Had the Gospel writers been lyricists instead, the story might have gone something like this… (So Good to Be Here…a song by Marty Haugen…in Monty Python fashion, the disciples sit back and relax and simply enjoy being with Jesus.)
Ah, yes. So good to be with Jesus…away from the hustle and bustle of disciple-life…away from the crowds, all those faces to feed… away from annoying neighbors… away with Jesus for a spiritual retreat. Oh, yes. It was so good to be there with Jesus!
But here’s what I wonder. How was it for those who weren’t with Jesus? How was it for the rest of the disciples–the rest of the world–who hadn’t been invited up the mountain for this special retreat? How was it for those who couldn’t get childcare or time off work? Basically, what I’m asking is, How was it for Andrew?
Do you remember a few weeks ago when Jesus was calling his disciples? Who were the first to be called? Someone read Mark 1:16 for us. “As Jesus passed along theSea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake.” “Follow me!” he calls. They do. Then who does he call? Someone read Mk 1:19. “As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John.” “Follow me!” Jesus calls. They do.
Two sets of brothers: Simon (aka, Peter) and Andrew, James and John. So, here’s my question about today’s Transfiguration scene: What happened to Andrew? Jesus called Andrew at the same time he called Peter, James and John…which, by the way, is the same group he calls to go with him to pray inGethsemanethe night before his crucifixion. So, how come when Jesus has something really important to share with his inner group, it’s only Peter, James and John? What happens to Andrew?
There’s no way to know, really. In truth, I haven’t found a commentator yet who even cares about Andrew. The focus of this scene is Jesus and how he’s glorified and how God reminds the disciples who are there that Jesus is God’s son and that human beings should listen to him.
But don’t you find it strange that Andrew is left out of that crew? What happened to him? It could be that nothing happened. That’s just how it worked out. Or maybe Andrew had taken an inopportune bathroom break. “Man! I could have seen Jesus and Elijah and Moses…if I only hadn’t had that third cup of coffee!” Or maybe Jesus specifically chose Peter, James, and John to witness his transfiguration because he knew—with their passion (James and John were called “Sons of Thunder”) and, um, loquacity—those three would, when the time came, tell everybody about what had happened on the mountain.
Of course, maybe it wasn’t so much that Andrew wasn’t chosen to ascend the mountain as it was that he was chosen to stay below and keep things running. I mean, look at the three Jesus did take up the mountain. This amazing, wonderful, very spiritual thing happens, and they don’t have a clue what to do with it. Peter says, “It’s so good to be here! Let’s make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say,” the Gospel writer tells us, “for they were terrified.” Is that really who you’d want in charge of the crowds down below? People who—at the first little revelation of the almighty—would blather the first thing that came into their heads?
There’s no way to know why Peter, James, and John went with Jesus and why Andrew stayed below, but I have an opinion. I think Andrew stayed below because Jesus trusted his leadership. Jesus trusted Andrew to keep things going down off the mountain, away from the auras and revelations and other mountaintop experiences. Jesus trusted Andrew because Andrew’s spirituality ran deep enough to find God in the ordinariness of life…even without fantastic, big-fat-hairy deal revelations of God.
That’s the real work of faith, isn’t it? Finding God in the ordinariness of life? How great to have sudden, spectacular revelations of God…moments when, in a flash of insight, your whole understanding of yourself and God and the world is transfigured.
But how seldom those kinds of revelations occur. Spiritually speaking, most of us spend our lives searching for God down in the valley, not up on the mountain. And even if we do have one or two mountaintop experiences, the real work still, always, is finding God down below.
Last week in Sunday School we talked about how to make a difference in the world. Responding to stories I’ve told about people making really big differences, one person asked something like, “Do I have to go out, find someone who’s dying, and save their life in order to be a good Christian?” The general consensus of the group was that the best way to make a difference in the world is simply to live our lives with as much integrity as we can…because the truth is, we never really know what kind of difference we’re making.
