Feb. 14, 2021 (Transfiguration Sunday)

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, the resplendent light of your truth shines from the mountaintop into our hearts. Transfigure us by your beloved Son, and illumine the world with your image, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

2 Kings 2:1-12

1Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
4Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”
6Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

Psalm 50:1-6

1The mighty one, God the Lord, has spoken;
  calling the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty,
God shines forth in glory. 
3Our God will come and will not keep silence;
  with a consuming flame before, and round about a raging storm.
4God calls the heavens and the earth from above
to witness the judgment of the people.
5“Gather before me my loyal followers,
  those who have made a covenant with me and sealed it with sacrifice.”
6The heavens declare the rightness of God’s cause,
for it is God who is judge. 

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

3Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Mark 9:2-9

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Sermon – Pr Meggan Manlove

The story of Jesus’ Transfiguration points us to mystery.  It’s a mystery beyond the reach of historical reconstruction or scientific verification. We are all children of the Enlightenment, whether we are lab scientists or social workers. The story of the transfiguration attempts to draw us into who Jesus is.  We do not sit comfortably with mystery.  We want everything to be factual. Today I am going to draw on two different traditions. Hopefully this will help us hear the story in a new way.

Two summers ago, when I was back in my hometown of Custer, South Dakota, I spent a few hours with Larry Peterson, a family friend and Lutheran pastor. Around twenty years of Larry’s ministry was serving as director of the retreat center on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We talked about the ways Lakota Christians interpret a variety of scriptural passages, but what stood out to me was the interpretation of the Transfiguration. 

Larry told me this story about when he was serving a White congregation in Hill City. “When I first came to the Black Hills again, in 1980, I got involved in a text study group meeting at St. Matthew’s Church in Rapid City.  This Episcopal Church served mostly Native American people, and the Priest was Fr. Bob Two Bulls. In our text study we were looking at the Transfiguration text and he said, ‘This is my favorite text.’ I thought he was joking, but I asked him why he liked this text so much. He responded that this was a text that everyone in his congregation could relate to. I told him that I find this to be a very difficult text because basically no one in my congregation, including myself, can relate to the event of this text. 

Bob Two Bulls went on to share with me what the vision quest is all about, and that even if a member of his congregation had never, personally, been on such a quest, they would know how meaningful an experience it is for the community.  Oftentimes a Lakota person will go on a vision quest if they are having a hard time figuring out direction for their life, or if they are struggling to know how they might help a member of their community who is going through a particularly difficult time in their life. 

When the person decides to take part in this ‘Crying for a vision’ they have a Spiritual leader prepare them, take them to a place to be alone as they seek to have this vision, and then meet with them following the two or three days they spend ‘On the hill.’ The person comes back to the Spiritual leader and relays to that person what they heard on the hill. The speaker may have been someone from the past (a grandparent, aunt, or uncle who has died), an animal, or just a voice. The Spiritual leader helps them understand what the message may mean, and how they might live in response to this vision.” 

I personally will never hear the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration the same again. Was Jesus crying for a vision? Maybe. The heavens had broken open during his baptism and he had heard a voice from heaven, “You are my son.” Maybe, having predicted his death and knowing what lie ahead, he wanted to hear the voice again. We can never be sure what Jesus was seeking. This disciples too had a vision. They saw their friend and teacher’s outside appearance change to dazzling. Further, they hear the voice affirm that this is God’s Son and that the imperative: “Listen to him.”

One other piece of this story that really stood out to me as I set it beside the Native American vision quest was the place of these other human beings. What I mean is, a vision quest may be a solitary experience, but it involves community, with other people helping interpret the vision and experience. That is as significant as the vision itself. This leads us into to the other tradition that may be helpful.

The Transfiguration, with all that seems strange to my post-Enlightenment ears and brain, also reminds me of what Celtic spirituality refers to as liminal spaces. Liminal space is a place of transition, it’s the moment in time caught between then and now, the past and the not yet. If that does not describe Jesus between his predictions about his death and resurrection and his time in Jerusalem, what does? Liminal spaces can make us feel uncomfortable—see Peter, who is in such a tizzy. 

And yet, eve in its awkwardness, there is a sacredness in liminal space. If we move through it well, then we move into fullness. The poet, John O’Donohue made this connection with sacredness and liminal space, which he referred to as thresholds, saying, “when we cross a new threshold worthily…we heal the patters of repetition that were in us, that had us caught somewhere. I think beauty in that sense is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth.” 

