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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

“Identity Uncovered”

Mark 9:2-9


Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling bright, such as no one on earth could brighten 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 set up three tents: 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 anymore, 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.




An inquisitive boy was a hard worker who liked to learn. He was an independent young man who read and researched thoroughly before working on a project. In the days when Cub Scouts made soap box derby cars, he got as much information as possible before building his car. He studied car design, aerodynamics, gravity, and weight. He didn’t win but was proud of what he learned.


For the fifth-grade science fair he got an old shoebox from the closet and decorated it with construction paper. He glued a triangular prism inside, positioned a small flashlight to shine towards the edge of the prism, and cut a slit in the box. Then it was off to the science fair.


The school cafeteria was a visual spectacle of erupting volcanoes, electronics, basic computers, and trifold displays. The boy was nervous as he directed the judges to peek through the slit in the box. Inside, they saw how the while light struck the prism and broke into a rainbow of colors on the inside of the wall of the box. He explained the properties of light to them.


His science project fared poorly. No blue ribbon or any color ribbon. It didn’t matter to him. He had learned that the blue ribbon appeared blue because it reflected a certain wavelength in the visual spectrum. In a dimly lit room, no one could tell which ribbons were blue, which were red, or which were yellow. He already had all the colors of the rainbow inside the box!


Light reflects, refracts, and absorbs in ways that allow us to discern shapes, colors, and movement. God created light first because without light, the rest of creation has no definition or vibrancy. We see only a tiny fraction of all light God created, yet we persist in the presumption that only what we see exists.


Jesus negates that presumption when he ascends the mountain with Peter, James, and John. When Jesus is transfigured, there is no change in his form, shape, or hue. Rather, Jesus changes the disciples’ perception of his appearance. He gives them the gift of seeing him as God sees him: a glorious being of dazzling white light. Jesus reflects God!


In the Old Testament, the people had a similar experience with Moses. Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to meet God. Although he only saw the back of God, his encounter made him shine with dazzling bright light when he came down the mountain. The people had to look away from the light, so he put on a veil to cover his face. Moses shined because God saw him, not because he saw God. His appearance reflected God’s glory.


The story of Elijah and Elisha has another type of encounter with God. When Elijah was taken into heaven, Elisha saw the fire of God as it emanated from the chariot and surrounded Elijah. Another reflection of God’s glory.


In a related way, God sees us not in the limited visual spectrum of light we see, but through the glorious spectrum. God made us to shine with God’s light!


Think of your own experiences when it seemed that light jumped out at you in a brightness, beauty, and intensity that grabbed your attention. Seeing stars, planets, and comets through a telescope as they shine in the dark sky. A lantern on the table while camping in the woods. A neon sign flashing at night. A small night light that helps you see in the darkness. All bring light to life.


The disciples experienced the luminosity, brilliance, and attention-grabbing light of Jesus on the mountain. It was a life-changing moment. One they wanted to hold on to, to stay in its presence. It’s why Peter wanted to build dwellings for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah – to stay in that special moment. He didn’t want to let go of the experience. But he couldn’t stop time or live on in the radiance of the moment. He, James, and John had to go back down the mountain to daily life. To return to the challenges, joys, heartaches, and hope of life. To go back to the routine and real life that was theirs. Jesus may have told them to not say anything so they could focus on their own experience and learn from that rather than focusing on telling the story to everyone.


We have times like this. Many call them mountain-top experiences. A worship service, a retreat, or time spent in the beauty of God’s creation when we have sensed the presence of the divine in an authentic way. A time when we wanted to stay where we are to draw in the glory of the moment. Almost like the fresh air of spring.


The danger of such experiences – perhaps because they are so rare – is that we fail to learn from those things we can take into our everyday lives. Instead, we want to make these experiences the norm so we can withdraw from the day-to-day struggles that can fill much of life. So, we search for the next dazzling experience to be reenergized.


Over time, the bright intensity of a mountain-top experience tends to fade. Every inhospitable work spoken, neighbor mistreated or forgotten, or resource hoarded form layers of grime over the radiance. When we turn our back on others or cross the road to avoid someone, leaves more layers of dust and grime.


The world tells us that radiant things are those we purchase or the status we seek. The focus on climbing the corporate ladder or having a better retirement than someone else shifts our focus and adds more dust and grime on top of our God-given radiance. We forget that God made us to shine.


God hasn’t forgotten. God sees us shining despite the layers of grime and dust. God knows we may have forgotten what shining is like, that we can’t see the reflection of God’s glory in us.


God gives us the gift of transfigured eyes; to see as God sees. When we discover that we are struggling to shine we can allow God to help us scrape off the grime. Not all at once, but layer by layer.


As followers of God, of Jesus, we make a commitment to following him down the mountain. Away from the glory of the transfiguration in whatever way we experienced it, to the everyday light of life. There we continue to seek, to grow, and to learn. As we do, more grime is scraped off, sometimes needing a good scrubbing or with steel wool.


When we allow God to scrape off the grime so that God’s light can shine through us, we let others see the radiance that comes from being in God’s presence. Then others see the colors of the rainbow as they are reflected through the prism of God’s glory in our lives and onto the lives of others.



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