Blogging Toward Sunday, February 11, 2018
Sermon: Rev. LeeAnn Inman 
"Known by the Company We Keep: Called by the Saints"
Mark 9:2-10 (NRSV)
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.  As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. 

Identity questions about Jesus make up much of Mark's gospel, and mark the progress of our Epiphany worship series: Called and Chosen. This Sunday's lesson forms the narrative and theological hinge of this gospel, and the end of the season with the Transfiguration of Jesus. Who is Jesus? Who are we? Who does Jesus say that he is? Who does he say that we are? How do we answer (and live with) the same questions?

To set the mood of this text, spend a few minutes listening to a song that has haunted me (in a good way) since I first heard my son, Simon, play it on his banjo and sing the soulful words. Inspired by Mark 9, hear Transfiguration, written and performed by Sufjan Stephens. Now, try re-reading the passage above, aloud.

Back to the identity questions:
Only verses before, in Mark 8, Jesus pops the question to his disciples, " Who do people say that I am?" The responses range from " John the Baptist" to " Elijah, or one of the prophets." Then Jesus focuses the question to the disciples themselves: " Who do you say that I am?" I imagine a moment of uncomfortable silence. Finally, Peter responds to Jesus: " You are the Messiah."

This identification of Jesus as Messiah, both simple and profound, yields confirmation from Jesus that this is the foundational understanding upon which Jesus says that " I will build my church" In other gospel accounts of the same conversation. I wonder if Peter stated his understanding of Jesus' identity with deep moral conviction, or if he blurted it out, surprising himself as much as everyone else. The scripture does not give stage directions.

Peter's response to the amazing scene on the mountaintop with Jesus, James and John (and Isaiah and Elijah!), includes an interpretation of his words: " He (Peter) did not know what to say, for they were terrified" (9:6). Later in the story, Peter will be asked to identify Jesus and his connection with him as Jesus is condemned to crucifixion. Here he displays no deep insight, only denial: " I do not know this man!" (Mark 14:71).

How we identify Jesus reflects directly on how we identify ourselves, and how we live our lives. The question, " What would Jesus do?" determines what we do as disciples.

Immediately (one of Mark's favorite words) after Peter's terrified response to Jesus' blazing, light-filled appearance on the mountaintop with Moses and Elijah, clouds gather and a voice from heaven echoes the words identifying Jesus at his baptism by John in Mark 1: " This is my son, the Beloved..." (9:7). Then, the voice includes and command from above: " Listen to him!"

Moses and Elijah, embodying the Law and the Prophets, disappear, and only Jesus remains. Jesus, who said that he came " not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it." Jesus, who, when asked to rank the commandments, starting with the most important, responded by condensing the law into one verb with two subjects: " LOVE GOD AND NEIGHBOR."

Like Jesus, we are identified by both our words and our actions, and by the company we keep.
Come Sunday, we'll be in good company as we worship the God who continues to shed light on our path, both in the spiritual highs and lows of our faith journey.
See you in church!