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Sermon for 19 Feb

FIRST READING 2 Kings 2:1–12

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 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. 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.” 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. 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.” 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. 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. 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. 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.” 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.” 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. 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.

PSALM Psalm 50:1–6

1 The mighty one, God the LORD, has spoken; calling the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God shines forth in glory. 3 Our God will come and will not keep silence; with a consuming flame before, and round about a raging storm. 4 God calls the heavens and the earth from above to witness the judgment of the people. 5 “Gather before me my loyal followers, those who have made a covenant with me and sealed it with sacrifice.” 6 The heavens declare the rightness of God’s cause, for it is God who is judge.

SECOND READING 2 Corinthians 4:3–6

3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

GOSPEL Mark 9:2–9

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, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 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.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus. 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.

Hearing, Seeing and Reflecting God’s Light

I’m curious; as you came in this morning I was looking to see if any of you, especially the ladies, sparkle more this week than last week. How many of you celebrated Valentine’s Day with a little bit of “bling!?” Terry and I celebrated the day by driving to Winston-Salem and signing our tax paperwork; romantic huh! We did get a small refund so I guess you could say we celebrated with something green, rather than the red of roses. By the way guys, that’s not something I would recommend you do on a regular basis. Valentine’s Day is a holiday that elevates the warmth of our love and the softness of our hearts. It’s a day when we show our affection by buying those we love candy and flowers and if we’ve been listening to hints being dropped, it’s also a time that we might feel compelled to observe with something cold and hard — like a diamond.
Diamonds, as we are continually reminded, are forever. That’s why they’re worthy of a significant financial investment. Diamonds are expensive because they’re rare, elusive, and found only in tiny bits and pieces. Yet, I’m told, that if you could travel a short 50 light years away from Earth, to star BPM 37093, located in the Centaurus constellation, you would arrive at “Lucy” — a burned out sun, a “white dwarf,” whose entire central core is a planet-sized chunk of crystallized carbon — a diamond. 10 billion-trillion-trillion carats worth, to be precise.
This “space diamond” gets its name “Lucy” from, as many would guess, the Beatle’s hit, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” By comparison, the largest earth-diamond, the Golden Jubilee Diamond, is 545 carats, a little smaller than my fist and is by comparison but a speck of diamond “sand” on one of Lucy’s dunes.
Diamonds are a chosen and cherished gem because of their sparkle and glow. They ignite with a kind of inner fire when the light hits them. Unfortunately for “Lucy,” that means that the solid diamond core of that dwarf star is as unremarkable and unassuming as any other stone. You see without the gift of reflective light, you could take an orange crate full of exquisite diamond gemstones and dump them in a drawer and you wouldn’t know you had anything different than a box of rocks.
The miracle of reflected light is what Transfiguration Sunday is all about. In both the gospel and the epistle texts, it’s the miracle of divine light that “transforms” and “transfigures” the moment and the message. In the gospel text the brilliance, the purity, of the light that illumines Jesus and His clothing was a brightness “such as no one on earth could bleach them” — it’s what first attracts the attention of Jesus’ disciple-companions to the mountaintop meeting.
But we need to keep the metaphoric language of our text this morning straight. There are two kinds of light. We could call them sun light and moon light, or we could call them torches and diamonds. Sun light and torch light shine with their own light. Moon light and diamond light shine with borrowed light, their brilliance is reflected rather than produced. If you were to put an uncut diamond in a dark room with a thousand other stones, you couldn’t tell the difference between the diamonds and the dirtiest of stones. Diamonds become living stones only in reflected light. And we too are like a diamond; but unlike the actual stone, we too often try to shine with our own light, when in reality, when we can only truly shine with the light of Christ.
