2/14: 2 Kings 2:1-12 • Psalm 50:1-6 • 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 • Mark 9:2-9
The story of the transfiguration is an important one – read every year on the last Sunday before Lent begins. Featuring Jesus, three disciples, two old testament leaders, a voice from a cloud, a mountain top, and some very strange weather, it's a tribute to all that goes into gaining perspective. An interesting detail is the choice of old testament characters. Who would you have guessed would be present for this summation of all that has happened and discernment of what was to come? Moses, surely, but who else? Maybe Abraham, patriarch of the faith? Or Joshua, responsible for moving the work of Moses forward. Maybe Isaiah, that great prophet who seemed to anticipate what was ahead. Well, none of the above. Instead, the other figure on the mountain top is Elijah.
Elijah was one wild and crazy guy. Hairy, with a leather belt around his waist, he was apt to do the unexpected. First off, he was big on telling the truth – alienating King Ahaz and his wife Jezebel. Second, he took huge risks. For instance, when he fled from Ahaz (1 Kings 17), he told the widow he'd taken refuge with her to use up all her remaining food to make a meal. The third thing about Elijah is that he could deliver the goods. When the widow's son died, Elijah brought him back to life.
Another Elijah story (I Kings 18) perhaps gives more insight into how he was chosen by central casting for the Transfiguration event. Going to King Ahaz, who could have had him killed on the spot, he challenges him to a cosmic duel of sorts. He asks Ahaz to assemble everyone on Mount Carmel: people and prophets, both of Yahweh and of Baal and Asherah, the local gods. Some were devoted to one; many hedged their bets, trying to stay in the good graces of all possible deities. Looking at the gathered crowd, Elijah asks the people one question: How long will you go limping with two different opinions?
Now the content of the rest of the story 'may be unsettling' to some. It's a high stakes, winner takes all, situation, where animals are prepared for sacrifice and the question is whose god can make the fire to burn the offering. Losers are to be killed. The prophets of the local gods attempt to invoke their power through parading around their altar, incantations, and cutting themselves. Elijah mocks them, and they try harder. Nothing happens. Elijah works hard to set up his altar, building it deep and wide and dousing it thoroughly with water. In the end, Elijah calmly says a two-sentence prayer, and his offering is consumed by fire.
It's a great story and a fun read. More to the point, though, it's a story describing what motivated Elijah. His deeply held principle about serving one god, and one god only, seems to have given him an abundance of energy and focus. It bothered him, for instance, to hear folks make illusions to the local god, who was said to control the rain and the dew. It bothered him that the King had married a woman with ties to these local cults. He saw how these mixed allegiances weakened the people: limping with two different opinions.
'Limping with two different opinions' is a great line. The more one doubts her direction, the more time she wastes in indecision. And the more vulnerable she becomes, like a wave in the sea, tossed by the wind. Recognize that line? See James 1:6 – a book, incidentally, which closes with a story from the life of Elijah.
A moment came in Elijah's life when he lost his momentum. Hiding in a cave, he does not find it, although powerful winds, an earthquake, and a fire rage. Finally, it comes to him again as a still, small voice. Here is the task and the challenge of growing up. Recognizing what one is loyal to, when it has lost its luster, is a necessary step towards integrity. Elijah belongs in the Transfiguration story, where Jesus searched and found the motivation to stay the course.
In today's reading from 1 Kings, Elijah's chief disciple, Elisha, is accompanying him on his last day on earth. In a humble moment, Elijah asks Elisha what he might do for him before he goes. When Elisha identifies what he wants – a double share of that spirit – Elijah responds that he cannot guarantee this. Elijah had much to offer, to teach, to give. But motivation comes from within. With it comes an abundance of energy, a host of problems, and the greatest stories ever told.
Morning: What do I have energy for today?
Evening: When was I limping along with two different opinions? How do I find clarity?
Psalm 50:1 The mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.