TAKING DELIGHT IN GOD’S PRESENCE
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Some of the most cherished moments in my life are not only big moments like my graduation from high school or university, or my ordination. Some of my most cherished moments are small, simple moments like the time I spent together with my family watching a movie or lazing on the bed or walking along the beach or window shopping or having a meal. I don’t’ actually have to do anything in particular with them. It is delightful just to be in their presence.
At the heart of our reading today from Mark’s Gospel is the call to take delight in Jesus’ presence. God’s words to Jesus’ disciples on top of the mountain can also be translated as “This is my beloved son in whom I take delight.” Just like I take delight in my son’s presence, God takes delight in the presence of God’s only Son. But it doesn’t end there: God invited the disciples and invites all of us who hear this story today to also take delight in Jesus’ presence.
Indeed, Jesus’ appearance on the mountain reminds us of the appearance of YHWH, the God of Israel himself. There is a Hebrew word for such a dazzling divine radiance: kabod, and the word is associated to YHWH. Such radiance is the very essence of God.The radiance of Jesus’ appearance on the mountain means that in Jesus resides the fullness of God’s glory and presence. Taking delight in Jesus’ presence, therefore, is the same with taking delight in the presence and glory of God.
The other figures that appeared on the mountain alongside Jesus were also people who often took delight in God’s presence. Just like Jesus, Moses and Elijah were known as people who had direct access to God. They both were known as people who had very close relationships with God and used to spend their time alone with God up the mountains (see Exodus 19, 24 and 1 Kings 19). In Moses’ case, his relationship with God was so close that his face was still shining after he met God face to face on top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:29-35).
So when Jesus took three of his disciples “up a high mountain apart, by themselves (Mark 9:2 NRSV)”, his action was not unprecedented. Just like Moses and Elijah before him, Jesus did that deliberately to have a quality time alone with God and with one another. It was like a mini retreat that Jesus took with three of his closest disciples. Jesus knew that he and his disciples needed this time and space to be revitalized.
This was nothing unusual for Jesus however. He himself often went early in the morning to a quiet place to be with God alone (Luke 5:16).
Indeed, friends, to truly enjoy God’s presence, we often need to set ourselves apart from whatever it is that we usually do and have a quality time to be with God alone. To take delight in God’s presence, we need to put aside our agendas and routines and chores and worries and concerns so that we can be present in the moment.
I recently met with Abinaya’s Child Health Nurse. In the meeting, I told her about our concern regarding Abinaya’s particular way of trying to get Rita’s and my attention. The nurse told us that he did what he did to give us a signal that his emotional ‘tank’ was low and it needed to be refilled. He needed assurance from his parents that he was loved. She suggested that the next time he is trying to get our attention, put aside anything else that we are doing and give him our undivided time. It may be a simple cuddle or a kiss or babbling along him or playing with him; in other words, to take delight in his presence and acknowledge that he is there and loved.
I think it is the same with our relationship with God. To take delight in God’s presence, we need to put aside everything else so that we can have some quality time with our God.
Unfortunately, for many people (and can be for us too), the light and glory of Christ and his Gospel can be hidden. There are many things in our life that can distract us from seeing and enjoying the beauty of God in Jesus.
The Apostle Paul was very well aware of this situation. He was forever an enthusiast, but he was also very realistic. He accepted the fact that not all people would see the beauty of Christ and his Gospel. For many, the Gospel was like something that was hidden under a veil. But it wasn’t really their fault because the gods of the world had blinded their minds so much so that they were not able to appreciate the Gospel.
It is still true today. There are so many ‘idols’ in our world today that compete with one another to get our attention at the expense of our worship of the one true God. These idols are many: wealth, popularity, power, lust, money, work, sports, ambition, hobby, interests, agendas, greed, fashion, food, etc. Indeed, if we are not careful, anything can transform itself into an idol that distracts us from finding, enjoying, and worshiping the one true God.
When I was in Karawang, Indonesia with my family, I saw a government advertisement on the side of the streets. The ad reminded parents to spend at least 20 minutes a day with their children. 20 minutes! I used to tease my wife, telling her that it meant that I only had to spend 20 minutes with Abinaya every day and she could deal with him the rest of the day.
I made the joke because I think 20 minutes a day are not enough to create a long-lasting bond with your child. But I think the ad has a point. For many people, 20 minutes are all that they have to spend with their loved ones. Work can be like an idol to many people, including to me myself. In case you don’t know, I enjoy my job and I don’t mind spending my entire day working.
I could do that before my family arrived. But now, I have to divide my time wisely between family and work. And I’m forever grateful for the people, from this congregation, who often remind me not to work too hard; work will never stop: there is always something to do. But we won’t be with our family forever, so make it counts.
Indeed, it takes effort to have a quality time with those whom we love, either it is with God or with our family. What we need is the kind of persistence that Elisha showed as he was anticipating the departure of his great mentor and spiritual father, Elijah.
In our reading today from the second book of Kings, three times Elijah asked Elisha to stop following him, but each time, Elisha refused. Elisha wanted to receive Elijah’s spiritual gift before he left him forever. Elisha asked for two portions of Elijah’s spiritual gift because he knew that, at the time, he was only half the man Elijah was.
And his persistence paid off. Elijah told Elisha that only those who could see the spiritual event that was about to be unfolded who was worthy to be his successor. And Elisha passed the test. It may well be that the fifty men who were watching Elijah and Elisha from the other side of the Jordan river did not see the vision of the chariots and horsemen of fire who came to escort Elijah to heaven, but Elisha did.
In the next part of Elisha’s story, which is not included in our reading today, he took Elijah’s mantle and struck the water of the Jordan river with it, and the water was parted into two (see 2 Kings 2:13-15). Elisha finally received Elijah’s spiritual gift and became his worthy successor.
Fortunately for us, friends, our God is not a passive God. Our responsive reading from Psalm 50 today declares that our God is a God who is actively calling and does not keep silence. Our God is not a God who hides God’s presence from us. God shines forth out of perfection and beauty.
This reminds me once again of my son who is getting better and better at telling us what he wants. For example, whenever he wants a cuddle, he will come to us with his outstretched arms. Whenever he is hungry or thirsty, he will move his body back and forth to the food or drink. Whenever he wants to join me in my study room, he will bang the door of my study room. Whenever he wants his mother, he will say, “Mama!” And whenever he wants his father, he will say, “Mama,” as well.
Likewise, our God does many things to get our attention. Our God is not passive God, but a God who searches and invites us to delight in God’s presence.
But the point of having some quality time with God is not to spend our time forever “in the mountain”. At the end of our passage today from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciple came down the mountain. They returned to the world, to where they belonged, to continue spreading the good news.
God is the God who, according to the Apostle Paul in his letter, brings light into our life. The other gods will blind us and make us unable to see the light that will lead us into the fullness of life. The one true God, on the other hand, will bring light into what is in the dark so that we can see and follow the way that leads us to life, true life. God’s light will indeed bring transformation or metamorphosis in Greek. Indeed, just like a moth completely transforms itself into a butterfly, into something that is completely different from its previous state, God’s light can also transform our life into something new and beautiful.
We are called to share this light with other people; to bring the light of Christ into the dark corners of their life. Transfiguration, therefore, is not only about Jesus’ appearance being transformed; transfiguration is also about the transformation of our life.
So today, friends, I’d like to challenge you to find a time when you can enjoy and appreciate the beauty of God’s holy presence. That is the time when we can see our life with a better vision. And that is usually the time when transformation happens.