Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
February 11, 2018
Mark 9: 2-10 (CEB)
2Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, 3and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. 4Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. 5Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified.
7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” 8Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Human One had risen from the dead. 10So they kept it to themselves, wondering, “What’s this ‘rising from the dead’?”
It is a joy and an honor this morning to come together with many of the members of Boy Scout Troop 137 and Cub Scout Pack 3037 and their families as we celebrate Scout Sunday here at Wesley Memorial. I am appreciative of Miguel and Jennifer, and the other parents and adults who lead these groups each week. I am thankful for Soren and Anthony, who read our Scripture readings today, the young men who Presented the Colors at the beginning of our service, and all who are present here as we worship together today. Wesley Memorial has a strong and proud history with the Boy Scouts, and we hope that there are many more years to come with these two troops. And I must say that as these troops grow, I also hope that our partnership will grow as we work together to make a positive impact for our community.
One of the first things that comes to mind when I think of scouting, and Boy Scouts in particular, is camping; hiking, backpacking, orienteering, these are the sorts of things I associate with Boy Scouts. In fact, I told Jennifer last week that as a young Girl Scout, I was always a little jealous of the Boy Scouts, who spent a lot more time outdoors than our Girl Scout Troop did. Anyway, the thing about camping is that generally, an important part of camping is pitching tents so that you have shelter when you sleep at night. Often times, the place we pitch the tents we call the camp, and that becomes the sort of base for our activity. It’s where we eat, from there we go out to hike, or explore, or whatever.
So just imagine with me for a minute that we’re all scouts, and we’re on an outdoor adventure, maybe up at Skymont near Monteagle. The plan is for a multi-night backpacking trip in the back wilderness. But only two miles into the opening hike, at a summit overlook, we suddenly find in our midst William Boyce (the founder of Boy Scouts of America), or Juliet Gordon-Lowe (the founder of Girl Scouts), or Daniel Carter Beard (who established the outdoor skills that are at the heart of Boy Scouts). We’re all pretty stunned by this, of course, these folks have all been dead for a long time, and so we’re thinking, “Hey, you know, this is pretty cool. Why don’t we just pitch our tents here and stay awhile!” But no sooner has someone said it than a thick fog rolls in; you can’t see your hand in front of your face, much less the tent peg that needs to be driven into the ground. When the fog finally clears, the three great leaders are gone, and we’re all left wondering what just happened.
This is not unlike the experience of the disciples as they climbed a mountain with Jesus in the Scripture reading that Anthony read for us a few moments ago. At this point in Mark’s gospel, Peter, James, and John (three of Jesus’ twelve disciples) have been following Christ around for a while. They have heard him teach, they have seen him heal people, but to a great degree, they still do not fully understand who Jesus is. So they’re climbing this mountain with Jesus, and it’s kind of like they are on a backpacking trip with their buddy, when all of a sudden, these great prophets of the faith appear right in their midst. Moses and Elijah are suddenly standing before them. And Peter thinks this is all about Moses and Elijah. As a faithful Jew, Peter likely believes that Moses and Elijah are the greatest ones in their midst. So Peter, probably thinking that he wants to make this moment last, says, “Let’s pitch some tents! Let’s build shrines!” But Mark tells us that Peter said that because he didn’t know how to respond. Then this cloud encircles them, they find themselves in the midst of a terrible fog, and out of the haze a voice speaks, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” When the cloud moves away and the disciples look around, the only one standing there with them is Jesus. Their eyes have been opened to a new reality. This moment is called the Transfiguration, or Jesus’ Transfiguration. Not so much was Jesus changed, but the disciples’ understanding was changed.
This is a lot like looking at something for the first time under a microscope. Suddenly, a simple speck of dirt becomes a complicated microcosm of cells, and bacteria, and microbes. And once our eyes are opened to this new reality, we never see dirt the same way again. The same thing happens when we turn a telescope to the night sky and as place our eye on the eyepiece, Saturn becomes more than a white dot, because we are able to see those amazing rings that encircle the planet. The reality that was always there is suddenly made clear, and we have a greater picture of this thing that we once only understood in a limited way.
