The Hinge Point of Faith

When Peter, James, and John first encountered Jesus along the Galilean seashore, his voice commanded their attention. His presence filled the space with such life that suddenly spending days catching fish and preparing it for market seemed good enough yet empty, capable of passing time yet insignificant compared to summons standing right before them. No wonder they dropped their nets and followed him. 

The early months overflowed with promise: challenging the self-satisfied scholars at the synagogue, making bread multiply on hillsides to feed hungry people, healing wounded other ones and knowing you had a hand in relieving pain, bringing joy, crowding around the table for dinner after a day’s service, knees knocking their neighbor’s, the meal more delicious by their sharing it together.  

So much power. So many healings. So much hope that Peter dared to name the truth shining before them: You are the Messiah, God in our midst. You are the star of our lives, the bearer of our dreams, the one capable of re-creating the world. 

In response Jesus names another truth. The road of my life is moving toward suffering, to death, for to truly gain your life you must first lose it. His words seem a contradiction to every moment they had shared up until now. How do miracles, freed lives, shared community and once-impossible dreams add up to suffering, ridicule and death?  

The year is not 31 A.D. along the Galilean seashore but 1992 in Anytown USA. The same sacred rhythm is at work. A newcomer to faith encounters the living Christ. With the overflowing grace comes a charged life. We can change the world. Let’s share the love everybody.  There are God winks and holy openings. Every moment infused with sacred possibility.   

But then comes another season, a second truth, a moment a friend calls, the time when the sugar comes off your faith and the joy of a new beginning extends out to include suffering, death. Father Richard Boyle tells of serving a church that opened its sanctuary to immigrants, new to the country and in need of a waystation along their journey. They were proud of their courageous, anxious to be prophetic. Their hospitality was lauded until the sanctuary starting smelling . . . of dusty feet, left-behind socks, the messiness of human life. Others sneered at their actions. Later Boyle walked amongst the toughest section of Los Angeles, where the longing to belong often meant joining a gang, which meant risking death. There were weeks he would baptize and bury in the 7-day span. The healing power of Jesus became the suffering servant. The God who walks amongst us moves steadily toward a cross. Those who follow do so as well.  

Six days after he predicts his suffering death Jesus leads Peter, James, and John up a mountain. Climbing up a mountain means using your muscles, feeling the sweat trickle down your back. It entails noticing the trees’ canopy, and the light filtering through. You grab onto tree branches to pull yourself up the steepest parts. Your ears catch the gurgles from the creek running by.  You steady your breath when the trail moves close to a cliff. Climbing a mountain includes beauty, wonder, and risk.  

Venturing up the mountain is a pilgrim’s path. Moses climbed up into the clouds in order to receive God’s instructions for Israelites. Elijah ascended high up the mountain to hide in a cave, fleeing a murderous queen. God meets them there, for it is in these high, thin places where God’s presence is revealed. So too for the disciples does the climbing trek result in a revelation. Jesus becomes aglow with the dazzling brightness of heaven. His robe is brighter than any detergent could bleach it; more reflective that the best silver-polished plate. Shining through him is heaven’s glory. Gazing at the transfigured Jesus, the disciples see their journey’s end, where God is leading; the fullness of love shining back upon them.  

Peter exclaims, “It is good to be here!” It is good to be here to bask in the light of love reflected all around us, the assurance that God is, that Jesus lives, that grace overflows. I pray you have experienced such a transfiguring moment; a space where the veil between earth and heaven has been lifted and you caught sight of God’s overflowing goodness, a moment when your doubts receded and your vision sharpened to see clearly how God is at work; a time when the wailing fissures of humankind quieted enough that you could hear the hum of unifying love singing underneath, a moment when mercy rushed into your aching hearts and you knew that all would be made well one day.  

Peter also says, “Let’s stay right here. Let’s forget, Jesus, about your prediction of suffering, pain and death. Let’s find some branches, take off our coats, and build three tents. Elijah and Moses can remain. Every day you’ll blaze with the brightness and we’ll bask in the glow. Scripture suggests Peter babbles out this plan because he and the others are terrified. What do we do when we glimpse the awesome power of God except attempt to contain it? 

The moments when we encounter God are hinge points in our faith journeys, if we allow the revelation to transform us. Before the trek up the mountain, Jesus’s ministry was filled with miracles, feedings, and crowds clamoring for him. Afterwards Jesus heads to Jerusalem, and beyond the city lies his cross. And even if they do not fully realize it, disciples meet that hinge moment too, carrying forever both sacred truths: God is glorious, powerful, overflowing with light and Christ will reveal the glory through the shame of the cross.  

We also dwell in the paradox; our lives are anchored between healing and helplessness, between assurance and doubt, experiencing God’s dazzling presence and suffering God’s mysterious absence. Jesus, light of the world and crucified one, creates the road between the two.  

Belden Lane notes that “both Moses and Elijah trekked up a mountain while battling loneliness and rejection. Even after meeting God, their struggles continued.”1 Battered by the ominous disclosure of Jesus’s direction, the disciples also trek up a mountain and encounter God, and then summon the courage to move forward alongside him. As Lane says, the transfiguration “offered those facing anguish a brief glimpse of glory to come. Here a theology of hope is incorporated into a theology of abandonment and loss.”2 Mark’s gospel intertwines the two realities: glory and suffering, being lost and being found, the joy of the resurrection disclosed only through the pain of the cross.  

No one more embodied this contradiction of our faith than Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I’ve Been To the Mountain Top” speech, delivered days before his death.3 King had come to Memphis to lend support the sanitation workers’ strike, a protest arising from the inhumane treatment of public servants. In his speech, he claimed the purposeful joy he found in living in the later part of the twentieth century, where, as he puts it, “there is trouble in the land, confusion all around, but I know somehow that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” He narrates the transformation wrought through the nonviolent pursuit of truthful justice. He urges the congregation to develop a “dangerous unselfishness,” which is the risky willingness to suffer on behalf of another, and in the end, he proclaims his capacity to walk his hard road because he has seen the journey’s end, the view from the mountaintop where God’s glory eternally shines.  

 We, too, walk the hinge point between suffering and glory, between hope and loss, between the struggle to be transformed by love and the promise of overflowing grace. May the moments we glimpse Jesus’s dazzling brightness urge us onward to embody ourselves the love’s transforming power. Amen.  

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