A Close Encounter

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					A Close Encounter
Mark 9:2-9
February 26, 2006, Transfiguration Sunday
Mount Vernon Place UMC, Washington
Donna M. Claycomb

        My favorite restaurant is The Angus Barn in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Angus Barn
experience begins the moment you approach the front door as someone greets you with a warm
“hello” and friendly smile before holding the door open for you while you enter the restaurant.
You are then escorted to your table where a cheese and cracker tray awaits you. The spinach
salad with warm poppy seed dressing and homemade crunchy croutons arrives next. A few
moments pass between the emptying of your salad bowl and the arrival of your eight ounce filet.
The steak is cooked just the way you ordered it and is tender enough to cut with a butter knife. It
is accompanied by a baked sweet potato filled with the perfect amount of butter, cinnamon and
sugar. Everything served tastes amazing, and the hospitality provides an unforgettable
experience. When I eat at the Angus Barn, I want the experience to last forever.
        One of my favorite vacation destinations is Hawaii. Two years ago I had the joy of being
the guest of my best friend’s family for a week in Maui. We stayed in a condo with views of a
crystal clear ocean and extraordinary sunsets. We ate fresh, perfectly prepared fish and decadent
chocolate covered macadamia nuts every day. We read books while sipping freshly squeezed
lemonade on the deck of the pool. We strolled down the beach, allowing the sand to creep
between our toes each evening. The week transformed me into a new woman, leaving me
refreshed, refocused and reenergized. It was one of the best vacations I have ever had. When I
was in Hawaii, I wanted the experience to last forever.
        We love beauty, preciseness, passion, and magic. We prefer the extraordinary over the
ordinary. Perfect performances, exquisite meals, exotic vacations, thrilling romances, decadent
desserts and breathtaking sunsets are few and far between. We save money for months in order
to pay for such experiences. We wait in long lines for concert or game tickets that enable us to
see or hear something spectacular. We spend hours in a plane with little leg room in order to see
a new, beautiful land. And when we finally reach the point of magic or arrive at our dream
destination, we sometimes long to stay there forever.
        Today, Jesus takes with him Peter, James and John, to a high mountain where they are
“apart, by themselves.” If you are familiar with the Bible, then you know that whenever
mountains are mentioned there is a strong likelihood that something major is going to happen.
God calls Moses on a mountain. God speaks to Moses from a burning bush on a mountain. God
presents the Ten Commandments to Moses on a mountain. Jesus conveys many important
messages from the top of a mountain. Jesus calls his disciples from the mountain. He goes away
to pray on the mountain. God is always up to something on the mountain.
        We are not sure how long the four men have been on the mountaintop when something
spectacular starts to happen. The scripture says Jesus was “transfigured before them.” Jesus is
changed right before their very eyes. His dusty robe becomes “dazzling white” – a white so pure
that no Clorox bleach commercial could begin to take the credit. His face begins to shine as if a
spotlight is centered directly on him. And soon Jesus is joined by Elijah and Moses. One man
represents the prophets; the other represents the law. All are recognizable to Peter, James and
John who watch as the three men have a conversation. It is a sight to behold – a magical
moment. And, Peter wants the experience to last forever. “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here, let

us make three dwellings.” Peter recognizes that this picture is one that has never been captured
before and may never happen again. Moses, Elijah and Jesus all in one place! This moment is a
Kodak moment – an image in need of capturing and sustaining.
         Jesus does not respond to Peter’s suggestion to make three dwelling places for Elijah,
Moses and Jesus. Instead, we hear another voice – the voice of God repeating some of the words
spoken at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” With these words, the
magical moment fades as images of Elijah and Moses are no longer visible. With these words,
discipleship becomes much harder.
         It is easier to see Jesus’ glory than it is to listen to Jesus’ instructions. I see the face of
Christ often. I see him in new babies who are born with ten perfect little fingers and ten perfect
little toes to match. I see him in the face of friends who offer to bring me chicken soup or show
up at my doorstep with a bouquet of yellow flowers when I am home sick with a cold. I see him
in the beauty of creation whether it is a blue sky, a pink tulip or a bunny rabbit. I see him in the
magnificence of this sanctuary with the stained glass windows, exquisite ceiling and stunning
marble narthex. It is true that we can see the beauty and splendor of God all around us –
especially when we are on the mountaintop. Listening to him, however, can bring about a
diverse array of both comforts and challenges. When we listen to him, we hear both beautiful
words and difficult instructions.
         There are many things Jesus says that I love to hear. I love to hear that I am his precious
child, the apple of his eye, beautiful to behold, amazing in his sight. I yearn to hear that I am
forgiven and that when he forgives me he not only forgives me of my sins but also forgets the
sins I have committed. I get excited to hear about his kingdom – a kingdom where those who
mourn are comforted, where the meek inherit the earth, where the peacemakers are called
children of God, and the merciful receive mercy. I want more than anything to hear about his
compassion – the kind of compassion that will leave ninety- nine behind in order to go after one
who is lost. These words of Jesus are the ones I long to listen to. These words are the ones my
ears take delight in hearing.
         There are other instructions, however, that are not so easy to listen to. I am not sure what
to think when he tells me to deny myself and pick up the cross. I find it quite difficult to hear
him tell me to forgive my enemies seventy times seven times and pray for those who persecute
me. It is hard to hear him tell me to leave my treasures behind and follow him; I really like the
treasures hidden in my chest. When I hear that he is sending me out like a sheep into the midst
of wolves, then I would sometimes rather stay inside where it is safe and predictable. When I
hear him tell me to love my neighbors as myself I would sometimes rather move than to have
compassion for everyone around me. Oh Jesus can we please stick to magical moments on top
of mountains instead of having to listen to you? What you say is too hard, Jesus. Jesus, can we
get a glimpse of your glory and not have to hear your words of instruction?
         We spend a lot of time and energy trying to encounter the magical mystery of God. We
hire spiritual directors who show us where we can see more of Jesus at work in our lives, longing
for a spiritual high. We pay thousands of dollars for pilgrimages to the Holy Land where we
walk the footsteps of Jesus, longing to see him face to face. We read books filled with the
accounts of how and where others have seen God, hoping we can catch a glimpse of him through
their stories. We want to feel, see, and experience the presence of the living God. We yearn to
have Jesus standing before us, clothed in dazzling white. I can guarantee you that I was longing
to see and hear Jesus clearly yesterday afternoon when I was struggling mightily with this text,
seeking a word from God to share with you today!

