Rev. George Miller
2 Kings 2:1-12
Feb 15, 2015
Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the day we decorate the church in white and prepare for the Season of Lent, leading us to the most glorious and important day of the year: Easter Sunday.
Transfiguration is an unusual word to describe an unusual story. In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, the Transfiguration goes like this:
Jesus and his ministry is going along swimmingly well. Like perfect Right Sharks he and the disciples are preaching, teaching, healing and feeding and becoming really popular while at.
They are winning the Super Bowl of life when Jesus drops this bombshell on them:
soon he will undergo great suffering, he will be rejected, and he will be killed.
Peter don’t want to hear any of that so he takes Jesus aside and says “Keep silent; don’t say such things.”
But Jesus rebukes his student and he ups the ante by saying that in order to follow him you must be willing to pick up your own cross.
Talk about being a Debbie Downer.
6 days later after breaking this news to Peter and the gang, Jesus takes the first 4 disciples up on a mountain for some alone time.
While there some amazing things happen. Jesus begins to radiate; his clothes become dazzling white as if he had used Oxi Clean.
Then Moses and the prophet Elijah appear and begin talking to Jesus.
Peter, perhaps still reeling from the bad news about Jesus’ death says “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here, let us make three dwellings.”
A cloud overshadows them and a voice says “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.”
Like “that” the moment is gone. Moses and Elijah are gone. Oxy clean clothes are gone.
Jesus, Peter, James, John and Andrew come back down the mountain and go right back to the reality of life and of work, healing a boy and casting out demons.
When faced with the reality of death, Peter acted as though he just wanted to deny it and silence any talk of it.
I get the sense that Peter would’ve loved to have stayed on that mountain and to never go back down; to have had that moment forever; for life…
…A few days ago at Gold’s Gym, while on the treadmill, a rap song came on by Nikki Minaj and Drake called “Moment for Life.”
This particular song, which came out in 2010, starts by stating “I believe that life is a prize; but to live doesn’t mean you’re alive.”
The chorus states “I wish I could have this moment for life, ‘cuase in this moment I just feel so alive.”
I bet you that’s how Peter felt when he saw Jesus being transfigured.
Then in the second verse it states “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.”
There is, perhaps, no greater truth in the entire world than that: everybody dies.
We do; we will.
Yet, so much of our lives are spent in denial of that simple, most basic reality.
We either become numb to that fact; or we act shocked and surprised when he hear of someone’s demise.
Why, after thousands of years of walking the earth are humans still uncomfortable with the reality that everyone will die?
This non-acceptance of the truth creates systems of denial and industries based around prolonging the inevitable.
People are so unwilling to accept that we grow up, we age, our bodies change, we die.
We need to accept this truth.
But we don’t.
And there’s a big difference between putting in a good fight and doing your best to live a full life, and of putting all your energy into denial.
That’s what I’m currently facing with my mother. As most of you know, my mom’s health has not been good for some time. Last week, in Scottsdale, she fell and was on the floor for 4 hours.
It took 2 people to pick her up and even then she refused to go to the ER or admit something major is wrong.
My siblings and I are scrambling, finding ways to assist her and help her understand that right now she may be living, but she is not alive.
She’s not doing what should be done, and there are a multitude of options that will empower her to live an active, healthy life.
One of those options is to move next to one of her kids. Another option is to accept that she is 68, and there is nothing wrong with that.
My Mom is stubborn; she’s got German genes; she’s a tough broad. She’s clinging as hard as she can to being a Right Shark, even if it kills her.
Of course, I’m just like her. I too know how to be stubborn; to be a German Right Shark.
I know what it’s like to be sick, really sick, and still go to school, still go to work, still shop for groceries as if nothing is wrong.
Such traits can be really effective and help get the job done.
But such traits can also be so destructive because if you never admit you’re sick, if you continue to carry on as if all is well, eventually your body says “no more” and eventually you burn out.
In ministry I’ve witnessed the harm of denial: people who refuse to use their walker and end up falling down and breaking a hip.
Folk who seclude themselves from the world because they don’t want anyone to see them in a less-than-perfect state.
Exhausted care givers who end up sick, hospitalized or dying first.
I’ve also witnessed the healing power of acceptance.
There was a couple in Michigan named Jim and Ruth. Jim was in hospice, fighting the good fight against death and of leaving behind his beautiful wife. He was given a day left to live.
When Jim was asked what he wanted, he stated “To be home…in the arms of Jesus.”
Ruth was asked what she wanted. It was so hard for her to hear and accept that Jim was ready to die. But she found the courage to say “If that is what you want; I accept it.”
With honest tears they kissed, hugged and Jim was taken back to their small, humble home in Grand Rapids to die with dignity.
But here’s the thing- Jim lived another year. It was a year in which every day Ruth and he knew it could be his last.
Instead of putting their energy into denial or running away from it, they accepted it, and in the acceptance they found a way to live.
