Year B — Transfiguration Sunday (Last Sunday before Lent)

Commentary for February 19, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

2 Kings 2:1-12
It’s a bit of an odd story — but, of course, it’s important, not only for the gospel reading for today, but in its own right, as well. 

Elijah has had a long and varied ministry. Like most of us called to serve God, he has been more faithful some days than others. But, no one doubts that Elijah has pretty much been “THE MAN” when it comes to prophesying God’s word in Israel. Ever since he flamed the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (and subsequently went into pouting mode,) God has led Elijah through the depths and to the heights of ministry.


Now, it’s Elisha’s turn; we can certainly say that Elijah’s successor has determination and perseverance. Elijah tries three times to “give him the slip,” but Elisha will have none of it. All he wants is to be twice as successful at following God as Elijah has been. I don’t think he’s begin cocky — he really, really wants it!


His predecessor can’t guarantee it, but because Elisha is willing to stick with it — God blesses him. Nice parable for us.

Psalm 50:1-6
Psalm 50 is a nice worship piece for this Sunday, with its images of fire, light, and shining forth.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Our “natural” hearts and minds are veiled; we cannot see spiritual things clearly. But, the presence of God causes light to shine out of darkness (a connection to the primal creation story) and reveals Christ to us and in us.

Mark 9:2-9
Fire on the mountain, as it were; the Transfiguration is always an exciting story. Mark’s terse treatment, if anything, highlights and accentuates the action.

I like it that it was a SUDDEN realization that there was no one to go down the mountain with them but Jesus. Wherever we go, Christ is there.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Imagine the Peanuts Cartoon: Linus and Charlie Brown are lying on their backs on the pitcher’s mound, staring up at the clouds in the sky.  Charlie Brown says, “Linus, do you ever see anything in the clouds?”

Linus: “Well, yes Charlie Brown, I do. For instance, that one over there bears a striking resemblance to Michelangelo’s depiction of the Creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. 
And that one, there over the school, looks like a map of Scandinavia, see; there’s Denmark and Sweden.
  And that one there looks like a helix. Do you ever see anything Charlie Brown?”
Charlie Brown: “Well, I was going to say a Ducky and a horsey but I changed my mind.”

Every time I am confronted with a Biblical story like the Transfiguration, I feel a bit like Charlie Brown; compared to the religious experiences of others the things I have seen are simple and plain. My personal religious experience contains no bright flashes or red-hot emotions, no defining moments of transcending clarity, no poetic, mystical exuberance.

No, my religious experience tends toward the mundane and the ordinary; reading the Bible, family prayers, church on Sunday, familiar hymns. I have no frame of reference with which to begin to try to understand what happened to Jesus and his Disciples on top of that mountain.

The experience is completely and totally foreign to me. And yet, there is something within it that tugs at my heart, that pulls at my soul, that preys on my mind.

There are two ways to approach a story like this: one is the rational, analytical, scientific approach.  The other is as a child, with eyes attuned to seeing mystery and magic.

Soren Kirkegaard told a parable about this: 

There were two young people, one a German girl, the other an English boy. They met on the beach in France; they conversed in high school French. After returning to their respective homes, the girl wrote the boy a passionate letter in German, which he did not know.

First; he laboriously translated it, using grammar books and dictionaries and lexicons. But, he did not stop there. He put aside the intellectual work and read the letter for what it was; a love letter from a girl; a love letter aimed at his heart, not at his head.

So it is holy stories, with the Bible. While we must not turn off our brains in looking at a story like this, we cannot stop at the rational level, we must remember to read the Bible for the other thing that it is; a letter of love aimed at the heart. Matthew wrote this story to touch our hearts, to let us know something important about the love of God for us.

I learned to read using Dick and Jane books. Some things have stayed with me.
See Dick. See Dick go. Hear Jane. Hear Jane talk. Go Dick go. Go see Jane. Etc.

One way of looking at, listening to, hearing the story of the Transfiguration is through the mind of a child, through the simple words of See – Hear – Go.

What did they see? We must remember that this was a vision, a thing seen! So the important question is not what actually happened, what factually occurred. The important question is what did the disciples report that they saw; what was revealed to them.

So, again what did they see? They saw light and clouds which are ancient symbols of God’s presence; remember the Exodus through the desert, God lead the Children of Israel with a cloud by day and a fire, a light, by night. The disciples saw God’s presence and guidance, a cloud and a fire, on Jesus.

They saw Moses and Elijah. In Jewish tradition Moses represented the Law and Elijah stood for the Prophets. In Jewish Tradition, both Moses and Elijah were to return before the Messiah,
The appearance of Moses and Elijah signaled to the disciples that Jesus was the Messiah.

Moses and Elijah give Jesus their blessing and then the disciples see Jesus’ alone:
this shows that Jesus completes, fulfills, the Law and the Prophets.

What did they hear? They heard divine speech silence human speech: vs. 5 – “while he was still speaking.” They heard a command to listen to Jesus: vs. 5 – “listen to him.” They heard from Jesus the Gospel: vs. 7 – “get up and do not be afraid!”

Through the eyes of Peter, James and John we have seen the vision, we have heard the voices.
How are we called to respond? Where are we to go?

First, we are called to the mountain. Not to blinding lights and booming voices but to time apart with Christ. We are called to look at Christ with awe and hope and love, we are called to listen
to his commands to love one another with body, mind and soul.

Then, we are called off the mountain and back into life. Like Peter, we want to stay on a spiritual high but we can’t stay, we have to go back down to where life is lived for real.

For it is down here, and out there, in our homes and schools and jobs and communities
in the mundane, ordinary,
 “so-called” real world that real faith is lived out. That is where we live our faith, that is where we shine the light of Christ, because that is where that it is needed most.

And that is where God has sent us.

Amen and Amen.

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