Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B, February 11, 2018
2 Kings 2:1-12; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
What if, when a new child was born, the parents could receive the assurance that everything with this child would turn out well? What if we could be shown, as a new life enters this sometimes cruel world, that all manner of things would be well? What if we could just trust that goodness is larger than evil, life larger than death, joy larger than suffering? What if we could know that this child just given to us will be cared for and loved no matter what? What if, when we see a new life, we could see through her all the way to God?
We often start out on our back foot with the birth of children. There is so much to be frightened about with bearing children. There always has been but these days there are so many tests and procedures in pre-natal care that it seems parents are much more anxious than they used to be. Pregnancy is exciting but it’s also scary. Every time there’s an ultrasound or a pre-natal visit, there’s something more to be scared about. We put a lot of pressure on the birth event, even in our attempts to be caring and compassionate. We’ll say things like, “We don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, only that the baby’s healthy,” which of course carries with it a lot of pressure and creates anxiety about the baby not being healthy.
Our hopes and desires for our children, right from the start, are pretty defensive. We hope they’ll be born healthy. We hope they’ll be beautiful. We hope they’ll not get sick. We hope other children will be nice to them. We hope they’ll get into the school we want them to. We hope they’ll get on the cheerleading squad or a particular team. We hope they’ll be in the right group. We hope they won’t get into the wrong kind of trouble. We hope they’ll get into the right college, get the right job, meet the right person. And then we start those same hopes all over again when our children have children. We spend a lot of time hoping our children will be happy, so much so that we tend to overlook something bigger that God has in store for all of us.
There are approaches to Christianity that are peddling happiness. Sit down there, watch the big screen, be entertained, listen to the trendy sentimental music, get your little rush and go home feeling good. Nothing wrong with happiness except that it’s not worth much, it doesn’t have a lot of lasting power, it’s going to let you down. We spend a lot of our time hoping for happiness. God spends eternity holding us up through thick and thin. Rather than attaching ourselves to God’s grace which abides through thick and thin, we spend a lot of time just hoping bad stuff won’t happen. Most of our prayers aren’t contemplating God’s presence; most of our prayers are telling God what we hope won’t happen to us and those we love.
Today we read about the Transfiguration. In Mark’s gospel, this event occurs about halfway through the book. Mark’s gospel starts with the baptism of Jesus. As Jesus is baptized the sky parts, the heavens being torn open, and the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Mark’s gospel ends with the crucifixion. The sky becomes dark as Jesus gives up his spirit. And here, in the middle of the book, the sky is again dramatically changed. A cloud overshadows Peter, James, and John, and a voice proclaims: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him?” The Transfiguration happens more for Peter, James, and John than it does Jesus. It’s an event to reassure them, remind them of who Jesus is and who God is, and encourage them later on when the very worst thing they can imagine takes place.
Just before this event, when Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”, Peter proclaims, “You are the Christ.” When Jesus tells them that being the Christ will involve great suffering and death, Peter objects, says that cannot be so. And Jesus says, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” The Transfiguration occurs in that context, to help Peter, James, and John know that all manner of things shall be well, but also in the context of sure and certain suffering.
We welcome children into the world knowing they will go through pain, knowing they will die, knowing there will be tragedy along the way. We baptize these new lives into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We say that all manner of things shall be well with them but we know that ultimate wellness will be in the context of the things of God not just the things of man.
The Christ event is not just saying that good will outweigh evil, it is not saying that pain and suffering are the will of God, it is not saying that those who figure out the puzzle get some reward. And it is not saying that those who believe will somehow escape suffering and death. The Christ event is saying that, through the great love of God, pain and suffering, evil and death, tragedy and things that this fallen world throw at us, are all redeemed. Not every thing that happens is the will of God. But nothing that happens can defeat God’s will which is to love us and give us life.
Go ahead and hope for happiness, pray for it, that’s okay. But when happiness breaks apart, do not lose hope. Don’t assume that your faith is too little or that God is too small. As happiness crumbles, the goodness of God will be the last remaining thing, the voice of reassurance, the vision of hope that nothing can destroy. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him!” May Christ rule our hearts and may the Spirit of God be our guide. Things are going to get rough but all things shall be made well through the grace revealed to us in Christ Jesus.