240211 – The Emmanuel Paradigm

Yr B ~ Transfiguration ~ Mark 9:2-9

Have you ever had a mountaintop experience? I mean, other than every Sunday during sermon time (lol). You know, one of those rarified moments when it feels like time stands still, and the rest of the world goes blurry, and there’s just you and the sacred moment you are experiencing. It could be a church moment, but I doubt it. As much as we want to be vulnerable, and trusting, and be our true selves when we’re at church we’re also conscious that there are others around, and we probably keep our guard up at least a bit. No, to have a mountaintop experience you have to be all-in. You have to be totally surrendered to that moment. And in those rare moments you feel something special – a sacredness, a mystery, Something More. We’d call it a God-moment – immersed in God’s Presence, and joy, and peace, and love.

I wonder if such moments are rare because they’re truly scarce happenings, or is it because we’re so rarely all-in, and open, and vulnerable enough? Hmm. Do you go around expecting mountaintop moments in your day-to-day life? Another hmm. I bet if we did have that expectation we’d probably have more moments! I don’t think such things are rare at all – we’re just usually too distracted by the busyness and noisiness of life to notice.

I’m glad that the bible gives us so many stories about these God-incidences. All the major characters have them. Take Moses, for example. He had several mountaintop experiences. And in them he basked in the glow of the presence of God. In his most famous one he came away with a souvenir – in the form of a couple of stone tablets that had the 10 Commandments on them. And when he came down the mountain to be with his people he carried not only the message and memory of his experience, but he was positively aglow about it.

Jesus had some mountaintop experiences of his own. The one we’re focusing on today is called the Transfiguration.It’s an echo of Jesus’ baptism scene. That day in the Jordan River when John brought Jesus back up from under the water Jesus saw the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and rested upon him – and Jesus heard the voice of God say, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The way I read it, it was a private message for Jesus alone – God blessed Jesus, and Jesus was empowered to begin his ministry.

And here, in Mark 9, on the mountaintop, with Peter and James and John beside him, Jesus experiences the Transfiguration. Jesus is transformed by the presence of God – his face shone like the sun – his clothes became dazzling white – he underwent a metamorphosis. Could one argue that in this scene he became divine? Why does Jesus need to be transfigured anyway? He already had the Holy Spirit and God’s declaration of belovedness from his baptism.

Is this story meant to establish Jesus as the New Moses? That’s probably what the first audience for this story would have heard. Jesus on a mountain – dazzling light – glowing – radiant – light exuding from every pore just like Moses’ face. But there’s something more to this story. Jesus is presented as greater than Moses – there on the mountain with two of the greatest figures in Israel’s history – Moses and Elijah – the Law and the Prophets – fulfilled in Jesus. And we get to see it all through the eyes of Peter.

Just a few days earlier Peter went out on a limb and proclaimed Jesus as the Christ – then almost immediately he got burned for not understanding the depth of that claim, and thinking too much in human terms rather than in God’s terms – which really isn’t fair when you consider that we’ve had 2000 years to ponder it, and have slain a million trees discussing it, and we don’t really get it either!

But there on the mountain, God reveals Jesus’ true nature to the disciples. Peter’s reaction? – “Let’s build a church right here and stay here forever – then we can always honour this place where God revealed Godself to us and we can live in the glow of Jesus’ divinity forever.” Silly, right? But understandable! We love making monuments and memorials of significant experiences and events.

Anyway, Peter is babbling on and on and while he’s in mid-sentence (I love that little detail) a bright cloud overshadowed them (another Moses reference) and the voice boomed out … “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” [Mark 9:7]

So, naturally poor Peter flings himself onto the ground overcome by fear – not so much fear as in scared, but more fear as in awe-full, utter reverence that frightens on one level but overwhelms you with wonder and amazement on a deeper level (ok, and probably some ‘fear’ too!). And then, as usual, Mark’s gospel is short on details – it says they looked around and Elijah, and Moses, and the cloud were all gone.

Then it says that then they went down the mountain – but I wonder, how long do you think it would take Peter to get a handle on the moment? But wait a second – if we go down the mountain too quickly here we’ll miss something really important. Yes, they descended – not leaving behind a monument, but taking a souvenir. It wasn’t stone tablets, and it wasn’t an “I’m with Jesus” T-Shirt. They took the very presence of God revealed to them with them! God with them! Emmanuel! And a new paradigm was born – the Emmanuel Paradigm. Not just God in the mountaintop experiences, but God with us, always and everywhere.

