Rev. Harry Currie
Feb 11, 2024
1 Kings 19:11-13, Ephesians 6:10-12, Mark 9:2-18
In my younger years as a minister when I lived in rural areas, I used to volunteer my labour with farmers from the church as a way to get to know them and bond with them a bit.
I have driven a tractor and pulled the harrow. One time when a farmer was in hospital, I went to his pig farm and together with his wife, we shipped pigs every week, for six weeks, sorting out those who were of market weight and loading them into the truck.
Pigs like children and me, don’t always want to do what they are told and a 220 lb pig is a bit of a handful if it decides to get ornery.
But mostly what I did was help with haying. In those days I was more brawn than brain when it came to farming and haying often meant throwing hay bales around.
Those were the days of square bales weighing in around 75 lbs or so, depending on the moisture in the bale.
But I learned you can make mistakes handling hay bales.
One time it was my job to be in the hay mow and stack the bales. The farmer was on the wagon and he loaded the bales onto the conveyor belt where they would ride up into the hay loft and drop down, where I would pick them up and stack them neatly in the loft.
The mistake is to not keep your eye out for the dropping bales, because one time a seventy-five-pound bale dropped on my head knocking me ass over teakettle, and causing me to gasp for a few breaths while I recovered.
Another time I was on the hay wagon in the field as the farmer drove the tractor and baler and the baler would drop the bales on the wagon and I would stack them on the back of the wagon.
After an hour when the wagon was about half full the farmer had to stop and drive back to the barn because I didn’t know how to build the load, and the load of bales were too tipsy and were in danger of collapsing.
And yet another time I was the one on top of the hay wagon in the barn, throwing the bales down onto the barn floor where the farmer was stacking them neatly. He liked to stack them himself, because as I said there is a bit of an art to stacking the bales so they are safe and won’t fall on someone.
Well, I was about ten feet up in the air throwing down the bales and one time my gloves caught on the baler twine and when I threw the bale, I couldn’t get my hands out, and so I went with the bale off the top of the pile of bales.
Fortunately, a hay bale is a pretty good shock absorber and I didn’t kill myself, just scared the hell out of me.
It has been my experience over the years that pretty much anything you try for the first time, or anything you learn to get good at, there are a bunch of failures.
The goes for skiing, snowboarding, painting, bread-making, plumbing, putting in floors, fixing things around the house,… marriage, parenting, and even ministry.
In fact, in today’s gospel lesson the disciples are a spectacular failure in trying to cast out an evil spirit. Jesus of course is able to do so, but not the disciples.
They cannot cast out evil. It reminds me of a story in the book of Acts; where seven brothers thought they were exorcists, and tried to cast out an evil spirit in the name of the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.
The evil spirit says: “Jesus, I know. Paul, I know, but who are you.” And then beats them all up.
Imagine evil has come to Edmonton. Evil knows Jesus; and evil knows good disciples, because good disciples fight against evil.
But does evil know you? Have you done anything to fight evil or stop it.
The disciples cannot cast out evil.
It isn’t the only failure of the disciples in the gospels from massive misunderstandings of Jesus, to failing to walk on water, to being afraid of the winds and waves, to betrayal, denial, and running away when Jesus is arrested.
This particular story of failure, is specifically about casting out evil and fighting against evil. And their inability to fight against evil is coupled with a very famous story of Jesus we call the Transfiguration.
I think it is actually a commentary about the Transfiguration, that the inability of the disciples regarding the fighting of evil says something about what the Transfiguration is about, and I will get to that a little later.
The Transfiguration itself is about Jesus going up a mountain with some disciples and there Jesus is transfigured and becomes dazzling white as if he is bleached better than all the commercial bleaches put together.
And while Jesus is all dazzling white there appears with him two figures Moses and Elijah.
Now some scholars say this even is about Jesus’ glory. Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets and are the two greatest figures in the Old Testament.
So, some say this is about glory and greatness and a glimpse for the disciples about how wonderful God is, how wonderful Jesus is, how wonderful the Holy Spirit is.
Some say this glimpse of glory is to encourage the disciples.
One could also note that in a very weird and mysterious way both Moses and Elijah had very unique ends to their lives, and no human saw them die.
Moses died on the mountain with the Lord and tradition says the Lord buried Moses, and nobody was there when he died or knows where Moses was buried.
And Elijah didn’t die, but was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind. There was a chariot of horses and fire, but it is unclear if Elijah ended up in the chariot or was just taken up in the whirlwind.
But both Moses and Elijah had very mystical experiences of going up on high.
The gospel lesson reads “six days later”… which refers to six days after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ and Jesus telling the disciples that those who want to follow him need to take up their cross.
But we also read in the book of Exodus that the Glory of God settled on mount Sinai for six days like a cloud, and then Moses went up the Mountain where he would receive the ten commandments.
And Elijah, after he defeats the prophets of Baal and executes the 450 prophets, runs away for his life, fleeing the wrath of Queen Jezebel. And, the word of the Lord comes to Elijah telling him to “go and stand on the mountain before the Lord.”
There are definite connections between Moses and the transfiguration. In fact, it said that Moses came down from Mount Sinai one time and he literally glowed or shone brightly.
And there are connections between Elijah and the transfiguration where Elijah experiences the presence of the Lord on the mountain, in the sound of sheer silence.
But there is also a connection between all these three stories and it that they are all connected with a story of failure.
The disciples are at the transfiguration. They don’t understand it. They want to glorify it an institutionalize it by creating three booths, three tabernacles to worship the glory.