Every day friends and loved ones visited. They played cards; they reminisced.
There were no pressures, no expectations. So, when Jim was tired he slept; when he was hungry he ate. The only things he had to expend his energy on were love, and life- he was alive.
The longer I am in ministry, the more I admire Jim and Ruth and think “that’s the way to face death head on and to live.”
I also wonder why we as Christians continue to be so in denial of death. We see a symbol of it, the cross, every time we worship. Yet we become numb to what it means.
We seem unable to accept that we get older, we do not stay the same, our bodies age, they break down, people leave, we die.
We cling to being a Right Shark, but here, this week, we are entering into the Season of Lent, and it’s a time in which we have no other choice but to accept the reality of death and to look at it directly as Jesus makes his way closer and closer to the cross.
I never realized it before, but Epiphany, the season leading up to Christmas, focuses us on the act of conception and birth, while Lent focuses us on death.
There’s no way we can deny our own mortality. Jesus doesn’t allow us to; scripture doesn’t allow us to.
The Cross doesn’t allow us to.
Today we have this reading from 2 Kings, which I think is one of the most poetic stories about death, denial, and of letting go.
In it we have the prophet Elijah who is aware that God is ready to call him from this earthly world. He is ready and unafraid to cross the Jordan River which is just a few kilometers east of him.
But his beloved student, Elisha, is not ready to say good bye. (Kind of how Peter did not want to hear Jesus talk about his suffering.)
So Elijah takes Elisha on what I call a “Journey of Preparation.”
First, they go south to Bethel. There a group of prophets meet them and say to Elisha “Do you know your teacher is soon to go away.”
Elisha, in denial, states “Yes I know, but I don’t want to hear it.”
Elijah gives his student another chance to accept the reality, but Elisha says “As long as you still have breath I’m not leaving you.”
So Elijah travels south-east to Jericho, where the walls once came tumbling down. More prophets meet them, letting Elisha know that soon his teacher will be gone.
“Yes, I know, but I’m not ready to hear it.”
Then Elijah goes east to the Jordan River, the place that separated the Promised Land from the wilderness.
A third group of prophets come out. They watch from afar, as Elijah takes off his coat, rolls it up, strikes the water, and it parts.
Elijah, who has accepted what is about to happen, says to his student “What do you need from me before I go?”
And in a moment of non-denial, Elisha says “Give me the ability to do my best to carry on your ministry and work in this world.”
With that acceptance, like Jim and Ruth, the two continue on their way, walking, talking, until eventually horses and a chariot of fire take Elijah away.
Elisha’s acceptance does not lessen the pain, but it allows him to be present.
“My Father, my Father,” he cries, ripping his clothes in two.
Eventually he goes back across the Jordan, back to Jericho and the land of the living, where he is greeted by the concerned and familiar faces of his fellow prophets.
Though it’s not easy, Elisha goes back to life, he goes back to living.
I sense that it took that round about journey from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan for that to happen.
Just like it may have taken Peter going up that mountain to see Jesus transfigured for him to accept Jesus’ fate.
As we must all take our own unique journey when it comes to our own mortality and to dealing with the mortality of those we love.
We can put all of our energy into building tents to try to keep death away. We can tell those around us to be quiet and not speak, but that doesn’t stop the natural cycle of life.
Building tents and silencing the truth do not prevent death but they can get in the way of life.
The ability to be really, and truly, alive.
To enjoy our time here on earth. To be present and as healthy as possible for our family, our friends, our community.
To know that moments on the mountain are great and worth having, but tents are temporary; shrines are for thanksgiving and contemplation
But the real moments are those that take place in the valley, on the flat land, in places like Jericho and Bethel, in places like Gilgal and any other place where people meet, people laugh, people suffer, people cry.
The real moments are the ones in which we have fellowship, we share meals, we dance, we sing, we plant gardens, we paint, we play pickleball, we put on plays, we golf, we cuddle on the couch.
The real moments are the ones in which we do mission and ministry, we reap, we sow, we act out our faith, we grow old.
The real moments are when we help others, we receive help, we experience birth, we experience death.
As the rap songs states, “life is a prize…but not everybody lives.”
There are moments in which we feel so alive, but there are many more moments in which we get to live, and those become the moments that perhaps matter the most.
The Gospel calls us to live. The Good News of Jesus Christ calls us to live.
The God who creates, saves and blesses, calls us to live.
The Holy Spirit empowers us and gives us the breath to live.
Even when it is painful or lonely, even when it hurts and we have to depend on someone else.
There will be times we need to escape to the mountaintop; there will be times we wish not to hear the truth. There will be times in which we just aimlessly have to wander as we prepare.
But with God, the Holy Three-In-One we hopefully each find our way to accept, to live, to thrive and to find our own ways to feel so alive.
Let this upcoming Season of Lent to be one of those times.
Amen and amen.