Summary: An exhortation to listen to God and obey Him.
The Last Sunday of Epiphany
February 22, 2009
St. Andrew’s Anglican Church
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
“Listen to Him”
“No one has the right to an activity that can cause so much suffering and pain to others just so they can do something fun.”
Those are the words of Karl Purnell who lost his 28 year-old son Chris to an avalanche when Chris was ice-climbing in Canada. You can hear and maybe even feel the anguish of a father at the loss of his son.
Chris Purnell has been described as “an obsessive climber,” and Karl his father became “obsessed with finding out just who Chris was, to know his secrets and why he chose to climb.” The 65 year-old writer, playwright and former journalist developed his own climbing skills and visited some of his son’s favorite places – Yosemite, the French Alps, and finally the Himalayas.
[Amazon.com book reviews, A Mountain Too Far]
75% of all mountain climbers are injured during climbing and 20% of American climbers end up in a hospital. Karl Purnell was enjoying a rainy New Year’s Day in his study in Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania when he received a phone call from his ex-wife informing him of Chris’ tragic death. It was in his quest to understand his son that Karl discovered the “awesome and terrible beauty of mountains” (New Horizon Press).
There are about 500 references to mountains and hills in the Bible. According to the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, “mountains are sometimes a symbol of refuge and security and sometimes a threatening place of military strength” (p. 572). Sometimes, mountains are places of significant religious encounters, like what happened on the high mountain of transfiguration in the Gospel of Mark.
While there are a number of sites suggested for the transfiguration, with a 9100 feet peak, Mount Hermon best fits the description of a high mountain near Caesarea Philippi where Jesus last met with His disciples. Six days after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus leads Peter, James and John up a high mountain. Before these three, Jesus is transfigured and His clothes become dazzling white.
The Greek word for transfiguration is metamorphuomai and it is used four times in the New Testament. It is used in verse two of our gospel lesson, in the parallel passage in Matthew 17:2, in Romans 12:2, and 2 Corinthians 3:18. The transfiguration is included in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and is alluded to in our second lesson from 2 Peter. The transfiguration is understood in the New Testament as an unveiling of Jesus’ divine glory.
The six days prior to the transfiguration mirror the six days that the glory of God covered Mount Sinai in a cloud prior to Moses going up the mountain to receive the law from God. Exodus 34 tells us that after Moses came down from Mount Sinai a second time, “the skin of his face shone because he had been talking to God” (v. 29). The radiance of Moses face terrified the Israelites, including his brother Aaron, so much so that “they were afraid to come near him” (v. 30).
The glory of Moses face was reflected glory. It was divine glory manifested to Him. Jesus’ glory was not reflected glory – it belonged to Him as the divine Son of God and it terrified Peter, James and John.
Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus on the holy mountain and this further terrifies the three disciples. Peter is so overcome by this mountain top experience that he blurts out, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." Mark explains that Peter didn’t know what to say following these sights. Peter, James and John see Jesus transfigured and then the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Sometimes it’s best just to remain silent.
As if a transfiguration and a supernatural experience with Moses and Elijah are not enough, a voice from heaven declares, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." This time the voice is speaking to Peter, James and John. The voice says listen to Jesus.
Pull out your Bible or the Pew Bible and turn to Mark, chapter eight. We’ll begin at verse 31. Prior to climbing the high mountain, Jesus had spoken to all the disciples. “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Peter wouldn’t listen to this – “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “
Jesus had a strong reply for Peter - But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."