Scripture Introductions

Transfiguration Sunday February 15, 2015 Scripture Introductions by Stewart Clarke
[May I offer possible Introductions to Sunday’s suggested Scripture readings? (1) They are offered for use, for reflection, for adaptation, or as springboards for your own, which may be the best way to go.. The whole point is to show respect for the Bible and the congregation’s interest in it. (Anything in parentheses may be passed over, of course, and footnotes ignored, unless you prefer otherwise! Oh, to know what is important to you; but I respond to what fascinates me, in the confidence that you will use what is important in the life of your congregation(s) and ignore whatever..... Believe it or not, I am already rambling, and in the first paragraph!) Our first reading tells of the end of Elijah’s(2) prophetic ministry and the beginning of Elisha’s(3), assuring a continuity of prophecy in Israel(4) (the northern kingdom). (We read a very human story with beyond-heroic overtones. . Elijah’s ministry is coming to an end, with echoes of Moses, the very model of “prophet(5).” As Moses led the people across the Sea of Reeds, Elijah parts the river Jordan. As Moses disappeared at the end of his career, Elijah will disappear - dramatically. Elisha is well aware of the coming end but so are the other prophets! In their “anticipatory grief,” they can’t help but remark that Elijah is nearing his end, but Elisha wants to hear none of it. He, also, grieves. Picture the story told and retold, and the dramatic tension as phrases are repeated. Elijah takes a farewell tour. He walks from Gilgal(6) south to Bethel, southeast to Jericho, and on to the Jordan, about 30 miles along the south border between Israel and Judah. ) The story unfolds, as Elisha, even in grief, prepares to succeed his mentor. What does he want? He wants to continue Elijah’s ministry with Elijah’s power, and more. Elijah responds, in effect, with, “We will see.” It is poignantly human, but Elijah’s demise is pictured in terms of God recalling him through fire and whirlwind. (If Moses’ grave was unknown, Elijah seems to go one better! Elisha’s reaction is, in some ways, comparable to Peter’s in the Gospel passage!) Our reading ends before the end of the episode. When you go home you may want to read it through. As we end our reading, Elisha tears his clothes, a sign of his grief, but also that his putting the past behind him. But is he ready for Elijah’s mantle? Let us read the account, and may God speak to us. (It’s a great story, worthy of dramatic presentation!) 2 Kings 2: 1-12 (7) It is appropriate to give thanks and praise following the readings. You may prefer to hold your acclaim until after the Gospel, or use traditional language, or pause, or say something like: May God bless to us this story of human dedication and divine power. Amen
The Psalm, in response, tells of God of the whole earth and heaven gathering the people of Israel. The link with the first reading would seem to be the reference to fire and tempest. (“Selah” may mean “lift up,” but with no indication as to whether it is eyes, hands, or voices.) Let us… Psalm 50: 1-6 (VU p. 775)
The Epistle, or letter, reading reflects a scene in which the proclamation of Jesus falls on deaf ears, which must have been a shock to those who found it exciting and uplifting. Paul reminds the church in Corinth, and us, that the Gospel is more than a personal message. The reference to light can help link the passage with the Gospel reading. Let us listen, as Paul reminds us of the Gospel, in 2 Corinthians 4: 3-6. May we be encouraged, certain that God's light will shine even when the Good News seems to fall on deaf ears. Amen.
The Gospel (8) reading is a testimony to what Jesus has come to mean to the early Christian Church, or “Jesus Movement.” In Jewish thought, Moses was the most important human figure in history: no one comparable has appeared on earth, but Mark presents Moses conversing with Jesus, on equal terms. Elijah, next in stature,(9) joins the group. Since Moses represents the glory of the Torah, “Teaching or Law,” and Elijah represents the prophets, both ”Torah” and Prophets (10) recognize Jesus! For the early Jewish Christians, there could be no greater assertion.(11) (For Christians, John the Baptist was the new Elijah, and Mark repeats part of God’s proclamation from the time of Jesus’ baptism by John! Peter would like to build shrines in honour of the occasion; but Jesus is looking ahead to his ministry. ) Let us rise to honour and be open to the Good News for us in: (Let us listen closely for the Good News for us in Mark 9: 2-9 (12). After the reading, we might say something like: May the disciples’ understanding of Jesus enhance our own, Amen. It is appropriate to follow the readings with thanks and praise.
