Sunday, February 22, 2009

Realer Than Real

Peace Lutheran Churches, Shelly, MN
The Transfiguration of our Lord
February 22, 2009
Mark 9:2-9

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

“Welcome to the real world.”

Anyone ever said that to you? “Welcome to the real world.”

If you’ve heard that phrase before, chances are you heard it when something unfortunate happened to you.

A romance turned south. A job came to an end. An investment went sour. Something you were counting on, hoping for, failed to materialize.

“Welcome to the real world,” someone said to you, maybe with a shrug of a shoulder.

Isn’t that interesting?

Isn’t it fascinating that we equate the “real world”, most often, with the dark or disappointing side of life. That is what strikes as most “real.”.

According to this way of looking at things, what’s not real is when a wish comes true or when a relationship grows closer or when a hope is realized. All of that is “unreal,” naïve, make-believe stuff from some never-never land.

What’s real is what hurts, what frustrates, what robs you of your innocence, makes you cynical, challenges your faith.

“Welcome to the real world!” we glibly say to one another.

But is that really the real world?

This morning’s gospel lesson begs to differ.

This story of the Transfiguration of Jesus, purports to show us a glimpse of the real world. Jesus is on a mountain-top with three of his closest followers. Suddenly Jesus is bathed in dazzling white, amazing light, conversing with two long-departed heroes of the Old Testament, within earshot of the very voice of God who declares: “‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Welcome to the real world, dear friends. See the veil lifted momentarily. Perceive the Son-light piercing through the dreary darkness. Behold Jesus as he truly is—without limit, without peer, no longr subject to boundaries of space or time or circumstance.

What if, what if THIS is the real world, this fleeting glimpse that Mark chapter 9 affords us? What if this is how things are—that all the other stuff is, if not an illusion, surely not “real” in the sense of the lasting, permanent, final state of things? What then?

If on the Mountain of the Transfiguration you and I glimpse momentarily the “real world,” if in Jesus’ metamorphosis we catch a brief vision of our final future, our certain destiny, in the new creation God is ushering in….what then?

If Jesus’ transfiguration shows us “the real world” what can we say about that?

We can say that although we might feel distant from God, God is never far away from us. The veil between heaven and earth, between God’s realm and our world is far thinner, far more translucent, far more penetrable than we imagined.

We can say that for Jesus, all the things that hold us back—space and time and limits of all sorts—those just don’t apply. The dead are no longer dead—Moses and Elijah and goodness knows who else—are all alive and well in the fullness of God’s unending life.

We can say that the light triumphs, that the darkness does not win out, that the dimness of our faith will surely be overshadowed by the crystal clear voice of God who knows and declares Jesus’ true identity.

We can say that alongside this world, which we mistakenly imagine to be the real world….alongside this world is God’s kingdom, God’s realm,….that God’s future overlaps our own, indeed even now it is overtaking us.

We can say that we know how the story ends. It ends in Jesus, bathed in light, his identity no longer in doubt, his Sonship, his oneness with God, as plain as the nose on your face.

St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, puts it this way: “For…as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power….When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.” (I Corinthians 15:22-26, 28)

This, this, dear friends, is the real world. Welcome to the real world! God in Jesus Christ is making all things new. God in Jesus Christ is showing us how it all ends.

A friend of mine who pastors down in Texas, was leading a Bible study on the book of Revelation. He asked the class how they’d summarize the message of this perplexing book of the Bible….and a developmentally disabled man raised his hand. “I know, Pastor,” he blurted out. “God wins!”

Amen and amen. This man, though not seeming as bright as others, saw it all crystal clear. He cut to the chase. He knew the “point” of the Book of Revelation: in the end, God wins.

Welcome to the real world!

But what about us? Can we not start to see now, not just what’s going on here in Mark, chapter 9….but what’s going on in our lives as well? And what difference does it all make? Jesus was metamorphosed, Jesus was transfigured. Who cares?

Jesus’ transfiguration has “cash value” for us as we, too, are transfigured, as we start to see and be grasped by the fact that the so-called “real world” isn’t what we thought it was.

The real world, God’s real world for us, isn’t the dark and dreary side of life.

The real world is God’s future moving in upon us, even now. The real world is God getting a head start, even now, in making all things new.

So now, even now, we see the advance signs of that happening.

Now, even now, we meet people who refuse to abandon hope, persons who tenaciously pursue reconciliation, folks who are not cowed by death….all because they follow Jesus, the transfigured one.

Now, even now we catch glimpses of good overcoming evil, trust swallowing up cynicism, faith remaining unshaken by doubt….all because Jesus the transfigured one walks with us all the way.

Now, even now, we encounter communities of faith, hope and love….churches betting the whole farm on God’s triumph in Jesus Christ….congregations risking themselves, giving themselves away for others….communities of disciples doing whatever it takes to pursue God’s rescue mission, God’s work of renewal in the world.

Now, even now, we stumble upon tokens, examples of persons living here on earth as if the kingdom of God were already invading this present moment, drawing us forward, beckoning us ahead to God’s final future. Why wait? Why wait for freedom and justice and peace to prevail? Why not get on board with God’s way of doing things, now? What are we waiting for?

Welcome to the real world—God’s world, God’s side of things, God’s triumph, God’s future already invading our present.

The late British author and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrote many books, trying to explain faith to ordinary folks. One of his fictional writings, The Great Divorce, depicted a group of folks, traveling on a bus, from hell to heaven. As they left behind their own “grey city” and reached the foothills of heaven, the riders on the bus realized how ghostly and unreal they were. When they stepped off the bus, to walk on the landscape of heaven, they noticed that “although the country was the most beautiful they had ever seen, every feature of the landscape (including streams of water and blades of grass) was unbearably solid compared to themselves: it caused them immense pain to walk on the grass, and even a single leaf was far too heavy for any of them to lift.”[1]

Rather than depicting heaven—God’s realm--as some light, airy, unreal place….like the proverbial cartoon heaven where angels play harps, flitting from cloud to cloud….C.S. Lewis portrays heaven as more solid, more substantial, more “weighty,” more real than any other country we will ever visit.

Welcome to the real world. Not the world of disappointment, dreary darkness or defeat.
Welcome to the real world of God’s realm, bursting into our lives, in Jesus the transfigured one, the crucified and risen one, who is “realer than real.”

I invite you, dear friends, to stop saying “Welcome to the real world,” when someone you know experiences some misfortune. Misfortune is not real, final or ultimate.

Instead, I invite you to catch your neighbor by surprise. Catch your neighbor in the act of living by faith, righting a wrong, fearlessly facing the future. Catch your neighbor acting like Jesus and in that moment say to your neighbor these astonishing words: “Welcome to the real world!”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.


The "germ" of this sermon comes from a chapel sermon preached in 1987 by the Rev. Steve Wohlfeil, when he served as campus pastor at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, SD.

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