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“Let Light Shine Out of Darkness” : Sermon 2/11/2018

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sermon Text: Mark 9: 2-9

Oh the countless ways we appreciate light. My daughter Stephanie tells me that she appreciates the fact that Texas gets so much more sunlight than Oregon or Washington---she doesn’t know how she lived there for 9 years without much sunlight. During the ice storm we had in NE Arkansas in 2009, we lost power for 10 days, which meant no heat and no light. When it got dark outside, you either used up valuable flashlight batteries or lit candles or you went to bed. As an older adult, I am now finding that driving at night is not that easy---I see better in the daylight---so come on back longer daylight hours!

Light plays an important part in illumination as well. There are times when we don’t want light, when there are things we’d rather hide. A little girl discovered the secret to making mud one day. She called it making “warm chocolate”. After her grandmother had cleaned up her mess, the grandmother told the little girl not to make any more chocolate. The little girl, of course, continued to make more “chocolate”. She would look at her Nana and say, “Don’t look at me, Nana, OK?” And Nana, being quite indulgent, would agree. Through this story, Dallas Willard, a noted theology professor and author, writes: “Anytime we choose to do wrong or to withhold doing right, we choose hiding as well. It may be that out of all the prayers that are ever spoken, the most common one—the quietest one, the one that we least acknowledge making—is simply this: “Don’t look at me, God.” It was the very first prayer spoken after the fall. God came to walk in the garden to be with the man and the woman and called, “Where are you?” “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid,” Adam answered, “so I hid.” Don’t look at me, God.

Sight, though, played a part in our Old Testament story from 2 Kings, chapter 2 in which we read about Elijah being taken up into heaven in a whirlwind. Three times Elijah had tried to “ditch” Elisha—when he told Elisha that God had sent him to Gilgal, to Jericho and then to the Jordan. Three times Elisha said: “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” Does that remind you a bit of Ruth and Naomi? “I will not leave you?”

Twice the company of prophets warned Elisha that his master Elijah was about to be taken away by the Lord. Elisha knew this and was determined not to leave his side. Finally, Elijah asked Elisha what he could do for Elisha before he would be taken away. Elisha asked for a “double portion” of his spirit—he wanted to be the sole heir of Elijah’s prophetic office. Elijah replied that “if you SEE me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted to you; if not, it will not.” Then comes a chariot and horses of fire into which Elijah climbs and is carried up into heaven. Elisha, in being able to see this miracle, was “anointed”  to continue in the prophetic office that Elijah had served in all those years---much like the continuation of the leadership of Israel from Moses to Joshua. And here’s a lovely dovetailing of Scripture. As Moses parted the Red Sea with his staff, and as Joshua told the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant to step into the Jordan and the waters parted, so too does Elijah part the Jordan with his rolled up mantle and Elisha does the same in order to cross back over to the other side---showing that he now has Elijah’s spirit from God to be his new prophet.

The Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, has the story of the Transfiguration of Our Lord which is our focal point this Sunday. In it we read of Jesus, taking with him, Peter, James and John, goes up on a mountain to be by themselves. While there some interesting things happen. First, Jesus’ clothes become “dazzling white such as no one on earth could bleach them.” Then two men appeared---and they were Elijah and Moses and they talked with Jesus. Third, Peter said that they should make three dwellings, one for each of the prophets. Peter as well as James and John were overwhelmed at this point. And to top that off, a cloud overshadows them and from the cloud comes a voice which says: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” And then, poof!  No Elijah and no Moses, only Jesus.

One commentator does some interesting linking of what happened previously to what will happen later. He writes: “The “after six days” connects the Transfiguration to the previous incident in which Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ. Jesus divulges his future suffering and warns of the coming judgment when the Son of Man comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels, and promises that some present will see the kingdom coming in power before they die. The Transfiguration occurs on the SEVENTH day after this incident and connects Jesus’ announcement of suffering with the foretaste of his promised resurrection glory that occurs at the end of Passion week. The unearthly white glow emanating from Jesus’ clothes alludes to resurrection since white garments characterize the righteous in the resurrection. Jesus specifically mentions the resurrection of the Son of Man as he descends the mountain with his disciples.”

Alice Walker wrote a short story entitled “The Welcome Table” which is about an old woman banned from church because she disrupts the others from their prayers. She has her own transfiguring experience—her death is depicted as a long walk with Jesus.

“All he said when he got up close to her was “Follow me” And she bounded down to his side with all the bob and speed of one so old. They walked along in deep silence for a long time. Finally she started telling him about how many years she had cooked for them, cleaned for them, and nursed them. She told him indignantly about how they had grabbed her when she was singing in her head and not looking, and how they had tossed her out of his church. “An old heifer like me” she said, straightening up next to Jesus, breathing hard. But he smiled down at her and she felt better instantly and time just seemed to fly by. When they passed her house, forlorn and sagging, weatherbeaten and patched, by the side of the road, she did not even notice it, she was so happy to be out walking along the highway with Jesus. She broke the silence once more to tell Jesus how glad she was that he had come and how she never expected to see him down here in person. Jesus gave her one of his beautiful smiles and they walked on. She did not know where they were going; someplace wonderful, she suspected. The ground was like clouds under their feet, and she felt she could walk forever without becoming the least bit tired. She even began to sing out loud some of the old spirituals she loved, but she didn’t want to annoy Jesus, who looked so thoughtful, so she quieted down. They walked on, looking straight over the treetops into the sky….And on they walked without stopping….”

Jesus at this point of his ministry was not ready for the news of the Transfiguration incident to be widely spread. But in our New Testament reading this morning, the Good News is lifted up. Paul, in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, chapter 4, writes: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In 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. For we do not proclaim ourselves, we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 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 Jesus Christ.”

The message we give to others each and every day is to be the good news, is to be the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  One day, Billy Graham and his friend Graeme Keith were on an elevator together. Another man in the elevator recognized the evangelist and said, “You’re Billy Graham, aren’t you?” “Yes,” Graham said. “Well,” the man said, “you are truly a great man.”  “No, I’m not a great man. I just have a great message” responded Graham. Wisely said.

What we do and what we say as Christians points to Christ. We carry his message to the world. This is how His light shines out of the darkness. May we, in our walk in this world, serve him as faithfully as did Elijah and Elisha. May we leave ourselves behind as we shed His light through our deeds and words upon the world. And may we, at our time’s end in this world, walk with Him into our new life’s beginning with Him.