Then Joyce Baker told us about the year with no first grade. Joyce served as a medical missionary inHondurasfor 30 years. Her work focused on women’s health. Day in, day out, she’d do preventive health exams for women in a certain village and teach them about family planning. The family planning piece was important. Joyce told us about the time when she was delivering twins. When the first twin was delivered stillborn, the infant’s father, who had many children already, said, “At least that’s one less mouth to feed.”
At first, Joyce was startled by the man’s comment. It seemed so cold. But then she realized that, in a place of abject poverty, another mouth to feed meant stretching already scarce resources. A new life literally risked the lives of other family members.
Joyce told us that her work with women in the village was, well, kind of boring. Day in, day out, the same thing: these health exams for women, teaching them about family planning. Just doing her job.
But then one day a few years into her stint, she learned that the village school wasn’t going to have a first grade class the next year. There weren’t enough children that age. At that point Joyce thought: Wow. I guess I am making a difference!
Okay. Now, I’m anticipating what I’m going to hear in Sunday School today: “What? Do I have to get a medical degree and become a missionary to be a good Christian?” One more story about making a difference in an Andrew kind of way, down off the mountain, just living your life with as much integrity as you can.
In the novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Renee Michel is the concierge of a luxury apartment building inParis. Among her duties is tending to the gardening around the building. Early in the novel, the drug-addicted son of one of the wealthy tenants goes away. At the end of the novel, Jean returns.
“You know, I didn’t come back here to see the apartment or the people here,” Jean says when he visits Renee. “I came because there’s something I can’t remember, something that helped me a lot, already when I was sick and then afterwards, when I was getting better.”
“And you think I can help?” [I ask.]
“Yes, because you were the one who told me the name of those flowers one day. In the flower bed, over there”—he points toward the far side of the courtyard—“there are some pretty little red and white flowers, you planted them there, didn’t you? And one day I asked you what they were but I wasn’t able to remember the name. And yet I used to think about those flowers all the time, I don’t know why. They’re nice to look at, and when I was so bad off I would think about those flowers, and it did me good. So I was in the neighborhood just now and I thought, I am going to ask Madame Michel, maybe she can tell me.”
Slightly embarrassed, he waits for my reaction.
“It must seem weird, no? I hope I’m not scaring you, with this flower business.”
“No, not at all. If only I’d known the good they were doing you…I’d have planted them all over the place!”
He laughs, like a delighted child.
“Ah, Madame Michel, you know, it practically saved my life. That in itself is a miracle! So, can you tell me what they’re called?”
“Yes,” I say. “They are camellias.”
He stares at me, wide-eyed. A tear slips across his waiflike cheek.
“Camellias…” he says, lost in a memory that is his alone. “Camellias, yes.” He repeats the word, looking at me again. “That’s it. Camellias.”
I feel a tear on my own cheek. I take his hand. “Jean, you cannot imagine how happy I am that you came by here today.”
“Really?” He looks astonished. “But why?”
Why? Renee says to herself. Because a camellia can change fate. (292-5)
“So Good To Be Here”—Jesus’ solo:
We must walk down the mountain to the valley below.
There is no time to linger, you have so far to go.
Though the way may be weary and your spirits be low.
Walk on, walk on into the valley.
Though some will mock and shame me, and death will fin’lly claim me,
Yet I will rise anew to go before you on the way.
Now the sky turns to midnight in the valley below.
Soon the storm will be breaking and the fierce winds will blow.
Through the dark and the lightning lies the way you must go,
Walk on, walk on into the valley.
When you must face tomorrow with all its pain and sorrow,
My love will burn within you so your hearts will know the way.
From the peace of the mountain to the trials down below,
You are called now to labor, be the seeds God will sow.
Bring hope, bring healing to that world of woe.
Walk on, walk on into the valley.
Walk on, walk on into the valley.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2011
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.