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North Congregational UCC New Harford CT
WORSHIP: 6th. Sunday after Epiphany “The Transfiguration”
February 14, 2021
“What is both Good and New about the Good News is the wild claim that Jesus did not simply tell us that God loves us even in our wickedness and folly and wants us to love each other the same way and to love him too, but that if we let him, God will actually bring about this unprecedented transformation of our hearts himself.”
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking 1973
INVITATION TO WORSHIP:
In our worship, we hear your challenge, O God, and your call. We gather in our homes, setting aside other distractions, to focus on this opportunity through prayer, scripture, song and meditation to regain the vision of your light and love. As with Peter, James and John, you welcome us on the mountain to give us an experience of who Jesus has been and still is in our lives. We rejoice on the mountain top so that our view of what is below is clear to us. Then we can rededicate ourselves to be that clarity to all below.
HYMN OF GATHERING
“O for a thousand tongues to sing, my dear redeemers praise,
the glories Of my God and King, the triumph of God’s grace.
The name of Jesus charms our fears, and bids our sorrows cease,
Tis music in thy sinner’s ears, brings life, and health, and peace.
My gracious Master and my God, assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad the honors of thy name.”
O Holy One, on mountaintops and valley floors you reveal to us the light of your love. Our hearts desire is to bask in the amazing glory of the divine presence. With each encounter we are changed and transformed. Draw us nearer that we might receive a double portion of your Holy Spirit. Help us, O Holy One, to live our lives as a reflection of divine glory. May we walk among our family and friends and neighbors as a blessing, bearing light into dark places, hope to displace fear, and love that casts out hate. Our world is hurting and we need the followers of Jesus to follow more closely. Maybe then we will hear your voice speaking to us and saying, “listen to my child, the beloved!” Amen
I Corinthians 12:31; 13:4-8a,13
But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…. And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Pastor Art Yost
NEGOTIATING THE HIGHS AND THE LOWS
(Finding Our Way in Troublesome Times)
This Sunday ends the liturgical season of the Christian calendar known as Epiphany Season. This season began on January 6th. That date is known by different names: “Little Christmas”, “Twelfth Day of Christmas”, “Three Kings Day”, or simply epiphany. It is a day when the Magi arrived to pay homage to Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior. The season of Epiphany is the gradual acceptance that Jesus is the light of the world for all who follow the beliefs that are basic to the Christian faith. That understanding is reinforced by todays account in Mark. This event appears in all three of the synoptic gospels so you’ll find this same event with some minor variations in St. Matthew (17:1-13) and St. Luke (9:28-36). This Sunday is known as Transfiguration Sunday.
Last Sunday, in a non-church, non-religious setting, was called Super Bowl Sunday. The big game is over. There is no doubt that the GOAT (greatest of all times) is Tom Brady. The game itself was not so great. If you’re a Tampa Bay Buccaneers Fan you are/were elated. So much so that the general population may be affected by the number of celebrations sans social distancing and sans facemasks. If you just love a good game, this Super Bowl wasn’t so super-in fact it was kind of ho-hum. For me, the game play wasn’t the highlight. I did very much appreciate the presence of Amanda Gorman (of inauguration fame) who wrote a poem for the occasion celebrating the work of three individuals who epitomized workers who have made a difference in combating the horrendous effects caused by COVID-19. These three, Trimaine Davis (educator), Suzie Dorner (ER Nurse in Tampa) and James Martin (veteran and volunteer with Wounded Warrior Project) were invited as honorary team captains for the ceremonial coin toss. Their personal stories are inspiring.
Another super fact was again, not the game, but the commercials. One in particular (not a funny one) was the Toyota commercial relating the story of Tatiana Olegovna Kirilova (birth name) born in Siberia, who suffered from fibular hemimelia. She was adopted by the Long family in Baltimore MD. Her lower legs were amputated at age 18 months. Jessica Tatiana Long, her full name, now is 28 years old and an inspiration for her up front acknowledgement of her physical disability which she has managed beautifully. She has been a competitive swimmer since 2004 and has won a total of 48 gold medals, 21 silver and 6 bronze. She also is an inspirational speaker and easily speaks about her Christian faith.
