Today, February 11th, is one thing in our Episcopal Church Calendar—the last Sunday of Epiphany. I started out working on this sermon believing it was also the major Feast of the Transfiguration, due to the Gospel reading for today. However, the date for that feast celebrated in most church traditions is August 6th (which is also our son Jim III’s birthday!). So, that changed a bit what I had planned to say, but not by much. They tell us we should focus on the Gospel reading with our sermons, so that theme of transfiguration is still in place today. We all know that the Epiphany Season ends in two days with Shrove Tuesday, and then Ash Wednesday start off the beginning of Lent. There is plenty to participate in on these two days, with our own Pancake Day event on Tuesday most of the day, and the Ash Wednesday service at 6pm and a simple meal to start the season of Lent.
Today’s readings focus on transformation, with the Gospel especially speaking about the transfiguration of Jesus.
We see lots of transforming in the world around us—some things great, and some—not so much. Some happen over a long slow stretch of time, and some quickly.
There are some animals who can transform their appearance to look like their surroundings, to ward off dangerous predators, like the chameleon tree lizard. There are sea creatures like the cuttlefish, the peacock flounder, various squid species, and some types of octopus, and various spiders. The term chameleon now even describes that activity in an animal, or a person who changes to fool others).
Some transformations have not been so great—like that of the local economy here in Grays Harbor over the past 50 years or so. What once was a much more healthy place to live in terms of economic opportunity for all, is now a major struggle for many still around here. It provides us all many challenges in our own lives with our relatives, friends and those we have contact with.
I have had my own negative transformation over the past 5 years or so with my health. I’ve gained about 50 pounds since 2012, and I found out at some point that I had major heart issues to deal with, resulting in open heart surgery and attempts to rehab from that, and taking several meds daily I never knew existed before I started taking them.
There was a big transfiguration, or transformation, that occurred in our Old Testament reading today from 2 Kings. It was all about the prophets, the mentor Elijah, and the apprentice Elisha.
Elijah was a prophet and miracle worker who lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Ahab (9th century BC), according to the Books of Kings in the Hebrew Bible. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah defended the worship of the Jewish God over that of the Canaanite deity Baal. God also performed many miracles through Elijah, including resurrection (raising the dead) and bringing fire down from the sky. He is also portrayed as leading a school of prophets known as "the sons of the prophets", which we heard referenced today, as “50 men of the company of the prophets”. Elisha was, according to the Hebrew Bible, a prophet and a wonder-worker, too. He is said to have been a disciple and protégé of Elijah and, after Elijah was taken up into the whirlwind, accepted as the leader of the sons of the prophets.
Elijah was at the end of his life, and Elisha did not want him to go. So, even though Elijah told Elisha to stay so he could go to God, Elisha said he would stay with Elijah and wanted to see him actually go. Elisha got to see a last miracle of Elijah when he took his mantle (a cloak) and rolled it up and struck the river Jordan, parting it so Elijah and Elisha could cross it. The real transformation here was that the leadership of the God-led prophets was changing. Elijah had done God’s work and now it was time for Elisha to take over. And it happened in a dramatic way, the taking of Elijah in a whirlwind, with horses, chariots and fire, that the company of the prophets knew about and accepted Elisha as their new leader. (By the way, I do not see that happening in the way priests are changed out in our churches.)
In the Transfiguration story today in Mark’s Gospel there is certainly a physical quick transformation of Jesus’ appearance there on that “high mountain” near where his ministry had been happening. Mount Tabor many scholars believe is the traditional location where this occurred. It is a bit west of the Sea of Galilee and it rises up about 1800 ft above the surrounding area. The earliest identification of the Mount of Transfiguration as Tabor is by Origen in the 3rd century. It is also mentioned by St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. Jerome in the 4th century. The Church of the Transfiguration is located atop Mount Tabor. (Bonnie, Mary, and I saw it on our Israel trip in 2008.) Jesus, Peter, James and John (sounds like a rock band!) hike up to this place, away from the other apostles and the crowds, so that God can show the apostles who Jesus really is. And the event is so dramatic that Peter goes with his Jewish teaching and says they should built three booths to memorialize the figures of Moses, Elijah and Jesus they are seeing. God focused his efforts differently to recognize Jesus as His Beloved.
What is hoped by Jesus in this activity is that Peter, James and John learn who he really is and that their own ministry is so important to the world—it is transformative. What they can do can make an incredible difference for many who would listen to them. Jesus does tell them not to tell the other apostles what they had seen, I think because it would not be the same to the others as being there in person. (The other apostles would get other ways to be transformed by Jesus during their own experiences with him.)
What has happened in your own lives that has transformed it along the way? I know of several key events in my life—many involving Bonnie, St. John’s church in Kirkland, our house move to Raymond, and some other ones. Here at St. Mark’s, I have gathered up a lot of our own church history of the past 100+ years, and I think a major transformation that occurred here was the change from the long time part time paid priest model to the first local priest model in the early 1990s, and then the TCM model in the later 1990s and on. It slowly changed how our people looked at their own faith and their gifts and how they work well together with others to make the church work well. And our recognizing how that change helped us do more of God’s work through our outreach, with $$ and ourselves the past 10 years has also been transforming for us all.
This week we will enter another time for transformation—look for it during our upcoming season of Lent. Let’s ready ourselves with our event this Tuesday welcoming others to our house with our pancakes and our greetings—see what that can do to transform this community.