse of God’s glory.

But we cannot tarry here. Our work is out there. This is our place of transition, of preparation. Out there, in the world, is the mission field, where we are all called as laborers and witnesses and missionaries, in the Name of Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.