A Radiance That Radiates
Mark 9: 2-9
Around Jesus, God's kingdom happened.
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus climbed up the mountain, and he took with him his inner circle of disciples, his community, a droopy-eyed sleepy company. Peter, James and John had walked many miles beside Jesus, had probably been atop several mountains to pray with him. They had seen glimpses of God along the way: fish to fill their nets, healings, words spoken with authority.
Their journey flowed behind and before them like a river.
Sometimes the power of this man thundered as water on the rocks at the base of a
Occasionally it swirled to the side like a gentle eddy, there to teach and explain to
them the meaning of a parable.
Other times, his calm surface simply hid the deep undercurrents beneath.
They knew this man, Jesus, was of God; sometimes they were even inspired to bow down to him.
Now the journey was taking an unexpected twist toward Jerusalem; no longer a welcoming place for them. But as the journey turned, here was another widening, another pool of calm, a moment for quiet prayer on a mountain.
We are often fooled by quiet. We can be lulled to sleep by gentle rippling of pleasantness, and the cooing of surety. We forget the company about us. We forget that pushing the wind, lifting up the mountain, tossing stars, turning galaxies, and spinning electrons, there is a Power for Life, more deeply involved with us and creation than can be explained, theorized or tested.
Just when we are about to drop off into comfortable sleep, Christ drops his veil. Remember the company you are in; consider where this journey will take you! Because around Jesus, around us, heaven happens.
It is good to have such places upon which to focus, moments of God's obvious presence in our lives: a birth of a child, comforting presence through family and friends at a funeral, a close call with death, a moment of decision, a youth gathering: mountain tops of God's presence.
And contained in them--a radiance of peace or of jubilation, so that we can confidently claim, "I am standing in the presence of God! I stand with angels, all these forgiven sinners, those who have gone before me. Standing with me are Moses and Elijah and the very presence of God. I stand in marvelous company."
Transfiguration, epiphany, ...Perhaps it is natural to shrine ourselves upon these moments, tempted to choose our holy moments as stark contrast to reality, ...places to pitch camp hoping to prevent God's seeming absence.
But the light that shines from Christ's face and clothes is not contained by our shrines. It fans and casts itself out onto the valley below, streaks across the horizon to reveal new peaks, and stretches back to reveal that we never were alone.
As soon as we try to contain the moment, we miss the point of radiance:
Don't stand here gazing longingly at a holy moment passed, nor wrinkle your nose at the life in the valley below. Carry this company, follow this radiance to its destination; "the journey belongs where the revelation teaches and is lived."
Fred Rogers of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" has said that "Television may be the only electrical appliance that's more useful after it's turned off."
He wasn't saying that television was bad in itself. He meant that television can be a tool give rough ideas--all of which need shaping by the world. Rogers' comment warns against allowing television to become a shrine, or even the window, of daily living. The learning and value do not happen at the TV screen; it happens when it radiates out to be balanced with or tried against life.
In Paul's letter to the Roman churches, he advises, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." The challenge was this: Now that you realize the company you keep, how shall you respond? Will you return to your work, your school, your church and just blend in? Will you be conformed? Or are you now more conscious of your Christianity, to see how it challenges you to act and speak differently?
In his publication Context, Martin Marty relays a story of a man who played the bass drum in a small Salvation Army band. He was asked to tell how his life had been transformed by Christ. "Well, before I was converted, I led a wild life. I drank all the time, I caroused on the weekends, I gambled away every paycheck. But since I've been converted..." And there he paused in realization. "...Since I've been converted, ...all I do is beat this damn drum!"
We are not Christians to merely sit and gaze at one another and pat each other on the back, or to passively beat our drums. If that is what we feel has happened, then we have allowed ourselves to stand still too long. We need to try something new. Maybe we should join the bell choir instead, or whatever. But we need to pass the drumstick on to someone who will beat it with enthusiasm.
Christ's radiance extends beyond us, daring us to follow his lead--showing us where to act as neighbor, how to love someone we may not like, how to stand apart from the crowd when necessary, instead of always blending.
Christian life is not one of constant satiated living. We are always called to reevaluate. One situation seems to call for an action, but that does not mean that a similar situation calls for the same action. Just when we've captured the right life or answer, suddenly we are startled, and told to get off our high mountain, to risk breaking our own rules for the sake of someone else.
A popular love song says, "The love we knew before can never change this one. We're not imprisoned by the past we've brought along. Now it's you and me, one ship in the night. There are no boundaries; there is no end in sight."*
I mention this song because it says something similar to the disciples' mountaintop experience with Jesus. We do stand in awesome company when we stand on the mountain of God's glory. For here we see Christ alongside the great end-time figures of Moses and Elijah. But then, just as the sleep drops from our astonished and grateful eyes, Christ is left standing alone, and he is leading us off the mountain, a stream beginning its journey into the valley, joining it to the Ocean.
The chorus of the song continues: "That was a river, this is the ocean. That never carried this much emotion. Nothing compares to this deep devotion. That was a river, this is the ocean."
The course that had led the disciples to this point was only a hint of their destination. And we, too, are given that hint. All those decisive moments in our lives are like twists in the river, sometimes cleansing us, sometimes mucking up the water, but the twists cannot finally keep us from our destination.
We shall not always be trapped in the past, whether by wonderful moments of transfiguration, or by the deep grievous moments of disfiguration, for what has gone before, that was a river. This love of God revealed to us, this is the Ocean!
We come now, off the mountain of Transfiguration. The season of Epiphany fades as a sunset into Lent.
We know that Easter lies on the other side, but we should not be too quick to reach that next peak. The radiance Christ gives off leads first back down into the valley by Babylon's sad waters.
Lent is not a time of darkness, but a time when Christ's light of transfiguration and resurrection shines into darkness. There is revealed what needs to be healed. Our little lies, our avoidance of people, our fear of standing alone, of welcoming, our demands for revenge, our grudges, rationalizations, and pessimism. More is revealed by Christ's radiance than we care to see.
But Christ's radiance is one that radiates. It reveals these wounds and chasms, but at the same time, shows where healing and bridges can begin. So, even as we see these dark shadows and cracks, we can learn that God will work through them in spite of their seeming frailty. From the very cracks of these imperfect institutions and finite creatures and people, spills out even more reflected radiance, for nothing can ever hope to house God's glory.
The mountaintop reveals in what radiant company we travel;
the valley shows us where to bear it.
This is a radiance that radiates!
Gregory S. Kaurin, Associate Pastor
St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Doylestown PA
* Raye, Collin. "The River."