And then they go down the mountain and cannot cast out evil.
Moses comes down the mountain with the ten commandments and what do he find. He finds that his brother Aaron has made a golden calf for the Israelites to worship and they are having a big party with drinking and dancing, worship this graven image. They break the first and second commandment even before receiving them.
Moses is so mad he breaks the tablets of stone with the ten commandments.
Moses comes down the mountain to an epic failure.
Elijah’s story of failure is not so obvious. You could argue that his failure is that he runs away and is depressed after his huge victory over the prophets of Baal, and God appears to comfort him.
…but I think the epic failure is that according to the scriptures Elijah killed all those prophets…
In contrast to Jesus who is non-violent, Elijah resorts to violence. Violence begets violence.
And one of the many epic failures of the church is that while the church of Jesus Christ for the first three hundred years believed in non-violence and many were executed and didn’t put up resistance, in the fourth century the church changed its tune and embraced violence. This happened after the Roman Emperor adopted Christianity and pushed for Christianity to be codified. The church got in bed with the Empire and Christians started to endorse violence, specifically the execution of those who were so-called heretics.
The church being in league with Empire and Violence went on for many centuries and still exists today in many Christian circles.
So, what does all this have to do with the Transfiguration?
The Transfiguration is about transformation. It is first of all about Jesus being transformed. But it is a far cry from the transformation we initially think.
We think Jesus is being transformed from some human into a God, dazzling bright in glory…
…but it is a totally different kind of transformation.
The whole idea of what God is, what a Saviour is, what a messiah is, who Jesus is… is being transformed.
People, the disciples, the nation of Israel think God is about power and winning and glory and sending bad people to eternal torture.
They think the Messiah is like a conquering king who will wipe out the Romans and establish peace and justice and prosperity.
And Jesus transforms the whole notion of being God, and of being a Messiah…
In those days the scribes taught the Elijah would return and when Elijah returns the faithful would be spared from the great and terrible day of the Lord.
But Jesus has bad news for the disciples and for the nation of Israel and even for us.
John the Baptist, also known as Elijah has come and they did to him what they pleased. And what they pleased was to kill him.
And the transfiguration is confirmation of what Jesus said six days earlier. Jesus, also known as the Messiah, or the Christ, or the Son of man, of the human one, is going to share the same fate as Elijah and be arrested tortured and killed.
From the nation of Israel’s point of view Jesus is going to fail. From the disciples’ point of view Jesus is going to fail.
Even when he is on a cross, they don’t get it, and two disciples on the road to Emmaus after Jesus’ death say that they had hoped Jesus would be the one to save Israel. They all think Jesus’ mission is a failure.
And maybe it is in a kind of way. Because for Jesus it isn’t about winning it is about losing.
It is about losing your life for the sake of others. It isn’t about beating up bad people, winning the victory over powerful armies, exercising power over minions, amassing wealth, doing what you want, and being in total control of others.
It is about losing your life, and service, and sacrifice and loving, and being truthful and standing up for justice and equality.
It is even about loving all people, including strangers and foreigners. Loving people of different races and skin colours and cultures and lifestyles.
It is even about forgiving sinners, criminals and evil people. It is even about loving enemies.
And it certainly is about raising up the disenfranchised of the world, the poor, the outcasts, the have-nots and the mistreated.
And that can get you killed.
Jesus is transforming our understanding of who God is, who the Holy spirit is, who Jesus is…
..because ultimately the transfiguration is about our transfiguration.
We who fail, and sin, and screw up, and hurt one another, and don’t get it most of the time.
I mean that…. We don’t get it. Most of the time we don’t get the radical nature of Jesus’ grace…
We don’t get it that Jesus loves our enemies, loves Putin and the members of Hamas as much as us.
We don’t get it that Jesus can forgive anyone anything and reconcile them to himself.
We don’t get it how broad, how wide, how deep God’s love is.
And yet Jesus is right here today in Jesus’ glory inviting us to be transformed.
And how are we transformed? God’s voice from heaven tells us. It isn’t magic. It isn’t a miracle.
It is simply this: Listen to Jesus. Listen to Jesus and actually do what Jesus tells you to do.
Love another. Love God. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Forgive. Be a servant. Share. Imitate Jesus.
Fight against evil. Speak up for justice and equality.
I am well aware that those first disciples could not cast out evil. They failed.
They failed because they thought casting out evil is a matter of performing a miracle. Say the right prayer, appeal to God and POOF. Evil disappears.
Jesus realized that evil was embedded in the very systems that run human life. It was in the Government; it was in the Religious Leadership. It is in Education and Health Care and the Military industrial Complex. It is in all human agencies and corporations and businesses, even though Human agencies are needed and necessary and can and do, do good.
As Paul would write later: our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
And you don’t fight this by waving a magic wand. You fight against evil by participating in the very systems that have evil in them and change the systems.
You speak up for truth. You speak out for freedom. You speak up for the poor, for trans rights and the rights of aboriginal peoples, and the rights of prisoners, hostages, refugees, and anyone who experiences prejudice and hatred.
You lose your life figuratively, and occasionally literally, to love others and do good to others.
It is not a winning strategy in this world.
You probably will be called a loser or a failure…
But evil will know who you are. Evil will know you are making a difference for good and for God in this world.
And for those who lose their life for love, for truth, for justice, for neighbours, for the poor, for minorities and even for enemies…
they find that their life is so worth living,
because their lives are in the process of being transfigured into the image of Christ.