Transfiguration Mark 9.2.9
Today I present a dialogue sermon where I enter into the Gospel of Mark for the Transfiguration … as we heard this morning. I am James, one of the three invited up to the mountaintop away from the others with Jesus to pray .. or so I thought.
To pray as Jesus has done many a time before and would again however I am unsure that I would name what we did on that mountain as prayer … though maybe it was? I am one who Jesus called to follow as me and my brother John were on the boat with our father Zebedee for what seems an age ago now though probably its been about a year since I left all I knew, all what and who was familiar to me.
To follow someone I did not know for a reason I could not say other than it felt I had no choice. And did not want a choice. I think I am sorry I just stood up and left. But don’t believe I actually am. It felt I was leaving behind nothing to be with everything.
Jesus referred to John and me as Sons of Thunder – rather than Sons of Zebedee. Boanerges – Sons of Thunder,- with no explanation but we both knew that he knew who we were, as he had known Zacchaeus at first sight. We were often reprimanded by Jesus for our thunderous ways – speaking out – roaring.
We roared when Jesus was not welcomed … asking Jesus if he would like us to call fire down from heaven on those who did not open their door to him. As if he needed our help. As if he would. As we moved on to another village it was me and my brother who were reprimanded, not them. I bet he prayed for them behind their locked doors. I know he prayed for them. Thunderous we can be. Yet there will be times when we were the ones behind locked doors and silent. Silent as we were in the Garden when they led Jesus away, and when we stood outside when we knew Jesus was being questioned, and beaten. As he walked another hill outside the city walls.
We were not thunderous as he hung on the cross. We did not roar. Whether silent or roaring, I am not one of the disciples who needs the center of attention not like Peter, or Judas. I am not as close to Jesus as some are – clearly John is the disciple who is loved. That was our nickname for John. And John liked it. You know by the way Jesus refers to him and as he gazes upon John, John seems to come more in focus. He loved John, and I came to know he loved me. Not because I am John’s brother – more than that – a lot more than that. His gaze on me may not have seemed to be held for as long yet when Jesus gazes upon me it feels as if there is no other. And I can’t keep my gaze on anything else. I follow and keep my eyes on Jesus, and listen to him, for him.
From the very first instance when I saw this strange, intriguing, unassuming yet imposing man, when he called my name it was as if no matter what he may call me to do – or to be – I would. I would do. I would be. I am as a yes for him. And I’m not sure why. Have never been so for anyone – you would only need to ask my mum or my poor old dad. Yet now will never not be – a yes - for him. When he called me to come up the mountain with him, I was yes. Me with Peter and John. Pick me. Pick me, I had silently cried. And when Jesus picked me, I wondered why. Why would he pick me? I’m not much.
The most radical bold thing I’ve done is to leave everything and everyone I knew to follow Jesus. Many would class that as irresponsible rather than something to be proud of. And yet I am. I am proud I was able and did. I have no family yet with Jesus I am family. I have no home yet this is home. Apart from fishing I don’t know much. Actually there are times I feel like a fish, pulled out from the familiar environment into an alien environment. Out of water – out of depth. Yet I would choose to die here.
I have no money, yet I feel I have discovered something precious, like a reward I did not know existed. The treasure of life. When I allow myself to think about it, I don’t have much to offer at all.
I’m not much yet feel I am enough. As I reflect back to that walk up the mountain, I realise I had very little idea who I walked with – I don’t mean Peter or John, I know them enough probably too much. But I’ll never know Jesus enough. I know him as a teacher, a storyteller, a healer, and a traveling companion. His face, his manners, his mission - all are familiar to me. Familiar, endearing, and safe. On that mountain before my eyes, Jesus changed, becoming at once both fully himself and fully strange. The man I thought I knew is suddenly more, suddenly Other. And then he was not on his own. I knew immediately who were standing before us. And I was on my knees.I’ve spent a lot of time on my knees. I confess to not being much of a man of prayer. I’ve come to know that prayer is not about the words we say it’s about how our hearts beat. There they were. Jesus, Moses, Elijah.
