Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 15 Feb., 2015, Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Year B RCL: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-16; Mark 9:2-9
Light, fire, sun, consuming flame, dazzling brightness!
What strong images fill our scriptures today.
Our scriptures tell us of transformations, transitions, works in progress, works that fulfill God's will for us & the world. Before we explore our scriptures' 2 main events that involve “a crack” between our temporal world & eternity, as Harper's Bible Commentary describes the experience of Elisha & Elijah1 we'll look at facts about where Elijah & Elisha go that show people then lived much like we do.
● Their starting point, Gilgal, is one of several places with that name2 – think Decatur County & Decatur City near Atlanta. This Gilgal is a few miles from the important Bronze Age city Bethel, whose excavations reveal pavements, a reservoir, a drainage system, & houses we might call “up-scale”.3
● The Jordan River mostly flows below sea level4 through a 70-mile area of land. It twists more than our Flint River, snaking its way so much that the river is a total of 200 miles long.5
I wonder how much our lives – and those of Elijah, Elisha, & Peter, James & John, are like that twisting river with so many changes in direction. With what we know from our own lives' transitions, transformations & works in progress, are we surprised by Peter's reaction or by Elisha's?
Here Peter is with James & John, seeing Jesus transfigured on that mountain & he blurts out: Let us make 3 dwellings: one each for you, Jesus, for Moses, & for Elijah. He suggests making the temporary shelters that his people still use for special observances, including a festival that commemorates the 40 years of desert wandering when God's people lived in temporary shelters.6
How does Peter recognize Moses & Elijah since there is no photo ID in his day? Remember: Peter, James & John hear Jesus talking to Moses & Elijah. Their mountain-top experience is like what they know from scripture about Moses & Elijah.7
Peter blurts out because he is terrified. [Terror makes James & John speechless.] I wonder if terror prompts Elisha to shout out: "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!"
Both events involve that crack between our temporal world & eternity.8
Both involve people moving steadily toward major, life-changing events.9
In both, God's power confronts people.
Both involve bright light.
In Peter's case it's seeing the overwhelming glory of Jesus.10 In Elisha's case it's the brightness of that fiery chariot with its horses of fire. This story shows us the smooth transition of authority from Elijah to Elisha, including responsibility for the prophet's disciples, in the various communities to which they go.11
These disciples may not have been prophets themselves. Elisha will be their new leader. That's a lot of responsibility; no wonder Elisha asks a double portion of Elijah's spirit. What he's asking for, as the Jewish Study Bible & other sources note, is what Deut. 21:17 specifies for the eldest son to inherit: a portion twice that of other brothers. Elisha asks for the eldest son's portion since he is called to be the new leader.
When that crack between heaven & earth opens, Elisha blurts out “Father, Father!” When that crack between heaven & earth opens, Peter blurts out about a building project.
Notice: The cloud that overshadows the disciples brings them into the Mystery of Jesus' glorification12...
& reminds us of the cloud that overshadowed the mountain when Moses went up to meet with God.
It reminds us that Mystery is at the center of
our life in Christ.
Why do Moses & Elijah appear on that mountain?
What does Moses represent? [Law]
What does Elijah represent? [Prophets]
They meet with Jesus & show us that
the law & the prophets are fulfilled in Jesus.13
We see in our scriptures the stunning transformation of life in Jesus. And we are bold to ask in our Collect that God “Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of (Jesus') countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory...” We sound like Elisha asking for a double share of the Spirit.
The blessing we know that Elisha & the disciples do not know at the time of their experiences is that Christ has died, Christ is risen & Christ will come again. The encounters Elisha & the disciples have give them hope, insight & strength to carry on the work they are given to do.
On that mountain, Jesus & his disciples gain what they need for the journey down that mountain, down to the dirtiness of earth where they have hard work to do.
We have hard work, loving work, to do for God. We know that we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift lives in us & enables us to do the work God gives us to shine God's Light in all that we do.
Sometimes we shine it unintentionally; it's a natural part of what we do. Sometimes we shine it intentionally, as Morgan & Matthew will do in a special way today when they present their 1st born to God, make a public thanksgiving to God, & seek through Jesus God's guidance & blessing.
Like baby Sam here, growing & progressing in his skills, like this blessed family that has transformed from a couple into a family & is growing together in new ways, each of us is a work in progress.
We are undergoing transformation into Christ-likeness as God works in each of us.
May we remember what God says on that holy mountain:
“This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!”
Listen to him........
What do you hear Jesus saying to you?
Barclay, William. The Daily Bible Study: The Gospel of Mark. Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday. 1997.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1985.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Johnson. Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament:An Interpretation.. Revised Ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1999.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 5 Jan.. 2015.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Expanded Ed. Revised Stantard Version. Eds: Herbert G. May. Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press. 1977.
Tenney, Merrill C. Handy Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1965.
http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm. Accessed: 14 Feb. 2015.
1 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 324.
2 Harper’s Bible Dictionary. P. 348.
3 Ibid. Pp. 105-106.
4 Ibid. P. 504.
5 Tenney, Merrill C. Handy Dictionary of the Bible. P. 85.
7 Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. P. 139.
8 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 324.
9 Note in Harper's Bible Commentary P. 324 re Elijah/Elisha.
10 The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1077.
11 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 727.
12 Ibid. New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1077.