Liphook Methodist Church

15 February 2015

SUNDAY BEFORE LENT - TRANSFIGURATION "SO WHAT'S THAT ALL ABOUT THEN"

Readings: Mark 9:2-9, Drama


What's that all about then?

To get somewhere near answering that we need to step back a bit and look at Mark's gospel as a whole.

Mark is not so much a whodunit as a who-is-it. It's one of those where the reader has been let into a secret at the beginning that the protagonists don't know about.

It's like a panel game where the panel have to guess who the person being talked about is. Maybe one team has to talk about a certain personality or celebrity without mentioning their name while the other team has to guess who it is. Meanwhile the audience have been given the answer so that they can understand how clever the team talking is being. It's a kind of "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue" type of game.

The mystery voice for the reader at home comes in chapter 1 verse 1:
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

This episode of the Transfiguration comes just over half way through the gospel and is another set of clues designed to lead readers on to realise what Mark means when he says that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God.

Mark has structured his writing to scatter these clues liberally all the way through. Almost every episode gives an angle on who Jesus is - sometimes by directly posing the question in people's reactions ("who is this ... ?"); sometimes by telling of something Jesus does; sometimes by telling of people's reactions or their answers to a question.

But Mark also structures the gospel around some revelations where Jesus' is spelt out.

I mentioned verse 1:
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.
But then there's also chapter 1 verse 11:
a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'

At the end of the gospel Mark records the centurion at the cross: when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, 'Surely this man was the Son of God!' (Mk 15:39)

And if you fold the scroll in half you get two episodes around the fold. Chapter 8:27-29:
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, 'Who do people say I am?' 28 They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.'
29 'But what about you?' he asked. 'Who do you say I am?' Peter answered, 'You are the Messiah.'

And chapter 9 - this mysterious episode we've heard called the Transfiguration.

What's that all about then?
When I suggested to Chris that this question was a recurring refrain for the drama she said that was fine and they'd leave me to give you the answer.

Hmmm

Well, I don't know about that but I always feel that on this one I should be able to help. As you know many Anglican churches have a dedication - they're St Mark's or St Mary's or something like that. I've served in churches dedicated to St John, St Andrew, St Michael and All Angels and even St Lawrence. But the first church where I served had a relatively rare dedication. As far as we knew there are only 5 in the country dedicated to The Transfiguration. I served at the Church of the Transfiguration, Kempston in Bedfordshire. I always think that having worked in a church with that dedication I should be able to show some understanding of it.

What I want to do today is try and open up some possibilities for understanding the biblical passage. But to leave it there would just be Bible study. So I want to try and probe towards something more than that, something that gets towards the question, "and what does that mean for us?" which is the other part of what that's all about.

As we saw in the drama there are at least three points when we might want to ask, "so what's that all about then?"

Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the mountain - what's that all about then?

There was a voice from heaven "This is my own dear Son - listen to him!" - what's that all about then?

Jesus said to them on the way back down the mountain "Don't tell anyone until the Son of Man has risen from death" - what's that all about then?

Let's take each one of those in turn in view of what we've said about Mark's gospel and ask "so what's that all about then?"

Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the mountain - what's that all about then?
There appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

The whole "transfiguration" thing of Jesus' clothes being dazzling white is mean to indicate Jesus in glory, Jesus as he would have appeared as a heavenly being, a glimpse into his status as the second person of the Trinity - pre-incarnation.

To pick up John's language for this we could remember that John started his gospel with the phrase, "in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."

Jesus is the Word of God - from eternity to eternity and on earth we sometimes speak of him as the "incarnate word" - the word made bodily.

The other way of understanding the word of God is the scriptures - the Bible. At that time what we know as the Old Testament which was often summed up by Jesus' contemporaries and by Jesus himself as "the Law and the Prophets".

That's why we have Moses and Elijah - they stand for the Law and the Prophets. Elijah was a prophet expected to return and God promised that he would raise up a prophet like Moses. There was also something mysterious about the end of both of their earthly lives. Moses died and was buried by God and Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and chariots of fire.