It is that Son Light that Paul proclaims to the Corinthians. For Paul this light is even more intense. It has been focused and fixed through the event of the crucifixion. It’s a light that now has been “unveiled” to the world as never before by Christ’s resurrection. The light Paul perceives, the oculus he opens to the doubtful Corinthians, is the light of a second creation. A light which, like the Genesis light that shone “out of the darkness,”, now illumines God’s creation once again. And this time the pure light illumines our salvation.
The Transfiguration is a momentary glint, a gleam from the divine, of the power and presence Jesus brought to earth. “Lucy,” some 10 billion-trillion-trillion carats of diamond brilliance, was not “in the sky.” Instead, the perfect light, the Light of the World, was plopped down in dusty first-century Israel. A place without light. A place without enlightenment. A place wholly hindered by the darkness of despairing humanity caught up in human brokenness. And it’s this light that we need to remain focused on.
Paul had a firm focus upon this light. He didn’t get side-tracked by arguments about authority. Instead he boldly took himself out of the equation. His message, his mission had nothing to do with his own self. His message was a laser-focused beam of light: “We proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
Transfiguration Sunday is a celebration of the light of Christ that we need to focus appropriately and intentionally. Diamonds are treasured gemstones because of their unmatched ability to reflect light through their facets. The diamond is so brilliant because its tight carbon construction absorbs all the other colors and reflects back only white, making it dazzling in any light. Any so-called “diamond” which reflects a rainbow of colors is either inferior or just plain fake.
Jesus brought His disciples to the mountaintop to witness the Transfiguration so that they too might be able to reflect that “dazzling” light out to this world. But that light was not reflected to a place. That light was a person. That “light” was Sun Light, Jesus Himself, God the Father’s Light Works, God’s own Light Show. That’s why Paul doesn’t proclaim anything except “Jesus Christ as Lord.” The light of the world isn’t the Church. We’re not called to proclaim, “come to Church” to our neighbors. The light of the world is Jesus Christ. We shine with borrowed light, His light. Or we don’t shine at all. The message of the Transfiguration is not come to the mountaintop, but “Come to Christ”; a point that at that moment was missed by Peter.
At the Transfiguration Peter got excited and wanted to build dwellings to commemorate the place of this event. In the moment, Peter failed to comprehend the message. Instead of listening and perceiving the message God wanted them to see and hear, Peter instead opens his mouth and as usual misses the point. But Peter isn’t unique, isn’t this the same problem that too many suffer from?
How many of you have anyone in your family who has a listening problem? Notice I did not say a hearing problem. Many people have ears that work quite well; nevertheless, they’re very selective in what they hear. The story is told of King Edward VII. His grandson, Prince David, had a good relationship with his grandfather. Still David was a child, and adults in England during this period, particularly royalty, were not known to listen to children.
At dinner on one occasion little David tried to get his grandfather’s attention. He was reprimanded immediately for interrupting the king’s conversation at the table. So the young prince sat in silence until given permission to speak. When he was finally allowed to address his grandfather, he said, “It’s too late now, grandpapa. It was a caterpillar on your lettuce but you’ve eaten it.” The king should have listened to his grandson. It pays to listen to children, to friends, to co-workers, to other family members, to God. Yet, authentic listening is rare.
You’ve heard the old aphorism that God gave us two ears but only one mouth indicating that God wanted us to spend twice as much time listening as talking. However, it could be that God gave us two ears and one mouth because listening is twice as hard as talking. As someone has said, “Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses.”
Sad as it might seem, but as human beings the first thing we engage is the voice instead of the ear drum. It’s reported that we spend about 40 percent of our waking hours listening, yet most of the time we’re only listening at about 25 percent efficiency. Listening is not a passive activity like some might think, it’s hard work. It’s something we must be committed to. There’s another report that also indicates that most of us are not as good at multitasking as we might think. When it comes to listening, there is really no such thing as multitasking. Paul Tillich, noted theologian of a past generation, once wrote these important words, “The first duty of love is to listen.” And that’s true. The first duty of love is to listen and of course, our primary responsibility is to listen to God’s message for us. Jesus is His beloved Son, we need to listen to Him.
It’s like a man named Ron who tells about playing golf one time at the prestigious Cypress Point Golf Course in California. At this club each golfer is assigned a caddy. Ron’s caddy was an elderly gentleman by the name of Ed. At each hole, Ron asked Ed for advice. Surprisingly, each time Ed’s advice seemed to Ron to be way off. So, Ron ignored his caddy’s advice and went with his own knowledge, experience and instincts. Consequently, his golf game that day was lousy!
