Paul Noth’s cartoon cracks me up. If you’ve ever done a Waldo book, like, say, sitting beside your friend or sibling, you know it’s a race to find him. You scan the insane cartoon scene of hundreds of people and animals and pirates until one of you hits on his little bespectacled face; whoever points him out first wins. And repeat, page after page. When the book’s done, does it have a lot of re-read value? Negative, because you already remember where you found him last time.
Now, don’t be Jesus-juked, but this whole deal is exactly how we treat Jesus Christ our Lord sometimes. I don’t usually call out his whole rank and title like that in casual conversation, but it makes for the comparison with Waldo. We occasionally, or often, treat Jesus/faith like a game to win, or an objective to be completed; we flip through the Bible or other such places, scan for Jesus, point him out “There he is…found him…oh, there is again…” and move on until we feel like we’re done. Even though our great hope is that this man is God, and is alive and breathing, we might not often consider Jesus’ feelings, or wonder how he’s doing, or even wonder how he feels about us or how he could be speaking to us right now. I spend vastly more time trying to tell God how I’m doing and/or how God can improve that.
In a way that makes good sense, because this is God. Ask, “How you doing?” and what’s God going to say? “Well, I’m perfect today, I’m God.” When we reject or neglect Jesus’ feelings, we don’t expect to find him in a scene like poor Waldo above, dejected and depressed. This is God. However. However. Do we realize that God leads us to believe it is painful when we turn our backs on him? Throughout Scripture, in the Psalms and prophets, etc., God appears to mourn and grieve over us when we bail out on that relationship. Because he just loves every one of us.
So remember now, this series in the gospel of Mark has had a central question: how are we getting to know Jesus? Not, “What facts did I learn about Jesus?” or “3 steps to successful living”, as sermons tend to go. It’s a healthier basis for relationship to start asking, “How’s Jesus?” Today is our series finale, so we’ll take that approach with Mark 9:2-9.
And it’s strange things. Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop, which gives us a special title for worship, “Transfiguration Sunday”. It gets a fancy name because this passage always shows up in the Christian year as a turning point. It marks changing seasons. This is the last Sunday in Epiphany season, for one. What’s that about? Epiphany is all about mystery. No, not Agatha Christie or James Patterson style. Mystery in the Christian sense refers to the unexplainable, powerful, or miraculous — the stuff that can’t be proven, but also the stuff that a person can just sense or feel in a deeper way than can be described. The mysterious are the big and small things that tell us God is moving, behind the scenes or out front.
So Epiphany season started back after Christmastide, and it’s flowed along with our series in Mark 1-2, with Jesus doing the mysterious. He has been miraculous, wild, and sometimes unexplainable; people have been healed physically (curing illness), spiritually (defeating evil spirits), and personally (forgiving sins). And over and over it seems like people were noticing, “There’s just something about this guy.”
Jesus has taken action, and so far through Mark we have been like eyewitnesses in the crowds. While Jesus is doing, we are there watching. It’s not unlike a solid fireworks show. A pyrotechnics extravaganza, if you will. The crowd’s job is to enjoy — taking in the sights (colors and patterns and light), sounds (booms, crackles, whistles), and sensations (the concussion of explosions). *BOOM* *BOOM* *RATTA TATTA TAT* *BOOM* And my reaction is, “Woah…woah…did you see tha-woah….” Epiphany.
The turning point here is that we’re starting a new season now, Lent. Ash Wednesday (Feb. 22 this year) kicks off this 40-day time of preparation for Easter. For all the potential celebration at Easter of resurrection and life, Lent is to prep our hearts to hope. And I think if so far we’ve been watching Jesus and saying, “Woah”, then this is more of a time for taking a step forward to say, “How can I be more a part of this?”
That’s the turning point Jesus’ closest followers had on the mountaintop. It’s one huge moment of mystery, when for a second it’s like heaven is blown wide open and reality is shifted. Some very-holy-but-very-dead legends of the past are alive and speaking to a different-looking Jesus; we see who he has always been, who he truly is, and always will be. And is the point that Peter and the others hit their knees, confess Jesus as the Messiah, and say, “That’s it, I’ve had it, this is all I needed, take me on home, Lord”? No. It’s not their end, it’s a kind of start. God tells them to listen to Jesus. Now that they had seen him in his fullness, to remember it and LISTEN.
For me, listening implies action. Stepping forward to become involved and not just spectating anymore. This is the difference between how we’ve moved through Epiphany and we how we head into Lent. The foremost goal should still be knowing Jesus as a living, breathing person, but that goal is transforming to include listening — changing, being and doing in response to knowing him. Wondering how Jesus feels, how he feels about me personally, how he feels about my potential for being and action, and pursuing it for the next 40 days.