Jesus is seen in conversation with these two great figures from the scriptures. He brings together the Law and the Prophets - he represents God's communication with his people in teaching them how to be his people and calling them back to the covenant promises that God made with his people.

And the second point of "what's that all about then?" is also to do with words and communication from God.

There was a voice from heaven "This is my own dear Son - listen to him!" - What's that all about then?

It is reminiscent of the voice at Jesus' baptism:
a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'

The first addressed to Jesus the other for the benefit of those three disciples. You are my Son, whom I love, this is my beloved Son.

Listen to him.

It's like saying that whatever communication has gone before through the Law and the Prophets God has now come himself. Sending a Son was near as anything to coming himself so this is direct word from God - it really would be worth listening to him. He will have words that teach the way to be God's people as the Law had been meant to do; he will call his people back to that Covenant of love that God makes and remakes and makes again with his people who keep going astray.

Listen to him - as some of them said at a later date according to another witness - he has the words of eternal life, the words that can bring us into the constant and eternal presence of God.

And finally, the third, "what's that all about then?" moment: Jesus said to them on the way back down the mountain "Don't tell anyone until the Son of Man has risen from death" - what's that all about then?

This is an example of something that is also a feature of Mark's gospel in particular - what is called the messianic secret. Has anyone pointed this out in the last 2 weeks? There are many places, especially in Mark, where Jesus tells people who have worked out who he is that they mustn't tell anyone.

That sounds a bit counter-intuitive. If they've got it right why shouldn't they tell anyone? If these three disciples have had direct revelation and heard the voice from heaven spelling it out for them why do they have to keep quiet?

I think it's to do with the signal that it's OK to break their silence. "Don't tell anyone until the Son of Man has risen from death"

A messiah who dies is not part of the Jewish scheme. A messiah is supposed to be the one who brings liberation and triumph and who overthrows oppression and restores the Kingdom they had in the glory days of David and Solomon. That will require military victories over the Romans and it is not the way Jesus sees it. He's bringing God's Kingdom but it's not a military kingdom, it's not a kingdom of this world as he put it elsewhere.

Jesus doesn't want his title and status bandied about with lots of people who don't understand it and might force the issue before he's ready to show what it really means and that requires his death and resurrection.

As we saw, even these disciples who had this direct revelation didn't really get what it was all about - not until after the resurrection.

So, maybe that helps with what that's all about then in the context of the Bible. We're a bit nearer understanding what Mark was doing writing what he did.

But what about the other half of what that's all about then? What about what that might mean for us?

Firstly and most simply, it means what it says - this is God's Son, listen to him. It means what it meant then - Jesus is worth listening to because he brings the word of God so near he personifies it and he speaks of God's Kingdom which the Law and the Prophets were also meant to lead people into.

Secondly, and almost as simply, it means we are to speak about him because he has risen from the dead. The trigger to break our silence has happened, he has risen, we can speak.

Thirdly, I think we need to get into the word beloved. "My Son whom I love; my own dear Son."

As Jesus' followers since his resurrection we are caught up in his life - the life of God's beloved Son. So hear those words for yourself - "You are my own dear child". And everyone hear this of those around you - "these are my own dear children".
Just look at your neighbour for a moment. That is a dearly loved child of God - and now realise that the person looking at you heard the same thing. Remember that when you look in the mirror - perhaps put a post-it note on your mirror that says,
Mark 9:7, 'This is my Child, whom I love.'

We are called to share in the life of the beloved.

We will be reminded as we come to communion that Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to others. It stands for his life too. Jesus was taken, was blessed by God at his baptism and declared blessed at the Transfiguration, was broken on the cross and given to the world.

As Henri Nouwen pointed out in The Life of the Beloved Jesus' followers are also taken, blessed, broken and given.

We are chosen and blessed by pure affirmation empowering us in our true nature as children of God. Like Jesus we are also broken by life's sorrows and trials but the result of being broken is that we too are given to the world.

What's that all about then? We too are beloved of God, heirs to the promise and share in the blessing of Jesus. Listen to him - we can now speak of this vision - a vision of every person standing under God's blessing and fatherly embrace, coming to stand next to Christ not by some moral effort but by virtue of the love of the Father.

Amen.

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