March 8, 2009
Scripture: Mark 9:2-9
Sermon Title: “Resplendent J.E.M.”
Rev. George N. Miller
Once there was a man. He was a wanderer, lost and lonely, no idea where he was going.
One day he came across an amazing find: a beautiful gem. He held it up to the light, every color of the rainbow shined through it and it was...resplendent.
Finding this gem brought him great joy, and he continued his journey with new found excitement.
To the first person he met he said “Let me show you what I’ve found.” Oohing and ahhing the person said “ How priceless it must be. This is the most wonderful thing ever seen!”
The man heard these words and thought “Yes it is. Perhaps I should hold onto it tighter to make sure it doesn’t get lost or stolen.”
With the gem in his possession he realized he was done journeying and stopped at the first place that provided safety and shelter. Feeling encouraged, he applied for the best job he could find, then he went about planning a home.
Days turned into weeks and months. He carried the gem in his coat pocket, near his heart, until fearing it may fall out, he placed it in his pants’ pocket, then tucked into his sock. Finally, the gem was put into a locked box.
The man had a wonderful job, a fabulous home, and the most resplendent gem that had ever been seen. But he stopped sharing his find with others, fearing that if people knew what he had they’d hurt him and steal it from him. So he tucked the gem safely away, where no one else could see it.
Each day he took it out of hiding to admire its beauty until one day an unexcepted knock came at the door. He quickly hid the gem and when the person left he thought “That was a close one. Perhaps I should limit how often I look at it.”
He looked at the gem only once a week, but that seemed too much. Then once a month, but the risk was still too great. So he limited viewings to holidays, but it still seemed too big of a risk.
Finally, he decided the safest thing to do was to tuck the resplendent gem away in a dark, secret place that no one could ever find.
Years passed. The man grew older. His health grew frail. Although his days of wandering were long over, he felt more lost then before.
Realizing he was not much longer for this earth, he decided to take out the gem and look at it once more. He hobbled into the basement, dug behind the secret brick, moved the fresh earth, pulled out the locked box, took out the smaller box inside it, pulled out the rolled up sock, unwrapped the tissue paper...and the gem was not there.
After years of being hidden in secret, the resplendent gem had deteriorated to dust and sand.
In agony the man grabbed a handful of the remains and lifted it up hoping the particles would still catch the light. But no good.
By keeping the priceless gem in a permanent state of security the man had rendered it useless and brought about its demise. He spent his last days mourning what he had so foolishly lost...
...The man in today’s story doesn’t have a name, nor does he need to, for the man is all of us, as we each have a need to preserve and a need to keep, be it time, memories or artifacts.
Children fascinated by lightening bugs, trap and keep them in a jar. Adults store away their good china. Churches keep certain rooms locked.
Even Peter does this as he tries to keep his precious Jesus from experiencing any kind of pain.
In today’s reading Peter, James and John have been invited by Jesus to go hiking up a mountain. While there he’s transfigured, and Elijah and Moses appear, forming their own J.E.M.. (Jesus, Elijah, Moses)
When Peter sees this resplendent J.E.M. he immediately speaks “Teacher, it is so good for us to be here. Let us make three dwellings...”
Why is it that Peter speaks so quickly? What is he trying to achieve by offering to keep this J.E.M. in a safe dwelling?
As you recall, the Gospel of Mark was written during a stressful era in history. Mark didn’t have time to waste and his story is clean, lean and things happen like this (snap fingers)!
Yet today’s Scripture begins with an illusion to time: “6 days later.” What is it that happened 6 days before?
When we first met Peter he’s going by the name Simon, fishing with his brother. Jesus invites them to follow him, which Simon does, quickly leaving his nets behind. They follow Jesus as he teaches in the synagogue, unblocks Simon’s mother-in-law from her fever, and cures others.
When Jesus sneaks away for prayer Simon hunts him down saying “Everyone is searching for you.”
From there Simon and the others go from town to town as Jesus preaches, heals and raises a ruckus.
Good times. Jesus feeds the five thousand, quiets a storm, walks on water. How cool to watch the way he stood up to authorities. How even the demons responded to Jesus’ voice!
