Mark 9:2-9

With my thanks to my friend John Anderson for this kind invitation, and to Rick and the Choir for their ministry of music, among others for their hospitality this morning.

Since Donald Trump was elected as President of the United States last fall, I’ve been wearing a simple, safety on the left chest pocket of my suit coats or cardigans; over my heart.  I’ve had more than a few people say to me “did you lose a name tag?”  And I tell them about my friend, who heard about some University Professors in the States wearing safety pins, to reassure their diverse student community that “unlike in Donald Trump’s America, you are safe with me.”

You are safe with me.  Safe from his erratic and unacceptable behavior.  Safe from his misogynistic and triumphalistic, racist, homophobic and Islamophobic rants.  His daily pronouncements on Twitter remind me of that scene from The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and her four friends (Toto, the Scarecrow, the TinMan and the Cowardly Lion) return to the Emerald City with the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West (having dissolved her with a bucket of water!) as instructed by the Wizard, in hopes of him granting each of them a wish: to go home, for a brain, for a heart, for courage.  But the blustering Wizard (with his big face projected on a screen, a booming voice, and bursts of smoke) says “Come back tomorrow!”   It is Toto who realizes that the voice is coming from behind a green curtain nearby, which our canine hero pulls back to reveal a very average man bellowing into a microphone and camera.  And when confronted by Dorothy with the understandable “you are a very bad man”, the mortal Wizard stammers: “Actually, I’m a very good man, just a very bad wizard.”  He goes on to remind them that they each possess within themselves, the qualities that they seek.  And we have ourselves a happy ending!

Not so much for the United States or the whole world, at least so far.  Because the President elected last fall has - so far - proven himself to be a very bad man, and a very bad President!  The Wizard of Odd!

While this remains a sermon, rather than a political critique (!), I think our Gospel reading this morning can be instructive in these disconcerting times.

Recalling how Jesus took his three friends up a mountain, apart, by themselves.   A kind of spiritual retreat as we begin our journey through Lent.  And Jesus was transfigured before them – hence the name for this Sunday: Transfiguration.  His clothes become a dazzling white, “such that no one on earth could bleach them.”  He is with Peter, who would later deny even knowing Jesus three times, though upon whom as namesake Petra - ‘the Rock’ - the early institution of the Christian Church would be built!  And then there are the fisherfolk James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were called away from their nets to follow Jesus.  Their father’s name means “Thunder” – so they are sometimes called ‘the sons of Thunder’ - and their ever proud mother had presumed to ask Jesus which of her sons would sit on his left and right!  “You don’t know what you’re asking” Jesus replies.

Back on the mountain, ‘the Rock’ and ‘Sons of Thunder’ are terrified by the sudden transfiguration of their friend Jesus.  Moments later joined by Moses and Elijah on his left and right!  Ever the leader – but not quite ‘getting it’ – Peter suggests to Jesus “let us make three dwellings, one for you,  one for Moses and one for Elijah” as if to  say, ‘let’s preserve this  moment, forever’.  Then in another ‘suddenly’, a cloud overshadows the scene and conversation with a voice familiar from Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan, by his cousin John the Baptist: “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.”  And in one more ‘suddenly’, the three mortal friends look around and the prophets are gone, but their divine friend Jesus remains.

As they are ‘coming down the mountain’ feeling very safe with Jesus, he strangely orders them to tell no one about what they had seen until he has [been raised] from the dead.  We haven’t even begun our journey through Lent to Easter, and Jesus is already predicting his death, and being ‘risen in the body of Christ’, the Church.

This is a fantastic story!   Not is the sense of being a fantasy, so much as the truth it points to, about Jesus, and our troubled  times.

When you’re at your keyboard, do you have a word that you almost always misspell?  For me it is the word united; it almost always comes out as un-tied!  There are times it feels like a ‘prophetic typo’   for our denomination – the Untied Church of Canada – and lately, even more so for the Untied States of America.

Yet I’ve rarely been prouder to be a member of the United Church of Canada, than hearing some recent comments – captured on YouTube – by our Moderator, the Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell, in her admonition: “I love Donald Trump”.   “I love Donald Trump” she says, “without tolerating his unacceptable words and actions” and for the opportunity to “resist hatred with love”.  She continues “we need not to allow [his] fear of difference, [rather to] practise the discipline of loving our enemies.”  The Moderator is acknowledging him as an ‘enemy’ of inclusive values, and being called by our Christian faith to love him!

In that sense, sporting a safety pin of subtle defiance, and pastoral invitation, I confess that I’m coming   to love Donald Trump too!  For reminding me what I don’t believe nor want for our world, and for summoning the courage of my convictions to say so, and work for the kingdom of peace with justice that Jesus came to proclaim.

The Moderator refers to it as a ‘discipline’ of love, which is a timely invitation in this Lenten season of journeying up and down the mountain with Jesus.

For me, among the most compelling and reassuring voices in the recent election campaign in the Untied States was Michelle Obama, with her injunction, “when they go low, we go  high”.  As if she was anticipating the story of the mountaintop Transfiguration.  How painful it must be for the Obamas now to watch the ‘Wizard of Odd’ dismantling most of what they had made their life’s work – for the common good – in recent years.

It is as if a philosopher named Richard Rorty was a prophet when he wrote about the Untied States back in 1998, predicting: The non suburban electorate will decide that the system has failed  and start looking around for a strongman to vote  for – someone willing to assure them that, once  elected, the smug  bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid  bond  salesman and postmodernist  professors will no longer be  calling the shots … One thing that is very likely to happen is that the  gains made in the past forty years by black and brown American, and by [the LBGTQ community,  among others] will be wiped out.  Jocular  contempt for women will came back  into fashion … All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.”  (“It Happened Here”, by David Remnick, The New Yorker, November 28/16)

And apparently his name is Donald Trump.

But, as surely as that prophecy has seemingly come true, the story of the Transfiguration reminds us that – fortunately – liminal moments cannot be immortalized by building a permanent structure on a mountain top.  Rather, it is the identity of true prophets, and the calling of their compassionate disciples, that prevail.  As Islamophobia (against our Muslim neighbours) seems to take some root on both sides of the border, a troubled young man is emboldened to shoot six Muslim Canadians at prayer in a Quebec City mosque.    In is what has been called  the “homily” of Canada’s Prime Minister, the next day, in the House of Commons, Canadians were called to ‘go high.  As Justin Trudeau said: “We will meet fear and hatred with love and compassion, always.”

And to quote from a ‘a very good man and a very good President’, in his valedictory address from Chicago in the days  before the Inauguration of Donald Trump, President  Barak Obama reminded us all, as if  from  the tradition of several world religions, including ours:

“Hope is not blind optimism.  It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead, or the road blocks that stand in our path.  It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight.  Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, work for it, fight for it.”

For us, perhaps it begins with renewing our commitment to follow Jesus ‘down the mountain’ and out into the world, wearing a safety pin. 

(Rev.) John Lougheed


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Wesley is situated in the historic civic square in downtown Galt, adjacent to the Cambridge Farmer’s Market, the historic City Hall, and the new City Administration building.
Wesley is part of the United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant denomination in our country. The United Church of Canada prides itself on welcoming everyone the way Jesus did, regardless of age, race, class, gender, orientation, or physical ability.

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