A Holy Presence

Scriptures: 2 Kings 2:1-12, Mark 9:2-9

Let us pray:

Now, O Lord, calm us into quietness. Take us to that place within you that heals, listens, and molds our longings and passions, our wounds and wanderings, and transforms us into a more holy human shape. For it is in you that we live and move and have our being[1]. Amen.

For me, there will always be tension between wanting to define what God can and cannot do: wanting to believe that God is all-powerful, all-present, and all-knowing; and seeing the patterns of life unfold. Sometimes miraculously divine things occur, but just as often God seems absent and that troubles me. For example, the death of an exemplary young person serving the needy in the name of love; or when a chain of events leads to one grief-filled life-change after another for which we may not feel prepared.

What can we do when situations such as those occur? I can only relate my own experiences. Traveling home from the mountain top experience of graduation only to not make it home in time for the death of my grandfather. Grieving the loss of a relationship that I did not believe should have ended. Finding that dreams I once yearned for with all my heart have not come to pass and seem likely to never be. In those times when I ache, I cry out to God, yes, sometimes I even rage at God. “Why, O God, do you let these things happen? This is not fair! Where are you?”

Then something occurred to me. We may cry out when we ache the most, but perhaps then, if we but shift our perspective, we can appreciate in a small measure how God aches for us. Maybe in those times when we cry out to God, we are closest to the center of God’s own aching heart for us and for this, the world that God created, and all that happens here under our own hands.

I am convinced there are other times when we are also just as close to God, crying out in awe and beauty, perhaps even overwhelmed with emotions too complex to fully understand in the moment. For example, when I gaze into a brilliant orangy-red-gold sunrise or purple-pink-hued sunset, or feel a fresh wind upon my face, or hear the sound of the surf as it pounds its eternal notes upon the shore. Perhaps for some of us, that is when we feel closest to God, thus perceiving perhaps a small measure of the joy of Creation that lives in the center of God’s being, even in the midst of human hurt.

Why do I share these with you? I think, being created in God’s image, male and female, we have built into our very beings the potential for being primed for experiencing what I would call, “God-moments,” every day of our lives, if we but could only train our perceptive abilities to see, feel, hear, or sense them in some way.

In today’s scripture stories, both from 2nd Kings and the Gospel of Mark, we have illustrations of God-moments. In this case God-moments in which a response seems to be needful, but not always is it clear what kind of response should be made. For the 2nd Kings story of the ascension of Elijah, commentator WM Loyd Allen says,

“The text suggests at least two faithful responses to the crises of the in-between times: persistence and silent watchfulness. Elisha persists in accompanying Elijah. Three times Elijah pleads with his disciple to abandon him. Three times Elisha refuses, insisting on hope as long as life remains (vv. 2, 4, 6). Twice the prophets question Elisha, asking if he knows of Elijah’s departure. Twice Elisha answers yes, but ends discussion and continues following his master. His last request of Elijah is a “double share” of the prophet’s spirit. Elijah says if Elisha sees things through to the end, maybe.

Silence is another faithful response in the in-between times. Elisha admits to the prophets that his master Elijah is about to be taken away, but he calls for silence (vv. 3, 5) or stillness [depending on the source text] rather than premature conclusions. Unlike Peter at the transfiguration, who in his terror at the unknown did not know what to say but spoke anyway (Mark 9:5-6), Elisha responds with a call for something reminiscent of the “sheer silence” in which Elijah had heard God (1st Kings19:12)[2].”

I can only imagine the whole experience was a powerful witness and affirmation for Elisha, a prayerful call divinely answered. It does lead me back to ask, though, is that how we hold on to our loved ones, or perhaps the memories of times gone by and dreams that we once held-reluctantly? Inevitably, when that poignant moment comes, whether it be through grief or another emotion, Life continues to tug at us, drawing us each onward into our own next chapters along the journey. What is our own response? Do we continue to follow or do we dig in our heels and not want to go?

We may wish for specific intervention, and often rage at God if things don’t go the way we pray that they do. That is human nature. I cannot profess to know the full nature of God; whose choices for us may lead to other circumstances much more cosmic than we can comprehend. God alone knows our prayers may require different ends than our hoped-for response when we want something specific to happen. I would imagine closing the door to multiple answers, even ones we do not want, would be a recipe for blindness. Does not God work through both ancient scriptures and the world in which we find ourselves in many and mysterious ways? Sometimes even telling us “no” when we want the answer to be “yes.” So be it. Who are we to narrow the freedom of God’s sovereignty to be wholly present – for us or anyone?  What we can do is open ourselves to being willing to see more of God’s handiwork all around us.

Sometimes, like Peter James and John, we are overwhelmed with the moment – so overwhelmed we lose track and sight of what it is we are supposed to be doing. When that happens it is always nice to have a reminder. Of course, depending on the kind of reminder we get, we may be all the more overwhelmed: Picture it: there they are, trudging up the mountain into the mists with Jesus when all is transformed before their eyes and the veil between the realms is parted for a brief time. They see Jesus in all his glory, not just as the itinerate rabbi they have chosen to follow and learn from. For a moment they glimpse something so much more than anything they can comprehend…a peak even unto eternity where Moses and Elijah still exist alive and well, a thousand or more years after their allotted time on earth. Not only that, but the very presence of God, hidden in the cloud, speaks words that shake them to their very core, reminding them of what they are supposed to be doing: “This is my son, the Beloved, listen to him!”

In my own personal experience, it is not often that God speaks in such ways that are clearly understood as a “God-moment” much less an epiphany of revelation such as the transfiguration. More likely, it is a Still Small Voice – not, as in this case, a thundering presence – that calls to us with words, feelings, or images in our own language. When we are graced with the presence of mind to realize what we are hearing, we often have to give a double-take and ask ourselves, “Did that just happen?” It seems much more common for me in my own experience to have to listen to many voices – of the planet and of other people (and sometimes even other faiths) – to find divine messages of hope and caring, compassion and understanding, mercy and love; which to me are kernels of God’s eternal truth, speaking through the limitless instruments of God’s own choosing. Commentator Maryann Mckibben Dana writes,

“In the topsy-turvy reign of God, strength comes from weakness, glory from despair. The loss of Elijah does not deter Elisha from what must be done: it does not dis-figure him for the ministry to come. In the next section, the transformed, trans-figured Elisha will pick up Elijah’s mantle that has fluttered to the ground. He will strike the water with it, pass through, and journey on. It is a welcome reminder to those of us to lead, mentor, and shepherd others. It is not our ministry but God’s; we cannot walk the journey for others, but we can invite them, as Elijah did, to keep their eyes open—to keep watch for evidence of God’s grace and power.”[3]

When we keep watch for that evidence, it is then that our own transfiguration is apt to come. Not that we become shining white like Jesus, no, our own transfiguration is more like Elisha’s, or perhaps Peter’s: Something in us changes, and we grow more open to the Spirit, who then begins to lead us into the Reign of God more clearly, more dearly; enabling us to be of service in the name of Christ, becoming ministers to others searching for God-moments in their lives. Let us pray:

O Lord, you are a lamp unto our feet and a light to our path; may we see clearly the way before us; and in walking, help us light the way for others to follow. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray: “Amen?” May it be so.

[1] Adapted from a poem by Ted Loder

[2] WM Loyd Allen, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration.

[3] Maryann Mckibben Dana, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration.

 

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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