Fairhaven Sermon 2-11-2024

Fairhaven Sermon 2-11-2024
Fairhaven Sermon 2 11 2024

In her sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, Rev. Peg Bowman draws connections between the biblical account of Jesus' transfiguration and the broader themes of revelation, loyalty, and the anticipation of a new beginning. She highlights the significance of this event, where Jesus is transformed and converses with Moses and Elijah, emphasizing its role in revealing Jesus' divine authority and mission. Rev. Bowman intricately links this narrative to the stories of Elijah and Elisha, underscoring themes of mentorship, loyalty, and the continuation of God's work. She points out how these stories collectively demonstrate the ways Jesus was made known as the Messiah, the compassion and healing power of Jesus, and the importance of prayer and mission in Jesus' life, as revealed in the preceding weeks leading to Transfiguration Sunday.

Continuing on this path, Rev. Bowman delves into the depth of the relationships depicted in these biblical accounts, particularly the bond between Elijah and Elisha, to explore the human aspect of these divine narratives. She uses their story to reflect on the nature of true friendship and mentorship, marked by unwavering loyalty and commitment to God's calling. By comparing the disciples' experience on the mountaintop with Elisha's dedication to Elijah, she invites her congregation to consider their own commitment to following Jesus' teachings and carrying forward his mission in the world. Rev. Bowman's message culminates in a call to action for the faithful to listen to and obey Jesus, mirroring the profound loyalty Elisha showed to Elijah, as they enter the Lenten season, encouraging a deeper engagement with their faith and a commitment to embodying Jesus' love and healing in their lives.


Well, as you all know, today is Transfiguration Sunday. Today we remember the day when Jesus took three disciples, went up a mountain, and his appearance changed right in front of them. They were joined by Moses and Elijah, and they heard God saying, This is my Son whom I love. Listen to him.

That's the story. That's what happened. According to the eyewitnesses who were there, it's a very familiar vignette. But this year, the events and the readings that lead up to this Sunday and also on this Sunday give a slightly different spin to the story than we usually hear.

And they detail for us, first off, the many ways that Jesus was revealed and made known as the Messiah to the people of Israel. Secondly, they give us some background on Elijah that helps explain why he was there on that mountain. Third, they give us a possible motivation for Peter's actions on the mountaintop. Fourth, they place a human face on all these events.

And fifth and last, they show us how we might respond in faith to the words and events that God shares with us in these passages. So it's a lot of stuff right there. So I'll need to back up briefly and tie in the past few weeks. So we have been in the season of Epiphany, a word that means revealing or making known.

And our scriptures this past month have focused on making Jesus known, making it known that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Redeemer promised from the beginning of the human race. Two weeks ago in our gospel lesson, we saw Jesus preaching in Capernaum. And we saw him interrupted by a man possessed by a demon. And we saw Jesus cast out that demon and heal the man.

And Mark tells us the people were amazed and astonished at what they saw and heard. And they said to each other, No one has ever taught like this before. He teaches with authority, not like the scribes. So two weeks ago, Jesus' authority was revealed.

Last week, our gospel lesson talked about what happened in Capernaum later that day, when Jesus went with the disciples to the home of Peter's mother-in-law. And when they arrived, they found the mother-in-law was ill, but Jesus healed her. And she got up and everybody had lunch together. And then she and the disciples and Jesus shared a relaxing Sabbath afternoon together.

The rest of the village of Capernaum that day was basically doing the same thing because it was the Sabbath. And they were most likely talking about everything that happened in synagogue that morning. And as soon as the Sabbath was over, the entire village showed up at the door of Peter's mother-in-law's house, bringing with them all the sick people and anyone who had demons, and Jesus healed them all. And I have to add, by the way, the streets in Capernaum are very narrow and the houses are very close together.

So how the entire village got into that, near that house, I do not know, but there they were. And Mark says that Jesus cared for every person and healed every person. And so here we see being revealed Jesus' compassion and his power to heal. And then something unexpected happened.

While the whole town was basically having a massive block party, Jesus slipped away in the wee hours of the morning. Mark doesn't say why, except to say that he went to pray. And I imagine after a night like this that Jesus was probably very tired, probably did need to recharge his batteries, and God was able, and God is still able, even when we've been up all night, to give a second wind. So Jesus was probably recharging, and I expect he was also rejoicing with God his Father and the healing of God's people.

