- February 11, 2018
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for February 11, 2018 (Transfiguration Sunday, Year B)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary, Falmouth, ME
Texts: 2 Kings 2:1-14 REV; Psalm 50:1-6; Mark 9:2-13 REV
Title: Where is the Lord?
“He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?’” (2 Kings 2:13).
Where is the Lord? Have you ever asked this question? “Where are you, God? What are you doing, Lord?”
If you haven’t asked this question yet, you will. That’s because life as a human being on planet earth is very confusing.
It is normal to be confused. Even those people who seem to be the best, the holiest, the most God-loving people of all – even these are generally confused by life.
Just imagine if you were one of the disciples walking through the Galilee with Jesus, or if you were Peter or James or John up on the mountain with him.
Jesus had called them along the shore of the sea. And they answered the call! They left their work, their livelihoods, their homes to walk with him, to eat with him, to share life with him.
And yet they could never quite catch up with him. Jesus was always out in front, moving ahead of them. They could not keep up with him. And they could not get him to slow down.
Who was this man? They were always trying to figure it out. Just six days earlier, Jesus had asked them, “Why do you say that I am?” Peter was bold enough to answer, “You are the Messiah.”
And yet, right away, as soon as they begin to get a clearer handle on this Messiah, he throws their entire picture into disarray!
What did he tell them? This Messiah must undergo great suffering and be rejected and killed (Mark 8:31). And anyone who wants to follow him must deny themselves and take up their own cross and walk in his way (Mark 8:34).
What could this possibly mean? Look, we here today have a better understanding, because we have heard the entire story.
But they were right in the midst of it and they could not see where this road was leading.
As the great Danish philosopher Kierkegaard explained it, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” All of these things would begin to make sense to Peter and James and John and the rest only many years later.
But walking through all of this one day at a time? Even though they were walking each day with Jesus, these men were confused and bewildered.
Last week, I was stopped by one of the staff at Oceanview when I was leaving Falmouth House. The woman said that she wanted to ask me a question.
(Honestly, first she wanted to know if I was Roman Catholic. When I explained that I was Episcopal, she paused, then said, “Well, I guess I’ll ask you anyway.”)
She quickly explained that her 42 year old daughter just committed suicide two months ago – in December. Her daughter had struggled with mental health problems, recently she had been really depressed and she finally decided to take her own life. The question that she wanted to ask me was this. She said, “I am really terrified by the thought that my daughter is being punished somewhere right now. Is that what’s happening to her?”
I asked, “Who would be punishing her?” She said, “Well, you know, God might be punishing her for what she did, right?”
Now, listen: I recognize that this was her honest question, something with which she was truly struggling. But, I must say, what a sad and terrible way to think!
I asked her, “Tell me, do you want to punish your daughter right now?”
She answered, “No, of course not. I want to hold her and comfort her. I want to help her and let her know that she’s alright.”
“Well then,” I said, “don’t be afraid. Your desire to help your daughter pales in comparison to the compassion that God has. The Bible tells us that God is love. Your daughter needs help. Love does not punish people who are suffering, people who need help. You have no reason to be afraid. God is helping your daughter.”
This poor woman was confused and bewildered. Her daughter had suffered much. And now she was suffering by the thought of her daughter taking her own life. So much sorrow and loss to carry, especially over the recent Christmas holiday.
And all of this swirling mass of emotions within her was made worse by some really bad theology which told her that God punishes those who are mentally ill.
I’m glad she was willing to ask her question. So many people are afraid to ask their question because they are afraid that their question is stupid or unimportant – or somehow inappropriate.
Perhaps you grew up in a church community where asking questions was not allowed. A tradition where you were expected to accept what the elders taught you without raising any questions.
If that is the case, then I hope that today’s readings bring you some comfort. Let’s be honest about these stories: no one knew what was going on.
In our first lesson, Elijah is preparing to leave. A groups of prophets came up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” Elisha answered, “Yes, I know. Keep silent!” Be quiet! Don’t talk about it.
But Elisha had no idea what was coming. Yet even at the end, even when he saw Elijah being taken away by the chariot of fire and the whirlwind, even then he made this plaintive request, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?”
We cannot say for certain, but that question sure feels like it has an edge, like it is challenge. Come on, you God of Elijah, where are you after all?
Confused and unsure, this prophet was not afraid to ask and to challenge.
When the disciples came down the mountain with Jesus, he ordered them not to talk about this experience until the Son of Man rose from the dead.
But they had no idea what he meant OR any idea about what was coming. How could they? You can just imagine their quiet conversation among themselves: “What in the world is he talking about?”
So, oddly enough, they ask him a different question, related perhaps – and brought to mind by their recent vision of Elijah up on the mountain.
“What about Elijah?” they ask. “Why do the scribes say these things about him?” He never answers them directly. I THINK he was saying that the scribes are correct in saying Elijah comes first.
But then, oddly enough, he asks them a different question! Related perhaps – and connected to the original confusion in the minds of the disciples.
“Why is it written that the Son of Man must suffer so greatly?”
Did he expect a response from these uneducated fishermen? I sure hope not! They were confused, just trying their level best to keep up with Jesus. But it was no easy task.
I don’t know about you, but this is how I feel most of the time. Confused, just trying to keep up, trying to keep moving forward.
Well, if you are anything like me, if you feel confused and bewildered by life, then guess what? You are in good company! Join the club of the prophets and the apostles.
And, like them, never be afraid to bring your questions to God. “Where are you, Lord? What are you doing?”
The good news, my friends, is that we have nothing to fear. Suffering and death are never the end of the story.
Death was not the end of Elijah’s story. The cross was not the end of our Lord’s story. Suffering and death are not the end of our story.
Make no mistake, there is no way around these things! The glory and the light on the mount of Transfiguration could not be understood apart from the cross and the empty tomb.
That’s why the Lord tells them that they must wait in order to understand all of these things. Patience was the key.
So are you willing to trust in God enough to be patient in the midst of confusion and suffering?
We will not understand now what is happening. That comes only much, much later. But God will provide enough light to see the path ahead, and enough strength to continue along the way. And if we trust in God, we can know peace and joy even in the midst of this confusing life.
May it be so among us! Amen.