Sermon For February 15, 2015 ~ The Season Of Epiphany

Mark 9:2-9 & Psalm 96

A Season Of Surprises: The God Of Wow!

Sermon #7 “Surprised By The Splendor”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail:

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog:


DragQueenBigHairDo you know why the women and the drag queens in Texas have such honkin’ big hairdo’s? Why, it’s to make sure they are just a little bit closer to heaven than the rest of us! Trying to get a little closer to heaven is a longstanding human desire, and many a city, temple, and sacred site are placed at the tops of hills and mountains to try to do just that. Let us be just a little bit closer to God. It’s understandable, for there is something about the clarity of the sunlight, the thinness of the air, the bigness of the view that seems to turn our minds to things holy, things wonderful, things larger than ourselves.


One of the most formative books of my college years was “The Idea Of The Holy” by Rudolph Otto. It was originally written in German in 1917, but I read it in English in the early 1980’s. In it he tries to describe what it means to us human beings to experience that which is sacred, holy, and hallowed. Otto came up with the Latin phrase mysterium tremendum et fascinans. His description of this fits so very well with what happened to the disciples at the Transfiguration. Mysterium means to experience that which is wholly other than ourselves, with wonder, even blank stupor. Tremendum describes the terror, or dread, we have in the face of the mysterium. I like to say it’s the awful awe we experience. It’s when we feel our small place in the midst of the huge creation. You’ve seen the picture: the vast universe spreads out in front of you, and an arrow points to a tiny, almost imperceptible dot with the phrase, “You are here!” And, finally, is et fascinans, or the charm, the attractiveness, that draws you to the mysterium despite the

The Transfiguration of Christ, Gerard David, 1520

The Transfiguration of Christ, Gerard David, 1520

fear and dread. These three words, and the depth of meanings behind them, describe so well what the Peter, James, and John must have felt standing on that mountatin with Jesus, Elijah, and Moses all aglow with divine light. (1)


I am taken by the fact that the Christophany, the manifestation of Jesus as divine, as God, is done without any words on the part of Jesus. There was no need for the Messiah to proclaim himself divine, to give a sermon to make sure the disciples “got it,” to try to make sure these followers who just never seemed to figure things out in the moment really understood what was happening. Jesus didn’t need to take a selfie to prove he was there (“This is Eijah and me hanging… yeah, THE Elijah!!!”) Jesus just simply needed to bath in the light, and be present. God speaks, yes, but only in order for us to understand clearly that this was God’s Beloved and that we needed to listen to Jesus. (I love it! Isn’t it just like the divine parent talking to the kids as they go out to play… “Now you listen to him, you hear me?!?”)


I am also taken by the fact that it is the disciples, the onlookers, we, ourselves, who get so terrified in the face of glory that we just feel the need to say something, anything, even if it’s stupid.   And while I really cannot say what Peter blurted out, about building three dwellings, for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses, was stupid, it is a real gift that no body called him out on it. Sometimes when I start talking because I’m afraid, or anxious, or awestruck… it’s a gift when nobody says anything, because I just can’t help myself: I can’t stand the silence. But then God speaks and I respond, “Got it. Message received. {lock lips}”


The washing of the feet  Ghislaine Howard (b.1953), Acrylic, 2004, Methodist Collection of Modern Christian Art, No.40

The washing of the feet
Ghislaine Howard (b.1953), Acrylic, 2004, Methodist Collection of Modern Christian Art, No.40

Of course, the real education comes on the way down. Jesus isn’t quoted, but his message is loud and clear. Don’t talk about this, at least not until after I die.   This would sound a bit jarring, except, if you notice, it comes right after the end of Chapter 8 in Mark where Jesus has been teaching the disciples and preaching to the crowds about his impending death and resurrection. He uses his signature, “Son Of Man,” to describe himself, twisting it just a bit the familiar “Son Of God” terminology so many kings and emperors used about themselves, and making it his own. In part he uses “Son Of Man” to remind us this very point: unlike the self-aggrandizing human rulers, part of the plan for this divine messiah will be servanthood, even servanthood unto death. That’s never in the plan for a Caesar, or even a King David. But it is de rigueur for a Messiah, for Jesus.


And this is the most surprising thing about the splendor of Jesus, the awesomeness of God: it comes at a price. And unlike the fame and fortune of the wealthy and wise, the first cost is to the one who is shining most brightly, the one on the pedestal, the one at the top of the mountain. Theologian Lamar Williamson, Jr. points out this fundamental clue to the surprising mysterium tremendum et fascinans of Jesus. As he unpacks what just happen as he comes down the mountain with Peter, James, and John, he tells them that nothing is to be said about this experience until after they have seen him suffer, die, and rise again. (2)




You see, unlike human idols and superstars, who want you to see them in all their glory before the crash and burn, tumble and fall from glory, Jesus doesn’t want us to know his full glory until after we have seen him suffer and die. Because, we must try to understand, that suffering is central to what his glory is! It isn’t at all about lifting himself up over and above the rest of us. True divine glory is found on the path of suffering and discipleship, for Jesus and for us all, and in no other way is this possible.


And, my beloved congregation, this is why we must begin on Ash Wednesday the 40-day trek through Lent to fully and more honestly prepare ourselves for Easter. To jump to the glorious resurrection of Easter Sunday without walking the lonesome valley of the

Crucifix 1971 José Mondragón Born: Cordova, New Mexico 1931 Died: Cordova, New Mexico 1989 carved wood with leather, Smithsonian American Art Museum

José Mondragón
Born: Cordova, New Mexico 1931
Died: Cordova, New Mexico 1989
carved wood with leather, Smithsonian American Art Museum

servant Jesus would be to echo the world’s understanding of splendor. It would be to have mysterium fascinans without the mysterium tremendum., to try to experience the fascination of splendor without the humbling fear and the candid dread necessary to make sure the glory goes to our hearts and not to our head.


So I invite you, and me, and all of us to hold this splendor of Jesus which we have witnessed throughout Epiphany quietly in our hearts, just like the young Mary held her mysterium tremendum et fascinans in her heart and pondered it quietly. Let us hold this splendor for the next forty days, plus Sundays, and then, and only then, will we truly be ready to receive the glory we know as the resurrected Christ fully, completely, and honestly in our hearts and our lives thereafter. And we will be surprised by the power this mysterium tremendum et fascinans has for ourselves and for the world.





(1) Since I couldn’t find my book from college days, I found this helpful synopsis online:


(2) Lamar Williamson, Jr. in Mark from the Interpretaion: A Bible Commentary For Teaching And Preaching (John Knox Press, Atlanta, GA, 1983) pp. 160-161.