with a story:
Once upon a
time a traveler said to one of the disciples, “I have traveled a
great distance to listen to the Holy One, but I find the words
disciple said, “Don’t listen to the words; listen to the
“And how does
one do that?” the traveler asked.
disciple said. “Just take hold of the Holy One’s sentences and
shake them well till all the words drop off. And what’s left
will set your heart on fire.”
the transfiguration (we read it earlier in worship: Mark 9:
2-10) has been just that sort of experience for me – not just
this week - but my whole life – I have questioned the need to
even address the theology, what is the purpose of telling this
story - today when we have such little time together – and
could be talking about something more important and relevant to
our daily living – like maybe compassion for others!
I want to
make relevant a theologically confusing story. I want to help
myself, and hopefully one or more of you make sense of what many
would now call irrelevant day in the life of the church.
celebrates the transfiguration of Jesus once a year as a turning
point between the seasons of Epiphany and Lent. It’s
theological significance is to make rock solid our faith that
Jesus is the authoritative messenger of God – but you know what?
we celebrate that every week, don’t we? We are called the
Christian Church… Its historical significance is to place Jesus
as an authority figure in the line of Moses and Elijah – we can
trust him! Listen to him! He carries the same weight as the
others – but I don’t believe any of those points have relevance
in our lives today – you could be asking yourself right now –
Who is Elijah? –
We owe that
historical significance to the early church fathers, the first
biblical scholars. The biblical scholars of today do not see
any of these words in Mark, or the other gospels, as actual
words of Jesus but a story attributed to Jesus by the early
Christian communities that wrote about him – so what are we to
do with this text?
To me, the
relevant point of this story in Mark is in the meeting of
humanity with the Holy Spirit – that is something we can hold
onto today – how do we make that happen? On the surface the
story makes one think that the union is only complete in Jesus –
his humanity and his divinity – that’s certainly what the
Disciples think. but after shaking the story and my brain
several times this week, I believe transfiguration teaches us
how our humanity meets the Holy Spirit – how we can be filled
with the glory of God.
And in two
stories today – from Mark and from 2 Kings (so you’ll get a
little bit of Elijah today too) – the characters are taught to
see in new ways – and are called to serve others – just as their
mentors, their messiahs, their prophets had done before them.
when the Lord was about to take
Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind,
Elijah and Elisha were on their way
from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha,
‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me
as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said,
‘As the Lord lives, and as you
yourself live, I will not leave
you.’ So they went down to Bethel.
3The company of prophets who were in
Bethel came out to Elisha, and said
to him, ‘Do you know that today the
Lord will take your master away from
you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know;
4 Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, stay
here; for the Lord has sent me to
Jericho.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord
lives, and as you yourself live, I
will not leave you.’ So they came to
Jericho. 5The company of prophets
who were at Jericho drew near to
Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you
know that today the Lord will take
your master away from you?’ And he
answered, ‘Yes, I know; be silent.’
6 Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay
here; for the Lord has sent me to
the Jordan.’ But he said, ‘As the
Lord lives, and as you yourself
live, I will not leave you.’ So the
two of them went on. 7Fifty men of
the company of prophets also went,
and stood at some distance from
them, as they both were standing by
the Jordan. 8Then Elijah took his
mantle and rolled it up, and struck
the water; the water was parted to
the one side and to the other, until
the two of them crossed on dry
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said
to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do
for you, before I am taken from
you.’ Elisha said, ‘Please let me
inherit a double share of your
spirit.’ 10He responded, ‘You have
asked a hard thing; yet, if you see
me as I am being taken from you, it
will be granted you; if not, it will
not.’ 11As they continued walking
and talking, a chariot of fire and
horses of fire separated the two of
them, and Elijah ascended in a
whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept
watching and crying out, ‘Father,
father! The chariots of Israel and
its horsemen!’ But when he could no
longer see him, he grasped his own
clothes and tore them in two pieces.
with Jesus and the Disciples on the mountain, and Elisha
receiving the blessing of Elijah – the “double portion” in some
translations - are told in their time and context to solidify
the authority of the prophet – in 1st Kings it is Elijah – now
in 2nd Kings the leadership is passed onto Elisha. In the NT,
Jesus is seen with Elijah and Moses to carry on that lineage of
leadership and authority.
also point to coming back down the mountain – to continue the
work, a return to the real world.
stories ask the Disciple present to “see” something new. I like
how Elisha keeps saying in the Message “I will not let you out
of my sight.” And how important it is that he “see” Elijah being
taken away in order to get the full blessing. And in Mark, we
read from the NIV/NRSV but in the Message “seeing” the
transfigured Jesus is an opportunity for 3 disciples to “see”
what they could not see and understand in previous Chapter. Let
me say more.
section, Mark 8:22 to 10:52 focuses on Jesus speaking openly
about his upcoming trials and suffering how the disciples do not
understand – and Jesus is trying to give instruction on true
discipleship, knowing what lies ahead, how he won’t be with them
forever. This section fittingly Starts and ends with 2 “giving
of sight” stories – the healing of blind men – they can now see
- but throughout the section Jesus wants the disciples, the
listeners, SEE! LISTEN!! UNDERSTAND! And they just don’t get
it. I can relate to that.
