It’s No Secret!
Preached by Richard Bolin at Culver-Palms United Methodist Church
February 22, 2009
In the Gospel of Mark we have climbed up the mountain with Jesus and glimpsed
what seems to be a rather private revelation. Just Peter, James and John were there. It was
their special time on the mountaintop with Jesus, and Oh! What an inspiring mountaintop
experience it must have been. Perhaps we must consider ourselves fortunate to be
witnesses to this event even now, centuries later. When they were coming down the
mountain Jesus instructed them to "tell no one what they had seen."
How long did they keep the secret? Did the other disciples ask them what
happened up there? Did they feel left out? What did it feel like to be keepers of the
I’ve got a secret, said the enlightened teacher. It is the secret to happiness, and if
you come into my exclusive inner circle, I will share the secret and you too shall be
I’ve got a secret, shouts the cover of the latest self-help paperback on the shelf, and
if you buy the book your life will be changed.
I’ve got a secret, says the conspiracy theorist, or the government intelligence
agency, or the religious cult leader, and all of you who are shut outside of the inner circle
of knowledge are diminished in some way because you don’t know the secret.
Secrets can be powerful. There was a bishop who got a new secretary. She
formerly worked for the Pentagon. The first thing she did was to reorganize the filing
system. She labeled one filing cabinet "Sacred" and the other "Top Sacred."
I don't know if the bishop considered any of that sacred stuff to be secret. But the
lady with her background from the Pentagon was no doubt experienced at keeping secrets.
In politics and war secrecy is understood as one of the basic ingredients of power. Catch
the other side by surprise. Hope that your intelligence agencies have discovered all of their
secrets. And where, we may ask, in a world that has so many secrets, and in a world which
invests so much in discovering the secrets of others ... where do we begin to learn about
There is power in secrecy, but there is greater power in knowledge. Secrecy can be
used to gain power-over. Knowledge enables us to have power-with. Secrecy is part of
our effort to possess power. Knowledge is a way in which we share power. And the
greatest knowledge, the knowledge of God, is nobody's secret. The knowledge of God, the
source of ultimate power, is as ubiquitous and accessible as the brightly shining sun.
But even in the Church we haven't always acted that way. We are blessed to have
sitting in our pews Bibles that we can read in our own language. It is a convenience and a
privilege of modernity. In earlier centuries many people died because they dared to
translate the Bible into the language of the people. They were executed by misguided
church and civil leaders who did not trust the people to have the Word of God. They said
they were afraid it would be misinterpreted. But basically they wanted to keep the
knowledge of God as their personal possession, as the source of their personal power.
They were seeking power-over rather than power-with. They were afraid to share the
power of God.
Two thousand years ago the followers of Jesus were fractured over the issue of
secrets. Following Jesus could be dangerous. To say that Jesus is Lord is to limit the
authority of Herod and Caesar. To follow Jesus was to cross boundaries. It was to see the
world with eyes so fresh that the divisions between Jew and Gentile, male and female,
slave and free became meaningless. To follow Jesus was to love, and to love was to be
vulnerable. The community of Jesus-followers discovered that being faithful often meant
carrying a cross just as Jesus carried a cross.
There were some, however, who wanted to claim Jesus but reject the cross. They
claimed a Jesus that worked miracles, became a celebrity and never suffered. They claimed
a Jesus who taught secrets to an inner-circle: secrets of spiritual healing, secrets about the
purity of the spirit and the evilness of the body. They taught that Jesus did not suffer on the
cross, his spirit having left the body before the nail were driven through hands and feet.
These “in the know” people, the ones who claimed to be the keepers of the secrets, the
special “gnosis” (which is the Greek word for knowledge) were the Gnostics. Their
alternate gospel promised membership in an exclusive club and the bestowing of miracle-
working powers. They convinced the mind that all things physical are only shadows of the
perfect non-physical world of the spirit. Their alternate gospel promised no crosses to bear.