         Throughout the last eight weeks we have seen Jesus do wonderful, magical, mysterious
things like casting out demons, healing the sick, showing compassion, and calling a diverse
group of people to follow him. After all, these are epiphany moments – moments where Jesus’
love and power are made real. Today, however, the season of Epiphany ends as Jesus tells us
what is really important. When the voice of God speaks, telling us to listen to Jesus, we hear
why Jesus really came, and we are admonished to start preparing for a different kind of
         The four men – Peter, James, John and Jesus – begin to descend the mountain after God
speaks. As they are beginning to get their footing along the rocky path, Jesus informs the
disciples that they are to tell no one what they have seen until the Son of Man has risen from the
dead. They should not share what their eyes beheld on the mountaintop until after the
resurrection. The Son of Man will die? The Son of Man will rise from the dead? These words
are not easy for the disciples to hear. A week or so earlier, Jesus informed the disciples that he
would undergo great suffering, be rejected by many people who would later kill him, and then
rise again. When Jesus first told the disciples about his suffering, death and resurrection Peter
rebuked Jesus. It was too much to have to hear let alone have to bear. Why would this master of
miracles be the subject of suffering? Who would want to kill him? No wonder Peter thinks it
would be better to build little tents on the mountain for Elijah, Moses and Jesus to dwell in
forever. If they stay on the mountaintop then the suffering, pain, rejection and death of Jesus can
be avoided. If they stay on the mountaintop then the magic and mystery of transfiguration can
last forever.
         Jesus did not come to be the master of miracles or the answer to all our individual
problems. He did not come to give us spiritual highs or ecstatic religious experiences. He did
not come to provide spectacular visions of the divine or supernatural. Jesus came to be sent to a
cross – a cross where he experienced great pain and anguish – a cross where he died only to rise
victorious three days later. And he calls us to follow him to this cross, to pick up the cross and
carry it in his name.
         While it is true that carrying this cross is not easy, Jesus promises something – he says
that the yoke – his yoke – is easy and his burden is light. He makes the yolk, the task of being
bonded to him, easy because when we are following him faithfully we see his glory all around
us. When we are sent forth in his name we see Jesus at work in tangible, life-giving ways.
When we become disciples who are eager to listen and follow him, we witness miracles,
healings, transformations, and faces shining in his glory. There is fullness of joy in the presence
of the Lord, and this presence is what we experience when we follow the living Christ, allowing
Christ to transform us into his image from one degree of glory to another. Transfigurations still
         On Wednesday afternoon we will gather in this sanctuary to have ashes imposed on our
foreheads, marking the beginning of our Lenten journey. We’ll hear words on Wednesday that
are not magical, words we do not like to hear, “Remember, O mortal, that you are dust; and to
dust you shall return.”1 The words remind us that we are all perishing. We are all d ying.
However, the ashes imposed on our foreheads will be imposed in the shape of a cross, reminding
us that we can choose to live and die in Christ.
         As Lent begins, I hunger for a little transformation in my own life. I long to hear his
voice speaking to me. I yearn for the courage to follow him faithfully. I want to be made more

    Genesis 3:19.

into his image and likeness each day. I want to be transfigured so that my face reflects his glory
to all those around me.
         Most magical moments do not last. Exquisite meals spoil if not eaten in time. Intense
romance often fades. Vacations come to an end. The life he offers, however, is abundant,
eternal and everlasting. Oh God, give us the strength and the courage to listen to your son, your
beloved. Amen.