Transfiguration.18 “Coming Out of the Closet” Mark 9:2-9
I did a wedding back in 2001, I think it was, for an officer from Fort Bragg. He was Army but his best man was (oddly) a Marine Corps major who was serving guard duty in the White House. I observed then something most of you have probably always known: the Marines have far and away the best dress uniforms of the four branches (the Air Force has the worst, I think—they make them look “too much like waiters in a fancy French restaurant”—and that by the way is not my own opinion, but a direct quote from Air Force Major Chris Koeltzow who made that observation to me at his own wedding here a few years ago—lest I offend any Air Force officers in the house or listening online). Anyway, after observing that and getting general agreement from the four officers (there might have been an Air Force officer there that day too—a very ecumenical wedding!) the Marine major said, wryly. “Not everyone admires our uniforms”.
And he proceeded to tell us this amusing tale: in the days when the Clintons occupied the White House, when he was first serving there, it was impressed upon him and his fellow Marines that Mrs. Clinton hated seeing “men in uniform in her house”. So when the 1st lady would come walking through the halls where they were, an aid would precede her and give a little nod to the Marines and they would quickly and quietly hide in the closets (there are, he said, a lot of closets built into the walls of the White House, small and not very comfortable). So they all became accustomed, when they’d see the 1st lady’s aid coming their way, to ducking into the nearest closet until the glory had passed by.
It had been a few months before this wedding where the Marine major was best man that the Bushes had taken up residence in the White House. And the first day of the transition, he and his buddy saw an aid for Mrs. Bush come walking towards them and wave, and as they were accustomed, they ducked into the nearest closet. Then he heard an awkward knock, knock, knocking at his closet door, and a puzzled female voice saying: “Sir, excuse me? Sir, could you please come out?” And he cracked the door a smidge and said, “Ma’am?” And she said “Uh, what are you doing?” And he explained to her the closet drill and that he assumed Mrs. Bush would also appreciate clean, empty corridors. Baffled, the aid said, “No, no! Please come out! Mrs. Bush has baked cookies herself for you and the other Marines and would like to meet you and share them with you to thank you for your service and to learn your names.” He said the cookies were delicious, Mrs. Bush very charming, and this has given him a different understanding than most of what it means to “come out of the closet”…
Peter, in his brush with a far greater Glory, has the same basic instinct, though reversed. It’s probably been a year and a half or more that Peter has been following Jesus. Good times, good times—for the most part. There are the miracles: casting out demons, walking on water, and stilling storms on the sea; and that is at times thrilling and at times terrifying. But Jesus is never terribly threatening, even when He does stuff like this. Although the first time it happened, when Peter was just minding his own business, cleaning his neats in the boat on Gennesaret’s shore and Jesus comes by and is mobbed by a crowd and trying to teach a bible class and says “Could I sit in your boat and get you to push a few yards off shore so that I can teach unmolested?” And Peter complies…
Afterwards, the Lord says “You did Me a favor. Let Me reciprocate. Cast out into the deep and let’s catch some fish because your boat looks empty.” Peter explains to the carpenter that as a trained professional fisherman, he can assure Jesus there are no fish off that shore. He’s fished all night. It’s empty. And Jesus says “Humor Me! Throw your net… right there looks good!” And he catches so many fish the net is breaking and Jesus is snickering and Peter falls on his face and says “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Because Peter knows, without doubt, Who this is—the Son of God is in his boat(!) and he just wants to find a closet to hide in!
But as time goes by, Peter and the rest of the 12 have kind of gotten used to this sort of thing. Jesus doesn’t scare them anymore. Although, lately He somewhat morbidly talks about dying horribly on a cross, which is concerning, so Peter feels compelled firmly to tell Him this will not happen. He and the 12 will guard Him like Marines! And Jesus got a little grumpy at that and called Peter “Satan” for saying that, which stung Man, it really stung. But Peter has gotten used to Jesus and the fear and trembling has left him.
So Jesus says: “Let’s take a little hike! Mountain climbing!” And they climb a high mountain just Peter, James, John, and Jesus. It’s nice to get away. Good exercise. Clears the cobwebs! (I wish we did stuff like that at pastor’s conference instead of talking about stewardship, endlessly). Anyway, at the top of the mountain suddenly Jesus’ clothes start glowing an unearthly white, His whole face and body shining like the sun, maybe brighter than the sun and Elijah and Moses appear next to Him talking with Him. And Peter says “Wow! Great! How about I build three closets: one for You Lord, and one each for Moses and Elijah and You, uh, you all could get in the closets until y’all stop, uh, glowing like that?”
It’s like our Old Testament reading. Moses talks with God and his face glows with that same unearthly Light, the Light that lit the universe for those first 3 days of creation before there were sun, moon, or stars. But the children of Israel found that Light disturbing. It was not natural. Not of this world. Not something that belongs in our house. So they would make Moses put a sack on his head whenever his face was lit like that. And when he stopped talking or glowing, he could take the bag off. Can you picture it? Moses coming down from talking with God directly, face all aglow, and he starts talking and the people of Israel wave their hands in front of their faces, going, like that bad, old joke: “Thack! Thack!”
Before Peter can make closets for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to hide in, a cloud overshadows them and a Voice thunders from heaven “This is My Beloved Son! Hear Him!” And OK, maybe the closet idea was not his best, but would you or I have come up with something better, on the spot? Probably not. You want the Marines sent in when there’s bad guys around, but living 24/7 with them is a lot. We complain God doesn’t shine bright enough, often enough for us, but then He does—and like the dog catching the car, we’ve got more than we bargained for. Stuffing it in the closet is maybe not as dumb an idea as you thought. Don’t laugh at Peter till you’ve been there.
We don’t handle glory well, as sinful mortals. The glory we yearn for is also deadly (just ask Isaiah!) and brings us to our knees which is a sign there is some dying to do before we can handle real glory. But Jesus does that dying for us, all on His own; and sharing in His dying we share the rising that, coming our of our closets, our graves, at Last, Peace surpassing all understanding guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.