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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
Jesus Christ and Superman

Transfiguration     Luke 9:28-36 (and parallels)

A number of years ago, I was a boy growing up in Jackson, Minnesota, and every Saturday afternoon, we did the same thing. We always went to the Saturday afternoon movies. Our movie theater was located on the main drag right next to the post office, right across from Pavelko’s café. Every Saturday, we would go to Pavelko’s, have a cherry coke that you could get for a dime. Then we would play the pinball machine, for a nickel. We would play five to seven games. Then we would walk across the street to the post office that was located adjacent to the theater and we would closely examine the faces of the “most wanted” posters of the notorious criminals in the country. We would examine their faces and the amount of the rewards we would collect if we brought in these criminals. That’s the way that ten year old boys like me and my friends got ready for the Saturday afternoon matinee in Jackson, Minnesota, in those days.  … We always had the same type of movies: westerns. There was Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey, Lash LaRue, and Tom Mix. … Jut before the beginning of the film, there was a serial. Not of Batman but of Superman. These were the original Superman movies. These movies weren’t the cheap stuff like Superman I, II, III, where Superman gets drunk. Superman never got drunk in our movies. These were the real Superman movies and much better than the stuff you see about Superman nowadays. … Well, if you recall, Clark Kent was this plain and ordinary looking news reporter. He wasn’t pretty like the Superman in today’s films. He was dressed in a plain and ordinary black suit and he had on plain and ordinary thick, black glasses. He was a nice plain and ordinary man, and you would never suspect that he was Superman. The plot was always the same every Saturday afternoon. Clark Kent would be walking down the street. Suddenly, two bad buys would be stealing an old lady’s purse. Clark Kent would become upset. He would look to the left and to the right. To the left and to the right again, to make sure that no one was looking.  Then, he would slip into the bushes nearby, and if there were no bushes, it would be a telephone booth. He would duck off into the bushes or telephone booth, and start to pull off his clothes. Suddenly, suddenly, out from the bushes, out from the telephone booth, would come, not Clark Kent, but would come Superman. Clark Kent transfigured. Clark Kent transformed. No longer that plain and ordinary Clark Kent but this was now Superman himself. Superman would fly over the two robbers, bounce their heads together, and rescue the little old lady. Everyone was happy at the ending. …That is what happened every Saturday afternoon when I was a kid growing up in Jackson, Minnesota. Then, after the film, we would always go back to the post office, and look one more time at the faces of the most wanted criminals in America. Having their faces in mind, we would cruise the main drag of Jackson, looking for the criminals in order to collect our reward.

Time passed. Decades passed. My kids never knew Pavelko’s café, the post office or even Superman. Finally, on television, the producers created a series called, SUPERWOMAN, starring Diana Prince as Wonder Woman. The theme was the same. The plain and ordinary woman was transformed, transfigured into Wonder Woman with her magic lasso. But to my mind, it wasn’t as good. And then the Hollywood moguls produced Superman I, II, III and how many others sequals. These movies were OK, but not great like when we saw the original Superman Serial so many years ago.

It is with these images of Jackson, Minnesota, and the recollections of Clark Kent being transformed into Superman, that we approach the gospel story for today. The gospel story for today is a transfiguration story, a transformation story, where Jesus experiences transfiguration, where plain and ordinary Jesus of Nazareth is transfigured and becomes the Christ of glory at the end of time, where a plain and ordinary carpenter from Galilee is transfigured and his face begins to shine like the face of God at the very end of history. No longer is he plain and ordinary Jesus of Nazareth but the Christ of glory.

Let me tell you the story. The story is from Simon Peter who is the eyewitness of the event. This story is first told in the Gospel of Mark and then copied into the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. All three accounts of the story are about the same, with the original story recorded by Simon Peter into the Gospel of Mark.

I would like you to imagine the following scene with me. I would like you to go hiking on Mt. Rainier or some other mountains high and glorious like Mt. Rainier. We are going to go hiking on a high mountain with Jesus and three friends, Peter, James and John. The text for today says that it was a “high mountain.” A high mountain in Israel was and is Mt. Tabor, some 1,800 feet high, not far from the village of Nazareth. So we have four friends hiking on a high mountain, Jesus, Peter, James, and John. It seems to me the three of them are out of their element; Peter, James and John were fisherman down there on Lake Galilee, and here in this situation, they were up high on an authentic mountain.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, something started to happen to them. It was like a vision. In fact, it was a vision. Like a visionary experience. Like an exotic moment. Like invisible sparks were going off in the mind. Something unreal was grasping their minds. Jesus started to change before their eyes. His clothing became glistening white like the sun, white like the glare of the sun and you couldn’t look into it. His face began to change. His face, too, was like the brilliance of the sun, shining radiantly with a glare that you couldn’t look into. His face reminded them of a vision of God in the book of Revelation at the end of time. Jesus’ face seemed bright like fire. The Bible says that at that moment, Jesus was transfigured. He was transformed from a common and ordinary Jesus of Nazareth into the face of Christ of glory, the face of God who is going to see us at the end of history

