Sunday, February 14, 2021

Transfiguration and Transition

February 14, 2021
St. John’s United Church of Christ, Union, Illinois

2 Kings 2:5-12; Mark 9:2-9[1]

I’m pretty sure you know who Moses is, the Hebrew boy raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. He was visited by God in a burning bush, sent to call upon Pharaoh to set the Israelites free from slavery and let them go. Moses led them across the Red Sea, through the desert to Canaan, and gave the Law from God to the people of Israel.

Elijah is a bit more obscure. Following the reigns of Kings David and Solomon, the nation of Israel split in two with Israel to the north and Judah to the south. The kings who ruled the kingdom of Israel did not follow YHWH, who I will refer to as the Lord, the God of their ancestors. These rulers allowed the worship of Baal and Asherah, gods of the neighboring Phoenicia. Ahab, son of Omri, who enthusiastically worshiped Baal, became known as the most wicked of the kings of Israel.

Elijah came from Gilead, east of Jordan, and “belonged to the class of small tenant farmers who owned no land of their own.”[2] Though of lowly origin, he played such a significant role in returning worship of the Lord alone to Israel that he is renowned as one of the greatest prophets. “Elijah set the standard against which all future prophets and messianic figures would be measured.”[3]

In one story from 1 Kings 18, Elijah challenges four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal to call down fire from their god to burn a sacrificed bull. When there was no answer, Elijah had twelve jars of water poured on the altar with the sacrifice. Then Elijah called upon the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to answer so that the people would know that the Lord is God. “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.”[4]

In the passage we heard this morning, Elijah passes on his leadership to Elisha, who would become a renowned prophet as well. As Elijah was taken up into heaven by the chariot of fire, Elisha caught his cloak as it fell, symbolizing the ministry of Elijah passing on to his beloved disciple, Elisha.

Moses also passed on his leadership at the end of his life. “Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: ‘Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it.’”[5] On Mount Nebo, in the land of Moab, the Lord showed Moses the land that would become Israel. Then he died and was buried in Moab. Joshua would go on to lead the conquering of Canaan, warn the people against worshiping idols and foreign gods, and challenge them to serve only the Lord.

Jesus led Peter, James, and John up a high mountain, where he was transfigured before them. In that moment there appeared to them Elijah and Moses, talking with Jesus. Two of the most prominent figures in the history of their people, Moses represented the Law, and Elijah the Prophets. This scene is meant to symbolize the passing on of leadership. The Law and the Prophets gave way to the Christ, the fulfillment of both, and it was witnessed by Peter, who would become the leader of the Church.

The transfiguration, marking a transition of leadership, is a moment to pause, to look and listen. Like a ceremony we might celebrate, marking a transition such as baptism, graduation, marriage, ordination of clergy, or a retirement, in this moment the community assembles and takes time to notice the moment. Peter, who will take on the mantle of leadership himself in time, witnesses the transition of leadership and asks for time to stop, look, and listen. “It is good for us to be here,” he says to Jesus.[6] We can get back to work later, but let’s stay awhile in this moment.

God responds from the cloud, speaking to these disciples in the same way that God spoke to Moses, and Elijah, and Jesus. “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”[7] This time is an opportunity to soak up the glory of God, to experience, however briefly, a reminder of why we’re in ministry, what it is that we are doing here. This moment of glory reminds us of our purpose, the point of the faith we proclaim, where the work of ministry leads.

Worship of God does that. Now, even the best of our worship encounters cannot reach the heights that Peter and his friends experienced. But any worship is an opportunity to reflect on God’s glory. A UCC pastor named Cheryl Lindsay writes, “in worship, we are reminded that we are reaching for a destination that is glorious–not simply better or adequate, but glorious. Our goal is not just to feed the hungry but to participate in a world when all are fed. Our call is not to merely accept the immigrant in our midst, but to shape a world in which no one is labeled stranger.”[8]

Worship helps us get ready. Having just a taste of what is to come can fortify us for the journey ahead. Joshua had a long and difficult task ahead to settle the people of Israel in a new land. Elisha would need to steer other kings away from foreign gods and back to the Lord. Peter, James, and John would have to face the horrors of the crucifixion and the challenge of establishing the Church. And every day, we followers of Jesus Christ must contend with a world sickened by evil and polluted by greed.

When the glory of God is revealed, take a moment to soak it in. Let hope blossom. God’s promises will be fulfilled. Light and peace will break forth. Take a moment to envision it, reach for it, rest in it. Then, you will be ready to go on, to go back down the mountain to the crowds who await. And you will have a share, a double share, of the spirit of Christ to help you shine.

[1] The scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

[2] Klaus Koch, The Prophets: The Assyrian Period, tr. Margaret Kohl (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 32.

[3] Dietrich Gruen, Contributing Editor, Who’s Who in the Bible (Lincolnwood: Publications International, Ltd., 1995), 80.

[4] 1 Kings 18:38.

[5] Deuteronomy 31:7.

[6] Mark 9:5.

[7] Mark 9:7.

[8] The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, “Sermon Seeds: Coming Through the Clouds” reflection for Transfiguration Sunday, February 14, 2021, online at

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