Shemaiah Gonzaelz says that “When we push through liminal space, beauty breaks through in a glimmer as we see a truer reflection of who we are meant to be.” She continues by explaining how crucial community is to this process. It makes me mindful that Jesus did not go up the mountain alone. This is similar to but quite different from his 40 days in the Wilderness. He takes Peter, James, and John with him. If he had gone alone, it seems that he would not have remained that way. Elijah and Moses appear.

Gonzaelz, my guide for liminal spaces, writes, “I have been known to gather moss in liminal space, and it is community that has saved me. Community serves as a mirror, to see my weakness in the reflection of another but also to shine light on my strengths. In community I learn how to lean on another for support, knowing there will be a time when I will supply to shoulder to cry on or the arm to lean upon. In community I see who I was created to be and I rest, gathering strength for the transition to come. This is the crux of liminal space, as we can only come into fullness as humans in community, when we realize we are not alone.”

The transfiguration of Jesus comes at a point of major transition as he shifts from his active ministry among the people toward Jerusalem, the place of his death and resurrection. Jesus knows how hard it will be for his disciples to understand this.  And so, he takes his closest disciples, his community, and heads up a mountain. He sets out on a sort of vision quest during this transition time.  

On the mountain, they come into the presence of God the Father, and their hearts and souls are opened. They see what their eyes can barely believe. Their friend and teacher, the very human Jesus, is transfigured before them.  His clothes become dazzling white. Elijah and Moses appear before them. 

Jesus was affirmed as God’s Son, on a mission that will lead to suffering and death. Other passion predictions will follow, but none of them will be divinely affirmed as the first. The word from the cloud, “Listen to him,” is a reminder to pay attention to Jesus’ reliable words. He will continue to teach and heal. Ultimately this will all lead to his laying down his life.

Part of what it means to follow Jesus is to look for where God’s glorious new life bursts forth minute by minute. It means having the eyes of faith to see it. Eyes of faith perceive the presence of God where God is not noticeable, where we do not expect to find God, whether it is in a stranger’s welcome, the hospitality of a child, or even in someone’s question about God. Look for God where God is not noticeable and hold onto the promise that you never need to find him. And remember that you need a community to be a faithful disciple or follower of Jesus. Certainly, you can have moments of solitude and those can be life-giving, but we need other human beings.

I return to those words of Sheimaiah Gonzalez: “In community I see who I was created to be, and I rest, gathering strength for the transition to come. This is the crux of liminal space, as we can only come into fullness as humans in community, when we realize we are not alone.” 

Our Lenten theme, starting Ash Wednesday and carried through each of the midweek worship services, is Created for Community. Perhaps we can find some liminal spaces this year during Lent. Further, even though, we are physically separated, we can be mindful that we are part of so many communities—the creation, all the saints, our neighbors, those on the margins, and of Jesus Christ himself. From the snow silently falling, the neighbor we have gotten to know, the people experiencing homelessness, the friend who died, the Word and Sacraments, all of these communities God has made us part of are how we follow the imperative central to the Transfiguration Story, “Listen to him.” Amen. 

Prayers of Intercession

Guided by Christ made known to the nations, let us offer our prayers for the church, the world, and all people in need.

A brief silence.For the gospel proclaimed in word and deed, for communities of faith far and near, and for all who show the face of Christ throughout the world, let us pray. Have mercy, O God.

For creation: sun, moon and stars; life forming in the dark earth and ocean deep; mountains, clouds and storms, and creatures seen and unseen, and for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our stewardship of God’s creation, let us pray. Have mercy, O God.

For those responsible for safety and protection: for emergency responders and security guards, attorneys and advocates, civil servants and leaders of governments, that they witness to mercy and justice throughout the world, let us pray.

Have mercy, O God.For all who suffer this day (especially), that Christ our healer transform sickness into health, loneliness into companionship, bereavement into consolation, and suffering into peace, let us pray.Have mercy, O God.

For companions on life’s journey in this worshiping community, for loved ones who cannot be with us this day, and for guidance during struggles we face, that God’s glory is revealed around and among us, let us pray. Have mercy, O God.

Here other intercessions may be offered.In thanksgiving for the faithful departed who now rest from their earthly pilgrimage (especially missionaries Cyril and Methodius), that their lives of service and prayer inspire us in our living, let us pray. Have mercy, O God.

Merciful God, hear the prayers of your people, spoken or silent, for the sake of the one who dwells among us, your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

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2 Responses to Feb. 14, 2021 (Transfiguration Sunday)

  1. Donna Shines says:

    So much thought, love, and intention goes into your sermons, my friend. Thank you for making them available to all!!

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