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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Last Sunday in Ordinary Time following Ephiphany: The Transfiguration B - February 11, 2018


God of life, in a blaze of light on Mount Tabor you transfigured Christ, revealing him as your Beloved Son and promising us a share in that destiny of glory.  But in a blinding flash we, children of the promise, annihilate life, disfiguring the face of Christ and mocking his Gospel call to gentleness and peace.  Let the beacon of that gospel pierce again the clouds enshrouding the earth, so that even in the darkness of these times we may believe your day will dawn.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 9:2-10

"Mark's use of the story connects so strongly to what follows that we can scarcely interpret it without reference to what Jesus? disciples were to ?listen to? in the chapters which follow, namely lowliness and compassion. It is not just any elevation of Jesus which will do, but this particular one, which we appreciate when we know the whole story. Mark?s story reminds us that disciples, then and now, frequently get it wrong, through fear and ignorance and much else."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," The Transfiguration of Jesus, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"The Transfiguration, then and now, is a shining mountaintop experience amid scenes of violence and suffering."

"The Shining," Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2012.

"Transfiguration is one of those 'non-holidays' that appears in lectionaries with its own particular set of readings, but doesn't draw much attention from local congregations."

Commentary, Mark 9:2-9, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

The passages that come before this are filled with a pounding and unrelenting march by Jesus to proclaim the good news and to overturn the forces that now bind God's people. He knows this proclamation and action campaign (to use the military imagery of the Greek text) which is the Way will ultimately lead to the cross.  Therefore, everyone who is on the Way must be prepared to pick up his cross and follow. (8.34)

Yet here in this passage we have a vision of the God's glory and in the last two verses the connection of this mission with the resurrection.

Jesus in this moment of transfiguration is revealed as the new Adam, the new Moses, the great prophet, the Son of God and is clearly the Messiah.  He is God in all his glory revealed in the person of Jesus to the disciples sitting at his feet, to the first hearers of this Gospel, and to us.  And, this work is well pleasing to God. 

We are reminded perhaps of the words of Enoch and his response to his own heavenly vision.

And there I saw another vision of the dwellings of the righteous and the resting-places of the holy. 
And there my eyes saw their dwellings with the angels And their resting places with the holy ones...
And I saw their abode beneath he wins of the Lord of Spirits,
And all the righteous and elect were radiant like the brightness of fire before him....
There I desired to dwell and my spirit longed for that abode.  (I Enoch 39:4-8, trans. Marcus, Mark, 638)
While Peter echoes Enoch's vision in this world, the disciple and follower of Jesus along the way (with the certainty of the cross before them) sees instead the great hope of Resurrection and our eternal dwelling beneath the wings of our "father hen when he calls his chickens home" - to quote Johnny Cash.

The transfiguration is a theophany in which the followers of Jesus and the generations that follow are able to glimpse their future. 

In the months to come our people will enter Lent, we are in tax season, election time, our economy is slow, people are suffering and hurting.  They are pretty sure that this is not heaven! 

Our preaching is to so move those who listen that they may have a glimpse of the transfigured risen Lord.  That they may see the promise of their future and understand that the present sufferings in this world are ones that will eventually be swallowed up by the glory of God.

We are to so move our hearers that on this Sunday, they like Jesus and his first followers, will be moved through their vision of things to come to change the world around them. We are to move our people to understand that their glimpse of the heavenly family and our place under God's embrace is not something to be waited for in some distant future, but that we are to make our drum beat loud and to act in this world building up stone by living stone the kingdom of heaven.

But there is more here...let me offer a bit of reflection about how often we heist this particular gospel from its broader message of a gospel mission to the world.

Taken from my book entitled the Jesus Heist.

Let’s take the story of the transfiguration, for instance. This is a passage that appears in Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9. The story comes shortly after the revelation that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to die. Jesus heads up a high mountain with a few friends: John, Peter, and James. Jesus is “transfigured” there. He is changed and his face and clothes shine dazzling white. This is a mystical event of great power where the disciples see Moses and Elijah (two great Sinai prophets) standing there with Jesus. They are clear that this is a great sign, a revelation, about the person of Jesus. Peter says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Matt. 17:4). Immediately, their human nature kicks in to make a holy shrine because of their experience. They would build booths; people would come and visit. Here on this mountain people would come to worship Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. But Jesus heads back down the mountain. We don’t get much from Jesus. only that the real work isn’t happening on that mountain. He goes right down the mountain and begins a ministry of healing in the town. We see very clearly that the ministry is among the people who are in need of God.

In Matthew’s Gospel [Mark's too], a man had gone to the disciples, but they couldn’t help. Jesus says, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me” (17:17). It is as if Jesus says, “Look, you guys want to go around and replicate a new system of religion, build booths, and set up pilgrimages. The work of this community I keep teaching you about is in the midst of the people.” This is right before the wonderful passage where Jesus rebukes the idea of a religious ingathering and sends Peter to go find a fish with a coin in its mouth. In every passage the disciples are to listen to Jesus, follow Jesus, and do what Jesus tells them to do. It has always struck me as funny that Jesus does not say, “Great idea. Let’s build a building where people can come and worship God; after all that is the highest form of love.” But instead Jesus takes them out into the world to be with people. So, I have always found naming a church “The Church of the Transfiguration” a bit odd given the story. Jesus’s ministry of loving God is always in the midst of helping people.

