Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Transfiguration Sunday, Year B
February 14, 2021
Lessons: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people recognize the importance of good relationships, as well as the blessings that come from stewarding them.
Key Scripture: For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. – 2 Corinthians 4:5
One of my former confirmation students picked Elisha as a biblical figure with whom he resonated. While he had a difficult time articulating exactly why Elisha spoke to him, he was keen on Elisha’s relationship with his mentor, Elijah, and also on the wonders Elisha performed once he picked up Elijah’s mantle and received a double portion of his spirit. It’s a great story about relationship, perseverance, and love of God and God’s people.
In fact, all of this week’s lessons invite us to ponder the value of good relationships, both within our faith community and without. Relationships matter—greatly. We are not, as John Donne reminds, “islands unto ourselves.” We are built for and thrive when we have a circle of relationships that affirm, correct, bless, and challenge us. These relationships are no superficial acquaintances but rather deep friendships that are cultivated, tended, and maintained. In short, relationship takes effort. “Double portion” relationships, like that of Elijah and Elisha, take even more effort and investment.
If we as people of faith truly value God, neighbors, and our faith communities, then we need to do the hard, holy work of stewarding relationships, especially “double portion” ones. We can’t simply be a “drop-in/drop-out Christian,” one who checks in for worship periodically but has no interest in investing in the beloved community and deep, life-giving relationships. Discipleship, according to Jesus, is an all-in process for all stages of life. In that spirit, we offer possible entry points for all four lessons.
2 Kings 2:1-12: Elijah has served as Elisha’s mentor since the prophet first encounters Elisha as a young man plowing his father’s field. Elisha faithfully follows and serves Elijah until the time that his mentor is about to be taken into heaven by fiery horses and a fiery chariot. Elisha asks as a parting gift to receive a double portion of Elijah’s prophetic spirit. Knowing this is a hard thing Elijah promises that if Elisha sees him taken away, then his wish will be granted. His wish is, indeed, granted, the mantle of prophet settles on Elisha, and he serves many years and does many wonders in the land.
The story of Elijah and Elisha is a wonderful story of friendship, mentorship, and faithful stewardship of God’s gifts. Even when the other prophets of Israel appear to taunt Elisha about losing his mentor, the younger prophet is not dissuaded from following Elijah until he is taken up to Heaven. Elisha perseveres, even though he doesn’t exactly know what will happen. Can we cultivate “double portion” relationships today? Can we mentor one another in meaningful ways that increase growth in discipleship and stewardship of our relationships? What might that look like in a post-COVID world where so much has changed?
Psalm 50:1-6: Show up! Pay attention! The Creator of the Cosmos is calling all of creation to come together. Verse two introduces God as “the perfection of beauty” shining forth. Yep, one could definitely make a case for this psalm foreshadowing the Transfiguration, when Jesus calls three of his closest disciples and invites them to see just who he really is, the fullness of his divinity on glorious display that terrifies his disciples. The psalm also has an element of judgment, even though God says, “Gather to me my faithful ones…” (verse 5a). There is a covenant relationship at stake, a deep investment that God’s people keep breaking, and God keeps correcting and restoring. Just how deep does our relationship with the Creator and the creation run? How willing are we to show up and do the work of deep relationship with God and neighbor?
2 Corinthians 4:3-6: What do you envision when you think about the beloved community and the Christ who gathers us into community? Is it a place of safety and welcome? Is it a community where you can be vulnerable with others, where you will be uplifted and cared for as you uplift and care for others? Are you investing in relationships that matter, and are you willing to mentor newer members of the community? Is your worshiping community a place where guests can see the glory and goodness of Christ reflected in your faces, words, and actions? After all, the beloved community is not so much about us as individuals but rather as the Body of Christ in action in the world. If folks don’t get it, it shouldn’t be for lack of transparency and hospitality but rather the distractions and competing claims of the world. The beloved community should be a place where all of us are transfigured by Christ’s glory to be what this world deeply needs in a particular context/place.