I share these stories with you as an aside to the Transfiguration account today because I think we need to experience these inspirational stories to lift us up in our life journey. Getting back to the Mark passage today, Jesus had a team of disciples to help him and, like the three captains mentioned earlier, he chose three of his inner circle to accompany him up a mountain. Peter James and John were among the earliest of Jesus’ disciples and all three were fisherman who were called to leave behind their nets to become fishers of men (and women). The idea of finding inspiration is not limited to being up high but many times mountain tops have been the place where the divine touches humanity in special ways. Many times in my hobby of photography, the first thing you look for is an elevated location so you can get a grand perspective of what is possible to locate locations for beautiful images. Soon after reaching their destination the scriptures tells us Jesus was transfigured before them. His clothing began to be brilliant white-beyond what any bleach could achieve. (Matthew and Luke also relate his face glowed white as well).. They see two others with Jesus, Moses and Elijah, two spiritual giants of the Hebrew people. We are not told what the three were discussing. However the reactions of the three captains (disciples) is very understandable. They were fearful. In the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus, it was the shepherds who expressed their fear of what was happening. Even though we are devout in our faith and we seek God’s presence, to actually have an experience of the divine can be unsettling.
The first to speak-of course- is Peter. I can relate to Peter (my middle name). He jumps in often when he is upset, uneasy about events. So his solution is to suggest they build three enclosures for each of the three- Jesus, Moses and Elijah. His intention is mostly good and understandable. In the midst of a miraculous event, if you’re having an out of the body emotion, why not prolong it? We have all had that experience of wanting to say something yet we are not sure what to say. I have a poster that says “It often shows a great command of the English language to say nothing.” Sometimes a silent presence is all that is needed. A voice, louder than Peter’s interrupts his attempts to make sense of all this. “THIS IS MY SON, THE BELOVED; LISTEN TO HIM.” That kind of gets your attention. Somehow Elijah and Moses have left the scene. Moses represents the laws handed down (Ten Commandments) and Elijah, the function of God’s prophetic word, and what is left is nothing less than The Word Incarnate. We learned about this when Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan. Again, we are reminded of who Jesus really is. As they come down off the mountain, Jesus asks them not to speak about what has happened. So far, left out of our lesson today is the fact that Jesus has already announced that he will be arrested and put to death on a cross and there will be a resurrection. It is easy to see why these three might not want to focus on these scary, troublesome events.
One more sports story diversion. After Sunday’s less than exciting super bowl game, there was a different sport, a much more exciting if not always well executed game- I’m referring to the South Carolina-UCONN women’s basketball game. Ranked respectively #1 and #2 in the country, these two powerhouses met in a game that eventually was decided in overtime on a shot that hit the rim, bounced high in the air and came straight down through the basket for a 3 pointer that assured victory for UCONN with 10 seconds to play. The shooter was Paige Bueckers, who is a freshman rated #1 as a high school player in the country. Her skill is inspirational. I tell the story because having seen the game I wanted to relive that moment over and over again. Unfortunately, this particular game wasn’t televised on SNY but on FS1. Had it been SNY there would have been a postgame program to relive over and over the victory. But FS1 had to cut right to the men’s game between Ohio State and Maryland.
There really wasn’t any time for Peter, James and John to hold on to that inspirational moment. There was work to be done. That was so true for Jesus and the three. Coming down off the mountain top was necessary to carry out their mission to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives-you know the story. The inspiration we receive needs to be translated into action. Henry Drummond, 19th Century theologian writes about this passage, “God does not make the mountains in order to be inhabited. God does not make the mountain tops for us to live on the mountaintops. We only ascend to the heights to catch a broader vision of the earthly surroundings below. But we don’t live there. The stream begins in the uplands, but these streams descend quickly to gladden the valleys below.” In fact, a few verses following the passage from Mark (also appearing in Matthew and Luke) finds the disciples unable to help a father whose child is suffering from a seizure (probably epilepsy) and Jesus chastises them for not using prayer to help in the situation.
Many years ago J.B. Philips, Church of England, translated the New Testament in a very readable paragraph form with a running commentary for his youth group. I myself had the set of commentaries and early in my ministry quoted from it frequently. He also wrote a book in 1952 titled “Your God Is Too Small”. Part one took apart some of the lesser Gods we worship or imaging and in part two tried to construct a more comprehensive understanding of the totality of God. Even though we speak of God incarnate in Jesus, we still have too small a picture of God. In a commentary on this passage (author unknown but appearing in Homiletics 2/15/2015) the following analysis is made. “We spend a great deal of energy as people trying to transform Jesus. We try to morph and manipulate him into something he’s not, something that fits our agenda. And it’s good for us to be confronted with the truth that Jesus is not who we’ve made him out to be. He’s greater than we assumed. He’s holier than we give him credit for and better than we’ve imagined. We need the transfiguration because it breaks our idolatrous and self-serving ideas of Jesus and brings us back to the jaw-dropping, breathtaking truth of Jesus.” THIS IS MY SON, THE BELOVED; LISTEN TO HIM.
