Transfiguration Sunday – B LSB #770
Text – 2 Kings 2:8
Then Elijah took his cloak & rolled it up & struck the water, & the water was parted to the one side & to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground.
Elijah the prophet did incredible things. He lived about 850 years before Jesus was born, & not much is known of his early life. He arrived on the scene, calling Israel to return to the Lord in repentance, & to turn away from worshipping an idol called Baal. He prophesied for 15 years or so & then was gone – literally as God took him into heaven with a whirlwind.
In the OT reading, we heard about one of those incredible events. Elijah & Elisha came to the Jordan River where Elijah took off his cloak & struck the water. The water spread apart & the two of them crossed on a dry river bed. Incredible!
Earlier in his ministry the region had been going through a severe three year drought. Especially for the poor, food was scarce. Elijah met a widow, with a young son, when mother & boy had enough flour & oil for only one more meal. Then they’d die of starvation. Elijah asked the woman to make the meal for him instead. She did, & what happened next was incredible.
The flour & oil did not run out. Day after day they had enough to eat. It was like the Energizer Bunny – the flour & oil kept going & going & going. They survived the drought. Then, unexpectedly, the widow’s son died anyway. She accused Elijah of bringing much trouble & grief into her life, so what happened next was incredible.
Elijah took the boy to an upper room & stretched out over him. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to give the boy’s life back. The Lord did! The woman’s son began to breathe again. Elijah had done an incredible miracle, & now the widow was convinced that Elijah was indeed a man sent from God. Another time Elijah was sent to challenge the king of Israel, Ahab, who’d married a woman named Jezebel – a powerful & vengeful queen. She’d brought hundreds of false prophets with her, into Israel, to lead the people to worship Baal. In order to call the people back to the Lord, Elijah challenged 450 of those prophets to a contest. An altar was built & the terms were simple: call down fire from above to destroy the sacrifice on the altar.
The false prophets danced & prayed to their gods for hours. They cut themselves so they could pray louder. Nothing happened. Elijah had the stone altar he built soaked with water. He prayed. What happened next was incredible. Flames engulfed the sacrifice, the altar & the water. The God of Israel burned up everything. It was now obvious who the true Lord was.
Finally, the time came for Elijah to hand off his duties. He was to be taken up from this world, & once again how this happened was incredible. After a day of traveling from place to place, the time came. Elijah & Elisha were standing together when a fiery chariot & horses came out of the sky. We’re not sure just how it happened, but Elijah was scooped up & taken away.
If you read the narrative carefully you realize that Elijah did not die. He was one of two people who did not go through death when they left this world. He was just taken up in the whirlwind to be with the Lord. Incredible. Elijah did many incredible things; therefore, he seems rather strange & far away from us & from our lives.
It’s difficult to relate to someone so different & distant from the people we know, living rather uneventful lives as we do. More than 2900 years separate us from Elijah & his life was filled with eye popping, miraculous moments of God’s power & glory. We live ordinary lives & most of our days are just routine.
If you have children, the days are filled with driving to school, trying to get everyone fed & where they need to be on time. We have far more to eat than that widow did, but somehow it turns out to be fast food in the car or a quick microwave meal because we’re too exhausted to cook. No Energizer Bunny to keep us going. If you have an empty nest, the days seem to run together. It’s the same old things each day. Eat, clean, TV shows, run a couple errands, sleep. Do it again & again & again. Elijah lived an eventful life, but our days seem like a continuous rerun – same old, same old.
We do have those moments when something out of the ordinary happens – a trip to see the grandkids, a concert, winning the Cotton Bowl, a nice evening out for just the two of you. There are planned vacations & surprise parties, but then it’s back to the routine again. The eventful times fly right on by, while Elijah’s big moments are remembered for 2900 years.
Elijah – incredible. You & me – uneventful & ordinary.
Except . . . for all the incredible things Elijah did, he was more like we are than we may realize. When you look past the miracles to see Elijah the person, you find someone who’s lonely & afraid. You’d think, seeing all God did through him, that he’d be incredibly strong & confident. But he had his moments. Much of his time he was working alone.
One time he was so down he believed he was the only person, in all the world, who still believed in the true God. Now that’s lonely. And after that great victory over the false prophets, what does Elijah do? He finds out that Queen Jezebel is hopping mad & wants him dead. So he runs for his life & hides in the wilderness.
This great man of God had his moments of weakness, times when he was filled with doubts. Now that I can identify with, & so can you. A cartoon once illustrated that perfectly. There was a school picnic for a bunch of teenagers. Kids are everywhere & in the center is a young girl. She’s talking on the phone & says, “I’m so glad you called. I was so lonely.”