And it seems he was also renewing, renewing a sense of his mission here on earth. Jesus demonstrates for us the need to spend quality time with God. If Jesus, being the Son of God, needed to pray, then we certainly do too, not just on Sundays, but every day. Meanwhile back at the house, the disciples noticed that Jesus is missing, and they go looking for him.

And it takes a while, but they finally find him, and they say, Hey, Jesus, everybody's looking for you. And Jesus answers, We need to be going on to share the good news in other towns and synagogues. So in a way, the disciples were saying, Let's go back. And Jesus is saying, Let's go on.

And in saying this, Jesus' mission is revealed. So for the past couple of weeks, what has been revealed to us about Jesus is his authority, his compassion, his power to heal, and his mission. And that's a bird's eye view of the past couple of weeks. This week, the story turns darker.

This week, we spend time with the living and the dying. In our passage, starting with the passage from 2 Kings today, we join the prophet Elijah on the last day of his life. Now Elijah knew this was his last day. How he knew that, we are not told.

But he does run into groups of prophets along throughout the day who all predict his demise. And so God must have been revealing this in some way or other. Now death is a very personal thing. It's not something we often talk about, but none of us can avoid it.

Being born, by definition, means that someday death will come. And as a pastor, I'm often called to be present when someone is seriously ill or dying, or to be with a family with someone who has died. And what I've seen is that everyone approaches death differently, and everyone experiences death differently. Death is an epiphany in a sense.

It's a revealing of a different kind. Some people who are dying want to be surrounded by people and activity. The more, the better. It's like the last party.

We should have a great time. One last hurrah. Other people prefer to have only family with them. And still others prefer just one or two quiet people, maybe with scripture being read or soft music being played.

And more often than you might think, some people just want to be alone in their last minutes. And these are all normal reactions, very much rooted in who the person is. Elijah chooses to spend his last day on earth doing God's work. Now Elijah was fortunate to have the physical ability to do that.

Not all of us are that lucky when the end comes near. But Elijah walks, I'm not sure how many miles in this story, from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan River, and at each stop along the way, Elijah does something for God. And then he turns to Elisha and he says, Stay here. I'm going on to the next place.

But Elisha refuses to leave him. Elisha says, As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you. See, Elisha doesn't care what it costs or what he might need to endure. He is fiercely loyal to Elijah and will not leave him to face death alone.

Elijah has been like a father to him. And so Elisha is staying no matter what. It made me stop and think as I was thinking about this, I wonder how many of us have had mentors in our lives who have taught us faithfully the way that Elijah taught Elisha. How many of us have friends who stand with us through absolutely anything the way Elisha did? How many of us offer up friendship like that to others? Friendships of this kind are very rare and more precious than diamonds.

And if we have had just one friendship like that in our lives, we can count ourselves blessed. So as Elijah and Elisha travel on, their first step is at Bethel, this first stop there. Bethel is a place, it's a name that means house of God. And the prophets there tell Elisha, You know, God's going to take Elijah home today.

And Elisha says basically, Yeah, I know, shut up. I mean, actually, the exact words were, Yes, I know, be quiet. But I think shut up is a better translation because these prophets don't care about Elijah the way Elisha does. These prophets are spectators in Elijah's life.

They are not emotionally involved. They are basically being nubby in the worst possible way. And when someone you love is dying, you have every right to tell people like that to shut up. So this pattern of Elijah saying, Stay put, and Elisha saying, No way, happens three times like a trinity.

And the third time, they're at the Jordan River, and Elijah takes his cloak and parts the river like Moses did. And the two men walk across to the other side on dry ground. Now why would Elijah want to cross the Jordan into another country on his last day? First of all, no doubt it was God's leading, but some say it's also because it was near the place where Moses died. And truth is, Moses' grave has never been found.

And Elijah was never buried. So this leaves two question marks in the history of Israel. When they got to the other side, Elijah asked Elisha, What can I do for you before I leave? And Elisha steps into a role that's usually taken by the firstborn son in a family, and he says, My father, let me inherit a double share of your spirit. In other words, twice the wisdom, twice the courage, twice the love to carry on your work.

And Elijah answers, You've asked for a difficult thing, but if you see me as I leave, your prayer will be granted. And Elisha's prayer is granted. He sees Elijah disappear in a chariot of fire, fire representing God's presence. Psalm 50, as we read just a moment ago, says about God, Before him is a devouring fire and a mighty tempest all around him, which sounds a lot like what Elisha saw that day.

