February 19, 2012 Gospel: Mark 9:2-9 1st Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6 2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
When I was growing up, since there were no VCRs, we looked forward to watching the Wizard of Oz once a year on television around Thanksgiving or Christmas time. We always watched so closely during the part when Dorothy goes from the inside of her house into the land of Oz, when the film goes from black and white to color. We’d watch with anticipation through the whole first part of that film, eager to see the colorful costumes of the munchkins, the vivid lollipops, and of course, the yellow brick road! What an exciting transition that was! I’m going to call that the Transfiguration moment of the Wizard of Oz.
And that moment “colors” the rest of film. There are the red apples and poppies, the Emerald city, the green witch, the horse of a different color, and the Ruby Slippers. I don’t know if this film could have been made without color, it is so crucial to the characters and plot. If the whole film had been in color, it would not have been so dramatic, but that moment of transition makes you realize how special it is to get to see all the colors.
When we go through transitions, it can be disorienting. Sometimes it is that our eyes are opened to what was right there in front of us. Sometimes something new comes into view and changes how we see everything after that. In those transfiguration moments, we are changed, our view is changed, and we’ll never be the same.
Maybe you’ve sat with someone who was dying and held their hand. Those are holy Transfiguration moments, and you will never be the same after that experience. The same goes of being at a birth. It changes you forever. Or maybe you’ve had a religious experience, seen an angel, or heard the voice of God. Or if you’ve overcome addiction or come through a serious illness, you know what transfiguration is. Sometimes it is a moment of seeing something beautiful in nature—a mountain shining in the sun, a fall tree on fire with the sun blazing through the leaves, a formation of clouds so dramatic and stunning—when that image sticks with you for the rest of your life and colors how you see the world around you.
Peter stood in that moment and was disoriented, as we all are in moments like that. At this transfiguration, this disorienting moment, he sought to orient himself and try to steady himself. He was trying to make sense of this holy experience. He didn’t know what to do, but he knew he wanted to capture this moment forever. That’s why he suggested building some tents for Moses, Elijah, and God and keep them all there. That’s the thing about transitions, they don’t last. They are a link between the past and present, moving us from one to other.
We could see this transition a couple of different ways. We could see Jesus as replacing Moses and Elijah. We could see this as Jesus getting the approval of those important people who came before: His story a continuation of what they had started. We could see this story as providing a vision of what is to come, giving hope for a future when God’s glory will be revealed.
Immediately after this Jesus is making a bee-line for Jerusalem, where he will be arrested and killed. This moment of seeing where he came from, and being reminded that he is God’s beloved son, would sustain him for what he was about to face: the cross, great suffering, rejection, and the grave. The disciples, too, will face a very difficult time. Maybe that vision will sustain them, too. In a way, the Transfiguration gives a glimpse of the end of the story that gives strength to get through the hardest part.
In the same way, the transfigurations we experience, those holy moments when we are reminded that we are God’s and God is with us, can give us the push we need to go do what needs to be done, the strength to move forward to face difficulties that we must encounter, and to move into the future with hope, and to be bearers of God’s Kingdom into this world. We know the end of the story, that we are God’s and God has the last loving word, so everything else no matter how hard can be seen as leading to that good outcome of new and abundant life.
I was wondering who might be the Moses and Elijah of our congregation, who we might picture as the matriarchs and patriarchs of our community and what they would say to us about our future. Maybe it would be Lovetta and John Wittrich and maybe John Morris. What if they suddenly materialized out of thin air here in the sanctuary? What would they say to us? Would we invite them to pull up a chair and stay a while and get them a cup of coffee? Do we see our forefathers and matriarchs casting a vision of what will be, urging us on to be who we need to be in this changing world and that it is okay to go to the cross, to take risks for the good news to be meaningful and heard by a new generation of potential believers?
Jesus didn’t have the choice to stay on the mountain. He had a mission to fulfill—a purpose from God to draw us all to himself, to show us love, to make us one. It is a false choice for us, too, because of course we can’t go back. Really I think we are all aware of that, only we don’t know how to move forward into unknown territory. There is no yellow brick road to show us the way. More important than which direction we go, is that we move forward. There is no harm in remembering and learning from where we’ve been just like remembering what Moses and Elijah came to do and that was to lead the people forward. There is more than one road we can take to get where we’re going. The important thing is to move forward, trusting that God is with us on the journey, looking to God for guidance, and remembering that we belong to God as beloved children, and knowing the end of the story that God’s love endures.
In The Wizard of Oz, I was always afraid of the flying monkeys. There is just something terrifying about that. But because I knew the end of the story, I was able to make it through the scary parts with that vision of Dorothy clicking her heels together and finding her way home.
Dorothy always wanted to get back home and she was finally able to do so. Maybe it seemed she went back to life just as it was before, but she was changed forever by her experiences in Oz. She had stood up to the Witch. She had asked for what she needed from the Wizard. She had made new friends and helped them. She had overcome many obstacles. She had done a lot of growing up. Now she was more prepared for adulthood and the obstacles she would face as a young woman.
When we go through transfiguration moments, we, too, are changed. We may head straight back into ordinary life and all the hubbub, but always with a renewed spirit, recommitted to our goals, aware of our status as children of God no matter what, able to see God all around us—not that God is sometimes there and sometimes not, but that God is always with us, just now we are more aware of it because we have seen a vision of his glory and been transfigured.
Have you ever had a transfiguration moment? What was it like?