Epiphany 6B

February 08, 2021

The Epiphany 6B (Transfiguration Sunday) Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for Mark 9:2-9 from the Lectionary Gospel; 2 Kings 2:1-12 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 50:1-6 from the Lectionary Psalms; and 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 from the Lectionary Epistle.

Related Reformed confession: Lectionary Epistle: Heidelberg Catechism: Q&A 115 (Lord’s Day 44)

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Mark 9:2-9

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    2 Kings 2:1-12

    Author: Stan Mast

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 50:1-6

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    Read just the first six verses of Psalm 50—as the Lectionary would have us do apparently—and it all looks grand.  It is a powerful summation of the almighty power of Israel’s God.  The imagery is majestic and even fierce.  God sallies forth from Mount Zion cloaked in splendor with tempests and fires and bright flashes of light all around.  It is not the least bit difficult to discern why the Lectionary chose these verses for Transfiguration Sunday in the Year B cycle.  All of these verses scream “Glory!”

    Alas for Israel, however, the psalm has another seventeen verses to go.  And starting in verse 7 once you delve into the remaining stanzas here, things grow a bit grim.  You know all that majesty and awesome power the first half-dozen verses used to describe God?  Well, it all gets pressed into the service of declaring a severe judgment on Israel for its sin and faithlessness.  All that majesty is not here to inspire awe.  It is here to inspire holy fear.  It is here to say “Straighten up spiritually and fly right or else!”

    Of course, we have read this kind of thing before.  Such declarations of judgment against sin are not uncommon in the Psalms and certainly are a mainstay in the Prophetic literature in the Old Testament.  Hence very little of the remainder of Psalm 50 strikes us as odd or surprising.  But it might strike us as unexpected if we are to use the first six verses the way I suspect the RCL wants us to use them; namely, to just capture some of the glory of Christ’s Transfiguration in the New Testament (and from Mark 9 in this year’s readings).

    In that case, we are perhaps properly taken aback here.  Because what this can say to us as Christians gearing up for the Season of Lent is that we also are not supposed to stop with delighting in the glory of the transfigured Christ and the appearance of Moses and Elijah at his side.  That was Peter’s initial mistake, of course.  Let’s just bottle this glory.  Let’s keep a good thing going.  Because to the minds of the disciples THIS radiant Jesus is finally the one who looks like he could kick some Roman butts and re-establish Israel as a powerful nation to rule the earth.  If we just stop the action with looking at the majestic glory, then as with stopping the reading of Psalm 50 after the sixth verse, we end up missing the real point.

    What might be the real point?  That a holy God is going to deal with sin, however severely, and if it takes this God’s mustering all the glory and majesty and power God can in order to do it, then that is what is going to happen.  The holiness and glory of God cut two ways: yes, if this God is on your side, good news!  The God who is for you holds all the cosmic power.  But if this God is against you or your sinfulness, bad news!  Because then the fierce power of God’s holiness will judge and punish, and all that majesty could crush you.

    This was more or less Jesus’ point as he and the disciples descended the mountain after the Transfiguration.  To the disciples, Jesus’ starting to talk about suffering, death, and resurrection so soon after the glory they had just witnessed seemed like Jesus was changing the subject.  It would be like a man following up a highly romantic moment with his wife to then all of a sudden start talking about different brands of motor oil.  What has THAT got to do with what just happened?  But of course Jesus was neither changing the subject nor making some unwarranted leap to something disconnected to what had just taken place.  The glory and majesty the disciples had witnessed was going to get pressed into the service of sacrifice, of dealing with sin once and for all.

    The good news of that is the Gospel truth that this means the punishment for our sin will NOT come crashing down upon us after all.  The majesty of God will not crush us.  It will crush God’s only Son.  That is the Good News of the Gospel for us.  However, it does not lessen the severity of what is required even of God to make an end of sin and evil.  This is why any self-help schemes of salvation are wrong.  Or think of the perversion of the Gospel that the Galatians were guilty of in terms of their needing to finish salvation through their own efforts added to Christ’s work.  Paul knew that such thinking is desperately in error.  It requires all that majestic power and tempest and fire and lightning of God’s glory to put sin away.  Salvation requires the blinding brightness of God’s glory.  What do we think we can accomplish in offering up some 25-watt light bulb?

    We really ought not stop reading Psalm 50 at verse 6.  We need the whole picture.  But because of who Jesus Christ is and what we know about the Gospel, the rest of Psalm 50 need not terrify us.  It just reminds us of how great a gift our salvation truly is.  “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

    Illustration Idea

    The character of Sheldon Cooper on the TV show The Big Bang Theory is a study in obsessive-compulsive hang-ups and other social difficulties.  He is averse to touching or being touched, hugging or being hugged.  And he has lived his life determined never to be in anyone’s debt.  So when one December he and his friends decide to exchange names to buy one another Christmas gifts, Sheldon hatches a plan.  He and his next-door neighbor Penny will be giving gifts to one another.  So Sheldon goes to a Bed, Bath, & Beyond and buys half a dozen gift baskets of varying sizes and hence of varying amounts of money.  His plan is to receive Penny’s gift, go to his bedroom office to Google the cost of the gift he receives, and then give Penny the gift basket that has about the same monetary value as his gift from Penny.  That way they will be even.  He will then return the other 5 baskets for a refund.

    Except that when Sheldon receives Penny’s gift, his plan melts down immediately.  Penny is a waitress at a Cheesecake Factory restaurant and one evening waited on Sheldon’s idol, the actor Leonard Nimoy, “Mr. Spock” of Star Trek fame.  So she asked Nimoy to autograph a yellow cloth napkin with a Sharpie and make it out to “Sheldon.”  For Sheldon, this is a gift of inestimable value.  It carries no price tag.  So Sheldon disappears into his bedroom only to return with all 6 gift baskets that he foists upon Penny.  But even THAT was clearly not enough.  So Sheldon overcomes his social awkwardness long enough to give Penny a hug.

    Psalm 50 reminds us that the gift of salvation we now receive through Christ carries no human price tag.  You cannot calculate its value and realistically you can never pay God back.  All you can do is swoon in love and gratitude and give this God everything you’ve got.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    2 Corinthians 4:3-6

    Author: Doug Bratt