Sermon for Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year B February 11, 2018

2 Kings 2:1-12                    Psalm 50:1-6                                       2 Corinthians 4:3-6                           Mark 9: 2-9

Our church year is punctuated by two dates:  Christmas and Easter.  And, since the date of Easter varies from year to year, the number of Sundays for one season before and one season after Easter have to be adjusted.  So, this year, Epiphany is shorter than last because Easter comes earlier.  This also means the season after Pentecost will be longer.  The last Sunday of this season always includes the story of Jesus, Peter, James, and John going to the top of a mountain, where Jesus is transfigured, his clothes turning dazzling white, and Elijah and Moses appearing with him.  The three of them talk, a cloud overshadows them and, in Mark’s account, a voice is heard to say, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  When the sky clears, Elijah and Moses are gone.

Thus, today is know as Transfiguration Sunday, and priests everywhere are expected to talk about what just happened – some may, however, avoid it by preaching on the Old Testament or Epistle readings.  I love this story for its symbolism, but would not attempt to approach it, or the story of Elijah and Elisha as factual accounts of what happened.  These are like scenes from a supernatural movie, or a dream sequence.  They defy our understanding of reality.  Of course, so do miracles, and both the Old and New Testaments are full of stories about miracles.

Stories such as these are designed to make it clear that God did not create the world and leave us to our own devices. The great prophets of the Old Testament, such as Elijah and Elisha, show us that God intervenes in the lives of the chosen people of Israel throughout history to teach them how to live their lives as God intended.  In the New Testament, it is Jesus who comes, to teach the people that they are the chosen people, not the elect.  They have been chosen to, “be a light to all nations, so that Jesus and Gentiles alike may experience God’s peace and love.”

So, in today’s story, Jesus is seen with the greatest of all the prophets, Elijah and Moses.  Not only did Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, Moses went up onto Mount Sinai and returned with the Ten Commandments.  He brought God’s law to the people.  Elijah, is considered one of the most loved prophets in Jewish history, and is closely linked with the Messiah.  It is said that before the Messiah will come, Elijah will appear on a mountain in the Holy Land to proclaim his coming.  Thus, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell this story in which Elijah does appear on the mountain as a sign that Jesus is the Messiah.  Moses appears also to make the connection between the Old Law and the New Law that Jesus brings.

Unless we read the Bible and believe everything literally happened as written, we don’t know what actually occurred on the mountain – but we do know whatever happened made an impression on the disciples.  As they came down from the mountain top, Jesus tells them they are not to talk about it until after the resurrection.

This story is included in the gospels to help us to connect the dots between the Old and New Testaments, what the prophets taught us and what Jesus teaches us.  Unlike so many of the miracles stories, this one has only a handful of witnesses and Jesus tells them to kept it to themselves until the time is right for them to share it with others.

I suspect this was because Jesus knew they could not fully understand what had happened until they experienced what was to come – his death and resurrection.  I think we sometimes experience Christ’s presence in our lives, but do not realize it until much later.  Looking back on our lives, many of us can make the connection between God’s gentle hand and sometimes, not-so-gentle hand, influencing the choices we have made which have brought us to where we are today.  What may not make sense at the time or what may feel like punishment, often marks a turning point for us which leads us to the blessings we now experience.

In the story of Elijah and Elisha, Elisha refuses to let Elijah leave him behind, saying, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”  First Elisha follows him to Bethel, then to Jericho, and then to the Jordan River.  Once they cross the river, Elijah asks Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.”  Elisha asks to inherit a double share of the great prophet’s spirit.  Our reading ends with Elijah ascending into heaven and Elisha grieving his loss.

If we had continued reading, the next two verses say tell us Elisha did, indeed, inherit a share of Elijah’s spirit:

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.  He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?”  When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

The miraculous, the parting of the water, the horse and chariots of fire, and ascending into heaven in a whirlwind, are used to make it clear that God is present and these are holy men of God.  But, events such as these happen in our daily lives, just without all the fanfare.

There are people who influence our lives and make this a better world for all – and at one time or another the time comes for the mantle to be passed to another.  If we are faithful followers, it may be pasted to us, or to someone else we are to faithfully following.

Today, we will acknowledge such a transition in the leadership of St. Paul’s, a transition that takes place each year.  Gary Perkey, Hayes Olson, and John Dempsey have all completed their terms on the vestry.  And although none of them have taken the mantle from their shoulders and parted the waters of the White River, they have each served as mentors for our membership – giving their time unselfishly to St. Paul’s that together we might reflect the love of Christ in this church home and in our community. Today, their mantle is being pasted with the commissioning of those elected to our vestry and to Edmund Hetrick, who has been appointed this year’s Senior Warden.

In Scott McSpadden, Kim Dunlap, Bill Olson, and Edmund Hetrick I am confident that the spirit of God that rests here on St. Paul’s will continue to strengthen us that we may grow in faith and in spirit.

8:00 – So, at this time, I ask Scott to come forward (as Edmund, Kim, and Bill will at the 10:30 service) to be commissioned to the ministry of the vestry of St. Paul’s.

10:30 – So, at this time, I ask Edmund, Kim, and Bill to come forward (as Scott did at the 8:00 service) to be commissioned to the ministries of the Sr. Warden, and the vestry of St. Paul’s.