Mark 9:2-9: Talk about a small-group ministry experience! Jesus takes three of his closest followers up the mountain for a foretaste of the reign-of-Christ-to-come, with Moses and Elijah and God’s voice from heaven. It’s a mind-bending and terrifying experience for them to see Jesus revealed in his true glory. I am reminded of Annie Dillard’s prescient observation in this quote:
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. ”
Yes, the “waking god” (aka the Christ) may indeed “draw us out to where we can never return,” to a state where life is never the same, and into a community of faith where real transformation happens. We are dealing with an amazing God, one who humankind, unfortunately, all too often relegates to safe, benign situations and images that we think we can control. The story of the transfiguration sure debunks that myth! Plus, we are not bound by Jesus to keep the event a secret. We are free to share the good news and reflect the glory of Christ. How might we see this story with fresh eyes? When have you glimpsed God’s power in action? Where have you seen Christ’s presence revealed? What does that mean to you? How will you steward these and other mysteries of the faith?
Why not invite some of your faith community members to talk about the power of relationships and mentorships within the beloved community? Do you know someone whose life has been changed because a more seasoned disciple mentored them? Do you have two prayer partners or accountability partners who might speak to the power of faithful relationships within the Body of Christ? Give people an opportunity to share their faith within the community, and you help to equip them to share their faith in daily life. It’s a win/win proposition!
If you’re looking for options to traditional hymnody for your worship this Sunday, consider these selections:
Here’s Psalm 50, “Devouring Fire,” set to music and image by Jason Silver.
Invite youth to ponder the power of relationships. Relationships can be uplifting or they can be toxic. Why is it important to have mentors, prayer partners, and faithful relationships within our worshiping community? Do you have a mentor? If not, would you be open to one?
If you don’t have opportunities for mentoring or intergenerational spiritual friendships in your congregation, consider how you might start them. Be ready to train prospective mentors, and offer information to students and parents about what mentoring involves and how boundaries and child protection will be provided.
This week’s focus verse is 2 Kings 2:9: – When they had crossed [the Jordan River], 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.”
How do you answer when someone asks what you want for your birthday or Christmas? Do you keep a list in your head? Do you have to think for a while about what you want? In today’s lesson from 2 Kings, the prophet Elijah is about to depart the earth in a most dramatic way. Elisha has been Elijah’s student, but more really—almost like a son—for many years. Elisha is already grieving that his beloved teacher has to leave him, but he will not stop following him. He is determined to walk with him as far as he can go.
Finally, after they’ve walked to Bethel and Jericho and even crossed the Jordan River, Elijah asks Elisha what he can do for him. Elisha doesn’t hesitate, and he doesn’t ask for money, fame, or a big house. He asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. What’s that? I don’t think you can get a double portion of spirit at Target or WalMart.
You see, Elijah was asking to be like his teacher. He wanted to and was ready to be a prophet leader of Israel, so he wanted to be like his teacher—and even bigger and better, the very best he could be. Elijah tells him this is a hard thing, sort of like looking for that specific sold-out Lego set you want. If Elisha sees him taken up by God, he will inherit. If he doesn’t see, he will not inherit. Then a fiery chariot and horses come between the teacher and beloved student, and Elijah is riding away in the glory of God.
Elisha receives the double portion of Elijah’s spirit, and he goes on to serve God and God’s people for many years. He makes mistakes, but he is faithful to what Elijah has taught him, and he never forgets Elijah.
What about you? Do you have a teacher or other person who is important because they share the good news with you and follow Jesus? Someone who you would like to be like, and maybe even a new and improved version with a double portion of what makes them special? If so, be sure to let that person know how important they are to you and how much you appreciate them. If not, let’s find a teacher/mentor/coach for you who will teach you how to follow Jesus and who will help you grow in faith and wisdom. We all need a “double portion” person in our lives.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for loving us (for loving us). Thank you for sending us (Thank you for sending us) wise teachers and mentors (wise teachers and mentors), who help us grow in faith, (who help us grow in faith,) love, and wisdom (love, and wisdom) as we follow you (as we follow you). Give us a double portion (Give us a double portion) of their faith (of their faith) for the sake of the gospel (for the sake of the gospel).
Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace). Amen (Amen).
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Relationships matter, especially during this time of pandemic when we cannot gather together as we want. May we continue to find ways to be good stewards of relationships that matter and bless and nurture growth.
Stewardship at Home
February is African American History Month, and our faith at home suggestions will celebrate the rich history and legacy of Black Americans. Read this brief article from Religion News Service about “12 Black Faith Leaders who Shaped America.” Note, too, the diversity of faith experiences these 12 important leaders bring to the table. After reading the article pick one person from this list and do a deeper dive to learn about their life, faith, and experience as a Black American. I chose angel Kyodo Williams and am reading her book Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation.
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