Living a Resurrection Story

I want to begin at the end this morning. Not the end the way it’s printed in your bulletin insert, but the verse that follows. In our gospel lesson, as Peter, James, and John were coming down the mountain we read that Jesus “ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” But there’s one more verse that I think is key. Mark writes, “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.” They didn’t know what he meant by rising from the dead, what it would entail, or why he even mentioned it. But we know all of it—as did the first hearers of Mark’s gospel—and it makes all the difference. Because this story is a resurrection story. And resurrection can only come about through death.

A sermon based on Mark 9.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me back up. It’s been six days since Jesus had told the disciples about it all too. He told them he must suffer and be rejected, and that he would be killed and then rise again three days later. That’s when Peter pulled him aside and began rebuking everything Jesus had just said, because Peter couldn’t fathom any of this happening. It would mean that Jesus wouldn’t become the earthly leader they were expecting him to be, the one who would overthrow the Roman occupiers. Jesus then confronts Peter himself, and tries to explain it again to all the disciples. He tells them, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” See? He told them plainly. But they didn’t get it.

And you can’t really blame them when they’ve been thinking this whole time about earthly force. And now Jesus was transfigured before them showing then God’s awesome power—he became dazzlingly bright, his clothes turned white, and he was transformed. He’s there talking with Moses and Elijah about Lord knows what, but I can guarantee you it impressed those three disciples. Jesus is clearly someone special. Yet notice that he doesn’t head right off from there to kick Herod out of Jerusalem.

Because it’s not about power for Jesus—although he had it in spades. And I think that is why he is so clear on telling the disciples to not say anything until later. He knows that Peter and James and John might get the idea that if he could be transfigured and speak with both Elijah and Moses, then surely he could overthrow the Romans and be done with their oppressive rule forever. Jesus is very specific: don’t tell anyone about this until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead.The disciples don’t get it at the time, but Jesus is being clear. His strength isn’t to be used merely to establish another earthly kingdom; Jesus came to be a different type of leader. A leader that would be made perfect in suffering. Strength shown somehow in weakness.

It’s that same message he gave six days earlier. Strength isn’t to be found in flexing our muscles or showing our superior knowledge, it’s to be centered in our utter reliance on God. In denying ourselves and losing our lives when we follow him. It seems that St. Paul was right when he said to the Corinthians, “When I am weak, then am I strong,” because “power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’s a paradox in following of God. To think that power and strength are to be found in our weaknesses, in our utter dependence on God. Often we see troubles, hardship, or our “growing edges,” as some are wont to call them, only as liabilities, as hurdles to be gotten over as quickly as we can. God sees them and says, “I can use that for my greater good.”

Curtis Almquist, a brother with the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, describes this unlikely relationship between weakness and power in a talk he gave a number of years ago. He said, “A metaphor for this transformation of weakness is a pearl, something about which Jesus was familiar. Remember his telling the parable about ‘a merchant in search of fine pearls.’ A pearl comes from the lowliest of creatures, from a mollusk lost in darkness on the bottom of the sea. Quite tragically, a grain of sand or a small pebble will typically wound the inner membrane of the mollusk. The mollusk’s attempt to cauterize, and encapsulate, and heal this inner wound is what produces the pearl. Pearls come from wounds, and so will your greatest gifts.”

The novel The Shipping News follows the life of a man plagued with insecurity. Quoyle almost drowned early in his life as his father attempted to teach him to swim by tossing him in a lake. He fears the water throughout his life, and dreams that he is drowning whenever his life gets overwhelming. His father never believed in him and constantly belittled him. He eventually lands a job at a newspaper as an ink-setter. He falls in love with a woman who is only looking for a quick fling, and ends up having a baby with her. He cares for that girl with deep devotion while the mother runs off with another man. This pattern continues until the girl is 6, and his estranged wife ends up dying in a car accident. Quoyle serendipitously meets his long lost relative—a great aunt—and decides to take his daughter travel with his aunt to his homeland, Newfoundland, for a new start.

The three of them live together in the dilapidated family home out on the edge of the ocean, and Quolye lands a job as a bit journalist for the small town newspaper covering the shipping news—which boats are coming in and out of the harbor. He’s terrified of the ocean, of course, “I’m not a water person,” he says. But his editor replies that all of his relatives were water people, and he just expects him to get over it now that he is living in Newfoundland. Since it’s his only prospect, he takes the job. 

And slowly he begins to find healing. He meets a woman in that small town that he builds a relationship with. He becomes more sure of himself, no longer beset by doubt and insecurity. He becomes the person he was meant to be. This broken man is healed by the water, the very thing he feared most of all. 

It’s a resurrection story. It’s about strength being uncovered in weakness. About death and life.

The disciples couldn’t see it back on Transfiguration Mountain was because they couldn’t fathom what eventually would happen. That with death could come life. In weakness could come strength. That Jesus didn’t want to set up an earthly fiefdom, but to usher in a whole new reality. That the glory and power of God was shown on that mountaintop to impress upon the disciples to listen to Jesus, to really listen to him. Not just imagine what he could do with all that power, but to see and hear what he used that strength for. Things like healing and restoring people and feeding the hungry and lifting up the brokenhearted and teaching about his upside down kingdom. His was the way of humility and empathy and integrity and love. Which is not the way of Herod. Nor is it the way of most of the leaders in our day either.

How often do we forget that the way of Jesus is not the way of earthly power? How often do we think that if we could just exhibit some sort of strength or power or control, then everything would turn out better in our lives? How many times do we need to hear, to really hear, that if we want to save our lives we have to lose them? That it will absolutely do nothing for us if we gain even the entirety of the world but lose our souls in the process?

I think we need to realize that we’re in a resurrection story too. Where pearls emerge when once there was only a grain of debilitating sand. Where insecurity is replaced with love. Where death results in life. 

Where in your life do you see weakness or insecurity or even death? What is the cross you are carrying? Don’t you think God has the power to  use it for good, to transform it entirely before your eyes, making the whole thing dazzle? Don’t you see that this God wants you to listen to the Beloved One? To truly learn from him and experience new birth? Don’t you realize that we follow the one who overcame death and the grave, and he calls to follow him?

Image by Tony Cordaro from Pixabay

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