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«Luke 9:28-36 1 Kings 19:9-16 “Go. Anoint” Rev. Dr. Susan DeWyngaert When God wanted to make it absolutely clear that Jesus was the Messiah, the ...»

February 7, 2016

Transfiguration Sunday

Luke 9:28-36

1 Kings 19:9-16

“Go … Anoint”

Rev. Dr. Susan DeWyngaert

When God wanted to make it absolutely clear that Jesus was the Messiah, the One sent

to redeem -- not just Israel, but the whole world -- God placed him on a mountain top.

Moses and Elijah were there as well – Moses, the giver of the Law, and Elijah, the

greatest of all the prophets. The disciples saw them. As Jesus’ appearance suddenly

became dazzling light, God spoke, in very much the same way God spoke at Jesus’ baptism, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” In the Bible, important things happen on mountain tops. God revealed Jesus as the Messiah on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses received the Law of God on Mt. Sinai;

Solomon built the first temple atop Mt. Zion. On Mount Carmel, Elijah called down fire from heaven in a show of pyrotechnical glory that would make the Super Bowl Halftime Show look like a bunch of kids playing with fireworks in the backyard. On Mr. Carmel Elijah soundly defeated 450 prophets of the pagan God, Ba’al.

It’s one of the most spectacular stories in human history. David McCullough should write a book about it.

But it also has a dark side.

Immediately after his stunning victory, Elijah begins to over function. He runs around like crazy, 17 miles back to where the evil Queen Jezebel is waiting for him. She’s the one who introduced Ba’al worship in Israel in the first place. She is not happy; she threatens to kill him within 24 hours.

You would think that after seeing God’ power unleased, Elijah would throw his head back and roar with laughter: “Who is this know-nothing queen to contend with the Mighty Yahweh?” But that’s not what happens. Now Elijah is spooked. He’s afraid. She may have lost the battle, but she’s still on the throne.

Terrified, Elijah heads for the hills where he finally falls down exhausted and begs God to kill him before Jezebel can. It’s ironic, and so sad. He has just seen the greatest victory of his life, and he is so depressed he can barely move.

Have you ever felt that way? Everyone around you is singing and celebrating but you just can’t get your jolly on. Every chord the organ (band) plays nearly brings you to tears. You feel no peace within or calm around you.

I read about a young lawyer who had walked through the valley of the shadow. Things were going poorly for him. His friends thought it best to keep knives and razors away

from him for fear he might make a suicide attempt. He wrote in his journal:

I am not the most miserable man living… Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I fear I shall not.i That young lawyer’s name was Abraham Lincoln. Churchill nicknamed his depression “the Black Dog.” Nobody, I mean nobody, is immune. Elijah, who was the greatest of all the prophets of God, and the “Troubler of Israel” as the king called him because of his extraordinary courage and ability to speak truth to power, even Elijah wasn’t immune.

God had an answer for Elijah. It’s really an answer for all of us. Listen to the reading

from 1 Kings 19, beginning at verse 9:

9At that place [Elijah] came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 11[God] He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: There are times, Loving God, times when we feel too like we can’t go on.

Those are the times when your angels come and minister to us. Send your Holy Spirit to move among us today. Blow through our wilderness. Set us free. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Bill is nothing short of a miracle. The doctors told him that his kind of cancer has a 2% recovery rate. Ninety eight percent of the people diagnosed with his kind of cancer die within three years. Today, more than five years after Bill’s diagnosis, he is alive, cancer free, and depressed. He is struggling to free himself from a shroud of hopelessness that seems to engulf his life.

The “whys” of Bill’s situation are not hard to understand. He’s carried a great physical burden these years; the treatments were very hard. The lost work, fear and isolation that come with any kind of serious illness left him emotionally raw.

Bill ponders the words of Elijah the prophet:

“I alone am left, and they are seeking my life to take it away.” Damn cancer. But it’s more than that. I’m not qualified to speak in clinical terms about depression. There are skilled and compassionate people at Woods Counseling and Care Center. What I would like to show today is how God dealt with one man – one very important man, as he struggled with his own deep sense of discouragement, even despair.

Elijah is not just a prophet; he is the prophet. I love what the Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel wrote about the role of all the prophets in his sermon series and about Elijah in

particular. He wrote:

The prophet sees people as they are, and as they ought to be. Someone who reflects his time, yet lives outside of time. [He is] forever awake, forever alert, never indifferent, least of all to injustice…Restless, disquieting, forever waiting for a signal, a summons.

Asleep, he hears voices and follows visions; his dreams do not belong to him.

Often persecuted, always in anguish, the prophet is alone, even when addressing crowds…There is something theatrical about him; he seems to recite lines written by someone else. And yet, in order to be a prophet, he must descend into the very depth of his [own] being. In order to be inhabited or penetrated – or invaded – by God, he must be truly, authentically himself.

What others think or learn, the prophet already knows. He is God’s sounding board. But at times he is the last to know: Elijah spoke and occasionally did not know what he had said.ii Always Elijah was God’s chosen man. Now, in the aftermath of his crisis, God gives him sleep, the sweet rest that can be so hard to come by in difficult times. As he sleeps, someone comes and touches him. Was it an angel? Elijah thought so. He looked and there was a cake baked on hot stones. Angel food cake, I expect, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and slowly began to regain his strength.

