Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Hearing and Following: a Sermon with Reference to 2 Kings 2:1-12, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 and Mark 9:2-9 for the Last Sunday after Epiphany (Year B)—by Ken Gair



This was preached at StB on Sunday, February 19th, by Ken Gair, carpenter (retired) and sometime pastor in years past. Normally a recording would have been posted on the parish website but we had a technical glitch that day. Not surprised. I doubt the enemy would want this to get out. Ken is also no mean poet. I am intrigued by the poetic way in which he laid his manuscript out. He was preaching a Gospel poem!! 

HEARING AND FOLLOWING

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the scripture readings this morning. We pray that your people would hear your voice speaking your words for them and nothing but your words. In Jesus name, amen.

I. Introduction    

It’s an honor to be able to speak to you on this the last Sunday of Epiphany. 
I find today’s readings exciting. 
The rapture of Elijah, the Transfiguration -
They remind me that we serve a supernatural God. 
I’ve tried hard to hear what message God has for us in these particular readings from His word.
I’m one of those simple souls who believes the Bible means pretty much what it says. 
Having accepted the existence of God
it’s not too much of a stretch to believe that He’s wiser than I am
and that I may not understand how He does what He does.
Nor do I need to.

So I believe Elijah was really caught up to heaven in a whirlwind.
Some of us will be caught up. 
The Bible tells us that when Christ returns, 
those who are alive and remain – 
remain in Christ – 
will  be caught up to meet him in the air; 
will be changed into glory in the twinkling of an eye. 
We don’t know who, 
we don’t know when. 
It could be this morning; 
it could be us. 
We could step out of this building and go shooting up like rockets. 
Outta here. Gone to be with Jesus. 
Would we be ready to go? 
Would we even be willing?
Or would our love of this world and the things of this world
  hold us down?  Remember Lot’s wife? 
 
II. Taking up Elijah

Why was Elijah taken up and not me? James tells us that Elijah was human just like us. 
In today’s Old Testament reading 
he seems to be a type of Christ-figure to his servant Elisha, 
but maybe that’s only because he was transparent enough 
for God  to shine through. 
You and I are supposed to be like that. Clear as glass. 
Elijah was a righteous man, fervent in prayer; 
he was very zealous for the Lord God, 
his name, the very core of his identity, signified “Yahweh is God”.
And his life was consecrated, given to God.

Remember back a few years earlier, 
when he hit a low point in his life, 
1 Kings 19 tells us, he asked that he might die, and said 
“It is enough, Lord; I am no better than my fathers. 
Take my life.” 
Strange – he was willing to die, but he was caught up alive into heaven.

I remember a low point in my own life, 
when I cried out to God and said something similiar: 
“Lord, take my life. 
I don’t seem to be doing very well managing it. 
You take it and do what you want with it.” 
You may have done something like that too.
So why Elijah and not me? Well for one thing, I’ve kept taking my life back 
and giving it back 
and taking it back, on and on, 
just wearying the Lord, I’m sure,
whereas Elijah came to the end of himself once and for all
and went on in the power of God.
Now let’s look at Elisha’s part in this. This was Elijah’s last day on earth – 
Elisha knew it, 
the prophets knew it; 
obviously Elijah knew it, 
and he spent it just going where God directed sent him. And Elisha refused to be separated from him for even a moment. 

Elisha had left his home, 
his father’s farm, 
servants and lands, to follow him, 
and he wasn’t going to be separated from him now. 
He wanted to inherit the spirit that was on Elijah. 
That was the spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. 
And Elijah tells him, 
“If you see me as I am taken up, it will be yours; 
otherwise, not.” 

So they’re walking along and suddenly 
a chariot of fire and horses of fire separate them, 
and Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind, 
and despite all the distractions 
Elisha keeps his eyes on his master, 
and Elijah’s mantle and the spirit that was upon Elijah fall on Elisha.
Is that what we want – to inherit the spirit that was upon our master? 
Then we must keep our eyes on Him. 
There’s glory waiting for those who keep their eyes on Jesus, 
who refuse to be separated from him, 
even if it means being separated from this world 
and everything in it.

III. The Transfiguration 

In the gospel this Sunday, the last Sunday of Epiphany, 
we always read the story of the Transfiguration. 

“Six days after, Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up a high mountain apart..and there he was transfigured before them.” 

To understand why we read that story at this time
let’s go back a few verses to discover, 
six days after what? 

In Mark chapter 8 verse 27 
we find the event the time was measured from: 
Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah. 

Jesus asked , “Who do you say that I am? “
And Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” 

Isn’t that a fitting climax for the season of Epiphany, the season of the revealing of Christ to the world? 

How about you? How about me? 
If actions speak louder than words, 
who do we say He is? 

He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
But as we read on, we find Jesus beginning to teach the disciples 
what that fact and their confession of it would mean.

They still thought that they were following an earthly Messiah 
who would defeat the Romans 
and would reign in splendour in Jerusalem – 
they were backing the winner. 
Like the U.S. Republican primaries. 
We too often serve God for wrong reasons. 

