Here is the message used in church today, the day after Valentine’s Day. Scriptures used were: II Kings 2:1-13, II Corinthians 4:3-6 and Mark 9:2-9. The title was “Changed by the Light.” We also had installation of officers.
Yesterday was Valentines’ Day. For those of us with spouses or significant others, this might be an important day where we give or get flowers or chocolates or a dinner date or something fun. I hope for those in our midst who are living without their spouses that it is a day of remembering the good times that you enjoyed together rather than a day of sadness thinking of being alone.
And then for those of us who should be nicknamed Ebenezer, maybe it is one of those days that we think of as just another excuse for the merchants to pick our pockets and help us part with some of our hard-earned money. James wanted to be a generous father until he heard that sending flowers to our daughter in Dickinson was going to cost more for the delivery than if we would have driven up there ourselves and brought them to her. Because of it, neither of the two out-of-town girls received flowers this year. We will see them both next weekend, so who knows.
I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but for those of you who read the Faith Finder articles in the Northwest Blade, you might remember that I wrote about Valentine’s Day in the article I did for them recently. In it I mentioned that I used it as a topic for the first speech I had to do in English class. The topic was a To Inform speech and so I dug out the old World Book encyclopedia that my mother had purchased when she used to help sell them, and I found lots of information about the beginning of the day. Not quite the candy giving day that you see in the schools today, but still an interesting story.
I won’t bore you with any personal romantic Valentine stories, but I do want to share the story of my first Valentine’s Day as a mother. Our oldest daughter was born on Jan. 24, and I was between jobs at the time, so I was what you could call the proverbial “stay at home” mother. I had applied at the local school to substitute teach, but had not gotten many calls. Finally, I received a call to come into one of the rooms with special needs students on Friday, February 14th. It was Valentine’s Day and the first day of taking my little girl to a sitter. She was just three weeks old, and I was terrified leaving her with a strange woman in a busy household.
Add to that the school room I went to was busy with students who each needed full-time attention to do anything. Let’s just say by the end of the day I was not feeling so good about accepting that phone call to substitute. After school, as I was heading to my car, I realized I was just a few steps from the back door of the local Woolworth Store. I ran into the store to get a gift for Jessica. In the store I found a huge stuffed doll in a pink dress. When we got home, and I lined them both up on the couch, the doll was over twice as large as she was. I still have a copy of the picture of them together, and Jessica still has that doll.
I tell this story as a reminder to all of us how important children are in our lives, it might be your own child you think of, a grandchild, a niece or nephew, but children are precious, and a son or daughter is to be cherished. Children also make us change the way we think and what we value. I hadn’t realized how hard it would be to spend a day at work while my child was with a stranger. For some of us our children become our focus, a light that gives us directions.
The prophet Elijah on instructions from God chose Elisha as a son and successor. Elisha was not his child by birth, but was working in a field when Elijah came by and put his mantle (his coat, essentially) on him and asked him to come with him to learn from him, and Elisha did. In the passage we read today in II Kings, Elijah and Elisha are walking from place to place preparing for the end of Elijah’s time on Earth. He was to be taken up to heaven without dying. Again one of those stories that is a bit hard for us to understand, but a story to learn from.
There are two points I want us to see in this passage today. First is the loyalty of Elisha. As they went from place to place, it seems that each set of prophets realized this was the end of time for Elijah, and he kept telling Elisha to stay in each spot they stopped, and all of the prophets at each spot would say it was the end, but Elisha would not take the easy way out and stay with them. No, each time he promised to go to the end with Elijah. Finally when Elijah asked what he could give to this adopted son before he left this earth, the answer was a double share of your ability to be a prophet. This was sort of a reference to the fact that in those days a father would give a double share of the inheritance to the first-born son, Elisha is asking for the portion of a real first-born son. Elijah said, “yes, if you see me go,” which was a way of telling Elisha not to back away from what will happen in the end. And Elisha stayed with Elijah and he witnessed him being taken up to heaven in the whirlwind. He received the inheritance.
