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Transfiguration Sunday – Time to climb down!

Philippians 2:1-8;   Mark 9:2-9

Many years ago in Los Angeles, a man was arraigned for murder. Since his case was a very difficult one, with a lot of circumstantial evidence, his defense lawyer devised an ingenious ploy to move the verdict his way.

In his summing speech, he said: “Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, just in case there is the slightest doubt in your minds that my client is not the murderer, I have one final witness –the true murderer is about to walk through the door.” All eyes turned towards the door, but no one came in.

So, the lawyer continued: “You see, Ladies and Gentlemen, there is doubt in your minds, otherwise you would not have looked towards the door.” After only three hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a “Guilty” verdict.

The lawyer was beside himself, and before the judge could pass sentence he sprang up and said to the jury, “But I proved that you had a doubt about my client’s guilt. How can you possible find him guilty?” A man in the jury stood up and said, “As everyone looked towards the door, I watched your client. His eyes did not turn towards the door. He did not look towards the door because he knew no one was coming through. He certainly knew he himself was the guilty one!”


In contrast to that courtroom, where the star witness did not appear, in today’s Gospel event our star witness does appear. And he does appear to answer the question that in those days was on everyone’s lips: “But, who is Jesus?” Our star witness today is none other than God, who shows up on the mountaintop to vouch for Jesus’s trustworthiness at a time when many people, even some of his closest disciples, were trying to discredit him or just wondering whether Jesus was for real.

Whispering or booming – we don’t know – God’s reassures Jesus’ lieutenants Peter, James, and John: This is my beloved son, and I fully approve of what he is saying and doing, and he needs to press forward to Jerusalem, and I need you too. For the record, I am entirely pleased with him. So, my friends, you’d better listen to him!


I’ll never quite comprehend what might have happened on the mountaintop that day. A rather strange story, my friends, full of mysteries, not only epiphanies — a major “incident” in Jesus’s life. We know it as Jesus’s “transfiguration,” and English word that attempts to translate the Hebrew stilbein, the golden glare of the sunlight.

Mark tells us that at some point that day Moses and Elijah were brought into the picture. Moses represents the Law; Elijah, the Prophets — the presence of the most reputable witnesses you can imagine along with Jesus reinforces God’s own approval of Jesus. Moses, the greatest of the lawgivers, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, say to Jesus, “Go on!” And as soon as they vouch for Jesus they literally vanish.

The message for Jesus’s disciples is clear — from now on it is Jesus, and only Jesus, and you’d better listen to him!


I wonder, how does Jesus feel at this point after some much doubting and questioning and discrediting and second guessing? As you know, Jesus has made many enemies, mostly powerful, ambitious people in charge of government or religion and who feel threatened by his preaching and teaching. I’m sure he feels relieved, and quite reassured, like the day of his baptism by the Jordan River – remember?

God was there by his side – God had his back, and that was more than enough. Renewed by such a vote of confidence, now Jesus now ready to press forward all the way to Jerusalem, where a mission “impossible” awaits him.

Beginning Wednesday — Ash Wednesday — and for several weeks during Lent, and all the way to Easter Sunday, we will be walking with Jesus through each station of that journey.


As it is often the case with epiphanies and revelations in the Scriptures, here on top of the mountain the physical realm is turned upside down so that everybody pays attention to what God has to say. Somewhere else in the Scripture is a walking cloud or a pillar of fire, or parting waters or raging Pentecost winds, or talking donkeys, or singing angels, or sailing stars, or sulfur rains and bloody waters . . .

Here is Jesus becoming brighter and warmer than a thousand suns, his garments as white as the light while God’s voice reverberates through mountains and valleys, “Pay attention! Listen to him and listen well!”

Overwhelmed by such a privilege and so frightened by their own spiritual short-sightedness, Peter, James, and John fall to the ground. But Jesus is right there to reassure them – “Friends, everything is OK – now stand up, take a deep breath, glue yourselves together, it’s time to climb down!” Yes, time to climb down.


It is the right time – Jesus tells them — the right moment to climb down from our heavenly resorts, from our ivory towers, from our comfort zones, from our places of privilege, all the way to where ordinary people live and work and struggle and dream about a better day for themselves and their children.

“Why can’t we stay here, on the mountaintop?”– they beg Jesus. “This place is so peaceful; it feels so good!” Quite simple –Jesus responds– because our call is to

serve, not to be served. To make it happen, not just to see what’s happening. To make a difference, not to remain aloof and indifferent. To help carry crosses and plow fields, and to share and partake all we are and all we can become. Listen well, buddies, that’s our Father’s way! And it should be your way as well!”


Let me close with a story about a boy who goes to a store with his mother. As they walk into the store, the kid immediately spots a big jar filled up with candy.

“You want some candy?” the attendant asks. The boy nods, so the attendant says, “well, go ahead, and take some.”

But the boy keeps his hands in his pockets. The attendant insists –“take some.” Once again, the kid keeps his hands in his pockets even though he is now salivating profusely.

After three or four invitations, the attendant reaches into the jar and pulls a handful of candy and gives it to the boy and the boy fills his pockets.

Once outside the store, his mother says, “Why didn’t you get a handful of candy? The man told you it was OK.” The boy answers, “Mom, his hands were bigger than mine!”


Friends, the central message of this amazing epiphany is that God’s hands are much bigger than ours.

God’s choices are much bigger and wiser than ours.

God’s grace is much more reassuring and trustworthy than ours.

God’s big hands that day on top the mountain finally got Peter, James, John’s attention as he filled their lives with such a reassuring message – “No, my friends, you haven’t wasted your youth, your time, your dreams, your hopes, for this is my beloved one, and I’m so pleased with him!”

So big are God’s hands, that day Jesus’s buddies climbed down the mountain with the same marching orders we are given today who welcome Jesus into our lives — “Listen to him!”


May Almighty Father transfigure us the same way he did Jesus and with his disciples, and many others to this day, for we are called to shine his grace every day.

As we climb down our own mountaintops, may our Almighty Father bless us all with “the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who being one with God, did not consider equality with God something to be exploited to his own advantage; rather, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!