Do we have a mountaintop? Do we need a mountaintop? Where do we expect to encounter God’s presence and bask in the glow of it?One obvious place is this place. Some day, some time ago, some people who had a powerful experience of God’s presence united together and built a monument to that experience on this spot – and some of them are sitting beside you. You created a mountaintop right here. When we gather as Christ-followers in this place, both in-person and through technology, we gather with the expectation that we’ll encounter God here. Of course, we can find the presence of God everywhere, but in a church there’s something special. When God-seekers gather together and focus their collective energy on praising and worshiping God something incredible can happen – it’s synergy – we become more than the sum of our individual parts – our experience is amplified because it’s shared.

While we’re here on this mountaintop we need to open ourselves fully to the experience. We need to rip off our veils and break down any barriers we’ve put up. Like Peter, we need to be open and allow ourselves to be totally overwhelmed by our experience of God’s holiness. Maybe you cultivate and feed that openness through the traditional hymns – maybe you cultivate and feed it through guitars and drums and contemporary music like we’re doing today – or through Bible reading – or prayer – or study – or working around the church – or maybe some other way entirely – but it’s a hunger and a thirst that must be fed – must be cultivated and nourished if we’re even to hope for being transformed ourselves.

When we will ourselves to come to church we’re scaling the mountain – if we’re persistent enough, and open enough, and trusting enough – if we’re all-in like Peter – we may very well experience God’s presence revealed in our worship. We need to carve out time to walk with our head in the bright clouds – but we can’t stay here – even though we’ve built a temple here. As great and necessary as the mountaintop is we can’t stay here because Jesus didn’t stay there.

Mark 9:9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

This verse has long perplexed Christians. They’d just had an incredible, mystical experience – why not tell everybody? Wouldn’t everybody be impressed?

How about this? Imagine someone who has never been in love. If I tell them all about how amazingly wonderful it is to be in love will they be moved by it? Probably. But will they then be in love themselves? No. Because you have to experience it for yourself! My story of love may make you more ready or open to enter into love yourself, but I can’t love for you. You have to experience it for yourself.

This is the Emmanuel Paradigm. God is not limited to a mountaintop, or limited in any way. God is present. Everywhere and always. God is with us when we go back down the mountain, and when we’re in the darkest valley, and everywhere in-between. And even more paradigm upending, it isn’t even just that God’s Presence is “walking beside us” in the form of Jesus. It goes further and deeper than that. God is with us in the most intimate way we could comprehend – God lives within us.

Christians symbolize that when we partake of the bread and the wine as we celebrate the belief that in the sacrament of communion we become one with Jesus – that he lives in us and we live in him. It isn’t about following him down the mountain – or out those doors anymore – it’s about walking out into the world with the very Spirit of God living within us. That’s the Emmanuel Paradigm.

And it’s a good thing too because out in that world – and maybe even in here too – things can be tough. There’s so much pain, and disappointment, and suffering, and evil, that we’re moved by it – overwhelmed by it – wanting to help but there’s so much to do and our own resources just don’t seem to be enough. Maybe we don’t know where to start and get paralyzed – maybe we don’t know how to stop and get burnt out? We need to be reminded, refilled, refueled. We need the mountaintop all the time! And we have it!

But knowing that God is everywhere and always, and actually being able to perceive and notice and embrace that energizing presence requires hard work on our part. But it’s worth it. (That hard work is called discipleship.)

We’ve been baptized into the Body of Christ – we are one in him. God’s transfiguration of Jesus resonates with our baptism and we share in the blessing – we too are Beloved! The very light that shone from Jesus’ face that day shines through us as he calls us down the mountain – through those doors – and into the valley. As we leave this holy place and go into the world God creates new holy places – new mountaintops – wherever we share God’s love.

We are not alone. We are called to be the church of the mountain and the valley – to celebrate God’s presence with our whole selves – to love and serve through the strength of the Spirit within us – to seek justice and resist evil in the name of Jesus – to proclaim the life-giving, transformational, grace-filled mystery of our faith.

We are not alone, in here [church], in here [heart] or out there – God is with us.
That’s the Emmanuel Paradigm. Thanks be to God.