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February 22, 2009

What the ... ???

Today is a transition Sunday in the church calendar. It is the Sunday we move from the season of Epiphany- when we experience revelations to help us discover who God is- to the season of Lent- when we search for who God is calling us to be and try to live our lives in such a way that we become that person.

A time of transition can be very exciting and it can be very frightening. Because transition is that scary time when two equally powerful forces meet: the desire to keep things as they are and the pull toward the new that changes everything.

It is the moment we stand on a threshold with one foot in the past and another foot in the future. It is a time of great anxiety, excitement, fear and creativity.

The times of transition - in our lives bring out our strongest emotions:
- putting the kindergartner on the school bus,
- watching the graduate march down the aisle in cap and gown,
- the wedding of a friend, a child or a parent,
- the transformation of an old building into new space
- the once-healthy person suddenly become a patient,
- the child becomes the caretaker of the parent
changes in the church staff, moving, changing jobs
- and then there is the greatest transition of all, the transition between death and new life in Christ.

Transitions are fearsome... emotion-laden... beautiful at times... always accompanied by anxiety because anxiety is the human response to change.

Whenever we are faced with change in any part of our lives, our reaction is immediate and instinctive. We will-
go toward it,
go away from it, or
go against it.

If it is happening in the family, or the work place, in the church or in the community,
transition causes anxiety in the system and our responses are the same-
we pull in other people to avoid dealing directly with the cause of our anxiety.
We look for someone to blame.
Our resistance increases.
We become more reactive- trying to return to old patterns.
Or we seek escape, or distraction.

I guess the reassuring news is that we are not unique. Folks have always reacted in similar ways.

Our Old Testament lesson this morning is a story of transition. Elijah is about to retire- die- and Elisha will have to take over as chief prophet. Elisha doesn't want his mentor to go so he follows him around like a puppy dog. Three times Elijah tries to get Elisha to leave him alone. Elijah is preparing to die and he would rather do it without this young upstart hanging on his every word.

During the journey both Elijah and Elisha are "in transition." Even with God in charge it is not easy. The desire for the old to remain is strong and the hesitation of taking on the new is not without question or angst.

Eventually Elijah is taken away in a chariot. We have no idea how he dealt with this final transition. But we do see what happens to Elisha. He is changed. Elisha is changed, just by hanging in there. We know that he will go on to do great things but in this moment all he has is sorrow and pain.

The text from Mark's gospel offers us yet another story of reluctant transition. Peter, James, and John on the mountain with Jesus experience a vision of Moses and Elijah. Immediately they want to hold onto this vision of Jesus and the prophets by building booths and staying on the mountain. They wanted to keep hold of a way of life they knew well. They wanted to cling to a familiar way of being faithful. When suddenly the vision changes and Jesus is transfigured alone on the mountain, it is clear that some new thing is breaking into the horizon. The disciples are called to listen and see Jesus not only in the line of the prophets but also as the beloved son of God acting in the world in a new way.

For Jesus, as well as the disciples, the Transfiguration is a story of transition. It takes place just as Jesus' life as an itinerant preacher and healer is ending. From this day forward, he begins the slow and arduous journey down the mountain: a journey that will end in his suffering and death.

Maybe Peter, James and John sense this. Maybe they realize their carefree days of wandering are ended. Maybe they sense what sort of fate awaits their beloved teacher. Maybe it dawns on them, for the first time, that they too have crossed some invisible boundary between that which was and that which is to come: and that they can never go back.

Living through life's transitional times is never easy. Feelings of grief for that which is lost, or about to be lost, can seem overwhelming. Sometimes there's a feeling of being stuck, between the has-been and the not-yet, that seems to go on and on.

In both these texts, the powerful voices of old are not denied or lost but passed on to new leaders, new work, and most especially to new ways of being in relationship with God. Elisha grieves. The disciples on the mountain are terrified. Yet in both cases, they eventually find their new place and they move on.

So how do we find our place and move through our transitions?
When we are at our best we do it carefully.
· We avoid getting sucked into fixing issues that are not ours
· take care of ourselves
· show empathy for those who hurt without owning the pain
· tell the ones who really matter who they are

The rock band Semisonic has a song called, "Closing Time." They sing- "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." "time for you to go out to the places you will be from".

Transition is an end
it is a beginning
it is a place we will soon be from

Transitions will be met with terror and fear
difficulty and challenge.

Our transition points will also be some of the most creative times we will ever experience,
full of potential, promise and possibility.

We need to remember that
as with Elisha in the desert
as with the disciples on the mountain
transitions are the places
where God has always proved God's faithfulness.

Transitions are the places where God will always prove God's faithfulness.

Thanks be to God.


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