Kevin Williams is the Director of Welcome at Westfield Congregational Church, in Killingly, CT.
Scripture: 2 Kings 2:1-12 (NRSV)
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know; keep silent.’
Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, I know; be silent.’
Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’ As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
Reflection: The Light in Some
Well, here we are at Transfiguration Sunday 2021. The temptation is to lean into Mark 9 and reflect on that scene on the mountain. That would be the comfortable path. Instead, I’d like to take a hard turn away from that comfort and reflect a bit on Elijah and Elisha.
There are definitely similarities between the two stories told in 2 Kings and Mark. Both involve a journey toward the end of one identity and on to the next. Both involve our “supporting cast” seeing God’s glory in a way they might not expect. And both leave that supporting cast wondering “So what’s next?”.
The danger in writing reflections like this one, with fairly lengthy advanced deadlines, is that between writing and reading things can be very different. It’s like the words of the open to the NPR Politics podcast - “This podcast was recorded on (insert date and time). Things may have changed since it was recorded.” I am certainly NOT a prophet like Elijah or Elisha, so I can’t guarantee that as you read this things may differ a bit from when I am writing them. By now we’ve had nearly a month of a new U.S. Presidential administration. COVID vaccinations have not only progressed, but science has no doubt learned a great deal about how people have responded to the vaccine. And we’ve established what the early 2021 economic conditions look like - at least for now. We’re actually looking forward to the end of the current chapter and emerging on the back side of a pandemic, headed toward a new future.
The question this text asks us to consider isn’t so much the ability to predict future events with precision. It’s not about asking for what we want and then seeing a guarantee that we will get what we requested. Instead, the question on Transfiguration just might be where are we fixing our gaze? Not what are we looking for, but what are we looking at? Sure, we don’t have chariots and horses of fire or a “shiny Jesus” to look at. But both of those examples do represent something we can see - just in a different form. Because both examples involve looking at God’s light. That’s what we’re called to look toward. God’s light - shared in chariots with Elijah and Elisha, and in Jesus’ identity being named - still surrounds us. We just sometimes need to look with more intent to see it.
So how do we look toward the light? To do that, we need to turn our back to the darkness. We have to make sure that we don’t engage in the negative chatter, in the placing of labels on people and then criticizing traits associated with those labels, in the tearing down of our fellow people. Instead, we need to invest our energy in spotting the light and calling it out. Just this week I’ve seen that light in people responding to pleas on social media asking neighbors if a missing package was delivered to them by mistake, and the neighbor who received the package quickly answering and offering a safe way for it to be returned to its rightful place. I’ve seen it in larger than usual tips, at times in excess of the bill itself, being given to service workers wondering if today will be the last day they remain employed. I’ve seen it in volunteers pumping out flooded basements and providing pick-up and delivery services for home-bound neighbors in need.
That light is there all the time. And the thing is, the more we focus on seeing it, the more we can reflect it back. We get inspired by the light in some people to try to have a similar impact on others. When we do, we just may find ourselves filled with a double share of Elijah’s spirit! May it be so for us all, according to God’s will.
God of light, open our eyes. Help us to see as clearly as Elisha your fiery chariots and the disciples your transfigured Jesus. Grant us the wisdom and discernment to know how to pause long enough to take in your light surrounding us each day. Give us the power to reflect that light toward others who need to see it the most. And guide our hands, our feet, our minds to be your light in our communities, in our nation, and in your world. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving for the more than 460,000 dead due to the Covid-19 disease
- For the families of the victims of the 45 mass shootings already carried out in 2021
- For the family and friends of Rev. Keith Mills, Conference Minister of the Northern Plains Conference of the UCC, and the staff and churches of the Northern Plains Conference. Rev. Mills died on Feb. 1
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the beauty of a sunny, gleaming morning after a winter snow
- For the resilience shown in children who continue to deal with long days with masks, changing school schedules, canceled extra-curricular activities, and severely diminished social times.
This Week in History:
February 8, 1968 (53 years ago) Three young people are killed after South Carolina Highway Patrol officers open fire on a crowd protesting racial segregation in what is now called the Orangeburg Massacre. The protests began days before after an Orangeburg bowling alley refused to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and desegregate. Protests at the bowling alley led to property damaged and protestor arrests. The protests expanded to the nearby campus of South Carolina State University, a historically Black college. On Feb. 8, police responded to a bonfire on campus and opened fire when a protestor through something at officers. Two SCSU students and one high school student who was just a bystander were killed and more than 30 others injured. The South Carolina governor blamed "Black power advocates" for the violence, despite no evidence that protestors had any weapons.
Celebrating Black History: February 9 is the anniversary of the death of the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906). At that time he was considered to be one of the most popular American poets (with over 20 works) and the first African American poet to become nationally popular. He grew up in Dayton, Ohio and was a personal friend of Orville and Wilbur Wright, who printed some of his earliest writings. He wrote poems in standard English and in the black dialect. One of his most popular volumes was “Majors and Minors”, which includes a poem to honor Frederick Douglass, whom he knew (as well as Booker T. Washington). In 1903 he even wrote the lyrics for a musical comedy “In Dahomey”, which was staged on Broadway with an all African American cast. That black composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, also set several of Dunbar's poems to music. Dunbar died of tuberculosis at the age of 33. Later his writings were included in his friend James Weldon Johnson's “The Book of American Negro Poetry” and his poetry is said to have inspired Maya Angelou to begin writing. [Contributed by Rev. John Van Epps, SNEUCC Archivist]
“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Kevin Williams is the Director of Welcome at Westfield Congregational Church, Killingly, CT.