In this early church struggle over competing images of Jesus, a faithful follower of
Jesus, one whom we know as Mark, answered the Gnostic heresy with the story of Jesus,
the suffering servant. The compelling motivation for writing the Gospel was to keep the
Church from straying off the faithful path. Paul had already been writing letters for at least
15 years. He had been battling the same Gnostic teachings, warning against pride, telling
the churches that the gifts of healing and ecstatic speech were like clanging cymbals
without the supreme gift of love. He warned against pride and urged persons to have the
mind of Christ, whose sacrificial love was most evident on the cross. But now, some 40
years after the crucifixion, Mark would support Paul’s eloquent arguments with narrative
rather than essay, telling the story of Jesus’ three year odyssey from baptism to
resurrection. Surely the people had heard the stories before, shared verbally in times of
teaching and worship. Perhaps there were even some earlier written accounts that have
since gone out of existence. But Mark would tell the story in a way that the church would
treasure and preserve for all the centuries to come.
Refuting the claims of those who were claiming a secret knowledge is a key theme
in Mark's Gospel. He gives a nod to this secrecy doctrine by telling us that Jesus indeed
spent private time with his disciples. But then Mark demonstrates that the disciples were
not quicker to catch on than the general populace. He makes it clear that the teachings of
Jesus were open to any that would listen, and the actions of Jesus were open for all to see.
Indeed, Mark's Gospel seems to relish in the paradox that it is the outsiders who most
clearly confess the true identity of Jesus. Mark tells us that the crowds flocked to see him.
They believed he could heal them, and they talked among themselves that this was indeed
a man who taught with a new kind of authority. The demons shout out in fear - "I know
who you are, the Holy One of God." Mark says that none of the disciples were there to see
Jesus die on the cross. Instead, at the moment of Jesus' death, it is a Roman Centurion who
says, "Surely, this was the Son of God." You did not have to be part of the select inner
circle to know the full glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ. And we see the
revelation most clearly not in the blinding light on the mountaintop, but in the love that
reveals itself in the suffering of the cross.
The Gospel - the Good News of God - is not a secret. No one has received
confidential information. What Jesus taught is not used to manipulate, but to set us free.
The glory of God shines in the face of Jesus and the knowledge of that glory shines
in our hearts. God's love is not a secret.
We have confidence in this Gospel not because we have been initiated into a secret
cult, but because it rings true to life.
And there is your freedom. No one is keeping the secret of life from you. No one
can control you by claiming that they know something you don't. The most powerful
knowledge belongs to all of us. God loves us. God forgives us. God gives us life. God
beckons us to walk as Jesus walked.
It is no secret, and yet much of the world functions as if it doesn't know. Go tell it
on the mountain! You are a child of God. God's love is real. The power that is revealed on
the mountain is also the love that we see on the cross. God is with us.
The Gospel of Mark, and in particular this of Jesus transfigured on the
mountaintop, is a refutation of Gnosticism, and that message is still relevant to our present
lives. The Gospel refutes the temptation to fly above the world, seeking a personal
fulfillment that ignores the suffering of others. It refutes the use of secrecy to form an
exclusive club. Rather than promising a secret path to bliss, it proclaims a love that endures
suffering and reveals itself without strings to all the world.
The story of the Transfiguration rejects the temptation to seek fame and exclusivity
on the mountaintop, and urges instead that we go with Jesus into the valley to walk the
way of the cross, making God’s love visible, giving it away without price.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about passing a theological test. Jesus asked,
“Who do you say that I am?” and Peter got the answer right: “You are the Messiah, the
Christ.” But he got the walk wrong, because immediately he is arguing with Jesus about
being arrested and put to death. Jesus rebukes him, “Get behind me, Satan!” The Gospel is
not about a secret vision. Again it is Peter who wants to stay on the mountain, build three
dwellings and hopefully freeze the moment. But Mark specifically tells us that Peter didn’t
know what he was talking about, and Jesus immediately leads then back to the valley
where there are demons to deal with and a cross to bear. It is not about passing a
theological test and it is not about ecstatic visions. It is about following Jesus on the path
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is love, and it is no secret. Amen.