As we look at the scriptures for today we might want to say that Elijah is the connection from the Old Testament passage in II Kings to the gospel lesson about the transfiguration, and he was because he was literally in both passages. Yet, Elisha’s issue about the double inheritance is also a factor of connection of these passages. Elisha has spent time learning from Elijah. He has learned to follow in the ways of God, to listen to God and to be an upright and moral person. And he wants to continue in those ways, but he wants to be able to do even more than Elijah has done. He wants to be the good son who carries out the work of his father.
Jesus goes up a mountain with a select group of his disciples in the passage we read in Mark. In this story, which we read each year just before Ash Wednesday, on this mountain, Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah. It is like there is this space up on this mountain where earth and heaven almost seem to overlap, and Jesus is joined by two of the most important prophets and leaders of the entire Old Testament. It must have been an indescribable experience for the disciples who were allowed to witness it. But Jesus says when it is over that they are not supposed to talk about it. At least not immediately, they must wait until later.
This transfiguration, where Jesus is changed, the scripture reads that his clothes become dazzling white beyond anything white we have on earth. Jesus is changed. Jesus is the light; he is the light of the world. We were drawn to his light during Advent and again we see that he is the light we are to follow into the days of Lent. The connection between the two passages is more than just the literal appearance of Elijah in both of them. It is also the connection of the obedient son. Just as Elisha is the obedient son who follows Elijah to the whirlwind that takes him away, Jesus is the obedient Son who does what his father in heaven asks of him.
While on the mountain with his select disciples, Jesus goes through the transformation. He reveals his true self to those select disciples, but they are not yet able to see the truth. Here is a great paradox for us. We can see the truth from our angle of time. We who live too many years later to see the living breathing human Jesus actually see more than the disciple who walked with him because we know Jesus after the crucifixion. We have their stories and testimonies and the rest of the Bible to tell us the truth that they couldn’t see at the time. This story of the transfiguration in chapter 9, according to one commentator is sandwiched between stories in chapters 8 and 10 where Jesus heals two different blind men, but the real blind men are the disciples who don’t understand the truth of who Jesus is, and how he will fulfill his role on earth.
Yes, Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, but before the week is up we will experience Ash Wednesday and begin our journey through Lent to Easter. This journey will take us through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. As one of the books in our church library mentioned, there is one more mountain for the disciples and us to climb and that is Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. It seems we go from this happy upbeat time to gloom and doom and almost a time of loneliness and dread. We wonder what is the connection between talking about Valentine’s Day and the fun of flowers and chocolates and eating out and family time? How can we connect all of this to Jesus taking his disciples up a hill where he is transfigured or looking to the future when he is betrayed and ends up dying for us?
The answer is Love. It is the love that God has for us, the love that Jesus showed to everyone around him and even to us here today. Jesus as God’s Son didn’t say, “No I will stay in heaven where everyone knows me and life is good.” Instead, Jesus went to earth and endured the cross so that all would have an opportunity to accept salvation.
Jesus, who is the real first-born and only son of God, gave up all that he was to become human just so that he could share it all with us. As I said before, there was a tradition during the time of Elijah and Elisha that the first-born son was entitled to a double share of the inheritance. Christ as the only Son was entitled to it all with no need to do anything to earn it, and no need to share it with anyone else. But instead Christ died so that we too could inherit God’s love. Jesus died so that there would be a share of the kingdom of God for everyone who is willing to accept it. How many of us would be willing to share our inheritance in that way. I know where I stand on that ground; I am horribly selfish about what is mine.
Jesus could have kept it all for himself, but he didn’t. Jesus had and has that much love for us. God has that much love for us that he sent his son, his only Son to die a human death that we could have a share of that inheritance. Jesus died so we could be joint heirs in the kingdom of God, all we have to do is love him in return.
There is that great saying that the best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother. I suppose you could twist it to the best thing a woman can do for her children is love their father. Today, I believe that the best thing we can do for ourselves is to love God. And when we do that, really love God, we realize that we are able to follow the commandment that Christ left for us. His commandment says that we are: To love the Lord God with all our heart and soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And by the way, we are all neighbors in this one. As we leave today in this time between Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, let’s remember that Love is what it is all about. Go out and share the love of God with those you meet this week. I bet you will be surprised at the changed and dazzling way it makes you feel. Amen!