Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
Narrative Lectionary: Transfiguration, Mark 8:27-9:8 (Psalm 27:1-4)
On Transfiguration Sunday, we begin with the story of Elijah taken up by God, and the passing of the mantle to Elisha in 2 Kings 2:1-12. Elisha knew that Elijah was to be taken up to heaven, yet refused to leave him, until they crossed the Jordan together. Elijah used his mantle, rolling it up and striking the river, just like Moses parted the Red Sea. When Elisha and Elijah crossed the Jordan together, it is as if they entered a space not of this world. Elisha asked Elijah for a double-portion of his spirit—asking that he become the spiritual heir of Elijah. Then the two were separated by a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire, and Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind. In a similar manner with the Gospel lesson, there are some physical places where the division between heaven and earth is thin, and in this space across the Jordan, Elisha was able to behold this vision of Elijah taken up. Following this passage, Elisha took up the mantle of Elijah, and struck the Jordan River to return to the other side.
The beginning portion of Psalm 50 is a reminder that God is not silent; God sees all, and calls the heavens and earth together in judgment. God calls specifically for the faithful to gather and renew the covenant by sacrifice. Fire is often referenced to God’s judgment—a purifying fire that removes blemishes, and this portion of the psalm reminds the listeners that God judges the faithful by the ways they keep the covenant. God desires purification: restoration to how things ought to be.
The Epistle readings conclude the letters to the Corinthians with 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. Paul was writing to the church in Corinth and was aware of the controversy surrounding him and the way he shared the Gospel. Paul refuses to water down the message of Christ, but boldly proclaims the Gospel, even as others turn to “the god of this world”—those who refuse to change their lives for Christ and instead focus on worldly gains. Paul declares that they do not proclaim themselves, but proclaim Jesus as Lord, and that they are called to share the Gospel of Jesus, and no other.
The Transfiguration marks a pivotal point in the Gospel of Mark and is the lesson for both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary. The Narrative Lectionary gives some further context: before Mark 8:27, Jesus’s ministry was preaching, teaching, healing, and proclaiming the realm of God on earth as it is in heaven. In 8:27, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and following Peter’s bold declaration that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus’s message turned toward the cross. He first tells of his upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus said this openly to all who could hear, but Peter took him aside and rebuked him. Jesus, in turn, rebuked Peter, by calling him Satan, a stumbling block fixed on human things and not on the divine. Jesus further instructed the crowd how to be his disciples: to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. It became clear in this moment what it really meant to follow Jesus, and it was also clear the disciples did not fully understand.
Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain. The mountain in this passage is similar to crossing the Jordan in the 2 Kings passage: they have passed into a space where both the spiritual and physical world are present. Suddenly, Jesus’s clothes become dazzling white as he is transfigured before them, and they see Moses and Elijah talking with him. Peter, who previously had the right answers before he rebuked Jesus, also gets this one wrong: he wants to make dwellings for the three of them, tents to signify that all three were divine (the Common English Bible uses the word “shrines” here to get the point across of what Peter was trying to do). At this moment, a cloud overshadows them, and tells them, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” The only other time we hear that voice is at Jesus’s baptism. Then suddenly, only Jesus is left with them. In verse 9, Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about what they have seen until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. Peter, and perhaps the other disciples, truly did not understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Whatever they had imagined, it wasn’t a Savior who openly talked about suffering and death. It wasn’t about giving up everything to follow him. And for a brief moment on the mountain, perhaps they thought they could still have their own vision of what a Messiah, or Messiahs, could be.
The supplementary passage to the Narrative Lectionary is Psalm 27:1-4. These first four verses sing of the psalmist’s trust in God: even when their enemies attack, or the armies surround them to bring war, they will be confident in God’s presence. They only ask that they live with God all their days, to know God’s love and blessing.
