St. Andrew Presbyterian Church
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Service for the Lord’s Day
~Transfiguration of the Lord~
February 14, 2021 10:00 a.m.
Pastor Joan Priest, Worship Leader
Mr. David Warfield, Director of Music Ministry
Joe Jackson, Liturgist
Elder, Jeff Snider GATHERING WE PREPARE OURSELVES FOR WORSHIP BY PASSING THE PEACE OF CHRIST, ACKNOWLEDGING WHO WE ARE,
AND RECEIVING THE ASSURANCE OF GOD’S GRACE.PRELUDE O Lamm Gottes ubschuldig
(Lamb of God, Pure and Holy) Johann Pachelbel
GREETING & ANNOUNCEMENTS
CALL TO WORSHIP Behind all things, behind the grey surface
there is a glory escaping born of heaven and belongs to heaven
a light that welcomes a more profound way of seeing things
that transfigures the world
that casts a spell of hope, that sees the glory in the cross
and life within death
it is a glory that meets us here on this mountain where Jesus Christ
covered in the dust of the world is caught up in the glory of heaven
welcome to the mountain. Let us worship God.
*HYMN 662 CHRIST, WHOSE GLORY FILLS THE SKIES RATISBON
Christ, whose glory fills the skies
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o’er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near,
Daystar, in my heart appear.
Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by Thee;
Joyless is the day’s return,
Till Thy mercy’s beams I see,
Till they inward light impart,
cheer my eyes, and warm my heart.
Visit then this soul of mine,
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, Radiancy divine,
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more Thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.
This well-crafted morning hymn opens by celebrating daylight as an image of Christ, the true Light, then ponders life without light, and culminates in a prayer for inward light. The tune’s name honors its German roots: Ratisbon is the former English name for Regensburg. SILENT CONFESSION (FOR INDIVIDUAL PRAYERS OF CONFESSION)
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy and Grace, you come to us in Jesus of Nazareth to break down the dividing walls of hostility between us: Yet we maintain walls that separate and isolate. You give us the ministry of reconciliation: Yet we nurse our wounds and withhold mercy and forgiveness. You bless our lives with boundless love: Yet we fail to witness to that love, and so keep others from knowing you.
Forgive our selfishness, we pray. Transform us by your Spirit and your Word into that which pleases you, the image of Christ. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF GRACE
PASSING OF THE PEACE (USING ASL)HEARING
WE HEAR GOD’S WORD, WRITTEN & PROCLAIMED. GOD’S WORD IS CENTRAL TO OUR FAITH;
HENCE WE PUT IT AT THE CENTER OF OUR WORSHIP.FIRST READING Psalm 99
The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth quake!
The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he!
Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity;
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!
Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the LORD, and he answered them.
He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.
O LORD our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.
The word of the Lord.Thanks be to God. PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION SECOND READING Luke 9:28-37, 43
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
The word of the Lord.Thanks be to God. SERMON VISIONS ON A MOUNTAINTOP
Who is your favorite Superhero? