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The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, February 22, 2009.  The text for this week is Mark 9:2-9.
Today is the last Sunday before we enter into the Christian season of Lent.  Lent was historically a season for fasting and preparation for baptism by converts.  It has since become a season of repentance and preparation for all Christians and a time to examine our lives in the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Today is what is known as Transfiguration Sunday.  It recalls Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain, which we just heard from Mark’s gospel.  Throughout their time with Jesus, the disciples knew that there was something different about Jesus.  In Mark 8, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ.  They know who he is and now they start a cycle when Jesus reveals something to them and they don’t quite get it.  Now, to be honest with you, I think we give the disciples too hard of a time.  We often find ourselves shaking our heads at the disciples.  But, really, I don’t think we would have faired much better if we were in their shoes.  There is a whole lot more to Jesus than we realize, and the transfiguration showed that Jesus really was more than meets the eye.
When I was a kid, there were a couple of toys that were really popular, but one of them was both fun and frustrating at the same time.  As you probably guessed from the sermon title today, that toy was the Transformer.  Transformers were vehicles like cars and trucks.  And if you were to look at them in this form, there is nothing all that special about them.  They just looked like normal, everyday vehicles.  But as the television show said, they were more than meets the eye.  They would transform, which is why they were called Transformers, into giant robots.  Somehow, these spectacular, complex robots were able to appear to be something simple and mundane to most people, but when necessary, they would become amazing machines capable of great things.  Transformers have made a comeback in the last couple of years.  The toys were back on the shelves, a live action movie came out a couple years ago, and a sequel is on the way this summer.
In some small way, I think Transformers capture something deep down inside each one of us.  We all wish in some way that we can change into something spectacular; that we can do amazing things.  We all see ourselves as normal people, but we wish that we could be extraordinary.  I think that is why shows like Heroes and movies about comic book heroes tend to do well.  There is a deep yearning to be extraordinary.  The simple truth, however, is that we can’t change ourselves into something else.  We are who God has made us to be.  As much as we may want to, we cannot suddenly gain superpowers and fight the forces of evil around the world.  And as much as we may want it to, our vehicles will never transform into something else that will help save the world.  However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t fulfill that yearning to be extraordinary.  Better put, we can be a part of something that is extraordinary.  Through identifying with this, we can fulfill our purpose and be a part of something so incredible that the world will be changed – not might be, not could be, but will be.
While many of us know that Jesus had a group of 12 that he spent a good deal of his time with, something we may have missed in reading the gospels is that there seemed to be an inner circle of disciples.  We see that in today’s passage as well.  Only three disciples go with Jesus to the top of the mountain.  Peter, James and John seem to be the ones that were closest to Jesus.  Two of them, Peter and John, turned out to be the pillars of early Christianity.  James was martyred by Herod Agrippa some time in the late 30’s/early 40’s.  Again, this shows us the importance of relationships.  Those who were closest to Jesus were the ones who laid a solid foundation for the Christian faith in the first century.
If we want to be a part of changing the world, we need to focus on our relationships with one another and with those who do not share the Christian faith.  There’s a saying that goes, “People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.”  And it’s true.  People really don’t want to hear about your faith unless they have seen it in action.  And the only way they are going to see a major difference is if we develop that close relationship with Christ as his disciples.  People will see a change in us, especially those with whom we’ve built solid relationships.  But other people will notice our actions as well.  And we need to not be afraid of saying to them that our lives are different because of Jesus Christ.
Marks writes that Jesus was transfigured before them.  The word that is translated as transfigured comes from the Greek word metamorpho.  Sound familiar?  It’s where we get the word metamorphosis.  It suggests a total transformation.  In the New Testament, this word is only used four times.  It appears here in Mark and in the parallel passage in Matthew.  It also appears twice in Paul’s writings – Romans 12 and 2 Corinthians 3.  When it is used in Paul’s writings, it refers to the change that can happen in us.  In both cases, the verb is in the passive form, which means that these are not changes that we can do to ourselves, but that they are changes that occur to us from an outside source.  The obvious source in both cases is the transforming power of God.
Romans 12 talks about how we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds and that we can know the will of God.  2 Corinthians 3 talks about how, in removing the veil and seeing the glory of the Lord, we can be transformed into the image of God through the Spirit.  In both cases, we are no longer who we were, but we move closer to who we are supposed to be.  We can be transformed by the power of the Spirit at work in our lives.  Who we really are is revealed in this transformation.  Sadly, too many people never come to this point in their lives.  They just go day to day without ever realizing that there is something more to life than what we see before us.
When Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop on that day, Peter, James and John truly got to see who he was for the very first time.  Just a chapter earlier, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, but we get the sense that he doesn’t understand the full implications of his confession.  But let’s not be too hard on Peter here either.  Those who make the same confession today still don’t understand the full implications of it.  There are still times when God does something so amazing in my life that I’m just floored and I realize that my view of God is still too small.  I’m sure many of you have that same experience as well.  God is bigger than we could ever imagine.  Jesus is more than we thought he was.
