Reflections: Transfiguration Sunday

Reflections on Transfiguration, Year C
2 Kings 2:1-12  “Elijah ascended into heaven in a whirlwind.”


                No one likes being caught in a storm.

                The severe tornadoes of last summer, including the one that devastated Joplin, Missouri, surely give us a case in point. If the storm that hit Joplin would have occurred just a few miles away, few people would have been effected. As it was it tore thousands of lives apart and upended others.

                Too bad we translate the Hebrew word SEH-aw-rah as whirlwind. “Whirlwind” sounds like a carnival ride. It’s way too tame. Surely no one who survived the Joplin “whirlwind” will make the mistake of thinking these things tame. A SEH-aw-rah is completely unpredictable and wild. It is absolutely beyond our control and it can kill us all.

                Yet there is One who can direct its coming and going. And the spiritually wise ones through the ages have seen that God often both reveals and advances her will through such storms.

                Most notable we have Job, the most righteous man on earth, who suffers a series of disasters that wipe out his wealth and his family. His whole life has been invested in the truth that God gives life meaning, but nothing now makes sense. If God is all good, then certainly he cannot be all powerful—that much is rationally proven by his experiences.

                But God shatters reason by coming to Job and addressing him from out of the wild, ripping chaos of a tornado. He lectures Job about the way the world is. Almost none of it makes sense to paper thin human understanding. Every living thing that is spotlighted by the Lord of the storm is beyond—will not be domesticated or even understood. Yet it serves the good purposes of this self-same Lord.

                And now we have Elijah. He has been a crucial kind of hero for the preservation of Israel. When the nation was in danger of losing its identity and failing in its mission of being a blessing to the world, Elijah stood strong and spoke God’s truth to power. But now Elijah is to be taken into heaven in a “whirlwind.” Elisha and the entire guild of prophets spread throughout the land, know this is to happen, but have no idea why or what it will mean for them or for the nation. They, like Peter and the disciples of Jesus on the mountain, do not know what to say or what to do.

                All of us are stopped cold and silenced in the face of storms like this in our lives. The ones we built our lives around are taken from us. Our way of life is utterly disrupted. The things we knew for sure are proved to be wrong. Even our basic values, that we thought came straight from God, are called into question. Is life worth living without these things?

                John Dominic Crossan, points out that there are two basic, dominant types of expression in the Bible. One is myth, which builds our world of meaning. Myths are foundational stories, telling us that this is the way the world is.

                But the Bible also speaks in parable, which subverts our world of meaning and calls on us not to be so all-fired sure of ourselves. Parable says, “That beautiful, certain, comfortable house you are living in is built directly over an earthquake zone.”

                And Jesus is the great parable of our lives. Jesus says only he is the solid ground. All others are shifting sand. And Jesus tells us that when we are so certain and satisfied about everything, we have built our house on the seemingly solid ground of our certainty and correctness itself. That is a huge mistake. It is a real blessing when the whirlwind comes to stir things up and get us to abandon the house on the sand and run to something else.

                Paradoxically that something else is less of a house or a structure or a system. It is a tabernacle – a tent – a mobile home – the way of life of a wandering disciple. The disciples aren’t allowed to build the booths for Jesus, Elijah and Moses on the mountain. They must leave the mountain top and move on, even when they don’t know what to say or what to think about it all. That’s okay. The wind will blow where IT wants. And even when it turns completely insane and chaotic, God will be in that too.

                Here on the farm we know a thing or two about wind storms. We prepare and plan. We plant wind-break trees and put up our snow fences, oriented to protect against the prevailing winds. We  pay roofers to install the most expensive kind of architectural shingles—rated to withstand hurricane-force tempests. But the wind fools us. It changes directions from the northeast to the west to the south. The snow swirls in all sorts of directions around hills and buildings. The hay blows in our eyes no matter how we carry it to the feeders for the sheep.

                We love stability and predictability. We love to pray to God in quiet times and thank him  for all things bright and beautiful. But it’s when the ugly things that we don’t want come our way that we really have to work and worry and chomp down and listen hard for the lessons.

               God is speaking.

               In my short life of only 64 years I’ve been caught up in all kinds of whirlwinds. Battles over who loved the Bible more shattered my college, seminary and the whole Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. A divorce took away the biggest reason I had at the time for believing in God. The Vietnam “conflict” devoured my best friend. And the ravings of people who stood to gain from hatreds between blacks and whites and men and women and gays and straights have turned gentle folk into fire-starters and brick throwers.    

               In the midst of all of these storms the people who acted the very worst were the ones who thought that this storm would definitely signal the end. This storm is to be hated and feared more than all the others because our way of life is being threatened. In fact, it is God who must be defended. We are God’s only hope.

              And yet, always, God is in the tornado, storm, tempest, whirlwind. God is saying, “I am to be found not looking back for the solid ground, but looking out to something new that you can’t know yet. I will show you the way if you stop worrying so much and just trust me more than you do your old certainties.”

About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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