Do you wish faith was a sure thing? Do you wish that you could prove to yourself and the world that God, as you understand, is absolutely real and unquestionable? Do you wish you had total understanding of of the Bible and all that it means? When I went to University to get ready to be a minister, part of me foolishly thought that I’d graduate with a expertise in scripture, and be able to explain any question that comes my way and allay even the greatest doubts of those in the congregations I serve. Of course, this didn’t happen. I still need to spend time every week researching so that I can put these sermons together. I still can’t offer you absolute answers, and I make no guarantees that what I say is correct. Maybe this is a frustration for you. I think one of reasons for some church’s success is that they present absolute, easy answers to life’s most difficult questions.
Then again, I don’t think I’d have this any other way. I’ve learned to appreciate that questions are often more informative than answers. I believe that embracing mystery is a surer path to God than platitudes and strict dogma. I’m actually quite suspicious of anyone who claims to have all the answers because history tells us that those who claim to know the will of God lead their followers to anything but holiness. Still, wouldn’t it be comforting to be absolutely sure about what we’re doing, know that we’re living into our covenant with God and faithfully following Jesus?
Maybe this assuredness was what those disciples on the mountain side were feeling. I’m sure they had lots of doubts. I bet that when Jesus was out of ear shot, there was grumbling and saying they should have stayed fishing for actual fish. But then Jesus says to Peter, James, and John, “Hey, come with me, there’s something I want you to see up this mountain.”
Up they go and then something amazing happens. Jesus is changed before their eyes. Mark tells us that his cloths become dazzling white, whiter than any bleach could make them. If you look to Matthew’s version of this, it’s not just his cloths but Jesus face shines like the sun. And there, with Jesus is two of the heroes of the faith – Elijah and Moses standing with Jesus.
It’s often said that having these two appear with Jesus symbolizes that Jesus is the fulfilment of the law, indicated by the writer of the law, Moses as well and the fulfilment of the prophets, represented by Elijah, the greatest of the prophets. This might be a part of it’s more likely that this is a sign of what’s happening to the entire world. Both Moses and Elijah left this mortal coil under unusual circumstances. As we heard in the Kings reading, Elijah didn’t die but was lifted to heaven on a chariot of fire. At the end of Deuteronomy, we have the story of Moses death but he was buried by God so that no human would ever know his final resting place. It was often thought therefore that both of these two were ready to be sent back into the land of the living to proclaim the fulfilment of God’s reign, the coming of the next age. These two appear with Jesus to confirm Jesus own words, “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near.”
What would this vision mean to these doubtful followers? I’m sure it would have bolstered their faith but the show’s not over yet. Suddenly, a cloud covers the sky and a voice appears, “this is my son, listen to him.” Wow, can you imagine? God’s voice thundering across the sky with completely clear and explicit instructions, “this is the guy – do what he says!” Pretty hard to argue with that. Not much room for doubt anymore. Any questions? Just ask the shiny guy with the direct connection to God!
This might just be the climax of the whole story, at least if we don’t count the Easter event. This is simply the best time to be a follower of Jesus. They’ve watched him perform miracles and they’ve listened to some pretty amazing stories. Sure, there have been the authorities who’ve been nagging along the way but even that’s been fun since Jesus is just too clever for them. Now here’s Jesus with full on bling showing up with faith heroes and being endorsed by God. Does it get any better than this.
Even for us, in the past few months, we’ve had the wonderful birth narrative, sang some great music and heard some inspiring stories. It’s a good time to be a Christian and we’re singing a playlist that all hallelujah, all the time.
The thing is though, it’s easy to root for the winning team. Back home in Vancouver, the fans of the Canucks weren’t like the Saskatchewan Roughriders fans. Sure, when they were on a winning streak the stadium was full but on one of their losing years, people would rather pretend that they’d never heard of the Canucks.
Because we have the benefit of having the Gospels written for us, we know the story’s about to change. Transfiguration ends the season of Epiphany but next week we move into Lent and the journey to arrest, trial, torture, and murder. We’re no longer going to be on the winning team. This is where the walk with Jesus gets a lot more rocky. So what kind of fans do we want to be?
Even after this incredible mountain top experience, the 12 disciples are going to have a hard time seeing this through and once that cross shows up, they’re going to disappear until the women coax them out of hiding.
We’ve heard the stories, but we didn’t witness the transfiguration first hand. We have to go totally by faith so how can we carry through this hard part without pretending that we never cheered for team Jesus? Yes, we also have the benefit of knowing the Easter story but we’ve got a long hard to walk before that ever happens.
Faith is easy when it’s all blessings and comfort. Being a Christian is easy when it’s singing great old hymns and joining in with a friendly community. What about when faith calls us to a place that’s unfamiliar? What about when that community isn’t as friendly or has people you don’t really like? How strong is our faith in Jesus when gospel conflicts with what we think we already know, conflicts with our political ideology, or calls us into a place of conflict with unjust powers and structures.
Maybe this is what we can pray about and meditate on during these coming days of Lent. Where is the limit to our faith? Sure it would be easy to say that there is no limit but if you’re like me, there really are places I’d rather not follow. I’m not a huge fan of conflict – sure, I’ve been to the occasional protest in my time but really, I’d rather avoid stirring the pot and getting myself in trouble, going to jail. Maybe for some of you it’s comfort. For many, it’s conflicting ideology leading some to invent new ideas of Jesus and God to support what we wish to believe. Maybe if we can honestly identify these limits on our faith, we can start to push on them, readying ourselves to the difficult times to come. We might even be able to walk with Jesus through Good Friday rather than skipping over to the Easter story when we Christians are back on the winning side.
Following Christ is a joy. This is a path of companionship and celebration that God is with us. This though is also a faith of transformation and never in the history of anything has transformation happened without change, without challenge, without loss. Unlike those early disciples though, we’ve read the stories. We know the joy is to come. Let’s worry about Lent tomorrow and sing some more hallelujahs!