Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire
Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, February
ďListen to HimĒ Delivered by Laurence Upton,
Member of the congregation
Gospel of Mark, Chapters 1 - 8
Our reading for today comes from Mark,
Chapter 9. But let us begin by looking
at what led up to it.
Earlier in the Gospel of Mark (in chapters 1
through 8): Jesus is baptized by John
the Baptist in the River Jordan. He
spends 40 days in the wilderness where Satan
tempts him in various ways, but he does not
succumb. Thereupon Jesus begins his
In the early going, Jesus recruits his 12
disciples. He heals the sick, blind,
and lame. He drives out demons.
He preaches to crowds that number in the
thousands and feeds the assembled masses
with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes.
He walks on water. Not bad for a guy
just starting his career.
Gospel of Mark, Chapter 9
In todayís reading, Jesus takes three of his
disciples to the top of a high
mountain. There Jesus is suddenly
transformed into a blaze of white and
appears to have a conversation with biblical
figures, Moses and Elijah. The
disciples are terrified and donít know what
to say. Finally Peter suggests they
build three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one
for Moses, and one for Elijah. Before
Jesus can reply, God shoots down the
My take on all of this: First Question. Why does Jesus
decide to take three of his disciples to
The disciples are new to this business and
donít fully understand where and how Jesus
and they themselves fit in. Over
and over again, Jesus tries to show (to
teach) his disciples that they are truly on
a mission from God. They are Godís
elite Special Forces unit. But the
disciples just donít seem to get it.
From their perspective, theyíre just a bunch
of hippies driving around in a VW bus,
putting on a side show.
In the verses immediately prior to
todayís reading, Jesus tries to convey to
his disciples that this is not just a walk
in the park. This is serious
business. And itís going to end with
suffering, death, and resurrection (Jesusí
suffering, death, and resurrection).
As written in Mark 8: verses 31-32. 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.
The disciples just sat there with blank
faces. You teachers in the
congregation know what thatís like.
Right? Meg, Gilda, any others?
ďTeacher, do we need to know this
stuff?Ē ďAre we going to be tested on
Peter goes so far as to scold Jesus for
being a party pooper. ďAll this talk
about death and suffering is a real bummer,
man. Youíre bringing me down.Ē
(Mark 8: verse 33 Ė well, maybe I
paraphrased just a bit)
Iím sure Jesus is thinking: What in
Godís name can I do to get through to these
knuckle heads? Maybe if I took them to
the mountaintop and they saw me commune with
God and the saints and prophets of old,
they will start to understand.
So Jesus decides to take his three most
promising students (Larry, Curly, and Moe Ė
whoops, I meant Peter, James, and
John). Do the disciples have an
epiphany on the mountaintop? Do they
finally achieve that flash of insight and
understanding? Maybe, maybe not.
Probably not. Itís an on-going battle
for Jesus. On three different
occasions prior to the Last Supper, Jesus
tries to tell his disciples how itís all
going to end. - - - Same blank
faces - - - Same blank faces
When God speaks to us, to you and me, do
we listen with understanding? Do we
even hear? Or are we too busy or
Question 2. What is the message
that God wants to convey to the disciples?
We know that Moses and Elijah are old
school. Moses and Elijah* represent
the fire-and brimstone, eye-for-an-eye views
of the Old Testament. Jesus represents
the New Covenant of forgiveness, salvation,
and ever-lasting life. Peter naively
suggests that Moses, Elijah, and Jesus be
treated the same Ė be treated as equals Ė
one tabernacle for each.
God will have none of it. God lets it
be known that there is one throne in his
kingdom (not three) and it is reserved for
his Beloved Son. To emphasize the
point, God sends Moses and Elijah packing.
This passage has significant implications
beyond an expression of fatherly love.
There are times when the Old Testament says
one thing and Jesus says another. Who
is right? Which version is
Let me give you an example. In the Old
Testament you will find the admonition, ďAn
eye for an eye, and a tooth for a
tooth.Ē Many people who claim to be
solid, upright Christians take this passage
to be Godís view of justice.
Jesus says no; thatís not the way to go.
Matthew 5: 38-41: You have heard that
it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth
for a tooth. But I say to you,
if anyone strikes you on the right cheek,
turn the other also; and if anyone wants to
take your coat; give your cloak as well; and
if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also
the second mile.
Clearly, two opposing accounts. Who is
right? Which version is correct?
In todayís reading, God makes it clear which
side heís on. This is my Son, the
Beloved. Listen to him.
Just about everyone has heard the
expression, turn the other cheek. But
how many people know that Jesus used those
words to refute, to repudiate, the
The Take-Home Messages for Today
(1) God speaks to us. But like
the disciples, we often donít listen, donít
hear, or donít understand. Take
time, make time, to listen to God.
(2) When you are not quite sure what
to do, how to respond or react, what path to
take -- listen to Jesus. Turn the
other cheek; go the extra mile. I know
you folks. Thatís what you do.
Thatís what makes this such a special place.
As Shakespeare wrote in the Merchant of
Venice:ďThe quality of Mercy is not
strained. It droppeth as the gentle
rain from heaven Upon the place
beneath. It is twice blessed Ė it
blesses him that gives, and him that
But I think you will agree with me, the
greater blessing goes to the one who gives.
Can I have an Amen? Amen
Thank you for your kind attention.
* Matthew (17:12-13) uses the term Elijah in
reference to John the Baptist. John
represents the transition
from Old to New