Sermon: Taking It All In

Jesus' Transfiguration
Jesus’ Transfiguration

Genesis 17: 1 – 7, 15 19
Mark 9: 2 – 10

God instructs Abraham to walk in God’s ways and be blameless, and in return, God promises to enter into covenant with Abraham and all his descendants. And then God gives Abraham some good news. God says that as a sign of their covenant, Abraham’s 90 year old wife Sarah will bear him a son.

Abraham falls on his face, laughing! He thinks to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”

Abraham laughs because he cannot believe that what God is promising can ever be true. It’s too much for him to take in! It’s too preposterous to believe! And so he laughs in disbelief! And yet, as God promises, Sarah gives birth to their son, Isaac.

Disbelief also has to be part of what is happening on this mountain top. Jesus has taken Peter, and the brothers, James and John, up to a high mountain, apart, by themselves.

Jesus is transfigured before them. He begins to glow with a blinding brightness, and two dead celebrities appear, Moses and Elijah…and the disciples are terrified!

Can you imagine the physical effect this was having on the disciples as they witnessed this unbelievable event?

They would have been in the middle of an intense fight or flight response. Their hearts would have been pounding in their chests and their pulse would have been beating in their head.

Their mouths would have gone dry, and their eyes and pupils would be wide open. They would have been trembling with an adrenaline rush, and all their senses would have been on high alert – their minds and bodies would have switched into emergency survival mode.

I heard an interesting story on NPR this week about how our minds and memories work when we go into emergency survival mode. Normally, our minds are spending most of the time helping us focus on the task at hand. It does this by filtering out all sensory input that is deemed unnecessary to whatever we are focusing on.

However, When we go into emergency survival mode, in those extreme reaction moments, our mind snaps opens our memory all the way, and everything is allowed in, unfiltered, uncensored, no focus – our mind doesn’t know what information might be necessary for our survival so everything is allowed in. When this happens, we are taking in more information than we can possibly process.

This is why after an emergency situation, people will often say that time stood still. Or that things were moving in slow motion, or describe minute details, vivid colors, sharper sounds, stronger smells, even tastes, all enhanced, all in a single moment.

Once the emergency event is over, details get foggy. There are isolated moments of sharp clarity floating in an otherwise cloudy blurriness.

That overload of sensory information is too hard to be taken in all at once and it takes time to process and sink in, and for us to sort through it. And over time, it can even start to seem unreal…as if it was all a dream.

So here are the disciples, witnessing this shocking and miraculous event and they don’t know what to say, because they are terrified.

Perhaps God takes pity on them by swaddling them in cloud, to mute the miracle taking place, to soften the light, to ease their fear…and from that embrace of cloud, now that God has their full attention, God publicly acknowledges Jesus, “This is my son, the Beloved; listen to him.”

The cloud clears, and there is only Jesus.

They head back down the mountain and Jesus says, “tell no one about what you have seen, until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”

Tell no one.

How does this go along with our mandate to “Go Tell it on the Mountain, over the hills and everywhere?”

Why does Jesus tell them not to tell anyone?

They weren’t ready yet. They had so much more to learn. They didn’t know the whole story. They couldn’t begin to comprehend what the Son of Man rising from the dead would mean until they had witnessed it. Until they had lived it. They needed time to listen to Jesus, as God had instructed.

This mountain top moment was a sneak preview of Resurrection glory, so they would know and understand and remember when they reached the other side of the cross. Jesus was planting seeds that needed time to grow deep roots before they could burst forth and provide sustenance for others.

It’s no wonder that Peter wants to build a dwelling for Jesus on that mountain, in that magnificent and radiant moment, where Jesus exudes God’s Glory. It might be that it is where Jesus belongs…but it isn’t where Jesus stays.

Ultimately, this story isn’t about us going up the mountain, it’s about Jesus coming back down.

Jesus gives Peter, and John, and James a glimpse of glory and then Jesus turns down the light so that he can walk with us, not to dazzle us, but to love us – to empty and simplify himself, so that we can follow him, and love him, face to face.

The cloud clears…and there is only Jesus.

The good news is often hard for us to take in…. the good news that we are loved, that we are valued, the good news that we are forgiven, the good news that God is always present with us. We may not be able to take it all in, but we don’t have to, because Jesus is more than able to take all us in.

Jesus came back down to walk with us and no matter where our road leads us, Jesus has already been there… We remember that wherever we are going, Jesus is waiting for us, not on the mountain top but down here, down here in each hour of every day, down here in the midst of all the broken places in our hearts and in our lives and in our world.

We gather at Christ’s table where Jesus teaches us to break bread in order to remember that our brokenness makes room for the Spirit to work. We remember that a seed has to break open in order to grow. Sometimes even churches need to break in order to be free to follow where Jesus will lead.

Jesus came back down because “Jesus is not afraid of what is difficult in our lives. Jesus will not [reject] us because of our failings. Jesus’ descent back down the mountain reminds us that we don’t have to hide the hard parts of our lives from the God we know [through] Jesus.”

God sent his beloved son, “to be with us, and for us, through thick and thin, [through broken and whole,] and through life and death —

Indeed, God [sent] Jesus to be with us and [lead us] through [brokenness] and death, into new life.”

Let us pray,
God of glory, shine your light into our lives and transform our hearts and minds. In the breaking of bread and the sharing of this cup, let the clouds disappear and let us see only Jesus.

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