The Unpredictable Holy
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

February 15, 2015
Transfiguration Sunday

2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

In the western tradition of storytelling, the story builds up to a climactic scene, followed by some kind of denouement, some wrap-up. It looks like a long climb up a hill and after the peak you take a quick escalator ride back down.

This is why on hour-long TV medical dramas, when you hit the 45 minute mark, you know that either they have found the right diagnosis or the show is to be continued next week.

In Jewish storytelling, the story is laid out more like a menorah. I happen to have one here. The story is symmetrical. The beginning and the end are often mirror images of each other, and the important stuff, the deep stuff, is in the middle.

In Mark’s Gospel, the Transfiguration is the center point. It is the transition in how we see Jesus: from preacher/healer/proclaimer of the Good News to the one who will face down the empire. In Luke’s gospel, this is the point at which it says he turns his face towards Jerusalem, heading towards arrest, crucifixion, death… and resurrection.

Jesus has with him the executive committee of the Apostles: Peter, John and James. These only ones of the twelve Jesus takes with him at three important points in the Gospel:

  • The raising of Jairus’s daughter. They are there to witness the power of God for resurrection.
  • At the transfiguration. They are witnesses to Jesus in divine glory.
  • At the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prays to let this cup pass from his lips. They witness Jesus in his agony and anguish.

They are with Jesus when he is at his best and at his worst; when he is filled with power and when he is “distressed and agitated;” when he is aglow with the holy and when he says to them: ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’

True friends are the ones who celebrate with you in your victory, are proud of you when you are in your glory, and are by your side when you are in your anguish.

[When Mary graduated Law School, you threw us a party. When our children were born, you celebrated with us. When they had their surgeries, you prayed with us. When Patrick came home on hospice care, you surrounded us with your love. I have witnessed the power of true Christian fellowship in our joys and in our sorrows. Thank you.]

But back to our Gospel story: what about Peter wanting to build houses here on the mountain? I have often preached that he is trying to hold on to those mountaintop moments. Karoline Lewis suggests that this is not the case.

She writes:

I think that Peter’s issue is not so much about holding Jesus to his expectations. Nor is it capturing the moment.

I think Peter’s issue is the realization that if Jesus changes, then Peter will be changed as well. “I cannot be the same. I will also be transfigured, transformed. And maybe I don’t want that. So, let’s pitch some tents, keep things the way they are, hunker down, and ride it out. Maybe the whole thing will just pass by. I can come out of my tent and all will still be the same. Jesus will be the same. I will still be the same.”

So that’s why the Transfiguration. Jesus gets this. What will it be that gets you to move, to come out of your tent, or maybe even not to want pitch one in the first place?

We all know things in our lives that need to change. Each one of us could probably name something in our lives where it is almost too painful to stay the same anymore.

This is the Good News: God’s healing love, the resurrection power we know in Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit, is with us, whether we are in our victory, we are in our glory, or we are in our anguish.

This is the unpredictable nature of the Holy: God loves us enough to meet us where we are, and loves us too much to leave us there, but does not tell us exactly how our lives will change.

Like Peter, it is tempting to try and camp out in the known, the settled, the regular and the secure. The belief that life will not change is an illusion. As Paul says in his letter this morning, the god of this world likes to veil the Gospel, to say that peace and security can be achieved by force of arms, or better economic projections, or by following the rules of the empire, or by just looking down on the right people to look down upon.

The Gospel says, “Follow me.” If we follow, we will be changed. We will be changed in ways we could never guess at the beginning of the journey.

When the voice of God speaks in this morning’s Gospel story, it does not say “Listen to Jesus,” as a onetime thing. A better translation is “This is my Son, the Beloved; Keep listening to him!”

Because if we follow, if we keep listening, we will find that he is with us, wherever we are, whatever we face, however life changes.

Thanks be to God. Amen.