When it became obvious to Ed that his advice was being ignored, he confronted Ron. Ed made it clear that he had only one job and that was to caddy this course day after day. Every inch of the fairways, rough and greens was etched permanently on his brain. Ed, the caddy, told Ron, “If you want to play this course well, you have to trust what I say.” Well said. In the game of life, we need to listen to Christ and we need to trust what He says. We need to turn our eyes toward Jesus, we need to listen to Him with our hearts, and we need to take time each day for the sole task of listening. What does Christ have to say to us that we need to hear?
Our lesson for the day details that magnificent scene on the Mount of Transfiguration. Our Master took Peter, James and John with Him up a high mountain where they were all alone. There Christ was transfigured before them. There appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to the Master, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Mark tells us that he did not know what to say, they were so frightened.
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” That has always been the Christian’s primary task — to listen to Christ, for He is the one who can guide us toward better relationships and a more fulfilling life.
Now in Peter’s defense it was an amazing scene, but it was the voice of God that they should have been listening to. And in such a wonderful moment Peter wanted talk instead of listen choosing instead to stay forever in that light. But the light they witnessed was not meant to be boxed up, only to be trotted out on special occasions. The light was not meant to be collected and compiled, so that it could be worn to show off, like some people do, draping themselves in diamonds and then, like walking chandeliers, show up to show off. The light the disciples saw that day was meant to be reflected each and every day. Peter also missed the boat that day because the light was focused not on a place but upon a person. The mountaintop isn’t what we need to remember. Jesus, the Christ, needs to be illumined before all others.
There are lots of flawed or even fake “diamonds” out there today, claiming they’re reflections of Christ’s person and message. People of seeming influence, some with advanced degrees, convincing others that their own brilliance is what they need to see. These fake diamonds are focused on their own desires, distorting and twisting God’s law and gospel for their own self-serving agenda, deceiving others and causing them to focus on them or themselves rather than on God. The problem is their message is convincing, easy to hear in a society that forwards the individual rather than the creator. At times it’s difficult to tell the real from the fake.
So how can we tell a genuine reflection of Christ from a “fake diamond?” We’ve been conditioned to see a rainbow as a positive sign, a promise, a perseverance. Satan through society has tricked us into thinking that we need glitz and glamour, excitement and activity to shine in a dark place. But too often these detract from the true message. The message of the church is filtered through the purifying focus of the one true light, the purest “diamond” ever perceived. And the one clear, brilliant light, the love light that God sent to us, is the person of the Son, Jesus Christ.
We don’t need to give off a rainbow-assortment of dazzling programs, a something-for-everybody jewelry box of glitz and glam, a Six-Flags-Over-Jesus one-stop entertainment center to attract people to church. A real diamond reflects the true light by absorbing it into its depths and giving off only a white light that brings everyone around it to life and light. It’s that same depth of Light absorption that many are missing today in their personal lives and in the shared life together as the body of Christ.
Maybe that’s why diamonds are perfect “love stones.” They too only reflect one wavelength of light. The lovelight. Diamonds are the hardest natural substance known. That’s why diamonds make such perfect covenant stones, rings to use in wedding covenants — rings that are worn everyday, everywhere, all the time. They’re tough. They’re resistant to the bashes and bangs of daily life. They’re brilliant, beautiful, and beyond the touch of this world’s hardships. The person of Jesus Christ is not just a Sunday morning experience. The person of Jesus is the Light we must reflect in our lives, our actions, our words, every day of our lives. We shine with borrowed brilliance.
And just as a “diamond is forever,” so is the greatness of God’s gift forever. Singular. Shining. Without question. Without flaws or imperfections. “Unveiled,” God revealed the love and presence of the divine in Jesus Christ. And we must be willing to stop what we’re doing in our busy lives to listen, really listen. We need to be willing to fulfill the first duty of love and listen with our eyes and our hearts and be open to His teachings. We also need to be ready to take that message to a world in need of light; a light that isn’t our light, but the light of Christ that shines through us. Let your light, that light that is the light of Christ within you, so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

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