  1. With thanks to CAM and EMC, in retrospect. .
  2. Elijah means “My God is The Lord [YHWH}.”
  3. Elisha is “My God is salvation.”
  4. Is there a touch of divine humour in the names being so much alike? You may want to emphasize with the reader that it is “El-EE-jah,” and “El-ISH-a.”
  5. There may be at least three kinds or aspects of prophets, “nevi’im.” There were schools of prophets either as disciples or with some liturgical function; some might whirl like dervishes. Prophets acted as seers and foretellers. And there is inspired prophesy, with the prophet not a foreteller so much as a spokesperson for God. Elijah excelled as a champion and spokesperson for God, with Elisha as his disciple and successor.
  6. There seem to be several Gilgals, “circle of stones.” This could be the one by Shiloh, which gives almost a straight line to the Jordan River, stopping to visit schools of prophets on the way.
  7. It seems to me that “Gospel” is a special category of writing, distinct from biography or history. It is a testimony to what Jesus means to the one or ones behind the Gospel. To interpret it as a historical account is to mistake the purpose and, perhaps, to diminish its message. RSC.
  8. Elijah was so important to early Christians that the order of the Older Testament books ( Tanakh) was rearranged to have the prophecy of Elijah’s return[1] come at the end, and bridge to John the Baptist and the story of Jesus!.
  9. The two main divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures, ‘Torah’ and “Nevi’im.” In Hebrew Scriptures, these are followed by the “Writings,” “Kethubhim.” In making these their own, Christian scholars (?) reinterpreted some prophetic books as :”history,” and moved the “Writings” into a new scheme, ending with Malachi. It is a thorough rethinking of the format, and, following McLuhan, the message!
  10. Did it happen, or is this myth? “Myth” is sometimes interpreted as false. I prefer to think of it as one of the aspects of rhetoric, as I read it one time. There are four aspects: Logos, analytical, etc; Mythos, a telling of deep/spiritual truth in story form, the importance being the power and meaning, not the historical precision; Pathos, dealing with feeling, and Ethos, dealing with community and community ethics.. In the case of the Transfiguration, we may hear some analysis of the Torah and Prophet messages being seen in Jesus’ ministry. Mythos tells the meaningful story of Torah and Prophets leading to and honouring Jesus. We can let ourselves be caught up in the emotional response, especially of Peter. And we can contemplate the way in which Jesus’ style and teaching are to be lived out in community. RSC.
  11. Would you want to begin with v. 1, where Mark might be seen to link the Kingdom of God with the vision of Transfiguration
With thanks to CAM and EMC.
  • TaNaKh refers to the Torah (Law/Teaching), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Kethuvim (Writings) the three divisions of the Jewish Scriptures, which can give a different stress to some of the books which are differently organized in the Christian “canon.”
  • Jesus is also pictured as taking some of his followers part way.
  • I sometimes compare the expression to ours of “a month of Sundays.”
  • Imagine! His name is “Father is Peace!”
  • Albert Schweitzer, in his Search for the Historical Jesus, suggested that these events have been reversed in the Gospels, and that Peter’s confession makes more sense after the experience on the mountaintop!
  • Peter, James and John: I keep wondering what happened to Andrew, usually portrayed as very accessible to people. Is this moment too exalted? RSC.
  • As with the Sermon on the Mount, and Moses’ story, a mountain is involved, and they are “apart” from the others and from ordinary life.
  • I was asked about standing for the Gospel… My assumption is that the congregation has been sitting for a while, and will be sitting through the sermon, so it makes physiological sense to stand, and be able to listen better. Once that is taken into account, we can find other, more theological, reasons, such as: we stand to welcome and honour our Lord Christ Jesus.. RSC. (Comments to Stew at