I have always found Transfiguration Sunday a difficult one to preach because we’re not quite sure what happened up there on the mountain. The description of the Transfiguration is vague. But with the context of the previous verses, we understand that this is the pivotal moment in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus has set his life and ministry toward Jerusalem, toward his own death on the cross. There are some who cannot grasp this, who just want “the good stuff,” that the Good News that is for them, the miracles and teachings that make them feel good. But the Gospel is good news for everyone, and to achieve that, even God will give up God’s power for the sake of humanity. We are all called to deny ourselves and take up our cross. We are all called to let go of the power and privilege of this world for the sake of one another. Jesus said in John 14:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus calls us all to lay down our power and privilege for one another. To show this, Jesus went up the mountain, and while Peter wanted to stay up there and worship Jesus, along with Moses and Elijah, God told them to listen to the Son. And the Son told them they had to go back down the mountain. We can’t stay back where things are safe. We can’t stay in our old way of thinking that only gives us “the good stuff.” We have to understand the suffering in the world. We have to be in solidarity with those who suffer. Only then, when we lay down our privilege and power, might we all be transformed and live into the kin-dom on earth.
Call to Worship
Stop and listen! The voice of God is calling to us.
God is calling us to listen to the Gospel news.
The voices of this world promise us worldly things,
But only God promises us eternity.
Stop for a moment. Pause. Take a deep breath.
(Pause for a few seconds)
Listen to what God is speaking in your heart.
May we be open to the word of God in our songs and stories,
in scripture and sermon.
Stop and listen! The voice of God is calling to you:
For we are God’s beloved children.
Prayer of Invocation
God Who Speaks, we hear the stories in Scripture, the words of the prophets, the tales of our ancestors, the songs of the psalmists and the proverbs of the poets. Help us to listen to the words You have given us, and to listen to the Word that became flesh and dwelled among us, Jesus Christ our Lord. When we hear God say, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” may we stop and listen. May we humble ourselves instead of thinking we know it all and we’ve heard it all before. Speak to us so we might listen in a new way, to know Your love in new ways and to share that love with the world. Invite us into this time and space that is Yours, so we might draw closer to You. Amen.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
We come to this time, O God, confessing that often what we believe is the Gospel is not Your Gospel. We water down the Gospel so that it makes us feel good, instead of living into the hard truth that we must turn back to Your ways and be in solidarity with those who suffer. We do not want to deny ourselves our power and privilege, and we do not want to take up our cross to follow You. We want things the easy way, O God, and we remake the kin-dom into our own dream, of a next life where everything is perfect, instead of doing the hard work of living into the kin-dom now, which calls us to be in solidarity with those on the margins, those who are oppressed, those who have suffered. Call us away from our own visions of escape and into the hard work of living right here, right now, and proclaiming the Good News in our lived lives. In the name of Jesus, who is in solidarity with us to the point of dying as one of us on the cross, we pray. Amen.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
When the world is too much for us, even as we try to live into the kin-dom, we remember that Jesus is the one who died for us and took upon this burden. Find rest in him and know that you are loved exactly as you are. None of us can do everything, and none of us will succeed in always living the Gospel, but when we try with our heart, when we do what we can to love one another, we know God’s love is with us. Give over your burdens to God, and trust in Christ. You are God’s beloved child, and with you, God is well pleased.
God of Transformation, we stand on the precipice of the metaphorical mountain, preparing to enter Lent, preparing to enter Your story of journeying in the wilderness and journeying toward the cross. We come to this moment recognizing our own need to transform our point of view: to look away from the fake gospel of this world that tells us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, that tells us if we work hard we will be blessed, and instead, turn to the Gospel of Truth: that to live is to die to the ways of this world. Help us to put aside the worldly measures of success and instead seek You and Your ways. We cannot go back to the simple understanding of being a good person to get into heaven, for that is a false gospel. Instead, we must work to dismantle systems and structures of sin in this world. To put ourselves in the shoes of those who have never had the opportunity to know a world without suffering and pain. To listen with kindness and compassion to the stories of injustice and wrongdoing, and work to restore what has been taken, repair what is broken, and pursue justice, in order to live into Your kin-dom. For only then might we understand that faith is more than a simple confession in Your sovereignty over us, but a lifelong commitment to solidarity with You, Jesus the Christ, who lived and died and lives again, and in whose name we pray. Amen.