Last Sunday of Epiphany and Scout Sunday
So this morning we have two rather spooky stories. The first one comes to us from the Hebrew Scriptures, and it is the story of Elisha and Elijah. Elijah knows he is going to die, today – and Elisha also knows this is going to happen. They are both real major prophets, so they know these things. Elijah wants to die by himself, and Elisha says no way, I’m going to be there.
So we read about this hysterical trek, where Elijah says “I’m going go to to this town” and he takes off, and Elisha says “I’m going with you.” When they get to the town, the prophets in that town say to Elisha, “you know your master is going to die today” and he says, “yes, I know, now be quiet.” And then Elijah decides he needs to go conduct some business in another village, and off they go again.
Finally, Elijah asks Elisha what he wants. Elisha says, I want some of your spirit. In other words, Elisha knows that Elijah is the greatest prophet – from then on, if someone says “the” prophet, they are talking about Elijah – and so he wants some of what makes Elijah great. Elijah tells him that if he sees what will happen next, then he will have what he wants. One of the things that Elijah does when they come to a river they need to cross is to take his poncho, roll it up, and hit the water with it – and the water divides for them. Now when is the last time we remember the water dividing? Moses! Hold that thought!
So Elisha does see what happens, Elijah does not “die” like normal people, he is taken up into heaven bodily, and after wailing about his loss, Elisha takes the poncho, hits the water, and it divides for him too. His request has been granted. Cool story, isn’t it?
Then we have the story of the transfiguration. Jesus takes his closest followers, and goes up a mountain. Suddenly, Jesus starts glowing, and the astonished followers see not just Jesus in this glowing cloud, but also Elijah and Moses. Elijah, the greatest prophet, and Moses, the great giver of the law, are there with Jesus. They have a small talk, and then when the followers rub their eyes again, it is just Jesus, and he says, don’t say anything about this until I’m gone. Another cool story.
But what does it all mean? I’m so glad you asked!
So on the Christian calendar, this is the last Sunday of the Epiphany season. Epiphany season is when we read all about the times when God “shows forth” in our world. Celtic Christianity talks about the “thin places” when there is not much space between us and the spirit world. Epiphany season is when we read about those times in the Bible when there was not much space between us and the spirit world. Watching someone being taken up bodily into heaven definitely qualifies as a thin space, don’t you think? Or having someone light up like a Christmas tree when they did not put their finger in a light socket also qualifies!
So the first thing that pops for me reading these stories is that we need to remember that things like this happen. It is very easy for us to get all scientific and ask for proof and facts, and proof and facts are all fine and good in some parts of our lives, and not in others. We do some things because of love, not because they make sense, and not because they are going to make us any money. You may or may not believe that there is a world out there that we cannot see, but the quantum scientists are quite clear that there is, and that the easiest way for “normal” people to access it is to use their intuition.
All I want to do with this thought is to say that sometimes thing happen in ways that we cannot explain. Sometimes we know that things will happen before they do. Sometimes we know that we are doing the right thing, and we have no idea why we know that – I would suggest that we feel that we are in alignment with God when we are in that state. But when something happens like this, we are not weird, just connected. Epiphany is the time when we read about those kinds of connections.
So I said this is the last Sunday of Epiphany. Wednesday is our somber celebration of Ash Wednesday, when we remind ourselves that we are just dust – we are stardust, but we are still just dust, that is to say, we are not God, and we will return to dust. All of us will die, some sooner than others, but unless we are Elijah, we are going to die. And, you know, we don’t know what happened to Elijah after he got to heaven.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent. Maybe you have heard about Lent, maybe you have a friend who has given up chocolate for Lent. Traditionally during Lent, you were supposed to give up certain foods, especially fat, sugar and meat. But the real thing we want to engage in during Lent is introspection. What does that mean?
Introspection is when you take time to look at your life and decide if there are things that need to change. Sometimes the best way for that to happen is for you to take something out of your life. So, for instance, if you are angry because someone is engaging in addictive behavior, if someone is choosing to continue to smoke, or do drugs, or overeat, and that makes you angry – then perhaps you might want to choose to give up sugar for Lent, so that you can look at the addictive behaviors you engage in. If you are irritated because someone never has time for you or does not pay attention, perhaps you should give up social media for Lent, and look at how that feels.
For some people, it is not a giving up, but rather a “taking up” that needs to happen. Some people take up a gratitude journal, making themselves find 3 things each day that they are grateful for and writing them down in a notebook. Some people find some way to help someone else each day.
This kind of thing takes a lot more thought than just giving up chocolate, except, of course, for those of us who are really addicted to chocolate 🙂
But back to the transfiguration – the mountaintop experience of Jesus and his followers.
We love mountaintop experiences, don’t we? We go to camp, and it is wonderful – and then we have to come home and deal with “reality.” Jesus went up onto the mountaintop, and had a fabulous meeting, and from then on it is down the hill to his death. But let me suggest something. We think about the mountaintop experience as “different” and perhaps “unreal” from our normal lives. What if that mountaintop experience is something we need in order to both deal with our “ordinary” lives, and also something we need in order to be somewhat discontent with our ordinary lives. If we don’t catch a glimpse of something different, how will we know that something else might be possible? Yes, I know that it is not possible to live in that rarified atmosphere all the time – or is it?
One of the things that Jesus came to teach us was that even in the ordinary, we can follow the way that leads us to God. The early followers of Jesus were not called Christians, they were called followers of the way – the way that Jesus taught that leads us to God. It was not very ordinary, but he showed them how to do it in their everyday life with everyday examples. He said, you want to see real serious transformation? Love your enemy. Everyone knows you should hate your enemy, but if you love your enemy, it opens your life to the mountaintop.
We don’t think about loving our enemies as opening the door to the mountaintop, do we? We think it opens the door to abuse. But Jesus was very smart. The enemy at his time was Rome, and he lived in occupied territory. There were Roman soldiers all over the place. The law allowed any Roman soldier to force a Jewish man to carry the soldier’s pack for him. However, that could only go on for one mile, and remember, there were mile markers, just like we have mile markers on many of our roads.
What Jesus said was this: if the soldier makes you carry his pack, don’t put it down at the end of the mile! What? That’s crazy!! No, that’s crazy smart! Why? Because the law said he could only make you carry it for one mile. If you keep going, you now have the soldier pleading with you to give the pack back, so he does not get in trouble! You have moved from being abused to being in control. You have changed the rules of the game. You have refused to be angry and victimized. If you are not a victim, then the door to the mountaintop has opened a crack.
A friend of mine had to work with a very difficult colleague. She said things that were not true about him, in public. Suddenly, he realized that she reminded him of his mother. When he realized that, then he knew two things: that she was probably in terrible emotional pain and therefore, he did not need to do anything except be sorry for her. When he looked back at the interaction he had with her, it looked very different, because he had brought the mountaintop in for a moment.
If you are a Scout, and you look at the kids who are left out, and you go be friends with them, you will be opening the door to the mountaintop. And you will have better friends than the kids who are popular.
If you are an adult, and you look at who is left out, and you go be friends with them, you will be opening the door to the mountaintop.
This Lent, I invite you to think about the mountaintop, about connecting with God, about how you can do just one thing differently over the next month, something every day, something that will remind you about the mountaintop.