The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



A Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, February 11, 2018
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 ministry.

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 idea. 

My take on all of this:
First Question.  Why does Jesus decide to take three of his disciples to the mountaintop? 

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 it?Ē 

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 distracted?

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 correct? 

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 eye-for-an-eye maxim? 

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 takes.Ē 

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 Testament.