Sunday February 19, 2012.
Mark 9: 1-10
Reaching the heights
Friends, being on top of the hill is a great place to be. It always amazes me how those mountain climbers go to such great lengths and put themselves in such dangerous places to experience the joy of being high on “the roof of the world”, as they call Mt Everest.
I have never been anywhere near Mt Everest, but I have enjoyed that great view on various high places. I remember being on top of Uluru on a fine sunny spring morning. I remember the view of that beautiful city of Paris that Leanne and I shared in the Montparnasse Tower. I remember viewing the patchwork quilt of paddocks in southern wheat belt in WA from the top of Bluff Knoll in the Stirling Ranges with our whole family and some friends.
Somehow being at the top of a mountain and taking in that sweeping view is exhilarating. I guess that is why we bother to get up so high.
Peter, James and John were led up a high mountain (probably Mt Tabor) in Israel. They were led up there by Jesus. They may have been thinking that this might be the time that Jesus was going to teach them the way he prays? They had often seen him disappear up a nearby hill at sunset and not come back until morning, and when they asked him what he had been doing, he said he had been “praying to my Father”.
Well, they got more than they could have ever bargained for. We heard the account Mark tells. Jesus changes. His clothes become whiter than white; whiter than any bleach could make them. This is “other worldly” white.
In this blinding array, two human figures appear. Surely they cannot believe their eyes. They are good Jewish boys. All their lives they have told and had re-told the stories of these two “greats” of the Jewish faith – and there they are. Instead of having Adelaide Crows or Power players on their bedroom walls, they would have had Moses and Elijah there!
We might liken this moment to being in the presence of a West Coast Eagles ‘legend’ like Guy MacKenna or Peter Matera! (maybe not here, hey?).
Leanne tells me that when the Queen visited Perth last year, it was this kind of moment. Tens of thousands of people lined the Perth streets and they were almost silent as Elizabeth II passed by and when she addressed the great throng.
The three men are dazzled by this supernatural show of light. Amazingly, Mark says that these two towering figures of the Biblical story are “talking with Jesus”. They have come to talk with Jesus. They seem the lesser and he seems the greater.
After the initial terror that filled these men, Peter has to say something. Even though it seems that the words he says are spoken in his dazed state.
“Jesus, it is good to be here!” he blurts out. Then he suggests to Jesus that he and his two friends should be allowed to put up the three tents. Most people seem to take this as meaning that Peter wanted this inspiring experience to keep going for a little longer. Why not? After all, as he says, “It is good to be here”.
Peter’s very limited human understanding of Jesus and of how God works to hide his glory, lest we take it for ourselves and give ourselves the credit is on show here. His idea comes to naught. Even as he finishes speaking, God is already doing something else. God is in control of this rare event and he is the one who determines the mountain top experiences, not Peter.
The “cloud” descends. Ah. “The cloud”. We have heard about this cloud before. This is the “glory cloud”, the Shekinah” of God’s glorious presence with his people in that desert wandering time. The cloud descended on the newly build tabernacle as Moses and Aaron had prayed way back in Numbers. The pillar of cloud appeared in the great event of the Red Sea crossing as God freed his people, Israel. The cloud of God led them by day and the pillar of fire led them by night in that Exodus journey.
Now the cloud of God’s glory envelops them all. And in the misty great came that Voice. The voice that only Jesus had heard before – the voice saying almost the same word down by the Jordan when John the Baptiser baptised Jesus as his ministry began that day (Mark 1).
“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him”. This time it seems that not only Jesus hears these precious and powerful words from Parent to child.
The sense of the words suggests that everyone heard this stamp of love and approval and this command – this imperative word, “Listen to him”. Actually, the word means, “Keep on listening to him”.
And then, as quickly as they had been dazzled, it is all gone – except one thing. They are looking around for more or others and there is no more and no other – other than Jesus.
Jesus is all they can see and surely all they need to see and hear. The law, the prophets, Moses, Elijah, the OT Exodus events, all wrapped up in and fulfilled in this Rabbi from up north – Jesus of Nazareth who they believe to be God’s dearly loved Son and Saviour of the world – “Christ”, “Messiah”, “New King David”.
We get the sense that there is much more to come for Jesus and for his three companions. There is more to come and Jesus will need to draw on these precious words of affirmation and the three (and the other 9) will also need to stay very close – within earshot of Jesus for what is about to happen.
And then a great thing: Jesus not only leads them up to this great “life-shifting” experience and gives them a glimpse of what is to be part of their experience in their future, he also willingly and definitely now, goes down the mountain from this great moment. (Mark 9:9). He is resolute now. The moment is passed. It was important to experience it and hear the word in it – not just for itself, but for what is now to unfold.
Friends, Jesus is all we need. He is all that God leaves for us to know, see and hear. So, no need to look around for others, friend. You have him right in front of you – hidden yes, but revealed too; revealed in ways of his choosing: the preached Word, the shared word, the enacted Word of Baptism, Absolution for sin and Holy Meal; in the community of Jesus – the Church.
It is good to be here at St Petri for these things and for Him. Here we receive him and his gifts of affirmation and love. Here, we the Baptised hear those words spoken over us as we gather in Jesus’ name, “Son, Daughter of God, I love you and very pleased with you”. Listen to Jesus. Hear each other”.
Worship in the name of Jesus is powered by his voice – his word. It is our regular mountain top, even though to the senses it may not exactly “feel” that way at times!! But He is here. His word is here. The Law and Prophets and the great cloud of witnesses gather with us and all who have gone before us in the Faith and have entered the rest. Worship is cosmic in proportion!
But friends, how good it is that Jesus is not only here! How good is it that he goes with us into our way of the cross? He comes with us down from the high points and stays with us in the low. He goes to the end of our suffering and pain and triumphs for us!
Friends, we will begin this intentional focus on the Via Dolorosa, the way of the suffering as Lent begins this Wednesday. The Lord is calling you to enjoy the mountain today and marvel in your Saviour with all his glory and brightness, and then follow him down to the 40 day journey called Lent. I believe that as we pay attention to his voice in some time and tested ways, we will reach that other even higher event for us who are in need of such forgiveness, triumph and life – Easter Day: Resurrection Day.
Look to him. Listen to him. Follow him. He will lead you and stay with you through it all and bring you to end of it all in his light and life.
All praise be to Jesus, the suffering and triumphant Saviour of us all.