Gospel: Mark 9:2-9
1st Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-12
2nd Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4:3-6
The other day I was explaining to my son how to complete the less pleasant tasks in life and get them out of the way and then you have plenty of time to do the things that you like to do. For instance, I said, “If I need to clean up the living room, then I do that first. Then I get out my puzzle and do that.” He said, “Yeah, like if you had to eat spiders, you’d do that first, then you’d go outside and play.” I said, “Exactly.” That’s how I do many things in life. I always eat the foods I like the least first, in order, worst to best. I savor that last bite. It is the last taste in my mouth, the last satisfying bite that can stay with me.
Savoring the moment: That’s what I see happening in the readings for this morning. Elijah and Elisha have been constant companions as prophets to the people of Israel. They have relied on each other through all sorts of trouble. They have built so many memories together. But Elijah is about to die, or ascend. His time on earth is short. He’s on this last trek. He’s trying to make his separation from Elisha easier on his friend. But Elisha is savoring the moment. He’s not ready to let go. So he continues with Elijah onward. And he certainly doesn’t want this moment ruined by a big company of prophets trying to tell him how to let go or how to grieve or how to move on. He is in the moment.
In the Gospel reading, Peter and James and John are also on a trek with their teacher, Jesus. They are loving this time alone with Jesus. They are feeling pretty special to be handpicked and get this quality time with Jesus. So they climb this mountain, maybe about as tall as Mt. Scott, and they are talking and soaking up Jesus' teachings and attention. And then they get to the top and are glorying in their accomplishment and all of a sudden they have a mystical experience. They see Jesus, glowing. They see Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus. They are stunned. They want to savor the moment. They want it to last. So Peter puts his foot in his mouth and suggests putting up infrastructure to support the hanging on to this moment as long as possible. He suggests putting up some dwellings, tents, for the honored guests and for their glowing teacher. Who could blame him? He’s trying to be inviting, welcoming. He’s trying to think of what would be the best way to respond to this moment. There is no precedent to know what to do when the greatest of the dead prophets and leaders suddenly appear before you. You can't look it up in Emily Post to find the proper protocol.
Think of how Peter must have felt. Here he was seeing not only his friend Jesus in all this magnificence, as he should always be, but the heroes of their faith standing there before them. Think if we saw John F. Kennedy and Martin and Katie Luther or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Tupac Shakur standing right here having a conversation in front of us. How would we feel? How would we respond? We would want to savor the moment. They were people we can learn from and whose legacy goes on, but not who we can cling to or keep in a tent on a mountain. They are people whose spirit cannot be contained in a tent or kept on a mountain. The intensity of a mystical experience cannot go on indefinitely, or be contained in a tent or a cabin or even a mansion.
Then God speaks a command to guide the disciples into a better way of responding to the moment. “Listen!” That sounds so easy, but oh is that difficult! “Listen to Jesus.” It is especially difficult for Peter to listen to Jesus, because what Jesus has been saying all along this journey, is that he will die and rise again. We can tell by the surprise of the Disciples when they encounter the risen Lord that they hadn’t been listening to him when he predicted his death and resurrection so many times. Maybe they thought it would be a metaphorical rising. Maybe it was so impossible that they couldn’t even imagine what he could possibly be talking about. Maybe they were in denial that Jesus would be crucified. I know I wouldn’t want to believe it. And then how could they possibly reconcile this mountaintop experience, of Jesus in all his glory, with Jesus who would be stripped and mocked and killed and then rise again?
What Peter was missing as he tried to savor this moment, was firstly that this was the eternal light of God. This was a light that always had been and always would be. This wasn’t a light that you could blink and miss it. This was a light that was always shining. We often miss the light because we aren’t looking for it, but it is there. Some people are better at noticing it than others. Children notice it, because they haven’t been conditioned to expect not to see it. Sometimes we find ourselves noticing the light when something takes us by surprise, when we don’t have our defenses up, our sunglasses on. For instance many of us became aware of the light, the Sunday when Seth called the baptismal water “God’s Water.” It was like a moment of clarity and we all saw Seth in a new way, the light that always shines there that we miss sometimes because we’re not expecting it to come through him. Sometimes we notice the light reflected through another person’s example, when someone has been loving to someone that we have difficulty loving. Sometimes we notice the light through art or music that can get past our armor and penetrate our hearts. I know many of us feel that way about the gifts of this choir or the music that Karen plays during Holy Communion or before or after the worship service. Sometimes we notice the light when we go someplace new, as the Disciples did. Sometimes it comes through a teacher, like Elijah. Sometimes we notice the light because the reality of death or separation wakes us up on that moment to appreciate and savor what is going on right now. So we can look for that light on mountaintops, but we can also look for it in all people and places and situations. The light is always shining. God’s power is always and forever. So rather than try to capture that in one moment when it hits us over the head, let us open our eyes to the light of Christ in all situations.
Another thing that Peter was missing, and we miss it, too, sometimes is what this light is for. This is not the kind of light we can lay out in to get a tan. This isn’t for us to soak up. This light energizes us to go out. This light empowers us to do the work that Christ does, bind up the broken hearted, visit the imprisoned, minister to the poor. The light shines through Christ and we reflect it to the world. So when Peter wanted to stay up on that mountain, he was completely missing the point. When we focus only on wanting our neighbors to come to our church, we miss the point that Jesus sends us out into the world to bring the light of Christ. And we miss the point that the light of Christ is already out in the world and maybe we have a thing or two to learn from people who we discount about how clearly the light shines in terribly dark and troubled times.
Finally, I get concerned that we Lutherans are too good at keeping quiet. In this Gospel, Jesus asks the disciples not to tell anyone what they’ve experienced until after Jesus is risen from the dead. There is time for silence and listening and time for proclaiming the good news. Last time I checked, Jesus is risen, right? We should not neglect the part where we share with others the effect that Jesus has had on us and our vision of his glory. People long for the kind of hope that Jesus offers. People long for community, where people are real with each other and are empowered for real relationships and chances to bring love to the world. People need to know they are created good, loved by their creator, and that they aren’t alone in their struggles. So, empowered by this vision of Jesus’ glory, may we stop and listen, may we experience the power of God, and then may we go out as Jesus did and love and welcome and find ourselves loved and welcomed. Let us savor all the moments of Jesus brilliant light: This one and this one and this one.