Message Manuscript for “Hiking with Jesus” Mark 9:2-9
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Transfiguration Sunday, February 14, 2021
Some of the best memories of my childhood are the times I spent hiking in the mountains of North Carolina. The camp I attended in the summers had a program that involved taking campers out on trails for a week at a time, hiking portions of the Appalachian Trail and other trails in the Smoky Mountains. We had great adventures and saw some amazing sights I’ll never forget. One thing I learned is how hiking with people is a powerful way to deepen relationships, growing together through the rigors of long hikes, unexpected storms, hungry bears, blistered feet, and occasional hornet nests. Great friendships were forged on those trails and mountains, ones that have continued through the years.
I can’t help but think of those hikes when I read the one we’ve just heard today in Mark’s gospel. It’s about the one Jesus, Peter, James, and John went on one day to the top of a mountain. It’s about amazing sights and deepening relationships. It’s a hike they would never forget. Like the incredible view you see after hiking up a long, twisting, sometimes excruciating path to the top of a mountain, the disciples saw the most amazing sight ever when they arrived at the top of the high mountain they climbed with Jesus. It was an epiphany.
Mark doesn’t give us any details about how winded they must have been or how tired their legs were; he just states that as soon as they arrived, Jesus was transfigured right there in front of them. Like most any hiker, his clothes must have been dirty and damp with sweat as he reached the end of the trail. But his were all of a sudden a bright, dazzling white, illuminating him there in front of them. I’m sure the disciples thought they were seeing things, like what happens when your adrenaline tapers off and dehydration sets in. If the bright white wasn’t enough, they saw two people with Jesus, recognizing one as Moses and the other Elijah. And there was Jesus there between them. As soon as they began thinking their eyes were playing tricks on them, they heard Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah. As you can imagine, they went from exhaustion to surprise to bewilderment and ended up terrified. Then they heard another voice, this one coming from God, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
That was it. That’s what they were to know from all of this. They were to listen to Jesus, continuing on with him and remembering what they saw, heard, and felt as God affirmed for them that Jesus was truly God’s son, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, the Beloved of God. As that realization took place among them, they then followed Jesus down the mountain. Nothing would be the same for them again just as it wouldn’t be for us if we had been there with them. What was normal, important, and predictable when they started their hike had now been radically changed before their very eyes. It was truly an epiphany.
As we hear of what happened on that mountain, we may wonder what this has to do with us today. It’s great and all that they got to be with Jesus like that, but what does it have to do with us right now, right here in this pandemic, in the chaos and collective anxiety of our nation and world, in the uncertainty of this next year? What does a hike up the mountain with Jesus have to do with us? A lot, actually. If we allow ourselves to enter into their context and even to fast forward a bit to what would happen with Jesus and the disciples in the days after their mountaintop experience, then we would see how relevant this story is for us now. Don’t we all need to catch a glimpse of Jesus unlike we have ever seen before? Just when we think we have Jesus figured out somewhat and start to get comfortable around him, that’s exactly when we need our view of him to be lit up and expanded, to have Jesus transfigured before our very eyes. Some Christians may well find that the Jesus they thought they knew is radically different than the one God reveals, that he is not a Republican, not a Democrat, not American, and certainly not white. He’s not a Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, or any other denomination we think he belongs to. No, he is the Son of God, the Beloved. Sometimes we just need to see Jesus in a different light. And that can be terrifying.
And we need to hear things about him we either haven’t heard before or that we’ve heard before but never fully comprehended. When was the last time you heard what God had to say about Jesus? That cloud God spoke from to affirm Jesus as his Beloved Son is available to us like it was for Peter, James, and John. God still speaks words of affirmation about Jesus, calling for us to pay attention to him by listening. And when was the last time you heard what Jesus had to say about God? The words of Jesus are all around us, available for us to hear, read, ponder, share, and do. They inform us about who God is and what God wants us to do with our lives and in our world. But do we hear them? Are we listening?
I sometimes wish I could go back to the hikes of my childhood, experiencing the fun and even the challenges all over again. I learned so much about myself, my friends, and my God during those times. But I’m reminded that there is still a hike for me, even if it’s different terrain, one that we all get to go on as we follow Jesus, one with certain challenges and even a cross to bear. As we enter into Lent this Wednesday, let us go together on this hike, walking with Jesus, the Beloved of God, seeing him in a new light and listening to the words he has for us to hear.