02/14/21 – Infusion of Glory

INFUSION OF GLORY

February 14, 2021
Transfiguration Sunday
2 Kings 2: 1-12; Ps.50; 2 Cor. 4:3-6; Mk.9: 2-10
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

Today, the very cold, dark days of February are interrupted by a reading from 2 Kings in the Old Testament and Mark’s gospel from the New Testament, which describe scenes of fire and light. The parallels between these two passages are numerous and, for Mark, that is intentional. In both readings, human eyes witness the glory of God’s divine presence breaching the boundary between heaven and earth. Like us, the onlookers of these two events were living in a time of transition and uncertainty. After nearly a year of suspended activities and social isolation due to the pandemic, our faith may be running a little low on energy. Unable to visit with friends and family and to worship, in person, with our local church family, we might feel we need to recharge our batteries.

The event in Christ’s life when his illuminated figure appeared on a mountaintop with Moses and Elijah, known as The Transfiguration, was commemorated early on in the Eastern Christian Church but was not celebrated in the Western Church until the 9th century. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates the day on the second Sunday in Lent, while Protestants celebrate it on the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany.

The rationale for the timing in the Protestant Church is that putting it on the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent emphasizes the Transfiguration’s close relationship to Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem and the Cross. According to scripture, after coming down from the mountain, Jesus turned his direction toward Jerusalem. All three synoptic gospels include the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration, which gives the event special status.

The authors of Matthew, Mark, and Luke highlight the similarities of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. All three fasted in the wilderness for 40 days before an important encounter with God. The dead bodies of the three were not left behind when they were taken up to heaven. Still today, in the Passover Seder an empty chair is left for Elijah, who Jews believe will return to announce the coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist plays that role in the gospels. Each of the three was witnessed to be illuminated by a great light when they had a close encounter with God. Moses’ face was illuminated from within by a white light when he came down from Mt. Sinai after being given the second set of tablets with the Ten Commandments. Elijah ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot. The incandescent transfiguration of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus accentuates the continuation of God’s covenant with humanity. Each of these men prepared for new leaders to take their place when they left the world. Moses had Joshua, Elijah had Elisha and Jesus had his disciples to carry on their divine mission.

Why did God produce these awesome spectacles described in our readings from 2 Kings and Mark? It would seem that in both situations, people were in need of some assurances that God would continue to be with them, and for them when their leaders left this mortal coil. Both Elisha and Jesus’ disciples had been commissioned to continue their teachers’ work in the world but feared they did not have the “right stuff,” the power from on high, to fulfill their missions. Just prior to the transfiguration scene on the mountaintop, Peter had refused to believe Jesus when he warned his disciples of his impending death. How could Jesus prepare them to carry on his work in the world if they did not accept, they would be called upon to do so? The Apostle Paul had the same fear about the church in Corinth after he left them to go to Ephesus. Doubt tends to grow without a spiritual guide and a supportive faith community.

Jesus’ disciples witnessed the awesome sign that Jesus was filled with that same divine spirit as the greatest prophets of Israel’s history. What is more, these two Old Testament prophets disappeared leaving only Jesus standing transfigured by the divine light on the top of the mountain. The message was twofold. First, the same God who empowered Moses and Elijah with the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus. The covenant still stood, and God remained faithful to God’s people. Second, Jesus remaining after Moses and Elijah had passed from sight signified his pre-eminence. Jesus was God’s Son and more imbued with God’s spirit than any prophet. Above all others, Jesus was the one to which a disciple should listen and obey.

God reaffirms Jesus’ identity at the Transfiguration that was first established at his baptism. Mark includes a new addition to the baptismal account. At that time only Jesus heard God’s voice. Here God reaffirms that Jesus is the Beloved Son, before witnesses, and adds: “Listen to him.” Those three words are dynamite! “Listen,” in this context, also means obey.  We might hear God’s message, but if our lives are not changed by them, nothing happens. The disciples were not just to hear, they were also to obey what Jesus instructed them to do. We know that thinking and doing are miles apart and the road between them can be long and hard. It is the difference between the suffering of the cross and the glory of Resurrection. The Bible tells us that external signs of faith without internal transformation is a fraud. Peter wanted to stay safe and privileged on that mountain, but Jesus told him he had gotten the message all wrong. God doesn’t want us to bask in the self-serving glory of assuming a special connection with God. God wants us to do the work Jesus did, just as Elisha was commissioned to do the work Elijah did.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church at a time when folks that considered themselves “super-apostles” were preaching a gospel that denied the cross and Christ’s second coming. They dismissed Paul’s preaching as “a veiled message” that wrongly informed the congregation that their lives would still hold suffering, especially for being faithful to Christ in a dominant society that did not believe. They were the ancient version of the prosperity gospel charlatans, who tell their audience that being a Christian means your worldly existence will be one success and profitable acquisition after another if you just believe — and make that start-up investment with a generous donation to their churches. These Corinthian super-apostles preached glory without sacrifice.

Peter wanted the glory of the past without the transformation that would enable him to do God’s work in the world. The Church has also faced this dilemma. We want to hang on to what we thought was the glory of the church in the past without facing the reality that the glory was not as real and true as we thought it was.  It was great to bask in the social glory of being a church member when being a church member brought worldly rewards, such as business and social connections, but the church became complacent and accommodating to its surrounding culture and lost its authenticity with its denial of sacrifice. For so many who dropped out, the focus on the cross was lost. The pursuit of worldly glory became a shallow substitute for the meaning of life.

The Christian Church is in much the same situation as it was in Paul’s time. There are “false gospel” voices that proclaim a faith that bears little resemblance to the Christ we meet in scripture. In the larger society, Christianity has lost respect.  We have become viewed as the Pharisees. In the first century in the Roman Empire, Christians were deemed subversive and unpatriotic. To truly follow Christ today is to risk the same accusation of those who want to create a Jesus who hates and fears the same people they do.

Yet, look at what happened against all odds in the first century in the Roman Empire. The early Christians persisted and persevered, despite the false evangelists, the oppression of and persecution by the political empire, and their individual sacrifices. Christianity spread like wildfire. So, think about it. What do we do to restart that flame that burns away our altars to worldly gods and sparks our true worship of God – the God who is beyond ourselves, but chooses to be near us? How do we live our lives in such a way that invites God in?

Heaven and earth do meet in the kingdom of God, which has already entered our world in Jesus Christ. Christ meets us at his Table to experience his presence as his disciples did in that Upper Room. St. Augustine described the Eucharist, the sharing of the bread and cup as: “visible signs of God’s invisible grace.”  May they be so for us this day. May our sharing this Holy meal with Christ, and one another, transfigure our lives to more closely resemble that of our Savior’s.

Amen. May it be so.

 

 

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2021, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Ave. | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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