Jesus gives Simon a new moniker: Peter. Imagine being so loved by the Lord you are given a pet name!
Jesus asks who people say he is. While others respond incorrectly, Peter gets it right when he states “You are the Messiah.”
Then Jesus begins a new stage of ministry. The fun of the last few months takes an ominous turn. Jesus tell them something unexpected: that he will undergo great suffering; be rejected, and killed.
This is all too disturbing for Peter. He pulls Jesus aside, “Stop talking such mess,” he says, but Jesus rebukes him. “If you want to follow me, you must deny yourself and take up your cross.”
And then 6 days pass. We’re not told of a single thing Jesus and the disciples did. Did they teach, did they heal, did they journey? We don’t know. It’s as if everything has stopped.
Perhaps Jesus is giving everyone, including himself, a chance to absorb the sobering reality of what he’s just shared. It’s as if he told them the shop is closing or their investments are gone.
And I believe what happens to Peter is that he goes into shock. He doesn’t know what to think.
Here he was, just an ordinary man. Jesus turns his world around, fills it with light, and boom! Peter hears his beloved leader and friend is going to die by means of great violence.
6 days pass, time to sort through their emotions, and Jesus invites Peter and the others to go up the mountain. It was a chance for them to escape reality, to get away.
How nice it must have been to make that climb: the exercise, the fresh air. Leaving the problems of the world behind, with each step seeing the land, the people, grow smaller.
But try as he may, Peter can’t shake the news of Jesus’ death. Maybe if they ran away or went into hiding they could avoid the inevitable.
What happens next seems to be the solution to their problem: Elijah and Moses appear and talk with Jesus. Peter’s response: “Let’s stay here forever!”
How honest his response was; how innocent, wrapped in fear and high hopes.
“We’ll just build 3 shelters and keep Jesus safely hidden away from everyone else. We can visit him when we want. He’ll never have to suffer.”
Can you blame Peter? 6 days ago Jesus rocked his world saying he would be hurt and killed.
Why go back down the mountain? Why leave such a wonderful, resplendent moment for the woeful, wretched world that waits for them?
Why indeed? Peter speaks for all of us at those moments when everything feels just right and we don’t want it to end, be it vacation, a great date, or the perfect summer.
Peter is also speaking for us when we have been thrust into a storm of problems and all we want is to hide under the blanket, ignore the mail or veg out on the couch.
Peter’s response to the reality of death sounds like an assurance of life, but it’s actually a choice to not fully live. What Peter’s proposing is a type of imprisonment: “Keep the J.E.M. sheltered on the mountain and no hurt will come.”
But neither will true life because true life happens down on the ground.
Yes, down there exists sick mother-in-laws, diseases, violent crowds and a deadly cross.
But down on the ground is also where Peter’s wife awaits, where children laugh, people wave palm branches, and celebration and songs exist.
Down the mountain will be more chances to worship, share meals and smell fragrant perfumes.
And down on the ground there is still so much work to be done. Crowds waiting to be taught, people who still need forgiveness, sick children waiting to be healed, blind waiting to see again.
In the midst of sadness, fear and assured chaos, Peter experiences a resplendent J.E.M. and tries to find a way to stay there indefinitely.
But he can’t, for life is lived, love is shared and ministry is performed not far off the ground, but in the midst of the sadness and joy, fear and safety, chaos and contentment.
When Jesus calls us to follow him, we do so, accepting and embracing each moment for what it is: a chance to be with Christ and a chance to joyfully share what have experienced.
The gift Jesus gives us is not to be stashed away out of fear of losing or tarnishing it, but to bring it to others, lift it up to the light and to say “Isn’t it resplendent?”
And when we have those moments in which it feels easier to hide away, let us be gentle with ourselves, allowing time to process, and then finding the strength to return back to the reality of the world, knowing that’s where Jesus is, and that’s where Jesus is calling us to be.
All thanks be to the mysterious ways of the Spirit, to God who sees us through it all and for Jesus, the gem that shines resplendently in and for us.