February 19, 2012
Recall the last verse from our reading today in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Mark: “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
The mission of the church is both foreign and domestic. In the most obvious understanding of the phrase “foreign and domestic,” it means there are individuals within our own nation, even our own neighborhoods, who have yet to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ; and there are individuals who live in places outside of those domestic boundaries to whom the mission of the church is extended. Thus the mission of the church is to the whole wide world.
It can also be seen in today’s gospel reading, the telling of the events on the mountain that we know as “the Transfiguration of Christ,” that from a different perspective, the foreign and domestic mission exists not only wherever the gospel has not yet been accepted, but within ourselves, we who are the church. We often are in need of preaching to ourselves.
But from either perspective, the calling, the display of brilliance, the overshadowing cloud, the voice of God, and even the command to wait to tell, all has to do with the power of God released for the sake of the mission to be successful. The power of God.
The beginning and the end of the mission of the church is meant to be conducted in the power of God.
That conclusion is found in today’s gospel reading, and pointed to in another verse from the ninth chapter of Mark that is not included in today’s reading. The first verse of Chapter 9: “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
Indeed the Kingdom of God has come with power. From the work of God in creation, through the prophets as we heard in the story of Elijah and Elisha, to the conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the miracles of Jesus retold in this season after the Epiphany, and now to this moment on the mountain.
This power of God is intended to be revealed to the world, both foreign and domestic, through Jesus in the preaching and proclamation of the church, the Body of Christ.
You see, as both Matthew and Mark record, it is not simply that Jesus “was transfigured,” but that “he was transfigured before them,” the three disciples. It is not simply a display of power; it is for the benefit of the witnesses, to remind them, and us, of the eternal name Emmanuel, “God-with-us.” If God is with us, then so is His power; and that is exactly as He intends.
Sometimes, though, is it not difficult to see the power in the church? We all have stories about how the church has faltered in its mission to the world, rather than portrayed the life-changing, transfiguring, transforming power of God. Blunders are not limited to Peter.
Take for example, the bloopers in church bulletins, which are often very funny, although sometimes they hit a little too close to home. A bulletin from a Methodist congregation read: “Don’t let worry kill you. Let the church help.”
Another church bulletin, prompting the Prayers of the People, read: “Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.”
Certainly, there will always be failures within the church, but if the beginning and end of the mission of the church, the Body of Christ, is meant to be conducted in the security of the power of God, then where in the gospel do we find our guidance for doing it properly?
In regard to that Mission, one major failure of the church has always been paying so much attention to ourselves that we neglect the mission of proclamation. It might be because we have decided we have to be polished as Christians before presenting ourselves to the world. But who will ever achieve perfection to prove their worth? Certainly not Peter, James, and John. Yet God worked through them mightily despite their imperfections.
On the other hand, we may be paying more attention to ourselves because – just like the rest of the world around us – we continue to be in great need of the healing Love of God. Placing ourselves into the gospel story, we desperately want to be the recipients of God’s call as His “sons and daughters” whom he loves. And yet there is only One about whom God is speaking at that moment. And through that Son, Jesus, is the love of God revealed to all of us. We can’t set aside Jesus.
We need to know what Mission is. Our guidance here in the Gospel of Mark will be found in Jesus’ instruction to the disciples. As they come down the mountain Jesus tells them they are not ready to tell about “what they had seen.” Looking for direction for mission, in that phrase, our eyes are turned back to what happened
What did they see? They saw the power of God revealed in and through Jesus Christ.
And what did they hear? They heard the voice of God saying about the Son of God, “Listen to him.”
Here, then, is the most basic definition of the mission of the church: pointing to Jesus and telling others that the Almighty God has proclaimed who he is, and to do what he says.
This is what a missionary is called to do, just as the three in our readings today were called to be apostles and called to be witnesses on the mountaintop. We pray for missionaries and for their sometimes perilous work in foreign or domestic lands, who also have also seen Jesus and have heard from God the Father. We pray that we all may understand our baptismal duty to point to Jesus and proclaim him as the only begotten Son of God, the Lord and Savior.
So now we come to the question again: If the beginning and end of the mission of the church is meant to be conducted through the power of God, then where in the gospel do we find our guidance?
Do you hear release for mission in the gospel reading? In fact, as we look again at verse 9, we hear restriction, not release: “Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
The key word is “until.”
So we turn our search to those few chapters where we hear of the discussions, and learn of the appearances of the risen Jesus. And in our search we find in the first chapter of Acts that Jesus tells the disciples, once again, to wait. Wait for the promised Holy Spirit.
Jesus is very precise, too, in that first chapter of Acts, in the purpose of waiting, and the purpose of the coming Holy Spirit: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.”
Right mission depends on power, and that power comes from the Holy Spirit.
At the Transfiguration they saw it. And they lived with it, in Jesus. And that power would be proclaimed, and lived. The mission of the church, from beginning to end, when done the way God wants it done, is accomplished through the power of God.
Lord God, empower our missionaries in the Holy Spirit as they go, and as they point to and proclaim Jesus. May each of us be open to the invitation to go ourselves. We pray that all of us may be empowered and living in the Holy Spirit that we will all live the mission no matter where we are, to the Glory of God and the building up of Your Kingdom. Amen.
— The Rev. Robert G. Eaton has been the rector of The Episcopal Church of St. John, Tulare, California, in the Diocese of San Joaquin, since 1989.