A sermon for Epiphany Last
2 Kings 2:112, Psalm 50:16, 2 Corinthians 4:36, Mark 9:29
Friday morning, as is my daily custom, I was reading the New York Times, the Technology section. An article about Google’s future caught my attention. The author posits, that like Digital Equipment and Wang of years past; and like Hewlett Packard and Microsoft today Google’s dominance is fading. Googles current finances are fine, $14 billion in profits, up 19 percent over last year, are enviable. However, a look behind the numbers reveals concerns. Farhad Manjoo builds an articulate case that Google’s future is less clear than its present; however, that is another discussion for another context. What caught my attention is that like Digital Equipment, Wang, Hewett Packard and Microsoft, Google’s “dominance precludes it from dominating the next thing.” (Manjoo)
I immediately wondered how the theorem that current dominance precludes dominating the big thing might explain: the muddle: in the Middle East for the US; or in the Ukraine for the US and Europe; or the financial commotion for the Euro; or Russia’s behavior in general.
Then I got to thinking about Israel, who was not a big thing in the first century, if ever. And then that within Judaism’s messianic movement, nothing short of a Davidic successor could possibly be the next big thing. It seems the theorem holds on the large stage.
And then I got to thinking about Jesus’ transformation; which, to be honest, makes little sense in the midst of Mark’s messianic secrete. But here it is. So how can the theorem of dominance and next big thing help us to glean what is going on.
You know the story, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain, where Jesus is transformed. Elijah and Moses appear with him. Peter interrupts their casual conversation, he wants to make three dwelling, or tents, or booths, for them, because the whole thing ~ well it’s just inconceivable and he is trying to put it within the dominate vision’s boundaries. It doesn’t fit. We know this because suddenly the whole mountain top is enshrouded in a cloud, from which God’s voice proclaims: “This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to him!”
Observations of the scene from the theorem’s perspective. 1. Moses, manifesting the law, is a dominate thing. 2. Elijah, manifesting the prophets, is a dominate thing. Peter, in spite of his recent confession that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:29) can only see Jesus in the dominate vision of Law and Prophets, and the attendant understanding of the messiah. At this point God shows up, and we have a theophany, think and Cecil B DeMille or Ridley Scott. The first theophany, Mark records, is Jesus’ baptism. It was an intimate private affair in the midst of a very public gathering around John the Baptist. Here, we have a public affair, at least its public to Peter, James and John, in the midst of a reasonably private gathering, after all they are on a mountain top. This contrast clues us in that something different is happening. This time, when God speaks the intended audience is: Peter, James and John. They now know, directly from God, Jesus is God’s beloved son. They also now know they are to listen to him. Two more observations: 1.being God’s son is tantamount to being God’s messiah; and 2.the dictate to “listen to him.” is not about authority, rather it firmly establishes Jesus identity.
What our theorem suggests is that this story is not about establishing dominance. The transfiguration established Jesus identity. The messianic secrete creates time in which the fullness of Jesus as the next messiah, the next big thing, can grow to its surprising fullness. It’s only as something different than the dominate Romanesque Davidic Imperial messiah that Jesus can bring salvation to all creation.
History teaches us the Jesus movement, Christianity, became a dominate force in the Mediterranean basin. After the church split in to Western Church, centered in Rome, and Eastern Orthodox Church and became dominate from the British Isles to Italian – Greek border, and from the Italian – Greek border to Persia, and at least powerfully present from Persia to China. We also know Western Christianity after the Reformation became dominate throughout the colonialized new world. Centuries have past. Christianity is not dominate in Europe, and less dominate in the US, and barely hanging on in the more eastern realms. We also know Christianity is on the ascendancy in Africa and Asia.
So, here we go:
- Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all derivatives of the God of Abraham, all have a part in whatever new thing God is bringing to life.
- Jesus was never about Christianity, a close reading of Gospels reveals that Jesus was always bringing people to God’s presence; Jesus always was, and is all about God.
- The dominate position of Islam in the Middle east and its growth in Europe, and Christianity ascendency in Africa and Asia is not a predictor, one way or another, about what new thing God is bringing to life.
- According to our theorem Christianity’s fall from dominance in Europe and rapidly falling dominance in the US will create space for whatever new thing God is bringing to life to be seeded, root, sprout and grow; and I cannot imagine who, what, how, when or where, beyond my sound belief, and absolute trust that God continues to be actively present here and now albeit in a wholly new way.
My prayer for this last Sunday of Epiphany, the season of light, is that we allow the brilliance of Jesus’ transfiguration to envelop us, envelope our imaginations, and allow our vision to be swaddled by the enshrouding cloud; so all we see is the new light of Christ, which is actually, according to John’s Gospel, the original cosmic light, illumine the next big thing illumine our path to the next big thing.
Manjoo, Farhad. “Google, Might Now, ut Not Forever.” New York Times 11 2 2015. web. <http://nyti.ms/1uFqOI9>.
Seddon, Rev. Matt. “6 Pentecost, Proper 11 (A) – 2014; Groaning: The soundtrack of creation.” 20 7 2014. Sermons that Work.
Skinner, Matt. Commentary on Mark 9:2-9. 15 2 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2344>.