First Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-12
1Now 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; keep silent.”
4Elijah 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.”
6Then 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 ground.
9When 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.
Psalm: Psalm 50:1-6
1The mighty one, God the Lord, has spoken;
calling the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty,
God shines forth in glory.
3Our God will come and will not keep silence;
with a consuming flame before, and round about a raging storm.
4God calls the heavens and the earth from above
to witness the judgment of the people.
5“Gather before me my loyal followers,
those who have made a covenant with me and sealed it with sacrifice.”
6The heavens declare the rightness of God’s cause,
for it is God who is judge.
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
3Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Gospel: Mark 9:2-9
2Six 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, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then 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.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9As 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.
Shifting gears. Many of us had the opportunity to learn to drive on a 4WD car or truck. Perhaps it was on the farm, on a dirt road in Kenya, or on the hills of Los Angeles. One of my scary experiences was learning to drive in our old jalopy named Betsy, my mother co-piloting as I went into the foothills of LA to pick up my sister from a party. I was headed uphill and had to downshift and stalled. Sweaty palms. I could not get the car in gear for the life of me and finally had to ask my mother to take over. Sooooo humiliating. How do we down shift when we climb a mountain?
First ?: the engine sputters and we know we need more power – right?
Second ?: engage the clutch peddle to put the engine in neutral so the gears can be changed and synchronized – right? Something like that goes on under my shaking hand.
Third ?: Move the gear shift to a more powerful gear (either up or down) making sure you get the right gear and don’t strip the engine.
Fourth?: Gently step on the gas, feeling it synch with the gears
In my case, I probably tense waiting for the jerk from a rocky transition.
Shifting is not a one-time event on your trip. Jesus and we are on a journey and today we will see Jesus shift gears.
Prayer: Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be honoring to you, my Redeemer.
Today we are encountering Jesus as he and Peter, James, and John climb a high mountain. It is on mountains that things happen! Moses sees the burning bush. Moses receives the Ten Commandments. Abraham starts to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Elijah confronts the 400 priests of Baal. Jesus delivers his sermon on the mount, defining the principles of the kingdom of heaven. In fact he is crucified on Golgotha, the skull. We call it “mountain top experiences.” Today we’ll ponder what has been called, the Mount of Transfiguration. Baptism signals the start of Epiphany and Transfiguration signals the beginning of Lent this Wednesday on Ash Wednesday.
Transfiguration is not “transformation.” At the Indy 500 the racecars line up and when the race starts, they do not transform into airplanes. When the driver puts the car through its gears, it changes from a post card picture to a racecar. It never becomes something it has not been like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly or a tadpole becoming a frog. We are not talking today of Jesus becoming something different than what he has always been but we are seeing a revelation, an unveiling, of a part of his personhood that so far has been veiled.
I can see the road sign, “Uphill grade, no passing lane for a mile.” There might be a sign showing a car swerving left and right to indicate sharp carves ahead. Jesus knows it is time to turn to Jerusalem and walk through the crucifixion. He is preparing to go from his public ministry of teaching and healing, revealing the character of God, and so enter the journey to the cross that we call Lent. As in other transition points in his life, Jesus draws aside. Perhaps it is somewhat like us taking our car in for a tune-up before a big trip.
Jesus retreats to a secluded place where he can let “his hair hang down” i.e. where he can truly be himself. Jesus transfigures, drops the veil and the disciples see him as he truly is – true God and true man. He is the light of the world as his clothes become whiter than white. He steps into those thin places where the supernatural and the natural meet and there encounter Moses and Elijah. Perhaps like me, you have wondered why those two men? Why Moses and Elijah?
Could it be that he is checking the map and double-checking the route? I do that before a big trip. Moses who received the law on Mt. Sinai could confirm that all people are sinners and cannot help themselves. People are lost without the cross. The cross and resurrection is the goal, not the defeat of Roman domination. Elijah, one of the greatest prophets, could confirm the prophecy of a coming savior who would be the sacrificial lamb. The people want salvation from Rome but prophecy says there will be a suffering messiah. The map is reviewed and the plan confirmed.