Needless to say, the disciples were scared spitless and didn’t know what to say. They fell down on their knees. They had never seen anything like that before. Suddenly in this vision, (remember that this is a vision and not a historical happening); suddenly in this vision, in their minds, Moses and Elijah appeared. Why Moses and Elijah? Moses was the great lawgiver of the Old Testament and Elijah was the greatest prophet. Both of these grand figures, Moses and Elijah, fell on their knees and worshipped the glorious Christ. Both the giver of the Law and the greatest of the prophets, fell down on their knees to worship the Christ. The primary representatives of both the Law and the Prophets, the two sections of the Jewish Bible, both fell down and worshipped someone who was greater than they were. Jesus was no common and ordinary carpenter. Jesus was no common and ordinary religious genius. Both Moses and Elijah fell down and worshipped Someone who is greater than their Jewish religion, that is founded on the Law and the Prophets.

About that time in the vision, a cloud came over them like a white fog. When I read that part of the text, I remembered the time I was up on Mt. Rainier with Wild Bill, the Mountain Man from our parish, Bill Manderville, who has taught more mountain climbing than almost anyone in Seattle. We were hiking up on the shoulder of Mt. Rainier and were coming down from Camp Muir and we experienced a “white out.” It was scary, as that cloud moved in and we could not see the path in front of us. We could barely see our feet. We got lost. It was a very frightening moment on the mountain, and it was totally white and we could hear the glaciers cracking and the rocks rumbling down in the distance. All of a sudden in this vision, it became a “white out” and the disciples started to hear this rumbling, and the rumbling sound turned into the voice of God and the Voice said, “This is my only Son, the only Son of God. Listen to him.” …Suddenly, the vision was gone. The Voice was gone. The cloud was gone. The “white-out” was gone, and there was plain and ordinary, Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter from Galilee.

But now the disciples knew for the first time that this wasn’t only the plain and ordinary Jesus of Nazareth. For the first time, they understood his true identity, and that indeed, he was the Christ, the very Son of God.

Well, that is what happened according to the story for today. It happened perhaps on one Saturday afternoon, a long time ago in the life of Jesus.

What does this story have to do with you and me? How does this story speak to us?

What the Bible is saying is that Jesus of Nazareth was not an ordinary human being. Jesus was not an ordinary carpenter from Galilee. He was not one more plain and ordinary miracle worker from Galilee. He was not one more plain and ordinary religious genius from the past. No, not at all. This story is telling us that there has been no one like him before in human history and nobody like him after in human history. Jesus is THE ONLY Son of God who has walked the face of this earth. Just as in the childhood fantasy, the true identity of Clark Kent was revealed as he was transfigured into Superman, so also in the Transfiguration of Jesus, the true identity of Jesus is revealed. Christ is the very Son of God. His face became like God’s. His clothes shone like they were on fire and that is the Bible’s way of saying that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is not one more religious genius. He is not a religious giant. He is not one more prophet. He is not one more Ghandi, Confucius, and Mohammed, all rolled into one. This is the only Son of God who has ever walked on earth. That is what God wants to communicate this morning.

The problem is: deep down inside, you don’t believe it. Deep down inside, you don’t know if you really believe it. Deep down inside, way deep down inside, you think Jesus may have been A son of God, A child of God, A religious genius, A great prophet. But most of you this morning, way deep down inside, you are not quite sure that Jesus was THE ONLY Son of God. The core of Christianity. The core of our religion. And that is too much too swallow. Down deep inside is the suspicion that all roads lead to heaven and all religions are headed for the same eternal place.

For example, this idea was expressed a number of years ago in a movie, entitled, O GOD. This movie starred an old guy who played the role of God. He was in his nineties, smoke cigars all the time, was very funny, and his name was George Burns. George Burns was God. Then there was this guy who was the grocery clerk, and he had that high funny voice, and he was played by Johnny Denver, the famous singer. Johnny Denver wanted a sign from God that he was really God. There is this great scene in the movie where Johnny Denver is riding along in a car and suddenly the car is filling with water. George Burns is still smoking is cigar, puffing away, and Johnny Denver finally asks George Burns, God, “Tell me about Jesus.” God, in the form of cigar puffing George Burns, says, “Jesus? He is one of my boys. He is one of my sons. Of course, I have other sons. Mohammed. Buddha. Ghandi. I have had many sons, not any special one. Jesus? He is one of my boys.”

