In the Presence 2nd Sunday in Lent
2 Kings 2: 1-12 February 28, 2021 Mark 9: 2-9
Once upon a time, there was a young boy who walked to Sunday School every single Sunday. An old sinner who lived near the boy’s path decided he would intercept the young fellow and “throw a wet blanket” on his faith. So, one Sunday morning, he stepped in front of the boy and said, “Son, I’ll give you a nickel if you can tell me where God is!” And, without missing a beat, the boy replied, “Mister, I’ll give you a dime if you can tell me where He ain’t!”
This little fellow obviously understood the concept of the omnipresence of God—the understanding that God is in all places and all times. Now, while you and I give an intellectual nod to omnipresence, it’s Scripture passages like the ones we heard today that make us step back and take a look at what it means to BE in God’s Presence.
There are many Old Testament passages that promise God’s presence. My favorite is the one where God is encouraging Joshua as he steps into the leadership left vacant by Moses. God says to him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Yes, we understand that the Lord our God is with us, but how do we experience God’s presence? Let’s look at these two dramatic episodes where God’s glory is revealed.
Chariot of Fire
The first takes place when the senior prophet, Elijah, is about to be taken away from his protégé, Elisha. Several times, Elijah tried to get Elisha to stay behind while he went on ahead—but Elisha always told him, “I will not leave you.” All the other prophets in the various places they visited warned him that his master was going to be taken that day, but he made it clear, “I don’t want to talk about it!”
When the two approached the Jordan, they re-enacted a moment of history when the Hebrew people first crossed over this river. Elijah rolled up his mantle (an outer cloak), struck the water with it, and they walked across on dry land. Elijah asked his young apprentice, “What may I do for you?” And the answer that Elisha gave him must have warmed the old man’s heart. He said, “I want to be like you.” Well, the actual words were, “Please let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” It was just the right answer! And he was assured that, if he watched as Elijah was being taken, his request would be granted.
As you heard in the reading, “a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.” And Elisha was left babbling, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen! (I dare you to say something more cogent if someone you love is swept away into the heavens in a chariot of fire!)
And then, in his grief, Elisha tore his garment, and he took up the Mantle that had been left behind—and he became the chief Prophet of Israel. He had experienced first-hand the Presence of God—or at least of God’s messengers.
On the Mountain
In our Gospel reading today, we heard an account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Up on the mountain, in sight of Peter, James, and John, his clothes became dazzling white. He was talking with Moses and Elijah! The text doesn’t say what they were talking about, but many scholars believe that they were encouraging Jesus, who was on his way to the cross.
And, just as Elisha was babbling as Elijah was taken up into the heavens, Peter also babbled: Let’s build some dwellings! And the text tells us, “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” Then they heard a voice from a cloud, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
These three disciples were given a glimpse of the Glory of God, and I am certain that it inspired them for years to come. And Jesus was empowered to stay true to his mission, no matter the consequences. Experiencing the Presence of God meant everything to them. What might it mean to you and to me? How do we open ourselves to God’s Presence?
Inherit the Spirit
A military chaplain by the name of Carey Cash wrote a book about his experiences called A Table in the Presence. He was with the Marines who were the “tip of the spear” going into Iraq. One line from the 23rd Psalm kept coming back to him, “You have prepared for me a table in the presence of my enemies.”
On the battlefield, The Lord’s Supper became very important to the soldiers. They were vividly aware of their need for God’s Presence as they performed their dangerous tasks. // They believed in the rightness of what they were doing, and they were prepared to die doing it, but they needed to sense God’s Presence with them and with their loved-ones back home.
By the power of the Spirit, God is able to be with us. In fact, one of the names of Jesus is “God-with-us” or Immanuel.
Some fine day, you and I will stand in the full presence of God—but on this side of the grave, God is with us by the Holy Spirit.
How can we know that we are living in God’s presence? Hosea expressed his confidence: “He will restore us, that we may live in His presence.” Here is how early Christians understood what it means to live in the Presence of God: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our sisters and brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or a sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in them? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This is then how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:16-20)
Here’s a story that beautifully illustrates this idea:
Corrie ten Boom and her family hid Jews from the Nazis, and when they were caught, they were sent to concentration camps themselves. As Corrie experienced the grinding brutality, the cold, the shortages of food and blankets and medicine, she found herself growing selfish. And she sensed that she was growing distant from God. Once she became aware of her situation, she confronted it, she gave of herself, and she found herself instantly re-connected with God and with her fellow prisoners! She had learned the wisdom of John’s words, “Let us love with actions and in truth, and our hearts will be at rest In His Presence.”