But from that time on Jesus began to teach them 
that he would be rejected 
and be killed 
and after three days rise again. 
He spoke plainly about this. 
What do you suppose that did to their plans for their own future? 

Peter rebelled openly, 
took Jesus aside 
and began to rebuke Him. 
And Jesus said, “Get thee behind me Satan. 
If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, 
take up his cross 
and follow me. 
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, 
but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it.”

Notice Jesus didn’t say, anyone who wants to be a fanatic
or a professional Christian.
He said, anyone. That’d be you and me.
The disciples didn’t want to hear that, any more than we do. 
Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me? 
What kind of crazy gospel is that? 
Well, Christianity is not about self-affirmation or self-realization – 
we’re a bit conflicted there. 
It’s the world and the devil that worships self. 

The Bible is not a self-help manual; though it’s filled with God’s help.
I was always leery of self-help – 
I was afraid I would wind up with a fool for a helper – 
the same fool who got me into the mess to begin with. 

God has an answer for all our problems, 
and it’s always the same answer,
Jesus Christ, 
and the first step is always the same: First, you die. 
That may be the symbolic death of baptism, 
but it’s more than just being sprinkled with water, 
more than just being welcomed into a church; 
it’s giving up every right to yourself, 
surrendering the good in yourself as well as the bad, 
and saying, Lord, take my life. 
Jesus doesn’t just patch up our old life; 
he wants to give us a whole new life. 
But we have to give him the old one first.
Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I no longer live but Christ lives in me.”. 
I, Ken Gair, poor, sinful, weak, no longer live, but the God of the
universe lives in me? Hey, that sounds good to me.  

“Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me”. That’s not a popular message, but Jesus doesn’t list any other options. 
The road to glory always leads through Calvary. 
Only the devil advertises shortcuts.
“Jesus took Peter, James and John, 
and led them up a high mountain apart, 
and there he was transfigured before them.” 
I always wondered, why those three? Why were they so often singled out? 
And I think it’s because they just refused to be separated from Jesus. 
James tells us it’s our choice:
“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” 
The others could have had the same thing but they had somewhere else to be. 

We can be as close to Jesus as we choose to be, but we have to realize, 
if we choose to keep our distance, 
we forfeit some rewards. Maybe more than we’re willing to lose. 
If we have our eyes on something else, 
we may miss the glory,
we may not inherit the spirit that was on Him.
“And there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, who were talking with Jesus.”
What were they talking about? 
“About His departure which was to be accomplished in Jerusalem.”  
About the Cross. 
The transfiguration was the Father’s “Amen” to the Cross.
It confirmed what Jesus had told the disciples. 
“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and
that he must be killed, and after three days rise again.”

And,

“If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”. 
Peter – clumsy, bumbling, big-mouthed Peter – 
can anyone identify with Peter?  -
was distracted by the light show and the honoured guests 
and failed once again to keep his eye on his master, 
and said, “It is good for us to be here!” 
Well yes, compared to denying ourselves and taking up our cross and losing our lives to save them – very good!
But of course the glory of the Transfiguration was just a foretaste; it wasn’t the real eternal glory. To that there was no shortcut.

IV. Going on from Here - Ash Wednesday

When they came down from the mountain, we’re told in Luke, 
Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. To the cross. 
Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. The time in the church year when our steps turn toward the cross,
toward Easter. 
It’s a yearly reminder to me. 
Ash Wednesday speaks to me of my failure 
again and again 
to keep my eyes on my master. 
The ashes imposed on my forehead will be from the same palms 
with which I welcomed him a short time ago with glad hosannahs. 
Since then how many times have I shouted, 
by my thoughts,
my words, 
my actions, 
“Crucify him! Crucify him!”


But it also reminds me that I’ve committed to follow him 
and that he will never turn me away.
It reminds me that I can walk as close to Him
as I want to walk. He won’t send me to the back of the line.
But if I choose to hang back with the crowd, that’s dangerous ground.

VI. Conclusion


And the message that I was searching for? 
Well. it was so obvious I almost missed it. 
It was the word the Father spoke, 
the voice out of  the cloud, 
on the mountain of the transfiguration
“This is my son, whom I love. Listen to him!” 
As we go forward into Lent, let’s listen to Jesus. 
Maybe we could read the gospels again – 
read them prayerfully, 
read them carefully, 
read them faithfully, 
read them obediently. 
Lay aside our own interests 
and hear what Jesus has to say to us. 
And part of what he says will be, 
“If any would come after me they must deny themself, 
take up their cross 
and follow me.”  
And maybe we could  renew our commitment and our zeal
to follow him wherever he leads.
Follow him to Easter,
Through the cross to resurrection. 
Through resurrection to new life.
Life eternal. 
Follow him to glory.

Would you join me in prayer.

Lord Jesus. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. I believe that you have come so that I may have new life, abundant life, but to have that I must follow you. Lord give me strength, courage and grace to deny myself, take up my cross and follow you - as I have committed to do. In Jesus name. Amen.