What I suspect today, it is not only George Burns in the movies but many people here today believe that Jesus was a good man, a godly man, a religious genius, a great prophet, but not THE ONLY Son of God. He was a man of genius but not THE ONLY Son of God to have graced this earth. He is to be admired, but not adored. He is wonderful but not to be worshipped. He is to be respected but nor reverenced as God.  … But the message of the Bible and the message for today and what God is trying to say to you and this is not George Burns speaking; what God is trying to say to you is that Jesus is THE ONLY Son of God who walked this earth, the glorious presence of God here today. His face was transfigured and he was raised from the dead by the powers of God and this has happened to no other person in human history.  That is what the text for today is all about.

It seems to me that those people who are convinced of the truth of this vision, whose minds are convinced that this is true about Jesus of Nazareth; such Christians take the teachings of Jesus very seriously. The text for today says, “Listen to him. Listen to my Son. Listening to my Son is like listening to the very Voice of God.”  When I look around at Christians, it seems to me that those who have been to the mountain, those who have experienced the transfiguration, those who are convinced that Jesus is the Son of God on earth, these people take the words and teachings of Jesus much more seriously. Jesus says, “Love your enemies. Be kind to those who persecute you. If somebody slaps one cheek, offer the other. Forgive. Let go of you bitterness.” It seems to me that those who have been to the mountain, those who truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God, you listen to and do the words of Jesus much more carefully. … Conversely, those “would-be” believers, those who believe Jesus is to be admired by not adored, respected but not reverenced, they are attracted to Jesus but not in awe of him. Those kinds of Christians don’t take the words and teachings of Jesus too seriously. Why do they not take the words of Jesus too seriously? Because they are words from one more religious genius, words from one more religious prophet. But if you have been to the mountain and seen the Son of God, you listen to every single word that he says.

Similarly, if you have been to the mountain, if you have seen the gloriously bright resurrected Christ, you have seen a glimpse of what lies beyond the grave. What lies beyond the grave is dazzling white, the brightest of lights, light of light, the greatest glare that you have ever seen. So when they die, our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, we know that they too are part of the dazzling light of God.

Some of you have read the scientific studies by Dr. Moody, right? People have died and then come back from the dead, right? What do they all see? A bright, white dazzling light. Right? Why? What do all those who have died and been dead and go through that tunnel, they wake up and report to us of that bright, dazzling light and they want to be absorbed into that light but have to come back to earth. Why do they all report this light? We don’t need to read Dr. Moody. We already know what lies beyond the grave, and this story was reported long centuries before Dr. Moody ever thought up his experiment. This same dazzling light is found in the Jewish shekinah, the glorious presence of God and in our word, glory.

If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then what he says about life after death is true. When you look down into the graves of your mother and father, and brother and sister, and son and daughter, you look down into the grave and watch those grave diggers scoop dirt over the grave, and you know for sure that your loved one is with Christ in all his glory, the dazzling white glorious light of God. Why do you believe this? Because you believe what the Son of God has said. You have listened to his voice and not the voice of the cynics from all centuries who think that this life is all there is.

A number of years ago, I was one of those people who didn’t believe that Jesus was THE ONLY Son of God. I believed that Jesus was A son of God, but not THE ONLY Son of God. I finished college, and wanted to go to the seminary to become a pastor. In my mind, a pastor could be a spiritual social worker in the church. In those days, the seminary required us to write a paper about my relationship to Jesus Christ. I thought I should be honest, so I was. I told the seminary that I had a hard enough time believing in God, but to believe that Jesus Christ was THE ONLY Son of God was too much for my little mind to swallow. I didn’t know that the seminary actually rejected people and turned down their applicants, but I learned. They sent me a rejection slip. I couldn’t believe it, assuming that there were several other doubters like me in the crowd of applicants. Two years later, I applied again, but I had learned the “code words” by then, the appropriate words and phrases to say so the seminary would accept you. I got a real smart pastor to help me say all the right things for the seminary. The seminary let me in, and sure enough, I found other skeptics like me at the seminary. They, too, had all kinds of questions. At the seminary, I attended the Christological courses so I could ask the Christological questions, to discover if Jesus really was the Son of God. I couldn’t discover a clear answer from my studies. I then graduated from the seminary and I still didn’t believe that Jesus was THE ONLY Son of God. I did believe that he was a religious genius like no other, and what he said revealed the mind and heart of God. … Then something happened along the line. I am not quite sure how it happened. C.S. Lewis, the famous British author, says it happened to him this way. One day he was driving from his house out into the country. When he arrived at his destination, he got out, and he believed. He didn’t know why. But something happened to him on his journey. To be honest, I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know the hour or the time. But somewhere along the way, somewhere on this journey called life, something happened to my mind. It wasn’t a vision, but it was a clear vision. I became convinced that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, THE ONLY revelation of God in the clearest form on this earth. And ever since that time, I have taken his word much more seriously. When Jesus, the Christ, says that there is life after death, I listen to him. When Jesus, the only Son from the Father, the Creative Power of the universe, says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, I listen. He knows the Mind and Heart of God like no other human being ever. You see, Jesus was and is the Son of God. Amen.

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