Given on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, February 14, 2021
Gospel Reading: Mark 9:2-9
Look Again: A Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Let me tell you a bit about my process for writing this sermon.
You see, it’s the first sermon I’ve written since the first Sunday of Advent – way back in November. So the stakes felt high. I spent about a week psyching myself up for the task. I read through commentaries. I took a long walk. I nervously chatted with my supervising priest about it.
And then, on Friday morning, I sat down to write. Two hours later, I had…something. I mean, it wasn’t bad and, best of all, it was nearly complete. But I woke up yesterday with a message in my head that I just couldn’t shake:
“Look again,” the message urged. “Look again, look again, look again.” Jeez! I heard you the first time, I muttered to the voice in my head.
Reluctantly, I got up…and I looked again.
This is what I saw: “’This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.”
This strange transfiguration story is told again each year on the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany, right before the Lenten season begins. I’d always thought that the “epiphany” that defines this season was on January 6th, the day that we celebrate the “wise men” confirming the Baby Jesus’ Divine kingship.
But I suppose there’s something to be said for looking again.
The problem with the Epiphany that occurs on January 6th is that it’s easy to believe that a baby is capable of changing the world. Everything is newness, hope, and possibility.
But in today’s passage, we’re 32 ½ years into Jesus’ life already. Though the disciples and numerous crowds have watched him heal the sick, cast out demons, and feed 4,000 people with one small serving of food, there’s reason for disappointment. The baby Jesus was supposed to grow up and destroy tyrants. He was supposed to be the muscled hero storming the Capitol to make a nation great again.
Yet there he was, walking around in a pair of dirty sandals, taking naps, chatting with children, and occasionally crying. All the goodness the disciples had witnessed up to this point was overshadowed by the feeling that it simply wasn’t enough. That it was a distraction from the mission.
So Jesus took some of his friends with him to a mountaintop. Here, he reminded them through a mystical experience that what the wise men believed about him was still true.
He was the answer to 1,200 years of promises, made to a people who had struggled through the wilderness. Shown in dazzling robes, this picture of Jesus was a sign of the new Kingdom to come. It was another epiphany: Jesus wasn’t marching toward a Holy War wearing a superhero cape. No, he was wearing the garb of a resurrected martyr. Here he shows, rather than tells us, that “his Kingdom is not of this world.”
Were the disciples elated? Mystified? Afraid? We know that they tried to make themselves useful, asking if they could build some houses for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. They were confronted with something far beyond their control and answered with productivity. If they couldn’t understand it, they could bury themselves in activity. I suspect many of us do this, too. We tinker and toil. We overwork and over-plan. Because we’re afraid that if we stop, we’ll have to confront the fear of the unknown before us.
I am tired of looking ahead to such unknowns!
But God woke me up yesterday morning and said “Look again! This is MY Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”
I listened, and I didn’t hear a thing.
But I looked and I saw Jesus, only Jesus. Shining with the brilliant light of a winter morning, he was beckoning me to still my typing fingers and my racing mind. When we listen to Jesus, sometimes he shows us his glory instead of telling us what to do about it. Words fail us, actions disguise our deep concern, and we wake up in a cold sweat from dreams that play out our worst fears. Sometimes we need the gift of setting our sights on a God who radiates a love beyond what we can understand.
In the chaos of this world, God tells us to look again so that we can see Jesus. Not just the 32 ½ year old, but the one who was with God from the beginning of creation. The one who died at the hands of the Roman Empire, the one standing with us in dazzling robes as we face the uncertainties and fears of our lives.
What does it look like to see Jesus in our lives right now? Because it’s not really about the mountain – we don’t need to get away or have a mystical experience to see him.
I think it’s about cultivating the inner voice that reminds us to keep looking for him. He may turn up in the laughter of a child, a long-distance conversation with a loved one, or a dazzling, snowy day. He may show up in the midst of our chaos. He may show up in the soft places of our grief. I know he is here right now, gathered with the Body of Christ in the church. We don’t need to ask for Jesus to show up. We just need to look again.
And when we see Jesus, instead of trying to build him a house, we can stand in awe for a while. We can marvel at this God who became human so that he could be with us.
The world bustles on around us. It asks us to move and keep in line, adapt to its whims and bend to its will.
“Look again, look again, look again.” God’s son, the Beloved, is here in our midst. This is the epiphany that changes everything.