Biblical Text: Mark 9:2-9 (Transfiguration)
Full Sermon Draft
One way to think about meaning in a text is to divide it into different levels. The first and most basic level is the words and grammar themselves. This is a very simple and literal level, but even the most complex text never outgrows the basic words. The second level is the actions (or inactions) that are narrated. A character who lies, and someone who knows it is a lie but goes along, give a scene meaning beyond the simple words. The action of a lie betrays the words themselves and the action of accepting it reveals something about the character whether that is longing, or hurt, or self-loathing, or even a kindness depending upon the social status of the liar and the lied to. I’m sure there are other levels. (I was taught a third level where both the text and the action don’t mean anything more than an expression of the power structure of the writer. This is the standard critical school reading method. The text isn’t the Word of God, but what layers of the dominant folks put into God’s mouth. This can be an interesting window, but it also fundamentally assumes that the writers were either oblivious or nefarious in their intents.) The transfiguration text to me is one that operates on the high difference between the first level of the worlds and the second level of the final deed. The words themselves detail the magnificence of Jesus as the second person of the Trinity. The deeds are that person turning from the glory and points toward the cross. The question is where does glory reside?
There is glory with God in the beginning, and that cannot be taken away, but God moves toward Calvary. There is glory in the events of Calvary, but God is not a masochist. Suffering and the cross is not the end. The full shape, which the disciples are told to remain silent until they see it, is glory growing through the cross until the final glory of the resurrection. Transfigured lives are not static lives. Transfigured lives are not lives lived in misery. Transfigured lives are lives made so by the shape of that story. We carry the cross in the hope of the resurrection. We leave comfort, to test and grow faith. We walk in love of our neighbor, because that is what Christ did. That is how we become fully human. That is how we are transfigured.
Worship Note: I’ve left in our choir which had a beautiful short piece that our recording equipment caught rather well. I also left in one of the best not just modern hymns, but hymns of all time. I moved it in the recording to after the sermon from it place as hymn of the day. LSB 416, Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. Unfortunately the song is still under copyright, so I’m going to cheat. If your hymnal doesn’t have this hymn, you need a new one.
Swiftly pass the clouds of glory, Heaven’s voice the dazzling light
Moses and Elijah vanish; Christ alone commands the height!
Peter, James and John fall silent, Turning from the summit’s rise
Downward toward the shadowed valley, where their Lord has fixed his eyes.
Glimpsed and gone the revelation, They shall gain and keep its truth
Not by building on the mountain any shrine or sacred booth
but by following the savion through the valley to the cross
and by testing faith’s resiliance through betrayal, pain and loss
Lord, transfigure our perceptions with the purest light that shines
and recast our life’s intentions to the shape of your designs
Till we seek no other glory than what lies past Calvary’s hill
And our living and our dying and our rising by Your will.