Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, February 11, 2018 - 2 Kings 2:1-12; Mark 9:2-9
I have to confess to you this morning. It seems a weird place to begin when it is Transfiguration Sunday, but trust me, it will relate to our texts for today. You see, I sinned on Sunday. I know, surprised. I don’t know if you did or not, but I know that I have spent the week struggling with this. You see, I broke both the 9th and 10th commandments. No I did not kill anyone, that’s #5. No I did not cheat on my wife…#6. I probably did steal something by making use of time I’ve been given to watch men play a kid’s game for millions of dollars. But no. The 8th commandment is bearing false witness, which is what I’m trying to not do right now. No, the 9th and 10th deal with coveting. Coveting our neighbor’s money, inheritance, property, people, family, etc.
On Sunday, there was a commercial that came on with Matt Damon. He was holding a chalice, well not a chalice but a beer glass, let’s save chalice for the Lord’s Table. This glass is made by Stella Artois, the Belgian beer company. They are partnering with Matt Damon’s charity, Water.org, to help raise money to provide clean drinking water for people in need.
Now there is game I like to play. Whenever a celebrity comes on TV and does one of these commercials, I take the 5 seconds to google something like…Matt Damon net worth. I get the answer and then I get angry. Why Matt, if you are worth $160 million, are you asking ordinary Americans, who can barely afford to drink beer out of a glass, to spend $13 on a beer glass in which only $3 goes to your charity? If you are worth $160 million, why don’t you use your own money? Don’t even get me started on Stella Artois. They spent $5 million on the commercial. If you can tell, it has been goading me all week.
Then I read about Elijah and Elisha. Elijah has lived through some of the worst times Israel has gone through. He has spent his prophetic life among the northern tribes of Israel, the ones who rather quickly abandoned Yahweh, the God of Israel, for other gods and had kings that changed almost monthly. People murdered for vineyards. Servants of God rounded up and executed because they dared to say anything. Eventually Elijah finds himself on a mountain and he’s distraught. He wants God to kill him. God nourishes his soul and body, gives him three tasks, anoint Jehu King of Israel, anoint Hazael king of Syria, and anoint Elisha as your successor, then you can be done.
So, 2 Kings 2 brings us to that day. Elisha is following Elijah. They haven’t had that much time together. Elijah actually found Elisha farming. Now the time has come for Elijah to go and Elisha to get to work. Elijah wants to give him a gift before he leaves.
When they had crossed the river, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
“You’ve asked for a hard thing. If you see me, you’ll have it.”
Elisha sees, and apparently receives. As I have dealt with this passage in the past, you hear preachers talk about Elisha wanting to be even greater than Elijah. He wants to be a better prophet than Elijah. Double of his teacher.
Reading it this week, thinking about it in light of my sin, and I realize – Elisha doesn’t want to be better. He needs double the spirit because he doubts he could ever be good enough. He knows himself and thinks, if I am going to do this work, I need double your spirit Elijah because I’m not half of what God has made you. I need double because I am so small, so needy. So distressed and powerless. So unable to do anything worth anything without this Spirit God has given you to do this work.
In my rants against celebrities. In my sin against Matt Damon, water.org, Stella Artois, I make the assumption that somehow my sin nature would not cause me to do anything different with Matt’s money than he is doing. The assumption being that I am a better person, or that I am doing something more than Matt or Stella. The assumption being that if I had $160 million I would give it all away, or at least a part of it. When if I know me, or to expand, if we know us, truly know our sin, we know that wealth changes things.
I read of Elisha and I am convicted. Convicted that this should be my daily prayer. My desire to have the veil that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians pulled from eyes that keeps me from seeing me. That keeps me from hearing of the forgiveness. Of seeing the glory of Christ. From looking into the mirror. Of realizing that I am in need of a double share, a double portion of Jesus to have any shot. This veil that causes me to avoid God and Jesus all together and pass judgement on “them” and “they”, whomever “they” are, dousing the light that must shine in the darkness of me, to give me life.
Transfiguration Sunday is always this Sunday before Lent begins. The Sunday that prepares us for the most important time of the year in the church. More than Christmas. More than Pentecost. The season bridges two mountains. One we have here with Christ shining, transfigured, seen in all his glory. Peter so transfixed by it, that he begs to stay there. But God speaks to him, to us, saying – This is my beloved Son, Listen to him. Telling us to listen, and follow.
For this mountain is not the important mountain. For another is coming. Mt. Calvary, which ends the road of Lent and brings this Christ who is glorified in his transfiguration, shone for the God-man he is, this other mountain brings him death. A dying God. A God who comes to earth in cleanliness. In glory. In clothes whiter than white only to be stripped bear, soiled, nailed to a tree in public execution because he has the audacity to forgive a pastor for coveting the wealth of an actor, something seen so small. Or for forgiving another sinner who may be an abuser, an adulterer, a thief, a murderer, a blasphemer, a persecutor, an idolater – we could go on and on. Jesus was spreading forgiveness like a disease, and we hated him for it. Because we are told to forgive like him.
Transfiguration Sunday becomes the day we remember Christ in his glory before we see him in his agony. We remember him as the Son before we see him be our Savior. We remember him as perfect and holy and righteous before we see him become sin for us that we might have the righteousness of God in him. God the Son executed as a sinner to save you from your sin.
Lent is coming. Ash Wednesday will be here in 3 days. So quickly we move from the glory to the reality. From the mountain-top, to the dust. On Wednesday, come to Bethany and receive your ashes. Be reminded of the dust. Be reminded of the need for a double portion of God’s spirit. Be reminded of how we might be more knowledgeable of our frailty, and yearn to receive the forgiveness that comes from the God who loves us enough that he died to forgive us, and rose again to prove it.
Otherwise, we just become Peter. We think of everything in light of resurrection. That one day things will be holy and glorious and righteous, which they will. That we will see God face-to-face and there will be no more factions. No more fighting. No more rich or poor, black or white, right or left, strong or weak. There will be God and his children. All this is true and good. But we miss the cross. We miss the result of our sin, and the great love of God. It’s like reading a book and getting impatient and skipping over every chapter except the last one. The chapters work together. The story is the story. It exists and happened for a purpose. The cross is there as both warning and remedy. A reminder that right now is not then. That right now we need the cross. We need Lent. We need to see what has been done for us so we might know ourselves and what we have done to him.
When you get faced with your Matt Damon moment, when sin becomes something that needs that remedy, that is seen as something that wants to hurt us, hurts our relationships, then our Savior becomes even more glorious. Becomes even more precious. When once our sin is laid bare, the absolution becomes more vital. The taste of the Lord’s Table becomes that much sweeter. When we confess and hear those words, I forgive you, we can be sent to our knees, falling on our faces, unable to look into the eyes of a forgiving God. Then the hand of Jesus reaches out to you. Raises you up and you see that it is you and Jesus alone. Nothing more than this Savior who was transfigured to remind us of our future, but crucified to remind us that our past is forgiven. May your journey from mountain to mountain be one we do together. Struggling. Praying. Mourning. Then rejoicing. That we have a God so glorious that he gives himself to us because he knows we need it. Thanks be to God. Amen