Mountain Tops and Valleys

Mark 8:27-9:8 – Transfiguration February 7, 2016

Today’s reading is a revelation, a great transfiguration happens to reveal Jesus as Messiah, to prepare us for what is to come – to prepare us for Jesus to walk toward the cross and then hang from it. And yet, the story today is muddled with misunderstanding and not seeing what is right in front of their faces and then ends with God’s voice chiming in as if to say, “Come on. This is the One. This my Son, the Beloved. Would you listen to him?!”

But let’s back up. Because before they get to the mountain top, there is a great discussion about who Jesus is among Jesus, Peter, James, and John. And they tell him, well some think you’re Elijah. And some think you’re Moses. But then Jesus gets particular. He asks Peter point blank: Yes, but who do you say that I am?  And Peter responds with a clear: “You are the Messiah.” Messiah means anointed one, and anointed ones were kings in those days. Kings who had power. Kings who saved lives. Kings who ruled with a mighty fist. So Peter was confessing that Jesus is the one who would save. Jesus is the mighty king.

Jesus then goes on to tell them just what his kingship, just what God’s kingdom coming in power looks like. We read today: Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.  

So he didn’t mince words. Perhaps he said, “I’m going to be tried in a rigged court and I won’t even open my mouth to defend myself against the false allegations. Then I will be whipped and a crown of thorns will be pushed into my scalp and then they will nail me to a cross. But then, after 3 days, I will be raised up again by the power of God.”

How would you respond? Put yourself in this story as Peter. You’ve just said to Jesus, “You are IT. You are the Messiah” and then Jesus lets loose with all this suffering and rejection and death and resurrection that is coming because he is Messiah. Can you picture Peter with wide eyes and a fake, plastic smile, trying not to let on that he has no clue what Jesus is saying. That he couldn’t possibly be hearing what Jesus was saying after he’d just said he was the equivalent of a mighty, saving king? Can’t you just see Peter’s face fall in disappointment. What? You’re gonna die? And you’re gonna be put to death in the most humiliating way? No, this can’t be true.

So finally, Peter’s façade crumbles, he just can’t take it anymore. This just can’t be true! And he lets Jesus know, taking him aside from the other disciples, so as perhaps to not cause a scene. Using a loud stage whisper, Peter says.  “Jesus, this just can’t be true, no you can’t die! You can’t suffer, not if you’re the Messiah! Crucifixion is for petty criminals – not you! This cannot be God’s plan.” It’s then that Jesus looks at the disciples gathered there that he responds to Peter, not in a stage whisper but so that he can be clearly heard, so that perhaps he will quell their inner monologues as well: Get behind me, Satan! You’re not thinking of Godly things – you’re only thinking of yourselves.

For us to declare that Jesus is the Messiah, that Jesus is the Savior, is for us to then take a step back – or perhaps many steps back – so that we get a clear view just who this Messiah is to serve, is to save, is to love. This isn’t about your precious personal relationship with Jesus. This is about Good News for the world. And his closest friends couldn’t see it.

But Jesus doesn’t shoo them away. Jesus doesn’t say to them that they haven’t gotten it right so they’re done. That whole “Get behind me, Satan” actually isn’t an ending of their relationship but a new beginning. For Jesus to tell Peter and the others to get behind him is to tell them to follow. Instead of driving them away for not doing it right, for not understanding, Jesus instead draws them closer, calls them again to follow him. Not because of their ideas and good thoughts, earthly stuff, but because they follow Jesus whose got the big picture in front of him. They are not ready to lead without him. Jesus is the only one they can follow to the cross, with disbelieving eyes and hearts the whole way. None of us makes it to the cross without Jesus.

It is easy for us to get caught up in the rules and ways of the world and then to impose them upon God. To insist that things shouldn’t happen a certain way because, well, it doesn’t fit our expectations. You can hardly blame the disciples for questioning what Jesus said would happen to him, what would make him the savior of the world. We can hardly fathom it ourselves, and we know how this story goes.

 

Jesus re-defines power. Jesus levels the existing landscape of what it means to rule over people, have power over people by giving up all power. He tells them that he will suffer and he will die a humiliating and painful death, and that God will raise him up after 3 days. He says, THIS is God’s kingdom coming in power.

It’s 6 days later that these same 3 disciples and Jesus head up onto the mountain together. I wonder if the disciples were still a bit shaky from their encounter earlier in the week. I wonder if their questions and uncertainty continued to leak out in all kinds of ways. I wonder if they had a hard time meeting Jesus’ eyes. Or I wonder if they felt newly called into this weird reality of following a savior and realizing they don’t understand any of it. Uncertain but following Jesus anyway?  That seems to sum up a life of faith.
So imagine their astonishment when the mountain top explodes in light, revealing their savior in a whole new light, revealing 2 prophets of old, Elijah and Moses, revealing the voice of God, once again pointing to Jesus and his authority and to listen to him. Considering the hard week they had had, this was an incredible turn of events. They went from the valley of the shadow of Jesus’ death to the mountain top of Jesus bathed in glorious light. And Peter’s instinct is to try and stay there. Hey, let’s stay here. We can build shelters for Moses and Elijah too! Let’s. stay. here.

So today, we’ve been on the mountain top with Jesus and his disciples but only after we’ve been in the valley with them. So I ask you,

What are your deep valley experiences? Deep, dark places of uncertainty and fear and death? Was it the diagnosis that took the floor out from underneath you? Or the inability to diagnose with the unspoken “hurry up and wait” while you are suspect of your body’s agenda Was it the crumbling of your marriage, the failing of a test, the ending of a relationship, the firing from a job, the death of your father, that sinking feeling that your life isn’t where you imagined it would be?

What are your mountain top experiences? Is it getting a clean bill of health, finding a new sense of yourself, experiencing even a moment of peace that you couldn’t explain? Was it finding love again, finding yourself again, seeing a friendship or relationship come back to life? Was it through healing?

Now I ask you: In those mountain top experiences, could you see God at work in your life? Did you thank God in the moment or as you looked back on it?

And now I ask you this: have you been able to recognize God in your deep valleys too? Would you be able to recognize God without both the mountain top and the valley experiences?

Our suffering is not what defines us. Oh it matters alright. It shapes us and changes us. But it is Jesus’ suffering that redeems the whole world – that ultimately shapes who we are, how we love, why we love. Because Christ’s suffering is out of love for us – on our tippy top mountains and in our deep valleys.

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