Text: Mark 9:2-10 (Transfiguration)
It’s been a rough week in our area. The news has been neither uplifting nor inspiring. First, there was the news about a 15-year-old young woman who was abused and starved for years, found walking down the street just north of here. And then there was the news about one of the community's high school seniors, who took his own life.
People move to small towns in “nice” Wisconsin to get away from things like this, as if going somewhere else would make it all better. We want to turn our faces away from it. We want to pretend it doesn’t happen – or at least, not here. It’s something you read in the newspapers, or online, something that happens far away, or at least, a while back.
And then a week like this bursts into our consciousness, dragging up memories, dragging up fears, confirming our worst nightmares: we can’t get away from it. It’s enough to make you want to curl into a ball and retreat from the world. “I can’t,” we say – I can’t take one more of these stories. I can’t take one more of these terrible things happening. Not one more youth dying out of season. Not one more child being beaten or molested. Not one more person diagnosed with cancer. No more. Enough.
We haven’t invented anything new, in our emotional exhaustion. It’s an ancient struggle. “How long, O Lord?” said the folk who wrote the Psalms. How long must this pain go on? How long until you answer the prayers? How long until you turn the world right-side up again? How long until the killing and dying and the beating stop?
I like to think that’s the same question that sent Peter and James and John up the mountain with Jesus. Finally, they must have thought, the secret knowledge we’ve been waiting for. Finally, the answer to the questions we’ve been flinging to the sky for all of our lives. So they went up the mountain with their teacher. Surely, there’s some magical formula, something he can say to help us make sense of all this. Make some sense of all these crowds with their pain and their suffering, and their raw aching need.
Because that’s why you follow Jesus, right? Because you’re convinced that there’s something special about this guy, because it matters, because there’s something of life-and-death in his eyes? At first you follow him around because somebody told you it was a good idea. And then because you like his company. And then he starts demanding more of you – you start noticing things. Like the gal at the next desk who has red and puffy eyes, as if she’s been crying; like an increasingly negative series of Facebook posts from someone on your friend list; like the parent struggling to manage their squirmy child; like the folks in the grocery store who start pulling items off of the counter and setting them aside as the total on the cash register creeps higher and higher.
You notice these things, and they begin to occupy your attention, and your concern. You don’t know what to do with them. It’s a lot to hold, and there’s only so much a human heart can carry. Not one more, Lord, you think. Not one more.
And then Jesus asks you to climb the mountain with him. More faith, you think. What I need is more faith. Then it’ll all make sense. So you go up the mountain, looking for this special religious experience that will somehow, miraculously, answer all of your unasked questions: “Where were you, God?” “Why, God?“ “How could you do this, God?” Maybe the top of the mountain is a place where you can let go and let God.
And instead, you arrive, and hear a voice out of nowhere, “This is my son: listen to him!”
Seriously? Someone dies by suicide every 14 minutes. Five children die every day as a result of child abuse. This hour while we’re here in worship, sixteen abuse-related injuries will be inflicted upon children somewhere. A child died here, in this town, this week, by his own hand. Another nearly starved to death.
And all you’ve got, God, is “This is my son: listen to him”? As if climbing a mountain and seeing the shining light of an inaccessible God is somehow going to make it all better?
The Bible tells us, “they looked around, and they saw no one with them anymore.” No God. No prophets descending from on high. No bright-and-shiny-fixer-upper. Just Jesus. Flesh-and-blood Jesus who eats with them and walks alongside them, who does the tough work of meeting the crowds and healing, and feeding, and forgiving, and proclaiming. The shiny doesn’t come back down the mountain. Just three very confused disciples and their teacher, who just happens to be the son of the Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth.
“Listen to him” isn’t all that God’s got. There’s more than the glory-on-a-hill God we pull out on special occasions. There’s more than the “live a good life” self-help guru that we reduce Jesus to. There’s a cross. There’s suffering, and pain, and death – and if you don’t think that’s good news, you could be excused. It doesn’t sound like it, but it is.
Because God who created heaven-and-earth also showed up in this week’s news: in a car driving down Sigglekow Road, as a driver who stopped because something didn’t seem right; in a room full of people yesterday at the funeral home to bear witness to the fact that the death of a young man mattered; and a school full of adults who said “you matter,” more often than usual this week to young people who desperately needed to hear it. And God was there in that basement, and God was there in that house, and God was there with every bitter tear that has been shed, and there with every question, “My God, my God, where are you?”
We’re not the only ones saying, “Not one more.” Not one more, says God. I will set my face toward the pain, says God, and I will not look away. And I will go there myself, says God, and I will enter into it. And I will allow myself to be vulnerable, and I will love my children, and I will suffer for them, and alongside them.
At first you follow Jesus because somebody said it would be a good idea. Then because he seems to offer solid moral and ethical advice. And one day you realize, there’s more than that. You follow because you realize that the Jesus story is your two-thousand-year-old evidence that God shows up.
Sisters and brothers, Jesus Christ has called us to follow. We are not called to harden our hearts, but to enter into the pain of the world. We are sent to bear witness to the pain, and the truth that God is present, even amid the pain and the terror and ugliness that is the work of human hands.
Because while there are still Pharaohs, God will need Moses. And while there are still Ninevahs, God will need Jonahs. While there are still palaces, God will need Esthers. While the world is still in pain, God of Mercy still needs healers and truth-tellers and Christ-followers.
This is God’s son. Hear what he is saying. Listen to him.
Preached on Feb 19, 2012 at McFarland UCC.