I find it interesting to hear people who don’t confess the Christian faith talk about Jesus.  Historically, there are absolutely no grounds for denying Jesus’ existence.  The reality is that Jesus was a real person, who really lived on this earth.  The difference between the believer and the non-believer is what to do with what is said about him.  A lot of non-believers will say that they believe Jesus was a great moral teacher who wanted everyone to treat one another with love and respect, but that all of the stuff that happened after his death was just propaganda from ignorant Jewish fishermen.  They will take the fact that Jesus was a person who lived on this earth, but they will not accept what Christians have said about him since.  They see Jesus as the disciples saw him at first – a great teacher and a good guy, but nothing special and not that different from each one of us. 
 
Maybe that is where you are today as well.  Maybe you think that Jesus was just a good guy and a moral teacher, but all this faith is just a bunch of hoopla and doesn’t amount to much.  First of all, let me say, I’m glad that you’re here this morning.  I’m glad that you have taken the time to come and at least listen a little more to what this whole faith thing is all about.  Secondly, in just a minute, let me challenge this point of view.  And perhaps, there is nobody here this morning who is thinking this, but I can guarantee you that every person here knows at least one person who thinks this way.  Don’t expect to change their thoughts in one conversation, but don’t shy away from having these conversations either.
I love the C.S. Lewis quote from his book Mere Christianity.  C.S. Lewis was an author in England who is well known for his writings on the Christian faith and for the Chronicles of Naria series, a couple of which have been made into movies in the last few years.  Mere Christianity is probably one of his most extensive books on the Christian faith.  I would definitely recommend it, and I would also recommend taking your time going through it.  Lewis is a brilliant writer and he packs a lot of information in a small space.  
Here is the quote: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”  
If we are going to take what the Bible has to say about Jesus, then we need to take all of it, not just the parts that fit best into our worldview.  There are times when I wish I could just ignore parts of Scripture because they hit too close to home, or because they are too uncomfortable for me to reconcile with my point of view.  But we can’t do this.  Scripture is what it is, and we can’t simply change it by wishing it away or coming up with some kind of interpretative gymnastics to tame it.  And those areas that we struggle the most with when it comes to Scripture may be the areas that we need the Spirit to be at work the most in our lives.  Jesus said some things about himself that challenge the very notion that he was just a great moral teacher.  He was so much more.  This episode on the mountain shows that there is more to Jesus than what meets the eye.
When we reach a point in our lives when Jesus is truly revealed to us, perhaps our response may not be much different than Peter’s.  I love what Peter says here.  “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.”  Really, Peter?  Is that all you’ve got?  But in all fairness, what do you say?  All of their misconceptions about Jesus were just blown out of the water.  Jesus was seen as one who is far beyond anything that they could have imagined.  Mark writes that they didn’t know what to say and that they were terrified.  Would our reactions have been much different?  What do you say when something like this happens?  Peter wants to hold onto it.  He wants to stay there.
For as much flak as we give Peter here, I think what he says reveals something important about each one of us.  When we have those experiences where the presence of God is so crystal clear, we have a tendency to want to stay there.  We don’t want to go back to our lives as they used to be because they don’t seem as important as they were before.  Our perspective has changed.  We often refer to these as “mountaintop moments”.  
It’s a point in our lives when we can see everything so much better, and we are filled with joy because of this glimpse into the fullness of life.  The problem is that we don’t know where to go from there.  Actually, we do know, but we don’t want to go there.  Once you are at the top of a mountain, there’s only one direction to go, and we don’t want to face the fact that we have to go back to life as it was before because something deep within us has changed.  The next challenge is to incorporate the mountaintop into the rest of our lives.  Take that new perspective with you and change those around you.  That’s what the disciples did after the resurrection.
We are here today because of a group of people who had a mountaintop experience and took that experience into the world.  It says that Jesus didn’t want Peter, James and John to tell what they had seen until after his resurrection.  At the time, they probably didn’t know what he was talking about, even though he had already told them about it.  And that’s what it is like sometimes after we have a mountaintop experience.  We hear something from God that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, but when the time comes, we know exactly what He meant.
So the question is, “Now what?”  Now that Jesus has been revealed to the disciples, and to us, as something far beyond what we have ever imagined, what are we to do?  Well, the disciples let some time pass and let the new reality sink in once everything had come to fulfillment.  But we live in a time when Jesus has already risen from the dead.  So, now what?  Well, now we enter into the season of Lent.  With Ash Wednesday we begin a period of reflection, repentance and preparation.  We will begin a 40 day period of reflecting on what it is that Jesus did for us, and how we can take it into the world.  What is “it”?  Well, you’re just gonna have to come and find out.
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