I was always encouraged by Moses not wanting to be chosen by God, negotiating for his brother to go in his place and then allowed to have his brother with him. As they stood before me, I was reminded that directed by God, Elijah wrapped his cloak around Elisha's shoulders, and called him away to a new vocation. Although there was no cloak, I felt Jesus had done that to us – to me.
It being his arm around my shoulders calling me away to a new life, a new vocation. Elisha became Elijah's shadow, following his teacher out of love, admiration, and a keen eagerness to learn anything his mentor will teach him. And isn’t that what we are doing, what I am doing ? In Elijah’s story the chariots come, the whirlwind descends, and Elijah leaves his bereft student behind. Is this what Jesus trying to say to us. That we will be left behind? Bereft? I couldn’t hear what they spoke about. They spoke as if they had known each other forever – relaxed, familiar, intensely – as if everything counted on what was being said. This immediate intimacy could not be hidden no matter the amount of dazzling white – nothing could keep it from shining through.
And as I stood there watching I came to know I was jealous. This was our Jesus. That was my Jesus. And almost as immediately I knew this was never so, and would never be so. It was the other way round. I was his James and that would always be so. And as we stood there, with our mouths hanging open, and hearts beating so fast I thought it would stop even then Peter has to speak. I dread every time he takes breath to speak. I hold my breath. I just know he is going to say something I would not want to be spoken. That should not be said. Yet you can count on him saying it. I wonder sometimes if Peter forgets who is following who, and that the rest of us do not follow him. He doesn’t get it and yet neither do I. Not always. Yet what I know is enough, and I knew this was no time to bring to an end by speaking.
And that day on the mountain Peter speaks out. Saying we should remain exactly where we are. I may not always get it, but I got that this was for this moment – this precious moment. If this moment could not render him silent whatever could? And then he was silenced – by a voice - the voice saying This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him! God’s way of saying stop. Be silent. And in that moment I knew. I knew why I could be no other place, doing no other life. This is God’s Son, and is loved as he loves me. And I have been listening and I will forever listen. I would do as God – yes God – asked me I will listen.
As we left the mountain, Jesus ordered us to tell no one about what we had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. I won’t be saying a word. I don’t want even to think these words, let alone speak them. I couldn’t bear – I won’t survive. Jesus is not going to get out of this alive. And neither will I.
I have wondered why I am so committed to be a disciple for Jesus.
Perhaps my relationship with my father – a good working relationship on the boats yet we shared so little of life or God. And with Jesus that’s all we share – the wisdom of life and of God. You can’t have one without the other – so I know now. But not then.
Jesus tells us to call his father our father – because he says he is. Jesus’ father is our father. And that is my prayer – our father. On that walk back down, I knew what I knew was enough – that day and every day. I now knew I did not know him as we walked up and thought I did. I now knew I did not know him, may never know, and that was ok. I did not speak what I now knew.
My mouth was shut but my heart was not. My heart was opened by his very first word to me and remained so till his last.
As I heard him speak I knew I was doing more than hearing him speak of him, he was speaking of me. His words resonated within me and made me me. His words of death resonated within me and did so until my death.
I had journeyed with Jesus the minister, the rabbi, the healer. And what I heard was the ask to journey with him towards the cross. I may not have been the first to follow, or be healed, or to leave in ministry however I was the first to die because of his words. His life. Not because of who he was. Who he is. I am a yes. End of sermon as James. On Transfiguration Sunday, we come to the end of another liturgical season. Having seen the lights of Epiphany, we prepare now for the long shadows of Lent. I don't know what thresholds we’ll encounter in the wilderness. I don’t know how God might invite us to change, to grow, to be transfigured. And I don’t know what losses and sorrows those transfigurations will include. Or the hope and joys. However like James, we are a yes, in all we know – which is enough and all we do not know, cannot know. Not here. If this week’s Gospel bears witness to something true about the life of faith, we can trust that we are invited to be with God in all we are, and in all we do.
And we say yes. Wendy