Transfiguration of Our Lord
2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
What terrifies you?
Peter, James, and John are invited by Jesus to come up a mountain with him. They are the only ones he asks. As they climb higher and higher, they think about how special they must be, what an honor it is to be the only ones who get to spend this time with Jesus apart, by themselves. What a privilege.
As they arrive at the top, they begin to wonder what Jesus has in store. Why did he ask them up here? What secret is he going to impart? What special insights will he share with them? Whatever it is, it must be awesome. Special insider information from Jesus himself. And they will be the only ones to hear it.
In their reverie, they look over at Jesus and see something they didn’t exactly expect. He’s changing right in front of them. His clothes are so dazzlingly white that they are glowing. His face is shining. It’s as if light itself was coming out of him. And in the brightness surrounding him, they can see two other people there with him. They weren’t there a minute ago. Wait a minute. . . those aren’t just people, that’s Moses and Elijah, the two greatest and most faithful people in their whole Bible! The three of them are carrying on a conversation as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on.
Moses and Elijah? That would be like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both showing up in an American History class. These are the two people in the Hebrew scriptures whose deaths were mysterious, and who it was believed would be sent by God when the end of the world was coming. Is that what this is about? The end of the world? And they are terrified! Moses and Elijah! And they are talking with Jesus like old friends. What do we do? This is it. The end of the world. The day of judgment! Jesus has brought us up the mountain to die.
And they find that they are so intimidated, so frightened, so confused, so terrified, that they could think of nothing to say, nothing to do. But Peter, who never lets anything get in the way of his mouth, asks Jesus if they should quickly build three dwellings, three booths, because Moses and Elijah are supposed to come—the world is supposed to end—during the Festival of Booths. This really is the end. Peter, James, and John are trembling in fear, having no idea what will happen, what’s in store for them. Mark says here that they are not just frightened, not just anxious, but terrified.
Perhaps like them, you’ve had experiences that have terrified you. A fire, an ambulance, a surgical waiting room. Terror can be paralyzing. Sometimes those things that terrify you don’t even make sense. But they don’t have to. The terror is real. In my case, terror is caused by old messages from my childhood that aren’t even relevant any more. What terrifies me is public ridicule. Not just fear, but paralyzing terror.
You see, I experienced that far too often as a kid. I was the skinny smart kid with big ears and tape on my glasses who was always the last one picked for softball in gym class. I had very poor social skills—I never even spoke to a girl until my junior year in high school. I was an easy target for bullies, and came home from school most days with new bruises—either physically or psychologically. I lived through Junior High and much of High School in a constant state of terror.
So I learned how to stay hidden. Because if anyone noticed me, it meant ridicule and humiliation—on a good day. My fear dictated how I lived my life. I ran away from any situation that would draw attention to myself. I felt I had to stay in the background, hidden. That was the only place where I could feel safe. I understood paralyzing terror as Peter, James, and John experience it. Perhaps you have too.
It took me many years before I could begin to address that childhood terror. As I matured, I recognized that people were no longer seeking me out just to beat me up. Their first response to me was no longer finding new ways to offer me up for public ridicule.
Even though I’ve overcome that terror of public abuse and humiliation, it apparently hasn’t fully left me. However, my terror does not make my decisions. One of the outcomes of that is my being here right now. Being called to proclaim the gospel as a pastor means a lot of public speaking, and that is terrifying—because any of you who’ve done public speaking know how vulnerable you are when you do it. But terror will not make my decisions for me. If God has called me to preach, then I will do so. I will attempt to follow Jesus, trusting him, even if that means walking into terror.
I emailed all of you who are on this church’s email list this week, telling you that I am now one of 17 potential candidates for nomination as this synod’s next bishop. And it terrifies me. Having my picture and biographical information posted on the RMS website opened up that childhood terror of being publicly ridiculed. Though I’m a grown up and have gained some respect in the RMS, my childhood terror has surprisingly kicked into full swing.
But the terror will not make my decision for me. I’ve allowed this process to go forward, not because I necessarily want to be bishop, but because God seems to be up to something. To be honest, the odds-makers in Las Vegas have me somewhere in the middle of the pack, but that’s not what this is about for me. It’s about seeing Jesus doing something, in the most unlikely places and unlikely ways, and being there with him. I am not running for bishop. Some unknown person tossed my name in ring. But Jesus is in this somewhere. Perhaps it’s nothing more than this demon of terror being exorcized. Perhaps it’s so I can be some kind of encouragement to those who find themselves living in terror. Maybe I’ll contribute to the bishop conversation in a helpful way. Perhaps I’ll get to see Moses and Elijah. I don’t know. But I know Jesus is there, and I know my terror will not make my decisions for me.
Mark writes further, “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.”
That’s what I want for me; that’s what I want for you. To listen to Jesus, to follow Jesus, to see Jesus for who he is. And then to look around—whether terrified or not—and see no one but only Jesus. As baptized people of God, that’s why Jesus takes us up the mountain. Amen.