Monday, February 23, 2009

Transfiguration Day Sermon

2 KINGS 2:1-12; 2 CORINTHIANS 4:3-6; MARK 9:2-9


So, am I going to drop a piece of news like [I'm having a baby in August] on you and go right on preaching? In the words of another Alaskan woman who hid a pregnancy for a while, “You betcha.” It’s not because I’m stubborn or because I put the gospel above everything else. Well, both of those things are true, but the gospel message for us on this Sunday (or any Sunday) is too good to ignore.

However, the heart of Transfiguration Sunday is absorbing the truth of the epiphany and carrying it with us beyond this particular mountaintop. The season of Epiphany is about learning more about who this Jesus is, born to us and all people at Christmas. The more we learn about him, the more we know the heart of God, and the more we come to realize what faith in Jesus may require of us. The season of Lent is about wrestling with those requirements.

The mountain of Transfiguration Sunday gives us a peak to see where we’ve been, the birth, the baptism, the healings and new teachings. When we turn and look the other way, we see the even larger mountaintop that defines our lives as Christians, Easter Sunday. But to get there from here, we walk through the valley of the shadow of Lent. We put our alleluias in our pockets. We climb down and we walk with Jesus down the dusty road to the cross. Everything he says and does leads him to such trouble. Everything he says and does lead him to the place that gets us out of trouble.

Before we get there, however, we have to look at where we are today, in the hinge between the season of revelation and the season of shadow. The 2 Kings passage today provides so much guidance for our lives that we cannot fail to examine it. Did you hear it when it was read? Take a look at it in your bulletin. Everyone knows that today is the day that Elijah is going to be taken into the presence of the Lord. Elijah has been the main prophet for the reign of two kings, Ahab and Ahaziah. He’s spoken to Israelites and non-Israelites. He’s performed miracles, he’s prophesied, he’s been the voice of the Lord and he’s about to leave.

The other prophets, probably partially envious of Elijah’s power and envious of Elisha’s position, cannot resist making sure Elisha knows the import of this day. “Do you not know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” Elisha, if this is a direct quote, says so calmly, “Yes, I know; be silent.” Elijah tries to encourage Elisha to return home, that he doesn’t have to be there, but Elisha is determined to go all the way, as far as he can, with the prophet who has trained him and whom he loves.

The big deal of this story is not the whirlwind and the chariots that carry Elijah away. The big deal doesn’t even make it in to the story we have in front of us. The gospel of this passage happens in verses 13 and 14. “Elisha picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.”

Remember that all the other prophets and who knows how many other people were standing on the other side of the Jordan, watching. What they get from seeing this is not that the understanding that Elisha has inherited a double portion of the prophetic spirit. What they get is the knowledge that the Spirit and the power of the Lord did not leave with Elijah. It yet remains among them. God has not and will not leave the nation without a prophet and without his voice.

Though Elisha might be grieving the loss of his mentor and friend, he turns and does what has to be done. He must cross back over and go back to work with the best of his ability. One can almost hear God saying, Don’t just stand there, Elisha, do something.

Peter, James and John get a slightly different message on the mount of Transfiguration. They’ve climbed up this peak with Jesus and they’re treated to a dazzling vision of their Master speaking to Moses and Elijah. Peter is so befuddled, he starts babbling about how they can build places to stay up there. They knew Jesus had power, but this is unbelievable. One can hear God speaking, through a transformation of the baptismal words, “This is my beloved Son. Don’t just do something, listen.”

In the dark days to come for these disciples, and the others, this experience will play over and over in their hearts as they try to understand everything that’s happening around them.

And so it is for us. An unexpected pregnancy. An expected deployment. A sudden death. A long-suffered illness. Financial success. Financial woes. Feast, famine, joy, sorrow, health, sickness. Just as in mountain climbing, you’ve barely begun to enjoy the peak before the work of going back down begins. We are barely able to realize the power of our experience before we turn and see people waiting on the other side of the Jordan for us to come back through the water and manage our daily tasks to the best of our ability.

The cycle of our lives is almost defined by, “Don’t just stand there, do something. Don’t just do something, listen.” We are called into action through our baptisms and through what Christ has done for us. But we don’t act just willy-nilly, doing what is right in our minds, but we seek what is right and true from the heart of God.

The only way, the only way we are able handle the truth of the ups and downs of our lives and our faith is in this way: the same God who said, “Let there be light” has shone in our hearts the light of the knowledge of the saving power of Jesus Christ.

As we climb and descend the peaks and valleys of our lives, it is the view from here of the truth of the resurrection and its promises that help us to do anything that we’re able to do. Sometimes that means a day when getting out of bed and taking a shower is the best example of the hope we hold in our hearts. Sometimes it is bringing another life into the world or sitting and waiting as a life leaves this world.

It’s the view in our hearts and minds of the Easter peak. The empty cross. The empty tomb. The gasping realization that God is stronger than death and nothing, nothing can separate from the love of God. The view of that mountain peak gives us hope.

And it is that hope, and that hope alone, that transfigures us. It keeps our alleluias alive in our hearts, even when they are not on our lips. It keeps our feet moving. It keeps our faith alive. That transfiguring hope will carry us through Lent and Holy Week, right to where the stone has been rolled away.

It is that transfiguring hope that gives me the strength to be with you and help you and you to do the same for me and for one another. We go across the Jordan together, we come down the mountain together, and with the world watching, we continue in the work to which we have been called.

We have the presence of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, a double portion if there ever was one. Don’t just stand there, do something. But don’t just do something, listen.

Listen to the truth of God’s word. Listen for the whistle of the wind through the empty tomb. Listen to the alleluias of creation that cannot be silenced, no matter the season.

Listen to this: Christ is risen. (Christ is risen, indeed.) That truth, and that truth, alone transfigures you and me and the whole world, regardless of all other circumstances. And it is that truth that gives us the power to handle any other life-changing experiences that come our way.

Amen.

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