But I also think that Moses and Elijah appeared because they could encourage Jesus in unique ways. Both Moses and Elijah knew what it was like to stand alone on a mountain and stood between their people and evil. Moses stood at the Red Sea and had to step forward in faith and put his rod in the water for it to part. Elijah stood alone on Mt Carmel and prayed for the fire of God to eat the sacrificed bull with 12 barrels of water poured on it. The people were silent. Both men followed God’s plan and God was faithful – but it was scary.
Both men also had deaths cloaked in mystery. Moses walked up to Mt. Nebo with God and died with God holding his hand and no one knows where Moses’ grave is. Likewise we read about Elijah’s death, more realistically his being swept up to heaven in a whirlwind, chariot of fire as in our Old Testament reading today. The people thought perhaps John the Baptist was Elijah returned and others believe he will be one of the two witnesses in end times. All very mysterious but both men testify again of God’s faithfulness and participation in the death of his servants. We know Jesus was true God knowing this but I believe being true man he also needed the reassurance of the companionship of Moses and Elijah. The mountain top experience was a tune-up and a checking of the map, the plan. During transition times and before important events we would be wise to follow Jesus’ example and draw aside with God to pray over our plans. Going for a spiritual tune-up is always good and hopefully before the red light comes on! Double-checking the map is what we do with Bible study, worship and fellowship.
Meanwhile our three disciples are terrified and confused. Perhaps they should build three shelters, three churches – one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus. Seeing and realizing that Jesus is true man, like us, but also true God, changes us too. Something happens to us when we comprehend the scope, the power available in our faith, the potential – the reality of who Jesus is. We too have trouble figuring out which gear we need to use to navigate our faith. Hence we see so many varieties of Christianity – Pentecostals, End time focuses, faith healers all sort of flavors and varieties in all kinds of languages. Like Peter we are confused and try so hard to do what we think is right. Peter has made the mistake of confusing Jesus’ deity with the prophets’ glory. Jesus is not equal to Moses and Elijah. He is not just another prophet. Jesus is true God and true man.
God speaks from the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” God is not assuring Jesus as at the baptism but is now speaking to the followers, to us. Jesus has called us to “follow” and God now says, “listen.” As we come to the trials that challenge us like driving up a steep mountain – or descending one for that matter, the Mt of Transfiguration speaks to us. We do not need to transform into an angel or something we are not. Drawing aside to reflect and unveil our true identity and being with friends is always helpful. Checking the road map as found in Scripture is necessary. We are not going to avoid death but death is not the end of the story. Faith is not about being happy ever after on earth but about following Jesus and listening to God. Are we using the right gears as we travel the route we are on. It is possible to be in cruise when we need to engage 4WD. We need to get on our knees and pray.
Epiphany is about understanding who our God is as revealed in the person of Jesus. We started with baptism and the voice in the cloud saying, “This is my son with whom I am well pleased,” and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove. On the Mt of Transfiguration, the veil is taken away for a moment and we see the Jesus who is the light of the world. Jesus cast out the unclean spirit that would cripple the man in the synagogue. He has power over the evil in our lives. Jesus gently extended his hand to Peter’s mother-in-law, put his arm around her and lifted her up and the fever left so she could perform her hostess duties. He gently lifts us up and enables us to do his will. Jesus healed many who came to him for help. This is but the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. Mark reveals Jesus as true God and true man. But Jesus was not satisfied just with healing us physically but came to spread the good news of the coming of the kingdom, eternal presence with him, under his rule. Now he turns his face to Jerusalem to provide us with eternal life. Let us journey through Lent with him. Ash Wednesday we will place ashes on our foreheads as a kind of map showing that our journey is to the cross because we are ashes. May God tune us up, open our eyes to the map for each of us, and help us use the right gears to climb the mountains in our lives. Praise his name.