“Fans or Followers?”


February 15, 2015


Text: Mark 9:2-9


          The story of Jesus’ transfiguration, at least in my experience, is not easy to grasp. I don’t recall ever learning this story as a child in Sunday School (and I attended faithfully from the time I was six years old all the way through high school). And even today, I find this one of the most difficult Biblical texts to preach.

          Jesus took Peter, James, and John up high on a mountain. There he started glowing, and he talked with Moses and Elijah, both of whom had lived many centuries earlier. Peter, James, and John were all scared out of their wits, and Peter blurted out something about wanting to build shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Instead, a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came from it: “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” Next thing the terrified disciples knew, only Jesus remained.

          There are many things one could say about this story, and that indeed have been said. Here are some of them.

          Jesus shone brightly, brighter than bleach-whitened clothing. This showed Jesus to be divine. Later the voice of God affirmed this, saying that Jesus is God’s Son. Indeed, the words used here are the exact same words the voice of God is reported to have spoken when Jesus was baptized: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” God reaffirmed his love for and his claim of Jesus.

          Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus. Moses and Elijah were Israel’s two greatest prophets, and Moses also was the one through whom God gave his teachings and commandments to Israel. Moses died before entering the Promised Land, and God buried him in an unknown location so the people would not make his grave a shrine. Elijah did not die—he was carried away into heaven by a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses, as we read this morning in 2 Kings. Moses and Elijah are often understood as representing the Law and the Prophets, the cornerstones of Jewish teaching, and the appearance of Moses and Elijah on the mountain represent Jesus’ continuity with the Jewish faith and the Law and Prophets’ endorsement of Jesus.

          Peter, scared stiff but also recognizing this was a holy moment, blurted out a suggestion that shrines or shelters be built for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. He wanted to hang on to the experience and bask in its glow for a while, whether to get used to it, to enjoy it, or to begin to grasp it. But this was not to happen. Just as Israel had no shrines to honor the memories of Moses and Elijah, there was not to be a shrine to commemorate the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration turned out to be a fleeting experience and retained an air of mystery about it.

          In addition to repeating what was said by the voice of God at Jesus’ baptism, the voice of God said one more thing: “Listen to him!” Once this happened, only Jesus remained on the mountain with the disciples. Listen to him. That is what we are called to do. Listen to Jesus. Listen to his teaching, his leading through the Holy Spirit, his guidance. Listening, as we well know, isn’t just hearing what he has to say. Listening requires us to do something about it. Listening to Jesus means we are to follow him as his disciples, learning from him and obeying him. Listening means we can’t stay on the mountain and bask in the glory—it means that we are called to go back down into the valleys of human suffering and need to minister to those who are hurting, just as Jesus did.

          Jesus and the disciples headed back down the mountain with Jesus’ instructions not to tell anyone until after he had risen from the dead. Jesus was telling them that only in light of the resurrection would the Transfiguration make any sense. In the meantime, Jesus had plenty of teaching and healing to do back down in the valley as he journeyed toward his eventual death on the cross.

          So how does this relate to our time? Recently I saw this quote from Kyle Idleman’s book, Not a Fan, that I think relates very much to this story, and I quote:

          “My concern is that many of our churches in America have gone from being sanctuaries to becoming stadiums. And every week all the fans come to the stadium where they cheer for Jesus but have no interest in truly following him.”

Peter’s suggestion of “let’s build a shrine” strikes me as a sort of fan behavior. He wanted to bask in Jesus’ glory, much as a sports fan wants to bask in the success of his/her favorite team or athlete. But God was having none of it. God wants people to follow Jesus, not merely to be his fans. I am reminded of the person who said the church is similar to a soccer game, where 22 people are out on the field, working hard and badly needing rest, while thousands of fans are sitting in the stands watching, badly needing exercise.

          There is a big difference between being a fan and a follower. A fan doesn’t directly participate in the game. A fan doesn’t score points. A fan’s contribution to the competitors’ success is limited to moral support or opposition, although that can influence how the competitors perform. A fan’s primary job is to sit back, watch, and yell.

          Jesus doesn’t need fans. He needs followers—people who will get in the game, people who will put themselves--their time, energy, and resources--to the task of ministering to the hurting, working for justice, uplifting the downtrodden, and helping people know God’s love for them.

          So here’s something to ruminate on this week: Are you a follower of Jesus, or merely a fan? And if the answer is “fan”, what do you need to do in order to change that?

          In our baptism we have promised to be faithful disciples, faithful followers of Jesus Christ. God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will help us to keep that promise, if we will listen to Jesus and commit to following him. Let us be faithful in doing so.


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