Kurt Jacobson
6 min readFeb 11, 2024

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“Pounding in Tent Stakes”

February 11, 2024

Mark 9:2–9

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

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. ***

In recent decades, Americans have become less likely to identify with an organized religion. Yet a new Pew Research Center survey shows that belief in spirits or a spiritual realm beyond this world is widespread, even among those who do not consider themselves religious.

Overall, 70% of U.S. adults can be considered “spiritual” in some way, because they think of themselves as spiritual people or say spirituality is important in their lives. These people refer to themselves as “Spiritual but not religious.”

The term came about in the early 2000’s when online dating became a popular way to meet people for casual dating, marriage, or anything in between. In setting up an online profile, a prospective dating candidate had to check a box to identify by religion. Spiritual-but-not-religious became a nice sounding category that said, ‘I am not some kind of cold-hearted atheist, but I am not some kind of moralizing, prudish person, either. I am nice, friendly, and spiritual — but not religious.’”

The term “Religious” does not score as well in polling. Religion — often determined by one’s parents — once was central to how others saw you, how you saw yourself and the values you held. Today, younger Americans are selecting values and communities that fit for themselves, religion and church notwithstanding.

Spiritual, on the other hand, is a term that people like to use. Kenneth Pargament, a professor who studies the psychology of religion at Bowling Green State University says “Spiritual” has all of these positive connotations of having a life with meaning, a life with some sacredness to it — you have some depth to who you are as a human being.” As a spiritual person, you are not blindly accepting a faith passed down from your parents, but you are also not completely rejecting the possibility of a higher power. (from “The Atlantic” Carloine Kitchener, January 11, 2018)

Why am I telling you all this? Because in reflecting on the meaning of today’s reading (commonly known as “The Transfiguration”), I was struck by the fact that at the heart of the whole conversation around religious but not spiritual, spiritual but not religious, is the desire to experience transfiguration here and now, regardless of the terminology we choose to use. In the end, we want a sense of the transcendent, the sacred and the holy, something outside of ourselves that is the cause for awe and wonder.

Whether spiritual or religious, either way, there is a need to know transfiguration in our lives.

In this biblical account of a supernatural event, which is what Peter wants. He wants to encapsulate the experience, capture the feeling. It seems less true that he wants to keep Jesus and his friends in dwellings forever.

Transfiguration matters. We need transfiguration.

Karoline Lewis, professor of Biblical preaching at Luther Seminary, St Paul, MN asks this: “What if we take Jesus out of the picture, then we realize this story is not just Jesus’ revelation of his glory but the fact that what we wish for is our own sense of glory. Not in a narcissistic way, look at me, kind of way. But a recognition of the deep human need for transformation, change, conversion, makeover, alteration, metamorphosis.”

We need transfiguration as much as Jesus needed to be transfigured.

In the story of Jesus the transfiguration is a turning point, a transition from one way of seeing Jesus to another. It is not just about securing the Jesus of the future or holding on to the Jesus of the past but points to the human struggle that comes with being faithful, a follower, changing — transformation.

Transformation is hard. Change is hard. It is easier to stay the same. Stay the course. Convince yourself that what you have always known is satisfactory and sufficient even when you have glimpsed what could be.

So we just sit. We wait. For what? The right time? The right place? All of our questions answered? Everything figured out. All of our proverbial ducks in a row?

This is why the transfiguration rocks. It just shows up. There is no right time. It just happens. Now what? No amount of planning can predict the right kind of change. No amount of preparation can prepare you for an altered reality or an altered perspective. No amount of strategizing can make you ready for a transfiguration to be truly a transfiguration.

Peter’s issue is not so much about holding Jesus to his expectations. Nor is it capturing the moment.

Peter’s issue is the realization that if Jesus changes, then Peter will be changed as well. “I cannot be the same. I will also be transfigured, transformed. And maybe I do not want that. So, let’s pitch some tents, keep things the way they are, hunker down, and ride it out. Maybe the whole thing will just pass by. I can come out of my tent and all will still be the same. Jesus will be the same. I will still be the same.”

Preachers across the ages have placed blame on Peter for his myopia. Instead of pointing fingers, maybe we admit our own. Human nature has not changed in all the years since Jesus stood on Earth’s soil.

Transfiguration means exposure. Look at Jesus. You cannot miss him. Vulnerability is absolutely essential for life and thus for a life of faith. At least Jesus seems to think so. When we exchange vulnerability for certainty, all we do is live the lie that authenticity does not matter. We pounds the tent stakes into the ground and insist that our way of believing, or our church’s positions, practices and teachings must remain fixed, certainly in a time like this when we are fearful about the future.

Tents are not just about shelter. They repel the forces of nature. They keep out that which might harm. They keep as much in as they keep out.

Transfiguration will rip our tents into shreds.

Transfiguration means change. We think we welcome change, but when it actually happens, we adopt stances of resistance and rejection or we convince ourselves that change can wait; it is not really necessary or the time is not right or the problems that will ensue are not worth the result of living into who we really are.

Transfiguration means a new way of seeing the world. And replacing the lenses of our lives is a lot more complicated than picking out new fashionable frames.

Because at the center, transfiguration not only signals change, but alters life’s direction. It certainly did for Jesus. And when that happens, well, no tent in the world is going to give you the security you think you want or need. Because when we shore up the shelters that protect us from harm, we also run the risk of keeping out that which is so particularly good.

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Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.