14 February 2021 – Transfiguration Sunday
Written by Pastor Bryan Niebanck
Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” ~ Mark 9:7
When I was going to college in Albany, I met many loving people who took me under their wing. They drove me to church, since I did not yet have a car at the time, so that I did not have to take an hour bus ride every Sunday. I took the bus to church the first time I chose to attend, and I did not even have to take the bus back on my first day. Not only did they drive me back to my college, but they took me out to lunch that first visit as well. They continued to drive me to church and take me out to lunch every single week for the whole three years that I was a part of that community in Albany, New York. This is what I would call a welcoming church.
One of the nuggets that I took from that small church community in Albany is the way they valued the small things in life. Going out for a meal was one of the strongest ways for them to stay connected with their friends. Many times, there was an open invite. I met a number of their friends throughout the year. In addition to their Sunday lunch after church, there was a different group who got together on a week night, the same night each week. It was family time for them, the same time each week. They could spend hours together at the same restaurant, catching up and spending valuable family and friend time together. I took note of this because I loved seeing the connections that were built. Although I did not have time in a busy college schedule to join them for their week night dinners, except for a couple of times, I noted that I would like to do something like this one day. We can live with the same people and worship with the same people each day or each week, but what happens if we do not take time out of our day, at least once a week, to truly enjoy each other for the sake of being together? Relationships can easily dry up. I know that Fireside has had something similar to this when the Gleanor’s were active, and will again. I believe that each family should try to have something like this as well. It is what builds a healthy and loving family. As I see the benefits that this has, I have to ask myself if I give the same commitment to getting together and building relationships not only with my friends, but with God. Do I and can I regularly set aside time each week to be with God? If I do not, what will happen?
Today is Valentine’s Day, which is a widely celebrated holiday especially in the United States. Couples all around the country will be arranging their special dinners and date nights tonight. Some will be going all out and budgeting for an expensive restaurant to show their love; others will be staying home for a quiet movie night and take out. Couples will be expressing their love to each other, hopefully in the love language of their partners, which they have learned. Gary Chapman wrote a book about love languages, called The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. He argues that we need to make an effort to lower the divorce rate in this country; currently about 1 in 2 couples end their marriages in a divorce. In order to do that, he writes, we need to know how to make love last, and that includes knowing that after the initial butterflies fly away and partners realize that their spouses are not Mr. or Mrs. Perfect who agrees with him or her in just about everything, there is another way to express love and work through the challenges that always arise. It does not mean that love is not still in the air; it is just a different kind of love. The languages are receiving gifts, spending time together, doing acts of service, physically engaging with each other, and giving words of affirmation. Each person has a different love language. To express love, you should find things that you enjoy doing together, and also learn to express love in your partner’s most prominent love languages.
What is God’s love language? Learning the love language of your partner is very important, if you are to have a strong marriage; therefore, if we are to have a strong relationship with God, we should try to learn the love language of God. Jesus told us that the most important commandment in the Bible is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). We may not feel romantic love with God, but we can still feel love. We need to feel love. It is difficult to be physically connected with God, so physical touch is likely not God’s language. Neither is sacrifice, or receiving gifts. In Isaiah, God said, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats” (Isaiah 11:1). The prophet Hosea wrote of God’s will, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Hebrews explains why they are now unnecessary: “Now when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices” (Hebrews 10:18). God wants us to experience steadfast love of God and knowledge of God, instead. God’s love languages are some combination between spending time together, doing acts of service, and giving words of affirmation (praise). We carry out these ways to express our love in Bible study and prayer, living the life of the church and serving others, and worshipping God.
God gave Peter, James, and John a direct command during the transfiguration of Jesus. The disciples who were with Jesus were terrified when they saw Jesus transform into something described as “dazzling white” (Mark 9:3). They were probably even more terrified when they saw long deceased Moses and Elijah with him. As Peter tried to overcome his fear and speak, offering to build a house for each of the three, the voice of God broke through the fear: “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”” (Mark 9:7). Jesus taught us how to express our love to God in Bible study and prayer, how to live the life of the church and serve others, and how to worship God. This experience proved to Peter, James, and John, if it was not proven already, that Jesus is divine, and that his word is the word of God. After we have gone through the season of Epiphany, where Jesus gathered us and called us to travel with him, some of us bewildered by his teaching and others not yet knowing why we have obeyed the call, we come to the transfiguration. The new disciples had been bewildered, some perhaps wondering why they had made this commitment and others in pure awe of what Jesus was doing, and now a select three were exposed to a divine conversation to prove the authority and appointment that had been given by God to Jesus. If we want to learn how to express our love for God in God’s love languages, we need to listen to Jesus!