So it is as Jesus is transformed before the disciples. His clothes become dazzling white, some gospels say his face shone, Elijah and Moses appear, and a voice from heaven, the voice of God says, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” And this guy, Jesus, who was a sort of hiking buddy with the disciples is suddenly so much more. Sure, maybe they saw him as a new prophet in their midst, or a great healer. But in this moment, it is revealed to them that more than being a healer or a great prophet, Jesus is God’s own Son, Jesus is Lord! And God says, “Listen to him!” It’s as if God is telling them to really take in all that they have heard him say and will hear him say. It’s as if God is telling the disciples to believe all that Jesus has been teaching them and showing them through signs and wonders. But part of the challenge of listening to Jesus, part of the challenge of understanding who Jesus is and really knowing him is that it means your life has to change, and that’s not always easy.
Remember, when the disciples saw Jesus transformed before them and Moses and Elijah appeared in their midst, they wanted to build some shrines and hang around for a while. But listening to Jesus means following Jesus, and following Jesus means you’re on the move all the time. It means your hiking trip continues as you head down the mountain into the valley and on to another mountain and on and on. It means you tell people about who Jesus is as you go and maybe more people join you. It means you do what Jesus does by healing the sick, and feeding the hungry, and serving the least and the last and the lost. You can’t just pitch your tents and stay in one place forever! The Boy Scouts know this. They don’t only go camping. This year, these Cub Scouts have gone into the retirement home and interacted with the folks living there. Today, they are collecting non-perishable food items for the Chattanooga Community Kitchen. They are feeding the hungry. They’re not just camping out. And neither should any who claim to follow Christ. We can’t just sit around in our shrines. We have to go where Jesus goes and do what Jesus does. And I know, I know…I know…it won’t always be easy. But it is what we are called to do, nothing less. And here’s the amazing promise of being a follower of Jesus Christ, who is Lord; if we live in faith every day, if we know Jesus and listen to him, and follow him, we will experience life abundant, life unlike anything else we could ever think or imagine.
Donald Miller, a Christian spiritual writer, tells about traveling to Peru with friends to hike the Inca trail. Their trek began along a river in the Sacred Valley, where the guide pointed out that if they followed the trail that ran along the river, they would reach Machu Picchu in just six hours. In ancient times, the river was a commercial route, but those going to Machu Picchu on pilgrimage had to take the Inca Trail across the snow-covered Andes Mountains. At this one of the hikers asked the guide, “Why would the Incas make people take the long route?” To which the guide answered, “Because the emperor knew the more painful the journey to Machu Picchu, the more the traveler would appreciate the city once he arrived.” Four days later, after climbing summits of nearly 14,000 feet and descending back into the valley, Donald Miller and his group arrived at Machu Picchu. He recalls running the last mile to the great Sun Gate on blistered feet and sore legs. Weary as they were, the pilgrims knew that the guide was right. He reflects, “You can take a train and then a bus, and then hike a mile to the Sun Gate. But the people who took the bus didn’t experience the city as we experienced the city. The pain made the city more beautiful. The story made us different characters than we would have been if we had skipped the story and showed up at the ending an easier way.”
The disciples may have wanted the easier way when they suggested pitching tents and staying for a while. But then they caught a glimpse of Christ’s glory—a glory that is both difficult and beautiful. Part of understanding the fullness of who Jesus is means not just basking in the beautiful glory, but being prepared to take the difficult road as well. God says to the disciples, “Listen to him.” We are to “Listen up!” as well. And listening to Jesus also means moving on from the first summit view and taking the longer route, the more difficult journey, full of grueling climbs, and treacherous valleys, and sometimes stunning vistas. Along the way, there are times when we would give anything for the shorter, easier route; but if we will stay the course, following Jesus on the very path he has already traveled, we can know that we will encounter God’s glory even through the most difficult trials. We can know that Christ is with us. And we can experience in all its fullness the abundant life that God offers to us through our Savior Jesus Christ!