Summary: How we see Jesus determines our response to him.
Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, Yr B, 2/03/2003
Based on Mk 9:2-9
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
There was a man who went to his doctor and expressed the following concern: “Doc, I’m really worried. Every time I drink a cup of coffee, I feel a stabbing pain in my eye. Do you think it’s serious?” To which the doctor replied, “No, try taking the spoon out of your cup.”
We may not have a spoon blinding us and causing pain in our eyes, but chances are, at times, we see things from a certain perspective, a certain way that may very well prevent us from seeing things more clearly. We all form certain opinions of others based on how we see them. Sometimes how we see them and our opinions of them can be mistaken.
Robert Cueni tells of how he could only see a pastor as an aging sickly man, long past his prime. Then he found out later how active the pastor once had been in the civil rights movement as a young man. That fact changed the way Cueni thought about him. Sometimes seeing people from a different perspective changes our entire understanding of them. 1
In today’s gospel, Peter, James and John were all given a vision, a new way of seeing Jesus when he was transfigured before them. This changed their perspective of him and gave them a new understanding. It was indeed a mountain top experience for them.
Those of you who have ever climbed to the top of a mountain or flown in an airplane know that the view “up above” is much different than “down below.” I know whenever I’ve stood on top of a mountain on a clear day I’ve marvelled at how I was able to see into the far distance ahead. I’ve also been fascinated by looking out the airplane window at an infinite number of clouds below me. So too were Peter, James and John marvelled by and fascinated with the transfiguration of Jesus. I don’t know if you noticed it, but if you read carefully Mark’s description of the transfigured Jesus, it is strikingly similar to the description of the risen Christ in the New Testament resurrection accounts. Take into consideration verse nine of today’s gospel where Jesus tells his disciples as they go back down the mountain not to tell anyone about the transfiguration until after he had risen from the dead; and we are given the impression that the transfiguration event is a preparation for the future; for the cross and resurrection.
Sometimes it is not until much later in life that we come to see the purpose of the events of our lives and how they all fit together. It is then that we realise how God works through such events to prepare us for the future. Our mountain top experiences also prepare us for the future. When we like Jesus and his disciples face our hardships and crosses, we can draw strength from the beauty and wonder of the mountain top perspective. As former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold was observed: “Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step: only (the one) who keeps (their) eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road.”
Among the famous painters of the French impressionist school, Henri Matisse and August Renior were the closest friends. When Renior’s health failed and doctors forced him into confinement for the final decade of his life, Matisse visited him daily. Renior, almost paralysed with arthritis, continued to paint at his easel in spite of his infirmities. One afternoon, Matisse watched his friend painting, fighting torturous pain with each movement and stroke of the brush. He finally blurted out, “August, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?”
Renior never looked up. His eyes were fixed on the canvas with complete concentration. Then he spoke softly, “The beauty remains. The pain passes.”
The beauty remains; the pain passes. These are profound words. In the transfiguration God assures us there is much more beyond waiting for us, much more within us that can emerge and be realised. 2
All of us need the vision of the mountaintop. All of us need transfiguration experiences, where our entire perspective is changed, the fog is gone, and we see more clearly. If we stop and reflect upon our lives, likely we’ve all had such transfiguration experiences just as Peter, James, and John. We too can probably identify with Peter in today’s gospel, when he attempts to capture and prolong this transfiguration experience by attempting to make three dwellings for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. However we like Peter, James and John come to realise that we cannot live on the mountaintop forever. The valleys beckon us to come down and live our lives as servants with other people—just as Jesus did with Peter, James and John.