What are they
supposed to see and understand? Jesus teaches in Chapter 8:34
“if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to
save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for
my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it.” I’ve
heard this passage many times as an instruction on how to get
into heaven. That we must suffer, die for our causes, to have
new life and eternal glory with God. That Jesus is shown in
perfection, dazzling bright white in Ch. 9 does not help to
dissuade that idea – we want to be THAT. I believe that is a
misunderstanding of the vision of Jesus transfigured – read it
in another translation and it says the Disciples see “His
[Jesus’] appearance change from the inside out” – Hey now – that
I can hold onto. Maybe That is what they are supposed to
understand – that a man can change from the inside out.
At the end of
both stories – everyone Comes on Down the Mountain. For Elisha,
he is so grieved already at idea of the loss of his teacher, he
keeps telling others to be quiet – don’t talk about it, and when
Elijah is gone, he tears his clothes, but then finds his way
back down to the Jordan, picking up the cloak of Elijah and
carrying on in the work. For Jesus he comes down the mountain,
and moves onto healing an epileptic child and journeying toward
Jerusalem – where what waits for him is violence. The
disciples want to stay on the mountain – this is good!, Peter
says, let’s stay here for more worship! But Jesus invites them,
and us to follow his example - come on down the mountain.
Invites us to follow his example of meeting the needs of those
whom society has ignored. This message is not one of suffering
and dying as a means to heaven it is a message of service, that
we lose ourselves in the other, in the compassion we have for
another. The message we are to take hold of is that real faith
is not lived apart from real life.
We are not
called to seek out suffering but to serve those whom society
disdains - which will lead us to suffering. But if we are
honest with ourselves we are already suffering, in our own
lives. We are not whole, when we are self-contained, insulated,
having so much yet seeing others without.
We are not
whole when we feel alone and believe that no one understands the
pain and suffering we experience. Jesus wants us to use that
pain, and deny that illusion of isolation, and to learn how to
open our hearts to the realities of another’s life – empathize,
resonate, understand – those are the windows to compassion.
When we do that, wherever we find ourselves, whether in the
remoteness of North Africa, in the bus station of Eugene, in the
sanctuary of another congregation – we can experience ourselves
transfigured – have that mountaintop experience – and that gives
us courage to continue on the way, back down the into the
valley, and then up again.
We too, are
needed “down here.” It is understandable that we imagine we
must retreat to meet God, (take a time out) but Jesus reminds us
he’s in the flow of daily life. He asks us not to retreat from
society’s needs, but teaches us to embrace them. Asks that we
not ignore the unclean or diseased but offer healing. Instead
of staying on the mountain and condemning others not there – we
are invited to come back down the mountain and forgive them.
Meet them, with solidarity, at the places where their lives are
fractured. See them as ourselves - That’s where Jesus wants us
to see and understand – and in that place we find God waiting
compassion – that’s why I thought we were here today – to learn
how to live more compassionately. Compassion is not just an
external state of giving. It means suffering with others. A
Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish
to relieve it.
Jesus may be
transfigured on a mountain top – but Transfiguration is not just
left on the mountaintop – it can occur in the most heart-rending
and chaotic moments. We can discover God in the most futile
If we can
help our brother or sister to feel love, acceptance, fill his
stomach, teach her how to read, if we can empower one another,
which means getting our hands and our clothes dirty, and maybe
being a little hungry ourselves, – we will feel ALIVE – not
holier than thou – but truly like we are breathing for the first
time. It’s a paradox - The more humble we are the more
majestically we all shine. The change comes from the inside out.
Livin’ people. Compassion, solidarity, these are not just
ideas, they are the way of life that Jesus walked and is praying
that we will have the courage to walk ourselves.
And the even
better news is – we don’t have to do it alone.
I end my
thoughts today with a reflection shared by Marilyn Reid to the
Elders earlier this week. It’s a daily devotional written by
Quinn Caldwell, and Associate Minister of our brother UCC tribe.
about 5400 animal species that make complex, intentional,
repeatable, musical vocalizations. That is, there are about
5400 species that sing. The majority live in the trees, a few
live in the oceans, a very few live underground, but there is
one – only one – singing species that lives on the ground: us.
thing: humans are the only singing species with a precise and
shared sense of rhythm, which is what allows us to sing
together. Two birds might sing the same song, but they cannot
sing it together.
thing: if a roomful of people sings at the same time, they
start to breathe at the same time as well. Some studies suggest
that if the drumbeat or bass line is strong enough, their hearts
will begin to beat together, too. And if we’re singing together
and breathing together and our hearts are beating together, then
it’s like we’re one body. And you know Whose body it is.
thing: all the other species stop singing when danger
approaches. But humans sing louder the closer the danger gets.
We sing together, and we become large, and we do not back down.
racism, and “we shall overcome” you.
for “it is well with my soul.”
Come war, for
tonight is your “silent night.”
suffering and injustice, for we will “Fill this world with
for “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”
Come, all ye
faithful, and sing.