February 19, 2012 “ Last Epiphany B
2 Kings 2:1-12; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
About ten years ago or so, our daughter Meg, who was in high school, was the Lay Rector of Happening. Happening, for those of you who don’t know, may be the very best thing going on in the Diocese of Alabama. It’s kind of like Cursillo for high school students but even that doesn’t quite explain it. The event takes teenagers, at a crucial time in their development , and reminds them that, as they are growing up and figuring out who they are and what they are going to do with the rest of their lives, God loves them and is guiding them. They can count on that as they go through the tumultuous years of late adolescence and early adulthood. If you’re a teenager, you should make it a priority to go before you graduate. If you’re a parent or grandparent, you should make it a priority for your child or grandchild to go. It’s a life-changer. Anyway, back to when Meg was the lay rector. Happenings have a closing Eucharist and the lay rector leads the parts of the service that are not reserved for priests. So, as the service started, I heard Meg read the opening acclamation of the Eucharist: Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As she continued, it hit me like a brick that she was reading the words I had read so very many times myself. And it occurred to me, in a good way, that I was gradually being replaced. Here was a new generation of the faithful growing up to take my place. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon but, make no mistake, I won’t be around forever. And after I am gone, the next generation will carry on. Here recently I have been interviewing candidates for our next associate rector and some of the people I have been most impressed with are my daughter’s age. Every day I am getting more and more temporary. The church is moving forward, carrying on. We have our place in it, but it’s all much bigger than us. One day we won’t be here. Someone else will be, however, and that is a good thing. Faithfulness involves watching others carry the mantle, then, in our time, taking it up and carrying it for the time appointed to us, then eventually setting it down for someone else to carry.
Elijah and Elisha, in the Old Testament lesson, are going through this. The great prophet Elijah is nearing his end. As he and Elisha travel, prophets in each city tell Elisha that Eljiah’s death is near. Elijah keeps inviting Elisha to stay where he is but Elisha insists on following and staying close. Elisha asks for a special blessing as Elijah’s death gets closer and the mantle of authority passes on to him as Elijah is taken up into heaven in the whirlwind. Passing the mantle reminds us that each of us is temporary. The mantle reminds us that true power does not belong to us but to that which is above and beyond us. We’re temporary but the great power in life works through us while we are here, then works through those that come after us. The only power we have is what is given to us by God so we are encouraged to let go of our power struggles and trust God to empower us as needed.
The Gospel lesson, the famous story of the Transfiguration, shows the passing of the mantle from Elijah and Moses to Jesus the emerging Messiah. Peter and James and John, the inner circle of the apostles, are taken to the mountain with Jesus. There they have a mystical vision and get the clear message that, as big as Moses and Elijah were in terms of communicating God’s presence to the people, Jesus the Christ will be even bigger. This is my Son. Listen to him. There is a flow of God’s power in and through life. Pay attention to it. Trust it above anything else.
Sometimes we resist that message. I guess it’s easy to see why we do. Part of the message of this powerful ongoing power flow of God’s presence is the reminder that we are temporary. Sometimes we’re so uncomfortable with that truth that we ignore it. Instead of trusting the power that flows through life by God’s grace, we try to collect as much power as we can and hang on to it unreasonably.
It seems that, as humans, we have a fear of endings, a fear of the unknown, a fear of beginnings because they might bring something new and uncomfortable. Peter and James and John exhibit this in the transfiguration story. They want to build dwelling places right there on the mountain. Maybe they want to stop time and stay right there forever. Maybe they just want to prolong the moment as long as possible. Maybe they want something to come back and visit. Maybe, in their way, they want to put it on You Tube so they can watch it over and over again. But the voice from above shakes them out of this delusion and tells them simply to listen.
The word that is used here for listen has the same root as the word for obedience. It carries connotations of moving forward, following Jesus as he goes about more and more new things in his ministry. They want the event to last longer. For God and for Jesus, the brief moment of transfiguration is enough. There is new work to do down the mountain. Time is running out. They must be moving on. There’s a lot of talk about Jesus journeying. There’s not much talk of Jesus camping or residing. We don’t know God’s grace and power by staying here and hanging on to this moment. We know it by moving forward and trusting that grace and power to provide for us in what lies ahead.
Life is full of these transition moments. Certainly our church is in the midst of some big transition moments. A number of us have just returned from Diocesan Convention where our new Bishop, Kee Sloan, presided for the first time. He’s not Henry Parsley. He is his own man. The transition is being made and grace makes that a good thing. Right now, here at St. John’s, we are looking for a new associate rector, two actually, and a new organist. There will never be another Evan Garner and certainly there will never be another Harald Rohlig, but the transition is taking place. We miss those who move on. But there is a palpable air of excitement among us about just what might happen next. We don’t just move on with grim determination. We move on with huge excitement because our experience is that God keeps bringing about even better goodness. The resurrection of Christ embeds hopefulness into the fabric of our lives.
Certainly you have your own individual transitions you are going through. You may be trying to hang on to something that inevitably is passing away. There might be some huge step in your life looming over you. As you are tempted to hunker down, you might just hear the voice of God reminding you: my Son is with you in this moment. Listen to him. Trust him. Let go of your power struggle. Trust the power of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to lead you forward. Christ died so that we may have hope to face our own struggles. The cross shows us that the things we think will destroy us will always be transformed into that which gives us life. Times of transition certainly remind us that things are temporary but, even more, they reveal the eternal grace of our Lord God.