Transfiguration Sunday (Last Sunday after Epiphany)

February 26, 2006
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
2 Kings 2:1-12
Reading 2: 
Psalm 50:1-6
Reading 3: 
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Reading 4: 
Mark 9:2-9
By Rick Marshall

Discussion of the Texts:

There are few texts as obvious about transformation as the Transfiguration of Jesus story. Even though the disciples who witnessed this transformation are confused and fumble toward an awkward reaction, those who have been following the gospel story from the beginning shouldn't be surprised; the narrative prepares us for such experiences. The strange power of Jesus' healings, demon fightings, and dead raisings, have already given a surprising and mysterious quality to the person of Jesus. The way he embodies this transforming power with such authority should have triggered much speculation anyway among those who witnessed his presence. Why wouldn't it be a source of wonder for us as well? But the quality of wonder builds through the gospel story until we get to the resurrection, which is the ultimate surprise. But the surprised wonder curls back on us as we think about this same transforming power in our own lives, moment by moment, changing us, transforming us. The words of Psalm 50:1 begin to resonate in our imaginations: "The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting." God summons! This is much more than a call to ministry, or a call to a certain task, although it means that too, but much more. God summons life itself. As it turns out, God does this by summoning life out of death, order out of chaos, light out of darkness. Then the 2 Corinthian text begins to provide harmony to the resonance: "For 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 Christ."

Narratively speaking, this Transfiguration story is a foreshadowing of the resurrection as well as a riff on the 2 Kings text, describing Elijah being taken up in a whirlwind and transferring prophetic power to Elisha. After all, the Transfiguration story has Elijah appearing with Moses during Jesus' altered state, intentionally linking the two stories. On closer inspection, the Elijah story is as much about presence as it is about absence. Elijah is preparing to be taken away in a whirlwind, yet Elisha will not leave him--three times this is repeated. Even after his transformation, Jesus remains with the disciples a little while longer. I will be with you always, even until the end. But Elisha is fully aware of Elijah's power and asks for a double share of his spirit. Whereas, the disciples aren't ready for even a partial share of Jesus' spirit while witnessing his transfiguration. More must be done with them. That's what discipleship is all about--more must always be done. Jesus will eventually give his spirit to them.

Process Theology and the Texts:

May I be so bold as to point out the obvious? The Transfiguration of Jesus story, foreshadowing the resurrection story, clearly displays Creative Transformation. The whole gospel narrative makes the point that this kind of power is divine and it is called Creative Transformation. Further, the Bible is interested in the nature of this power. The Bible generally presents God's power as persuasive, deeply involved in the unfolding of life. This theme runs through the narrative and also runs through our lives. The Transfiguration of Jesus and his later resurrection are dramatic. But are there other, quieter, simpler, more routine ways that transformation works it's way through our daily lives? The Psalm text says that God "speaks and summons." God creates by calling, addressing creation, luring it toward life.

Preaching the Texts:

An obvious and effective way of dealing with the theme of Creative Transformation is to briefly trace the arc of the theme through the gospel narrative as it is displayed in its many forms: healings, resisting demons, raising the dead, etc. A case can be made that the gospel story prepares us to understand not only the resurrection, but how that same power is working in our own lives.  

A sermon could also be developed around the question of what it means to be a disciple. A comparison could be made between Elijah's disciples, Elisha, and Jesus' disciples. Why weren't Jesus' disciples ready? When were they ready? What had to happen to them? Such questions of readiness could be asked about our own lives.

Another sermon could revolve around the idea of witnessing such transformations and what it does to us and the various reactions we can have to them. Some are moved by them, others ignore them. What does transformation look like in our own lives?

Another sermon could be developed from the idea of God "speaking and summoning." This could be easily tied into the Elijah story and being summoned by God through the whirlwind, or Jesus summoning his disciples to witness his transfiguration. The 2 Corinthian text seems to lure us by the light of Jesus. What would such divine luring involve in our own lives? What might God be summoning us to?

Children and the Texts:

Bring a picture of a deceased loved one. Talk about the person and how much he or she meant to you. Talk about what this person's death meant to you. This person is gone now. But is he or she really gone? Ask the children if they have someone they love who is gone. What ways does he or she remain with us? Reflect on how people become part of us and we become part of them, and even when they are gone, they are still part of us. They are part of us because we love them and they love us. God loves us and that means we become part of God. We are in God and God is in us in a similar way that our loved ones are in us and we are in them.

May the creative, transforming power of God be with you in your preaching and worship.

Rick Marshall is co-pastor of Brea Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Brea, California, a church he has served for 24 years. He has contributed many resources to the Process & Faith website, including A Process-Relational Guide to Grief, Death, and Funerals.