The story of the Transfiguration appears just after the tide has turned in the Gospel of Mark. Mark 8 begins with more miracles, which had decorated the first seven chapters of the book of Mark. Midway through Mark 8, however, Peter reveals the identity of Jesus as the true Messiah (Mark 8:29). Following this, Jesus began to teach the disciples that he must suffer and die. When Peter rebuked Jesus privately for this claim, Jesus responded harshly: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mark 8:33). Many are distracted by human things, wanting power, respect, or wealth. But “what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36). Jesus preached that we must value our spiritual lives more than our human lives, and that we must take up a cross, enduring suffering, as we follow him (Mark 8:34). Following this sudden change in the ministry of Jesus, the disciples were naturally confused. It stands to reason that they were terrified when they saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus. Moses and Elijah had both been taken up into the sky, from a mountain and from the Jordan, respectively. Was this the day that they were to lose Jesus?
Fortunately for them, it was not, but it did change the way that they saw Jesus and listened to him. They asked more questions (Mark 9:11). Jesus had been declared as Messiah among them. The disciples realized who Jesus was, and this identity was confirmed for them in this moment. What was left for them to understand was how they would hear and understand what Jesus had to say to them. How do we listen to Jesus?
John Wesley once said, “Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry; because I never undertake any more work than I can go through with perfect calmness of spirit” (Letter to “a member of the society,” December 10, 1777, in Emory, The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, 6:784). Spending time in the “calmness of spirit” is one way that we listen to Jesus. We can call on this calm when we feel terrified. It will teach us to ask more questions of God and listen for their answers rather than for rebuking Jesus because we are afraid of what will happen if what he says comes true. We learn to feel comforted by the Word and by our prayers. We are called to also learn how to serve the church so that it can grow. We recognize that God is revealed in the person of Jesus, and in what Jesus taught us to do. The work that we do, therefore, is a manifestation of God here in our lives today. We listen to Jesus by volunteering to lead projects in the church, as we are able, just as the disciples volunteered to give Jesus their very livelihood. Finally, a third way that we listen to Jesus is by spreading the words of affirmation that Jesus gave us.
We must learn, if we have not already, to regularly set aside time each week to be with God. We may not witness another Transfiguration, but we can and will witness many wonderful things happen that we may have been too busy to notice before. You might respond as Elisha did, saying “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you” (2 Kings 2:4). When we say that we live with haste, but not with hurry, we should slow down to appreciate God, but we should never let up on our efforts to understand how we listen to Jesus. Donald Booz, a District Executive of the Church of the Brethren, noted, “faith communities can become safe places for both members and seekers to explore the various ways that the identity of Jesus is being revealed. There is also this: not only Jesus’ identity, but also his way of discipleship is being revealed” (B.1.457). Today, we must not let up on figuring out how to be disciples of Jesus. It will start by relying more deeply on God in the midst of suffering, and to do that, we must seek to spend time with God. Practice God’s love languages. Practice with haste. The season of Epiphany has ended. The gathering of the first disciples has been done. Next, we learn more about discipleship. We learn how we can make it through this world by following Jesus. We learn how to draw closer to God, to love God, and to love one another. We prepare for the season of Lent. Have you made a commitment to spend regular time with God? Devote. Serve. Worship. It is never one and done. It is the way to make it through. It is the way that God most understands our love. Love is in the air. Thanks be to God. Amen.
2 Kings 2:1-12
2:1 Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.
2:2 Elijah 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.
2:3 The 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.”
2:4 Elijah 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.
2:5 The 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.”
2:6 Then 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.
2:7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.
2:8 Then 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.
2:9 When 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.”
2:10 He 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.”
2:11 As 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.
2:12 Elisha 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.
9:2 Six 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,
9:3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.
9:4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
9:5 Then 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.”
9:6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
9:8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9:9 As 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.