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians4:3-6

"Third in a series of lectionary texts which at first blush appear to consist of insider-trading for homileticians, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 wrestles, in what is just small part, with what is a huge issue for the church..."

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"Paul plants himself firmly on the cross side of life; the resurrection is to come (4:13-15). Cruciform ministry constitutes his self understanding as an apostle and invites us to see our ministries in the same light."

"First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Transfiguration, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

It has been a while since we have been into the letter of Paul to the church at lets have a little refresher. It is written sometime in the late 50's; and possibly from Macedonia or on the way to Ephesus. Paul is out and about traveling to his communities and supporting them. He is also quick to correct misunderstandings. In particular this letter is addressed at problems within the community. One can easily imagine a letter being written to Paul with myriad complaints. As a priest, pastor or bishop today...we know letters like these from our folks. We have to be careful to not normalize Paul's letters as they are meant to be specific guidance for specific contexts and situations.

We might infer that Paul is dealing with some who are not happy with his own teaching. It is almost as if someone wrote and said, "Paul you are making this all too complicated. It is this complicated theology of yours that keeps us from growing."

Paul's response goes something like this. God's gospel doesn't work like the rest of the world. If you are all caught up in a world that trades loyalty for power, bribes officials, or is working a hustle to get you ahead in life...well then this Gospel of God in Christ Jesus is simply not going to make sense. 

Remember, this isn't news. The book of Deuteronomy describes God as one who has no partiality and cannot be bribed! And, this God loves the lost, least, fatherless, widow, and the sin-sick soul. 

So, this is not about you liking me, or getting me to like you as your leader. This is not about getting God to like you. This is not about appeasing lesser gods on family altars for good harvests, wealth, and children. That isn't the way our God works. 

God came in the form of Jesus Christ - a human being. Weakness proves to be power in this Gospel, death is life, and the least will be the greatest. In this way Jesus is flipping the old religion game. 

So, yes, if you are hustling then you will be blinded. Because, all this God invites you to do is believe that God will save you and you can stop all that religious business. For all of us stuck in the world of exchange rates for love and success this Gospel is a gift. Paul writes:“Let light shine out of darkness." At the end of the day I am a desperate man...give me some of that light!

Some Thoughts on 2 Kings 2:1-15

"The opening verse of this pericope hints at the focus of the following narrative, reminding the reader that everything that follows must be read in light of the end of the story."

Commentary, 2 Kings 2:1-12, W. Dennis Tucker, Jr., Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"Our reliance on technical reasoning to fix whatever the problem d'jour plots us in the narrative in a circumstance similar to faithless Israel, albeit on a much more powerful and grandiose scale."

"The Politics of 2 Kings 2:1-12," Timothy F. Simpson, Political Theology, 2012.

The reading for this Sunday is the transition from Elijah to Elisha. The mantle of Sinai prophet is passed along. They are on their way to one of the holy Sinai cult sites - Bethel. They make their way down to Jericho. There they are met by local prophets and keepers of the tradition. So it is they the go on to the Jordan. Elisha travels the whole way with Elijah. 

When they arrive at the Jordan Elijah takes up his mantle and strikes the water with it. Here then the waters divide and they are able to cross on dry ground. The mantle is the great shawl that was worn across his shoulders.

We are meant to see in this journey a walking and claiming of the land promised by Elisha. They crossing over is no mere crossing over but a reenactment of the crossing over the Jordan into the land that is promised.

On the other side Elijah plainly passes on a double spirit of his prophetic powers to Elisha. After this a chariot of fire and horses come down and take Elijah away in the whirlwind. Elisha is left grieved by the event. He then picks the mantle and puts it on. He then reverses the river Jordan crossing. 

We know historically that the prophetic Sinai tradition was strong, especially in the North, but as some scholars now point out in the South as well. Jeremiah certainly being one of those great southern prophets. Nevertheless what we see here is a deep connection with all that is past, with the covenant theology rooted in their tradition.

Elisha's very passing over is not only meant for us readers to see that he will also be a great prophet, or that he is the inheritor of Elijah's spirit, or that he is welcomed by the local prophetic schools. There is, you see, a message we are meant to receive. God makes way, God delivers, God will take care. The prophet themselves is not some kind of inheritor of a magic mantle as he is a very participation in the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt. His prophecy and his ministry is rooted in the delivering act of the God who frees Israel and hears the cries of his people.

Now, here is what is interesting about this text. We are fascinated with the story of Jesus as a parallel story to the Exodus. And, if we read through Luke we get very confused when this doesn't happen. Why? Well, because Luke is appears very interested in connecting Jesus with Moses only, but with the prophets. And, especially Elijah narratives.

I very much like what Richard Hays says about this. He offers that Luke repeatedly is avoiding a typology here. Where as John seems to reject typologies and seek to accentuate uniqueness, and Matthew and Mark seem to create typologies... instead Luke allows for Moses and the prophets to hover int he background. Hays writes:
"Luke does not permit his readers to linger over either one as a distinctively privileged precursor or typological pattern. Instead, they appear on the flickering backdrop, lending depth and resonance to the story of Jesus; then the images shift again, and the story moves on." (Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, p 202).
What I want to say here is important, I think the lectionary makes a mistake. Mark is playing with images from the Psalms, Daniel, Deuteronomy, and Exodus. Attaching this passage from 2 Kings makes for an odd choice. In Mark's Gospel the connecting person to the Elijah stories are connected to John the Baptist. (Ibid.) Preacher be warned not to mix too much the Old and New Testament story this week!

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