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If you don't know by now, Canada is poised to become the North American Saudi Arabia. More specifically, the province of Alberta will take on that role with unimaginable wealth to be generated. We know the reason: a place called the Athabasca tar sands, where the sandy earth is saturated in a heavy bitumen which can be refined into conventional petroleum products. The reserves rival those of the Saudi desert kingdom. Until now, it was a bit of an academic curiosity as the cost of refining was above the price of easily refined Saudi Arabian light sweet crude. Not any more. What is involved in the refining process is subjecting it to high temperatures to separate it from the sand and then using coal and natural gas as feed stocks, putting it through a very complex chemical process. It is transformed from a heavy sticky tar into a whole range of petroleum products. Part of the process is adding extra hydrogen atoms to the molecules to transform its nature.

That's one kind of transformation.
The actual nature of the substance is transformed and it is substantially different than when it began.
We read in Mark 9 of a different kind.
Jesus takes James, John and Peter to a high hill or mountain, away from the rest of his followers.
There, something extra ordinary takes place. Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud:
'this is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!?
Mark 9:7

If you don't know by now, Canada is poised to become the North American Saudi Arabia. More specifically, the province of Alberta will take on that role with unimaginable wealth to be generated. We know the reason: a place called the Athabasca tar sands, where the sandy earth is saturated in a heavy bitumen which can be refined into conventional petroleum products. The reserves rival those of the Saudi desert kingdom. Until now, it was a bit of an academic curiosity as the cost of refining was above the price of easily refined Saudi Arabian light sweet crude. Not any more. What is involved in the refining process is subjecting it to high temperatures to separate it from the sand and then using coal and natural gas as feed stocks, putting it through a very complex chemical process. It is transformed from a heavy sticky tar into a whole range of petroleum products. Part of the process is adding extra hydrogen atoms to the molecules to transform its nature.

That's one kind of transformation.
The actual nature of the substance is transformed and it is substantially different than when it began.
We read in Mark 9 of a different kind.
Jesus takes James, John and Peter to a high hill or mountain, away from the rest of his followers.
There, something extra ordinary takes place. Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, whose appearance becomes dazzling.
Peter is awestruck and says they should build three shelters. One for Moses, Elijah and Jesus.
His reasoning is that they should do everything possible to preserve this moment and to maintain the presence of these three.
It was a moment even greater than having Pavarotti, Domingus and Careras singing in the same concert hall at the same time.

But what happiness is unexpected. Instead of this great meeting of the three being enshrined, a cloud descends and obscures all but Jesus and a voice is heard referring to Jesus alone. This is my son, listen to Him.
A moment of transformation.
Jesus has not been elevated to the level of Elijah and Moses, He is shown to be far above either of them.
In fact He is the one they are to listen to. No other.

What is transformed?
Jesus, nature?
No, his appearance is transformed for a moment, but he is the same before and after.
What is transformed is Peter's understanding of who Jesus is. James and John's understanding too.
Jesus is not equal with these two, he is far above them.
He is God's beloved Son. Listen to him.

The lesson is a revelation about the nature of Jesus.
Throughout history, there have been challenges to this view of Jesus. It always takes one or the other of two forms.
The first challenge which came to be called Gnosticism was an early challenge which said, Jesus only appeared to be flesh and blood. That is the challenge 1John is refuting. These people said Jesus is spirit but not really human in his nature.
That is not a common theory anymore.

The other challenge was known as Arianism and Arias denied that Jesus was in any way equated with God as divine.
There have been various theories over the years which have said that Jesus only was adopted as God's instrument of divinity at his baptism and was not divine and certainly not eternal the way God is.

James, John and Peter were given an audio-visual demonstration that Jesus is different.
Human yes, but as John's gospel says, he was and always was everything that God is. In other words, God in the flesh.
Not two natures mixed in one person. One person, one nature. God in flesh and blood.

The great appeal of modern versions of these false teachings is that they blunt the supremacy of Jesus.
But the word from God to Peter, James, John and to us is simple.
Listen to Jesus.

Jesus is the one we need to listen to and pay attention to and to follow and obey.
Jesus is the one who offers us forgiveness of sin and our real moral guilt.
Jesus is the one who offers us the gift of eternal life.
Jesus is the one who is with us here and now and will hear our prayers and lift us when we fall.

The third kind of transformation is how we are transformed when we listen to Jesus.

Maurice Lamm in his book, THE POWER OF HOPE, tells about a friend of his named Ludwig Lipmann. Ludwig was stricken with cancer. One day in his oncologist's waiting room (one of the sadder places on earth), Ludwig looked around at other patients who obviously were facing what he was facing. All at once he lifted his head and began to sing quietly.

The lady next to him paused for a moment, smiled, then began to hum the tune of his song. A little girl and her mother soon did the same, then an elderly black man who had just come into the room.

The nurse, trained in the rules of silence in a doctor's office, walked over to quiet Ludwig, but by this time everyone was singing or humming. The doctor, hearing the noise, came in to see what had happened.

Ludwig sang to him, directly from the Book of Psalms: "I will lift up my eyes to the mountains from where will come my help. My help comes from the Lord, Creator of Heaven and Earth."

The doctor crossed the room, sat down, and sang along with his patients. (1)

There was fear in that waiting room, but when Jesus entered that room through the voice of Ludwig Lipmann, that fear was replaced with peace and even joy.1


Listen to Jesus and then follow what you hear.
We can debate how Jesus was or was not transformed.
But there is no debate about whose life really needs transforming.
Yours and mine.
Listen to Jesus and follow what you hear.

Preached February 26, 2006
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

Notes
1.From a sermon by Rev. Billy Strayhorn
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