Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany (February 11, 2024)

Readings: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Mark 9:2-9

The moment of Christ’s Transfiguration has for me always been one of the most beautiful and powerful scenes in the entire Bible. It occurs during a time of separation from the busyness of the world for Jesus, a time away with his friends Peter, James, and John. For the three disciples it’s a moment of revelation, of seeing Jesus in his full glory. It’s a continuation of the story of God’s relationship with humanity, a story that moved through Moses and Elijah – the two great Old Testament prophets who suddenly appear next to Jesus on the mountain.

I’ve preached in years past on the Transfiguration and about my own personal experience of the transforming power of God’s presence. It’s a moment I’ve shared with you: a retreat I’d taken at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky proved to be the setting for a moment of transfiguration in my own journey of discernment. It was the first time that I not only felt the presence of God but heard God’s voice. That time didn’t mark a physical transformation, but it certainly signaled a shift in my journey.

The same could be said for Peter, James, and John. The Transfiguration of Jesus marked a significant shift in the course they were following – a new, perhaps deeper understanding of that to which they had been called. For them that moment was, like my experience with the Trappist monks a few years ago, a time to hear God’s voice. In some respects, it’s a bookend passage to the baptism scene in chapter 1 of Mark. There, Jesus was the only one to hear God: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Today, God’s voice is heard by the disciples, confirming the truth of something they were growing to learn: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Amid the emotions they had to have been feeling, the surprise and joy of seeing their teacher connected directly with the two men synonymous with the Law and the prophets of their faith tradition, I think there must have been some lingering fear. One chapter earlier, Jesus had told them that he would undergo suffering and rejection before finally being put to death. He also told them that after three days he would rise again – but I have no doubt that they were so stunned by the first part that they didn’t even hear the second.

A change was coming, one that undoubtedly seemed to be one that was quite devastating to them, personally and emotionally. But here, in this moment, there was joy.

If we consider the reading from Kings, we see a similar moment of change. After being the prophet standing between God and the people, of being God’s messenger and the conduit through which miracles had been worked, the time for Elijah’s departure was drawing near. Elijah’s assistant, Elisha, had been told to stay while Elijah continued to Bethel, but Elisha refused. The company of prophets questioned Elisha as to whether he knew that God would soon take Elijah, and he replied yes – and immediately silenced them.

Something difficult was about to happen, but even in his reluctance to accept Elijah’s departure – perhaps even his denial of what was about to happen – Elisha saw something miraculous. There was a transformative moment in his life as his master was taken directly to heaven in a chariot of fire. There was no death or suffering – just a glorious departure. Elisha did express his sorrow through the symbolic act of tearing his garment, but in the boundaries of today’s reading it’s an afterthought.

In both scenes – Elijah’s departure and the Transfiguration of Jesus – we find that the supporting individuals are living in “in between” moments. Elijah’s life as a prophet is coming to an end, and Elisha’s is about to begin; today’s reading is the slim moment between the two. In the passage from Mark, Jesus has told Peter, James, and John that he will die, and as they move towards Holy Week that prediction will become a reality. But today, in this moment of revelation on the mountaintop, they are carefully balanced between the past and future.

Wednesday, we begin our journey through the season of Lent, the reflective period when we consider the end of Jesus’ ministry and his journey to the cross on Golgotha. It’s also a time to consider the slim moments in our lives, those times balancing what’s passed with what’s to come. It’s a time to further consider an important theme in our own lives: our role as prophets.

There are three things I think we need to be modern prophets for the modern world: a willingness to follow God where God leads; a willingness to raise our voices about something or someone in the world for whom help is needed; and a desire to point out inequality or injustice and issue a call for others to help fix it. The slim moments we encounter in our journeys are the moments where we look back while simultaneously planning for the future.

Moments to consider who we saw in the past that needed help, and what will we do about it in the future.

Moments to reflect on where God has brought us from, and where we discern God is leading us.

Moments to consider what we’ve seen in our past experiences that we know is wrong or unjust, and what we will do in the future to correct those injustices.

Elisha knew where he had come from, and in his request for a double share of Elijah’s spirit we see his awareness that after this moment of departure, he would be picking up the mantle as God’s prophet. Peter, James, and John had witnessed the earliest parts of Jesus’ ministry, and after this moment of glory they knew that – as horrific as it sounded – they would continue to follow Jesus to his death.

For them, the next steps were certain. As you consider these in-between moments in your lives, reflect on where you’re being called. Think about how might be called to raise your prophetic voices. Reflect on the journey to which God has called you.

Above all, ponder what you see in your lives that could be the spark of transfiguration that changes the trajectory of your walk with God.