Sometimes, the grace of God is that gentle. Sometimes when we are at our lowest point, an angel arrives dressed in human clothes. A cup of coffee can help us turn the corner, a phone call from a friend, or the sound of a child’s laughter can be like the bread of angels.

Nourished, Elijah gets to his feet but he runs even farther away. He finds a cave, a dark, womb-like place, and hides again. Now the word of the Lord is finished petting

and pacifying him. God will not let him be, not let him die. He hears:

“What are you doing here Elijah?” That’s a great question, isn’t it? Have you ever asked yourself: “What AM I doing here?

We don’t know how God asked it. Was it “What are you DOING here Elijah?” or, “What are you doing HERE, Elijah?” or “WHAT are you doing here, Elijah?” I need to ask myself that same question all the time. A lot of us tend to over function.

We are constantly running: we wear ourselves out in a whirlwind of activity. Sucked into the vortex of busyness, we’re running from here to there and back again.

Remember to stop and ask yourself “What am I doing here?”

Elijah’s answer is not so good – he answers:

“I’m all alone. My people are faithless. They have killed your prophets and I am the only one left.” There are really two problems with what Elijah says: 1. It is steeped in self-pity and 2. It isn’t true. Obadiah hid and 100 prophets of Yahweh, and Elijah knows it. There are thousands of faithful people in Jerusalem who refuse to serve idols.

It’s interesting, God does not argue with him, because a picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. Instead, God will show him how strong and how small, how thunderous, and how crushingly quiet God is.

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

I have experienced a hurricane and it is just like that. There is the violence of the wind and rain and then nothing. Is that silence God? Not exactly. Martin Luther once noted that, “God is farther away than the furthest star and closer than the beat of your own heart.” Here’s something I admit that I had never seen before I began studying this passage for today: the text never says that God is in the silence. What it says is that the silence grabbed Elijah’s attention, in a way that the earthquake, wind and fire did not. The sound of sheer silence made it possible for him to hear God.

God asks again:

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” I imagine he heard the question differently the second time: not in an accusatory way, not in a defensive way, but in a holy way, a way that enabled him to rethink his call.

One of my all-time favorite poems is by Mary Oliver.

–  –  –

God has something specific in mind of Elijah to do with his one wild and precious life.

One word, a word that God speaks over and over and over again in the scriptures. The word is “Go.” No more excuses, no more whining. Go … Anoint kings, commission prophets. Go.

As much as God knows we need rest and renewal the last word here is not withdrawal but engagement.

This is what we do at Woods. We go…and anoint. This morning we are anointing two brand-new Christians, Brenden Muehlhauser and Hop Laque. Their parent’s brought them here to receive the waters of baptism and anointing. They are marked and claimed as Christ’s own forever. It’s not only those who come to us. Woods members also go out from here, carrying the blessing of God to our neighbors -- at Arundel House of Hope, hundreds of us have worked with this mission partner this week during Winter Relief.

Go … anoint. We go to Lighthouse Shelter, Baltimore Station, SPAN, Harundale Free Lunch and Samaritan Women and dozens of other places. We carry Woods’ special brand of anointing to Cuba, Guatemala, Jamaica and Malawi. There we receive the blessing others, and give it back again.

None of this is easy. There is always risk, risk of being overwhelmed, of seeing too much. It’s not so much the fear of failure – this is God’s mission; it is not going to fail – but there is a risk of feeling too much, of feeling inadequate, like a fool. I think that’s why Elijah was tempted to go hide in a cave.

There are times in all our lives when we feel crushed by circumstances, when we feel alone, no matter how many loved ones try to show us the positives, no matter how many times we see God’s glory, all we want to do is crawl in the bed and pull the covers up over our heads.

Elijah believed, as we often do, that everything depended on him, that he alone was responsible. It simply isn’t true. Nobody is in this alone. When we withdraw we lose the power that God has given us in community, the connection that keeps us whole.

The novelist Fred Buechner tells of a time in his life when he was very much like Elijah, utterly discouraged. His daughter was seriously ill, she was hospitalized. He was driving home from visiting her when he was suddenly overcome with despair. He pulled the car over to the side of the road and stopped, totally defeated, unable to go any farther. It was then, Buechner said, that God spoke to him. A car driving had on its license plate the one word of all the world that he need to see exactly then. It said, “TRUST”.

“What do you call a moment like that?” Buechner asks in his book, Telling Secrets. He


“[Is it] something to laugh off the kind of joke life plays on us once in a while? [Or] the word of God? I’m willing to believe that maybe it was something of both, but for me it was an epiphany.iii” The owner of the car turned out to be a trust officer at the bank. Reading the author’s account of the story, he found Fred’s home and one afternoon brought him the license plate. It sits propped on the bookshelf of his house to this day. iv So what are you doing here?

What do you do when God speaks to you like that? Whatever God tells you to do. Go … anoint.

Thanks be to God!

i Letter to John T. Stuart, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. 1 http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/lincoln1/1:248?rgn=div1;view=fulltext ii Elie Wiesel, Five Biblical Portraits, University of Notre Dame Press, 1981, 37.

iii Fredrick Buechner, Telling Secrets, 45-46 iv ibid

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