And as the vision fades and Elijah disappears, Elijah's cloak lands on Elisha. His prayer has been granted. And Elisha tears his own clothes in grief at the loss of his mentor and friend. In the Jewish faith, this event makes Elijah a sign of the end times.

It means he will come back someday, and his return will signal the end of the age. And Elisha's story also gives the assurance this journey through ashes and sorrow is never for its own sake. It's for the sake of what comes next, a radiant new life and a dazzling new world. Hold all that in mind now, the depth and the passion of Elisha's loyalty and the promise of Elijah's return at the end of times.

Hold that in mind now as we come to the New Testament and Mark's gospel. In the reading from Mark today, familiar territory, the transfiguration of Jesus. Up to this point, Jesus has been traveling and teaching about the kingdom of God and healing people and basically challenging the status quo in a lot of different ways. And recently, Jesus has begun to predict his death, which the disciples don't know how to react to.

Jesus is now turning his mind and heart towards Golgotha, descending into the valley of the shadow of death. And the disciples who travel with Jesus are about to experience a mysterious and powerful mountaintop vision that will be for them like a torch lighting the way in the weeks ahead. Jesus chooses three disciples to go with him up the mountain, Peter, James, and John. Bible doesn't say why these three were chosen.

It may have to do with the ministries the three of them will have after Jesus' ascension, Peter ministering to the Gentiles, James ministering in Jerusalem, and John as he writes the book of Revelation. As these men arrive at the top of the mountain, Jesus has changed and his clothes become dazzling white, almost too bright to look at. And a cloud comes down on the mountaintop, not unlike the cloud that was on the Mount Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments. And the four of them are now joined by Moses, along with Elijah, who we've just been reading about, the two Old Testament leaders representing the law and the prophets, whose bodies and burial places have never been found, and whose lives passed directly into the hand of God.

These two men now have a conversation with Jesus about his departure. And here again, there's that theme of death again. We really can't escape it. What exactly the three of them said to each other was not written down, but there's no doubt that they were preparing Jesus for the end.

And preparing for death is a wise thing to do, no matter who we are. So Jesus gives us an example to follow. Peter meanwhile, suggests putting up three dwellings, one each for Jesus and Moses and Elijah. And most of the sermons and the writings I've seen on this subject poke fun at Peter for saying this.

They accuse him of being sort of clueless, not really thinking clearly. But I read something this week that says otherwise. I wanted to share this with you. It's a connection that only a Jewish person could see.

Peter's suggestion is related to the Jewish festival of booths. And that's a seven day holiday every year. It recalls Israel's journey through the wilderness after they left Egypt. And during the festival of booths, people live in booths outside for a week as a reminder of how they lived in the wilderness for 40 years on their way to the promised land.

And the festival of booths is a joyful holiday. It's a celebration of God's deliverance. And that looks forward to the promised land. And that's exactly what Jesus has come for, to deliver us from sin and death and to bring us into God's promised land.

Peter has it exactly right. It's just that the time isn't quite right yet. God's voice is heard saying, This is my beloved son. Listen to him.

And the word listen in the Jewish language, shema, means not just hear, but also obey. In Jewish understanding, if a person does not act, they haven't really heard. And then all of a sudden, the vision disappears and Jesus is alone with the disciples once more. Jesus tells the disciples, Say nothing about this until I've been raised from the dead, the meaning of which the disciples are still not quite grasping.

But that's okay because they will remember it and they will speak about it again after the resurrection. We also see clearly that Jesus knows that his death won't be the end. Jesus can see beyond his grave. But for now, only Jesus can.

The others cannot. On this day, the disciples join Jesus on his final journey, and so do we. We now stand in respect to Jesus the way Elisha stood in respect to Elijah. Will we pick up the mantle? Will we carry on the work that Jesus started, speaking God's word, pointing people to God's kingdom, and doing our part to bring healing into the world? Jesus is the one and only true beacon of hope in a world that is growing darker by the minute.

It is an honor for us to stand where Elisha stood. So do we love our Lord Jesus as deeply as Elisha loved Elijah? The message from God is this, This is my Son. Listen to him. As we enter into Lent this year, may we listen and follow.