Year B, Last Sunday of Epiphany
I was listening to the news a couple of days ago and heard someone being interviewed about SpaceX, which is a private aerospace manufacturer founded by Elon Musk. Just this past week, they launched an incredibly powerful rocket into space, the most powerful rocket in the last several decades. Apparently the ultimate goal of SpaceX is to colonize Mars. Their next project is a spaceship that would be the size of a 16 story skyscraper, essentially a cruise ship to outer space. It could take about 100 people to Mars.
Obviously the story caught my attention, but it did not surprise or shock me. Sure, a cruise ship to Mars, why not? We have become so technologically advanced, that it almost seems that anything is possible….which is wild because I am old enough to remember when I saw my first cell phone…which was a car phone at the time. The idea that you could make a phone call from a car blew my mind. It is amazing that 25 years later, a cruise ship to Mars seems feasible to me.
It is a lot harder to impress or shock people nowadays. We are accustomed to special effects in movies, smart phones that can control the lights in our home, the ability to get anything we want or need by talking to a disembodied voice called Alexa or Siri. Yet when I was reading about this Gospel text, the Transfiguration, commentators kept stressing how unbelievable and mysterious the event was…how impossible it is to comprehend a man lighting up and voice coming from heaven. I thought, we are talking about cruise ships to Mars, how is it that clothes whiter than anyone could bleach them would be mind blowing or unimaginable?
Yet it is, when you think about—well it’s more than just thinking about it, it’s best if you can imagine yourself there as part of that scene. You have just hiked up a mountain with a man you have come to admire and perhaps even worship. You have seen him do amazing things, heal people and drive out demons. However, you have also seen him when he was tired and hungry. You have seen him sit down and eat a big meal. You have seen him when he is frustrated and scared. In some ways, he’s just your average guy. And then suddenly you see him glowing. It’s not just that his clothes are white, his whole presence has become dazzling. It is like looking at the sun just a few moments too long or coming out of a dark tunnel and finding yourself in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. He isn’t just bright, he is transformed so radically that it is disorienting.
If that is not crazy enough, he is talking to two people who have appeared out of nowhere. Not only do they appear out of nowhere, they are two people who are supposed to be dead. It is Elijah and Moses, two giants of the Hebrew faith. Then a cloud sweeps in. You might think a cloud would not be that impressible, but in the Jewish faith the presence of a cloud, especially on a mountain, symbolized the presence of God. If that was not dramatic enough….all of a sudden, there is a voice that comes from the sky and proclaims, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.”
Granted, Mars might seem like another world, but it is still part of our galaxy. Yet this Transfiguration marked a moment when heaven and earth touched, when the living and dead inhabited one space, when Jesus could be both human and divine, and when the voice of God could break through the silence.
There are only two times in the Gospel of Mark when we hear the voice of God that comes directly from heaven. It’s at Jesus baptism when the sky splits and the Transfiguration. At Jesus’ baptism the voice said, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” God was talking to Jesus as he was beginning his public ministry. He was affirming him and empowering him. In today’s reading, God is speaking to the disciples, but he is also speaking to us. Jesus isn’t just another powerful preacher and teacher. He is not just a miracle worker who healed some people, he is the Son of God, and for that reason alone, we need to listen to him.
After the light show, the guest appearance of the two dead prophets, the cloud and the voice….poof…it was gone. It was only Jesus who was left. The disciples could have walked down that mountain and convinced themselves it was a dream or a trick of the light. Or, they could let the experience change them and become part of who they were. Since we know that three of the four Gospels tell the story of the Transfiguration, it is apparent that this was an event that had an incredible impact not only on the disciples who were present, but the early church as well.
What makes the Transfiguration more awe inspiring and more spectacular than a cruise ship to Mars is that it has the potential to affect all of us. It is not just life changing for a few special people who were there 2000 years ago; it changes all who are willing to open themselves to the extraordinary and mesmerizing glory of God. God’s light did not just stay with Jesus after he was transfigured, nor did it simply disappear into the ether; it was released into the world so that we all can become vessels of that light.
I know that I have preached a few sermons about the need to be the light and carry the light. That is important, but before we can be the light, we have to open ourselves to the glory of the light. We have to behold the light. It’s not a one and done type of thing. We celebrate Christmas and Easter every year. We celebrate the Transfiguration every year. We do that for several reasons, but one of the reasons is so that we can have many opportunities to remind ourselves of the power and glory of God. As Christians, we have unlimited opportunities to be transformed.
Some of the opportunities can be found in the sacraments of the church, like baptism and communion. Other opportunities can be found in less formal areas, like service and outreach. Night’s Welcome is an incredible example of transformation because we see the building actually transformed into a place where the homeless people sleep and eat. Yet the deeper transformation is in the people who come here and the people who serve. Every year I find myself a little bit humbled by the amount of people who come and serve, the amount a few people sacrifice so that many can be served, and especially the people who come and sleep on our floors.
The story of the Transfiguration is dramatic and breathtaking, yet it is often the ordinary transformations that we see that can really change us. I find that the most profound transformations I experience are when I allow myself to see not just the spectacular, but also the tragic and heart breaking. Because when we allow our hearts to break just a little, we may find that the light of Christ breaks in— in a magnificent and glorious way.