In the middle of all those classmates & surrounded by all that energy she was alone. How close & how real that loneliness is for each one of us. We’re so connected with phones & Facebook & text messages, yet deep inside we long for relationships that will take away the loneliness. So many people with so many ways to keep in touch; yet so few close relationships & so much loneliness. “… [Elijah] sat down under a solitary broom tree & prayed that he might die: ‘I have had enough, LORD, take my life…’” (1 Kings 19:4 NLT)
Elijah was afraid to go on living, & we’re afraid of so many things as well. During the sermon, a pastor once handed out 3×5 cards & told people to write down their greatest fears. What would you write? What do you fear?
Is it a disaster that takes away your home & possessions? Is it the death of someone you love? How about the loss of your mind with dementia? None of us enjoy the breaking of a relationship or a crime that violates our home or our body. Financial setbacks cause anxiety if not outright fear. People also fear having a child go down a very sad & tragic path in life.
What if you lost your relationship with the Lord due to a sinful weakness in your life or just growing doubts about Him? Elijah feared for his life, & so do we, therefore, Elijah the prophet & miracle worker is not so distant & strange after all. Now, jump ahead with me some 900 years. Jesus is on a mountain with Peter, James & John. What happens next is incredible.
Jesus suddenly changes. Dazzling white, unbelievably bright, He’s transfigured right before the disciples’ eyes. They get a glimpse of Jesus’s glory. And who’s there with Jesus? Moses & Elijah. Elijah is back, & he’s talking with Jesus, but Elijah is not the center of attention. Jesus is. The Father speaks: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Then, Elijah & Moses disappear & only Jesus is left. That focus of attention should not surprise us. It was the same focus thousands of years ago when Elijah was a prophet. All those incredible things he did were not to be the center of attention, but to turn the people’s attention to their heavenly Father. He called the people back in his day to worship the Lord & Him only. On that Mount of Transfiguration he does something similar for you. Before Elijah disappears, he calls you to see, to listen to, to turn to, to believe in, to worship & to follow only Jesus. How did he do that? It was ordinary & uneventful. Elijah was simply standing next to Jesus & talking with Him.
They were talking about incredible things of course, but not Elijah’s incredible things. It was the incredible things Jesus would do in Jerusalem. You see, when Jesus comes down from this mountain, He sets His face & heads into Jerusalem to do incredible things on your behalf.
Jesus is alone when He does these things. Sure, his disciples are there with him, for a while. But in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prays & they fall asleep. Jesus is arrested & they run away. He goes to the cross alone so that you will never ever be alone. On that cross, the Son of God bears all our loneliness & each one of our fears.
Whatever you would write on your 3×5 card is there on the shoulders of Jesus, along with everyone else’s. The old familiar hymn has it right. What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins & griefs to bear.
You may have heard of this type of thing. It’s typical for group healing or recovery events. You take a card that has written on it a fear or a sin or a lonely grief, whatever is burdening you, & bring it to the cross. The cards are put into a bowl, & then like the fire that came down on the altar when Elijah did battle against the false prophets, the cards are burned.
Beneath the cross of Jesus, something incredible happens. Our fears & loneliness, our sins & griefs, our moments of weakness are given to the Lamb of God, & He takes them as His own. Our six Wednesday evening Lenten services are such a blessing, because gathering here, beneath the cross together; we have our fears & loneliness, sins & griefs, taken away.
Then, as if Jesus’ death for our sins were not incredible enough, something more
happens in Jerusalem. In three days, Jesus reappears in glory. The tomb is empty & Jesus is alive, never to leave you. In a way, we’re very much like Elijah. He stood next to Jesus & talked with Him. Jesus, risen from the dead, is always standing next to us, ready to listen when we talk with Him.
Yes, Jesus is standing next to us in the uneventful, ordinary moments of life – during the errands we run, as we drive through the fast food place & when we microwave our dinner. He’s with us as we collapse into bed at night, too tired even to pray. He’s with us when we have a same old, same old day, as well as those times something incredibly exciting has happened.
Most of all, when our loneliness makes us doubt, or when the fears & anxiety come rushing in, Jesus is there with us especially then. Imagine the anxiety as He was being laid upon the cross so that the nails could be driven through His flesh & into the wood.
Again, think about Elijah. Even though he did some incredible things, I’m sure he’d tell us the most incredible thing of all was standing next to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, talking to Him about going to Jerusalem, going to the cross, & rising from the dead. Elijah would not want the focus on himself, as if he were someone incredible.
No, Elijah would want us to focus on Jesus because today & every day Jesus is standing beside us. Even in His resurrection glory, Jesus never leaves us nor forsakes us. He is always ready to talk & to listen. That is an incredible thing indeed! Amen.
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins & griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear – all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer! Have we trials & temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged – take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness – take it to the Lord in prayer. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet