Friday, February 9, 2018

Some Secrets Should Be Shared: Reflections on Mark 9.2-9 (RCL Last Epiphany B, 11 February 2018)

Some Secrets Should Be Shared
Reflections on Mark 9.2-9

RCL Last Sunday after Epiphany B
11 February 2018

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

Mark 9.2-9

            9.2 Six 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, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.  4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  5 Then 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.”  6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

            9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

         I was in my late twenties and early thirties when I became aware that my father’s family had secrets.  The first secret unravelled when I was at my parents’ home during a break from seminary.  The telephone rang and an unfamiliar male voice asked to speak to ‘Richard’.  When I replied that I was Richard, the speaker said, ‘Hi, it’s your brother, Reg.’  When I told him that I had no brother, he asked if I was ‘young Richard’, a term only used by members of my immediate family.  He asked me to tell my father to call him when he came home.  That’s how I learned that I had another uncle, a real ‘black sheep’ story.  We met only once and his children have made it clear in the years since that they are not interested in creating a wider family circle.

         Then, when my grandfather died in 1982, my father told me that my ‘Uncle Charles’ would be coming.  When I asked who ‘Uncle Charles’ was, I was told that he was my grandfather’s half-brother.  He lived about thirty miles from where my grandparents lived and had children and grandchildren.  All of them came to the funeral.  Uncle Charles and his wife later came to our wedding.  We kept in touch until they died, but I am not in touch with my cousins.

         When I was growing up, I was envious of my friends who had siblings and cousins.  My family was truly ‘nuclear’ --- mother, father and two children.  By 1984 I had learned that I had an entire family whose existence was a secret due to conflict between stepfathers and stepsons, fathers and sons, brothers and half-brothers.  I’m sure that at some point either my grandfather or my father considered when would be the ‘right time’ to share this information with my sister and me.  By the time the secrets came out, however, there was little to be done to re-unite the various branches of the family.  Decades of silence had done their damage and the missed opportunities were well and truly missed.

         Over the past year we have witnessed the revelation of secrets that have been kept too long and, in the keeping, caused considerable harm to those who kept them.  Women and men have begun to reveal how they were sexually harassed and assaulted by people they trusted and by people who had power.  In many cases the victims were encouraged to keep silent or not believed.  While it is difficult to hear these stories and we wonder how the damage done can be repaired, now is the time when such secrets need to be shared.  In the sharing the power of silence is broken and the possibility of healing emerges.

         Some secrets, you see, need to be shared not kept.  The question is, ‘When is the right time to share the secret?’

         Throughout the centuries Christians have pondered what is sometimes called the ‘messianic secret’.  We heard it in the last verse of today’s gospel:  “As they were coming down the mountain, [Jesus] ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” [1]  Can you imagine how difficult it must have been for Peter, John and James not to share with their colleagues what had happened on the mountain?  Can you imagine how difficult it must have been not to make use of this story when they faced opposition during Jesus’ public ministry?  I can hear Peter say to some critic, ‘Well, have any of your teachers been called “Beloved” by God or been in conversation with Moses and Elijah?’

         But this secret was meant to be shared --- at the right time.  It was only after the events during that last week in Jerusalem and that early Sunday morning that Peter and all the other members of Jesus’ community could understand the full meaning of what had happened on the mountain.  It is only after someone experiences the resurrection that the transfiguration of Jesus ‘fits’ into the story of what God is doing in and through Jesus, what God is doing in and through the ministry of Jesus’ disciples.

         After the resurrection Jesus’ disciples were released to share the secret, the good news that when a person meets Jesus of Nazareth, he or she meets God.  The secret was shared widely and eventually wrought a quiet revolution that spread throughout the world.  But conflict between Christians led eventually to what we now experience as ‘the separation of church and state’.  With the separation of church and state, with the growth of the freedom to practice or not to practice one’s religious faith, I believe many Christians became like Peter, John and James as they reached the foot of the mountain of transfiguration.  We kept the secret of what we had experienced as disciples of Jesus.

         We’ve kept the secret for a number of reasons.  Some of us have kept our faith secret because we are repulsed by Christian fundamentalism and its intolerance and disrespect of others.  When I have been interviewed by the media about the ‘Christian’ view of a topic, I’ve often reminded the interviewer that I can share my view, the view of an Anglican liberal catholic who is committed to the dignity of every human being.  Sometimes this has brought the interview to a quick conclusion!

         But we’ve also kept our faith secret because of a misunderstanding of what it means to say that our faith is ‘personal’.  We’ve confused ‘personal’ with ‘private’ and ‘private’ with ‘secret’.  What is private is not to be shared except in a limited number of situations.  ‘Personal’ means my own experience of being a human being living in relationships with other human beings and with the whole of creation.  ‘Personal’ means my story of what I have learned, the joys and the sorrows, the wisdom and the folly.  And now is the time to share with each other and with those beyond this community of faith our personal experiences of the risen Christ who has given us help, who has given us hope, who has given us a home.

         To share this personal faith we must practice listening to the needs and concerns of those with whom we share our lives.  Have we heard someone seeking help to meet the challenges of daily living?  Have you found such help within this community?  Then share the story.  Have we heard someone who has lost hope?  Have you found such hope within this community?  Then share the story.  Have we heard someone long for a place to call ‘home’?  Have you found a home within this community?  Then share the story. 

         True, we cannot compel.  We can only share and invite.  Now is the time, my friends, because some secrets, this secret, the secret of a God who calls each one of us ‘beloved’, the secret of a God who is working in us and through us to bring us all into fullness of life, this secret is should be shared.  Now.  Now.  Now.



[1] Mark 9.9

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