This is the message I presented on Transfiguration Sunday, 2 March 2003, at Tompkins Corners UMC. The Scriptures were 2 Kings 2:1 – 12, 2 Corinthians 4:3 – 6, and Mark 9: 2 – 9.
Our lives can easily be seen as a journey. It is a journey that for some takes them to faraway places while others stay within reasonable distance of where they were born and grew up. But no matter whether your journey through life has involved great distances and various settings, it is a journey that has passed through time.
Each of our own journeys is marked by certain moments in time. Some of these are private moments, shared with those close to us. Others are public moments that allow us to be part of the world around us. Others are internal, that only we know and choose to share when we desire.
We mark our journey through life with private moments in times such as our own birth or the birth of our children and grandchildren, our marriage and the marriages of our children. Our yearly journey through time is marked by that singular day, though as we grow older the celebrations often grow more somber and less announced. We all remember the approach to our 16th birthday when we knew the independence that it would mark. Somehow, as parents, we view the 16th birthday of our children will a little less celebration and much more trepidation.
Public moments in time are those moments when others come to know who we are and what we are. You cannot make such moments in time happen but the moments in time that do happen will define who you are. Those who try to force time to march to their own tune often find their efforts futile.
In 1857, John Brown led a raid on the armory at Harpers’ Ferry, Virginia (now in West Virginia) with the intent of inciting the slaves of northern Virginia to rebel against their owners. But the raid was a failure and though some in the anti-slavery movements of the time may have considered him a martyr, it is hard to see how. John Brown chose to use violence as a means of fighting violence. No matter if one feels that their actions are correct, when you use the same methods as those whom you oppose, you are more likely to fail. John Brown’s actions did not solve anything, if anything they hastened inevitable conflict between the North and the South and brought more bloodshed to that period in time when blood was being spilled; in fact, in one of those interesting sidelights to history, the first casualty in the John Brown’s raid was a freed black.
But there are times when the moment is decided by other events. When Rosa Parks got on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the cold December 1st in 1955, she had no intention of becoming a landmark in time, a moment to remember for years to come. It had been a long day of work and she was tired, so she sat down. But she sat down in the front of the bus, an act that, according to the laws of Montgomery at that time, was illegal for her to do. Rosa Parks was black and the laws of the time required that she go to the back of the bus. It made no difference if there were empty seats in the front or there were no empty seats in the back, the law required that she go to the back of the bus.
But she was tired, so she sat down and shortly thereafter was arrested. Her arrest led to the boycott of the Montgomery bus lines by the blacks of Montgomery (who represented the majority of the riders on the bus system at that time). This boycott was organized by Martin Luther King, Jr., a young preacher, fresh from seminary and new to Montgomery. This single incident is marked as the watershed event in the struggle for civil and human rights and brought Dr. King to the forefront of black leadership. It was the beginning of Dr. King’s work to bring equality to all and led him to Memphis in 1968 where he helped the sanitation works in their efforts to earn a living wage. That is where, of course, Dr. King’s journey through life ended, killed by an assassin on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
The reading from the Old Testament today also represents a moment in time, a passage from the old to the new. Elijah had been the Israel’s major prophet but his time had come and his journey was ended. The reward for his journey was a trip to heaven, one of such spectacular nature that it is memorialized by its early position in the 2nd Book of Kings. Now it is someone else’s turn. For Elisha, Elijah’s student, this is a moment of uncertainty. Elisha repeats three times that he will stay with Elijah no matter what happens, even though Elijah cautions him to stay where he is.
But at that moment when Elijah departs, Elisha wants an assurance that he will receive a double portion of the ministry’s gifts. When a father died, the principal heir received a double portion of his father’s goods (remember the trick Jacob played on Isaac in order to be the principal heir). Elisha wanted this principle to apply to spiritual goods as well as material goods. There were a number of people who could be the spiritual heir to Elijah’s ministry.
If Elisha were to be the true heir and follow Elijah’s model of life and mission, he was going to need the God-given spiritual gifts that Elijah possessed. It was not out of pride that Elisha wanted a double share of that ministry but rather out of a sense that he could not meet the goals of the ministry alone. History shows that Elisha accomplished twice as many miracles as did Elijah and one can assume that his request was granted
Paul writes about the gifts that God has given to him, gifts similar to those that Elisha wanted and received. Paul acknowledged on many occasions that it was God’s mercy and not his own ability that directed his ministry and provided the impetus for its success. But he points out that the basis for his success is not often seen by all. In a discourse before the passage from 2nd Corinthians for today, Paul defends his preaching as the preaching of the truth and not self-promotion. He, as he writes in verse 5, is not preaching for his own sake or proclaiming his ministry but rather the ministry of Jesus Christ and the salvation that it brings.
There is that one moment in time that is unique to each one of us, one that is internal and only shared with others when we chose to do so, either by our words or our deeds. And that is the time that we like Peter, James and John, meet Jesus, not as a figure in a historical sense but rather as the Christ, our Savior. It may not come on a mountaintop as it did for the three disciples, it might not come with thunder and lightning as Elisha’s encounter did but it will come. And when it does it will change our lives. Paul speaks of the light of understanding, that moment when the Gospel is revealed to each one of us individually. It changes our lives, it changes the path that we are walking, and it changes the way we see life itself.
And despite what others may say, it is our moment in time alone. Though others will come to know Jesus in the same manner, the way in which they arrive at that moment in time is unique to their lives. There is no way that others can tell you how it will happen but you can tell others that it did happen. Jesus did not want the three to discuss what happened that day on the mountaintop because it was not the time nor the place. But when he died and rose from the grave, then it was the time.
For each of us there is that same moment in time. That time when we come to know who Christ is and what he means for us. Paul himself knew that Christ was the light that would lead him out of the darkness. It is the same for us. In a world of darkness and turmoil, where it is easier to be self-centered than it is to share, where war and violence seem to be the answer, Christ is the light that shines the brightest.
Some have come to Christ and know the peace and strength found through Him. It was the strength that Paul used when the days of his mission work seemed futile and hopeless. Others are still looking for the light, a way out of the darkness.
This is that moment in time when the light is found and shines out of the darkness. This is that moment in time when Christ speaks to you individually and says to you, “Peace I bring to you.” And for those, who have heard the message of peace, it is that moment in time, as it was for Elisha, that the ministry begins.
Our life is a journey, marked with moments in time. What moment in time does today represent for you?