Welcome to the joint service of Craigmillar Park and Reid Memorial parishes for Sunday 14th February. This week we focus upon God revealing His glory to mankind before next week beginning our journey towards Easter and the Resurrection.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 50: 1-3)
The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.
Our God comes
and will not be silent;
HYMN 182 Now thank we all our God
(from the Royal Albert Hall, London)
God, our maker,
you created the light.
You speak and you summon the earth
from its rising to its setting.
You gather us to you,
faltering and imperfect.
Yet you accept our praise
and hear us when we call.
Creator of light and dark,
we worship you.
God of wonder,
to us you are mystery itself.
Out of nothing you created,
and out of love you sustain.
You are hidden from us
yet reveal yourself to your faithful.
In your Son you opened yourself fully
that we would behold your glory.
You revealed your splendour
and we worship you in awe.
In your light we see truth;
by your truth we see our failings.
Turn us from the distractions
that divert our gaze from you.
In your love we see your healing;
by your healing we are made whole.
Turn us from our focus on self
that we may share you grace with all.
Merciful God, forgive us
and renew us once again.
God of light and truth,
open our eyes to the glory of your presence
in the world around us,
but chiefly in the face
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord;
that we may grow into his likeness,
and attain the happy fulfilment of our hope
when the splendour of the Saviour
will be revealed;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
With the words that Jesus taught us, let us now pray together:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.
II Kings 2: 1-12 – The Assumption of Elijah
When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.’
But Elisha said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel.
The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, ‘Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?’
‘Yes, I know,’ Elisha replied, ‘so be quiet.’
Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.’
And he replied, ‘As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ So they went to Jericho.
The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, ‘Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?’
‘Yes, I know,’ he replied, ‘so be quiet.’
Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’
And he replied, ‘As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them walked on.
Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?’
‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,’ Elisha replied.
‘You have asked a difficult thing,’ Elijah said, ‘yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours – otherwise, it will not.’
As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, ‘My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!’ And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
Mark 9: 2-9 – The Transfiguration of Jesus
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
HYMN 474 Hail to the Lord’s anointed
(from Victoria Methodist Church, Bristol)
Since the nineteen-sixties it has been popular to transform comic strips from their printed source to productions for both large and small screens. One of the most successful earlier cinematic releases was ‘The Mask’. Central to the film’s plot is the magical effect of the mask of the film’s title. It transforms its wearer from the proverbial underdog into a larger-than-life comedic superhero. It all sounds good until you realise that the mask slowly but surely takes over the persona of the wearer, transforming him into something grotesque. The magic of the mask veils his true personality. Masks, though, are not confined to theatre. Masks are not just physical items. Masks can be something we wear to hide our true selves; they can be psychological covers for our own shortcomings. The truth is that many of us wear masks much of the time.
Our two readings from scripture speak not of hiding behind a mask, but of revelation. In both stories something of God that had been unseen, hidden, is revealed to those gathered. In these events elements of Divine glory are exposed and lives are transformed. These readings reflect one of the more important paradoxes of the Bible. This is that God, who cannot be contained, chooses to limit Himself in order to act among us. He chooses to veil His glory that He may dwell among us. That God veils Himself is quite unlike one of us wearing a mask. We do so to protect ourselves; God does so to protect us. From the earliest parts of scripture it is taught that we cannot look upon the glory of God and live. Granted, there are a few special individuals who have the privilege of beholding God but they are the exception to the rule.
As we encounter the story of Elijah we find him at the end of his ministry, and preparing his assistant Elisha to follow in his footsteps. Time and again Elisha is tested in respect of his dedication and determination to follow the great prophet. This testing also stretches his emotions as he is constantly reminded that his master, mentor, and friend will be taken from him that day. We see his upset made clear as he tells those reminding him to “be quiet”. He is clearly hurting. Yet Elisha does not try to hold on to his friend but accepts the reality of the situation. Instead of clinging he wants to follow in Elijah’s footsteps and more so asks for a “double portion” of the spirit that drives and empowers him. As the story draws to a close, we see Elisha being overwhelmed by the glory of God revealed as his master is taken away. Limited by the nature of human language to describe that which cannot be described he reinforces the traditional idea that earthly realities have heavenly parallels. This unveiling of heavenly wonder does not restrict the erstwhile prophet but empowers him just as it had his master.
Turning to the gospel story we find a not dissimilar story. Here it is not the chariot of God but Jesus revealing some of His own glory such as we read of in the Gospel of John. As Jesus unveils something of His true nature we find the disciples, like Elisha, overwhelmed by what they see. Unlike Elisha, they try to hold on to the moment and we read of Peter offering to build shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. The two Biblical personalities we see alongside Jesus serve to indicate that he is in accord with the teaching of both the Law and the Prophets. To their initial Jewish followers such an endorsement would be critical for their mission to succeed. Yet despite the clear signs of Divine glory the disciples do not seem to be radically affected. As the story moves on, and Jesus turns his attention to Jerusalem the disciples do not seem to have been transformed or empowered for the mission ahead. Perhaps, though, that is the point. Perhaps the evangelist is writing this to prepare his readers for the fact that encounter with God does not necessarily lead to dynamic and visible changes to life. Perhaps, like the story itself, the life of discipleship can be rather mundane.
Stories of masks, veils. Worn by many of us to hide our fears and insecurities though, as in the film, with the danger that the real personality becomes lost behind the false. Yet when God wears a mask, or veil, it is not to protect Him but us. It is to shield us from a glory that we cannot properly begin to understand. That glory does impact on a life of discipleship even if we do not realise it. Tradition is that Elisha went on to be a great prophet, though scripture says little more about him. The disciples were empowered by the presence of the Divine, and without that it is doubtful our lands would ever have heard the good news of the love of God for us all. Today we, too, need to seek a glimpse of the Divine even if it is seen only in the mundane. We need it as it will empower and sustain us as we carry on in a life of discipleship.
as we recall your goodness in times past
so we turn to you in a time of need.
We have prayed that your kingdom would come.
Make real your kingdom in this world
that your light may be seen,
that your truth would be known,
and that justice would flow for all.
God, may your kingdom come on earth.
We have prayed that you would give us our daily bread.
We live in a world of need;
a world that hungers;
a world that thirsts;
a world in need of shelter.
God, may your creation’s hunger be filled.
We have prayed to be freed from trial.
May the world turn outward,
sharing in its wealth,
sharing in its knowledge,
sharing in its love,
God, may your world be freed from trial.
We have prayed for deliverance.
May we turn from ourselves,
to see you more clearly,
to know you more dearly,
to love you more deeply.
May we be delivered that we may lift high your name.
HYMN 578 Christ, whose glory fills the skies
(from Westminster Presbyterian Church, Buffalo)
May the light of your glory
shine on each of our days
that we may see your presence
and so turn and follow.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
English translations of Lord’s Prayer © 1988 English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC). www.englishtexts.org. Used by permission.
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
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