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the sermon for

the Transfiguration of Our Lord

11 February 2018

2 Kings 2:1-12
Love is needed on earth, not in heaven!

02112018This is where it all began, the passage that gave rise to the spiritual, to the song. Second Kings. Chapter two. Verse eleven. "As they[ - Elijah and Elisha, Teacher and Disciple - ]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." Swing low, sweet chariot, comin' for to carry me home...

But there's another passage, a lot like this one – I don't think we ever read on a Sunday morning. It's at the end of Deuteronomy. Chapter thirty-four. Verses five and six. "Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the LORD's command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day." Legend had it, later, that "o one knows his burial place" because Moses never died! But like Elijah, he had, instead, been taken up into heaven!

Two persons – Moses and Elijah, Elijah and Moses – who had never died! Two persons – Elijah and Moses, Moses and Elijah – who live forever with god! And two persons, this morning, who just so happen to appear on the mountaintop talking with Jesus! But we get so distracted by the bright light, we forget about them. We don't' give them a second thought. The two immortals! The two humans who never died! The two humans who live forever! Living there in heaven, up high and far away!

But this morning, they meet Jesus, there on the mountaintop, with Peter and James and John looking on. Jesus' clothes become dazzling white. He's transfigured. Elijah with Moses appear and they talk. Peter, we're told, is terrified. They all are. The cloud – the sign of god's presence – overshadows everything. Then the voice. And suddenly, as quickly as it began, it all vanishes! It all disappears! Moses! Elijah! The cloud! And they see only Jesus! Only Jesus! Confused. Uncertain. And probably more than a little disappointed. Because, you see, they thought this was Jesus' time! Jesus' turn! Not simply to shine brightly, but to be assumed! To be taken up! Just like Moses! Just like Elijah!

Over the years, I've heard so many sermons explain this moment. And I've written, I've preached, what I heard. A mountaintop experience, we said! A moment above, beyond! Nothing more! We can't stay here! We have to return! Go back down the mountain! Live in the valley! Back to the real world! But when I thought about that message, this week, it sounded hollow, empty. Trivial and trite. Especially when you think about Moses! And Elijah! As the disciples saw them! As eternals! Immortals! What if...

What if, this time, the story reveals something else? Like that faith, that believing, isn't meant for heaven, but for right here and for right now! Consider this... What if faith isn't meant for heaven, but for this side of forever? Moses and Elijah were considered too holy to die just like everyone else! So god took them up into heaven! The fiery chariot and horses! The assumption! Later, the church would do the same thing for Mary, the mother of our Lord, the mother of god! She, too, would escape the grave and ascend into heaven!

But not Jesus! "Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more... but only Jesus!" Why was he left behind? Why didn't he, too, ascend into heaven? Could it be... could it be... the moment Jesus is taken away... the moment Jesus leaves this earth... he stops being Jesus? Could it be that the moment Jesus leaves this world, he stops being who, what he is? Yes, it's true that Jesus has to go back down the mountain. He has to go on to Jerusalem. To suffer under Pilate. To be crucified! To die! To be buried! To descend to the dead! But not for the reason we usually think of. Not because he has to fulfill this verse or that, one prophecy or another. He has to do it because that's who he is! A savior! And that's what he does! He saves! And in heaven, no one needs saving! Only here, on this side of the grave, do people need redeemed! Only on this side of eternity do people need rescued and delivered! This is where we need Jesus! Not "up there!"

If there is one thing Jesus is, that one thing is love. Pure. Unbounded. And it's here on earth that love is necessary! This is where it's essential! In this fallen world! In this broken creation! Think about it, for a moment! Popular religion has it that heaven is the place where people life happily-ever-after! Heaven's where everyone has everything they need! Has everything they dream of! Death swallowed up! Tears are wiped away! But what happens to love? What happens when no one has to turn the other cheek or go the extra mile? What happens when there is no one hungry, no one thirsty? When no one's a naked or a stranger or sick? What happens when no one is wearied by the changes and chances of life? When there are no sins and griefs to bear? In heaven, there's no need to carry someone else's cross! In heaven, no one needs a savior! No one needs saving! Only here! Only now!

This is where the poor need to hear gospel! This is where the captives need releasing! This is where the blind can't see! Where the oppressed can be set free! In heaven – at least, in the heaven we imagine – that's all obsolete! That's all unnecessary! Love is no longer vital, no longer crucial, no longer indispensable! And neither is Jesus! At least, not the Jesus we've come to believe in!

The kingdom of god – at least, for us – isn't a paradise, a utopia. The kingdom of god is a sacrifice, a cross! But when that sacrifice, when that cross, no longer serves a purpose, well... It's "down here," in the valley of the shadow... It's "down here," in this vale of tears... that Jesus lives and moves and has his being! Not up high! Not far, far away! But down-to-earth and very, very close at hand!

The word became flesh, we're told. Became flesh and lived among us. Truth be told, that word never left us! That word never went away! It became flesh and lives among us still! Not locked behind gates of pearl, sitting on a golden throne. But here, in a mouthful of words spoken on any given Sunday morning! Here in a palm-ful of tap water! Here in a thimble of sweet red wine and a pinch of warm bread! Here! In front of us! Behind us! Beside us! Between us! And it's here! Here that word will remain!

Yes, there's the mountaintop. And sure, there's Moses and Elijah, the cloud and the voice! But my friends, when all that disappears... when all of that vanishes... There's one thing that will remain... one thing that will always remain... only Jesus! Only Jesus!

 
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