Jesus means what he says when he reminds us we need to forgive 24×7. If someone needs a coat and you have two, give him/her one. Pray for your enemies. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do not let your anger cause you to sin.
The world needs this kind of deep, unconditional love. Valentines are nice. Loving those who love you is nice. But Paul had it right when he spoke of love as a deeply spiritual gift that God has given to us. Love is even more important to exhibit than faith and hope. It is what will transfigure us into a brilliant, shining child of God. You don’t have to be a mountain climber to find it. Let us use whatever highs we have to fill the needs of all who inhabit the troublesome lows where poverty, racism, hunger, violence, illness, despair, loneliness reside- in others and in us.
Creator of all that is, we are so very thankful for all expressions of love that we experience in our lives. The love that attracts us to form intimate relationships, the sheer joy of friendships that survive many up and downs, the love that generates in our families love between siblings, love between parents and children. All these expressions of love are welcome and are to be enjoyed. Our ability to receive and give love comes from you who have loved us into life and remains with us even in death. Because of your unconditional love for us, we strive to manifest that love in all that we do, with all whom we meet on this journey of life. We admit that mountaintop experiences raise our abilities and stretch the limits of our love-and yet, at the same time, tempt us to stay away from the darkness down below where violence, misunderstanding, long entrenched biases and outright mistrust exist. We let fear overtake love, self-preservation diminish sacrifice, desire for comfort, safety and material blessings dull our commitment to serve you following your example. Strengthen our resolve to be true disciples of your light, love and power. We continue to pray with and for all who are ill in body, mind and spirit. We pray that the virus that has infected so many across the world and caused so much harm will be defeated by those who use their healing powers to care for those in danger; for those who use their intellect and skill to find new ways to create and distribute fairly medicines needed restore wholeness. We celebrate being the church without walls yet await a time when we can gather in closer proximity to sing, pray and work together without risk to ourselves or others. In the spirit of Jesus Christ we pray as he taught us, Our Father, who art in heaven….
HYMN of Journey
ONE DAY JESUS CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN Words by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette
Text copyright C 2015 Carolyn Winfrey Gillette All rights reserved
One day Jesus climbed a mountain to a place of prayer and rest.
Peter, James and John went with him to that lonely wilderness.
In a moment so amazing, Jesus shown with brightness blazing,
Wrapped in glory, heaven-blessed.
Words could not contain the wonder of that most amazing sight.
Jesus’ face was bright with splendor and his clothes were dazzling white.
There appeared two others with him; Moses and Elijah met him
On that lonely mountain height.
Jesus talked there with the prophet and the bearer of the Law.
When his three disciples saw it, they were filled with joy and awe.
Peter told him, “Let us stay here. We can worship God and pray here.”
Then a cloud came over all.
From that cloud a voice was saying, “This is my beloved son.”
And the voice said, “Listen to him!” – to God’s faithful chosen one,
While their plans were filled with glory, Christ was living out the story
Of his prayer, “Thy will be done.”
Jesus took them down the mountain to a world of pain and loss.
For he knew what lay before him; he must journey to the cross,
In his serving, in his healing, God was there, by grace revealing
Wondrous love comes at a cost.
Benediction: May the light of our Lord Jesus Christ shine brightly in our hearts and on our faces so that we reflect the glory of God and the Good News of the gospel to everyone we encounter. Amen.
The Season of Lent begins this coming Wednesday (Ash Wednesday). Lent is a period of 40 days not counting Sundays. Sundays are noted as being “in Lent” not “of Lent.”
The practice of giving up something for Lent is not as prevalent as in the past. Lent is a time for self-reflection and a time to evaluate where you’re headed in this life. It can be a time of deepening your faith to increase your ability to be the light that has come into the world at Christmas and revealed throughout the season of Epiphany which ends with this Sunday and the celebration of The Transfiguration of Christ.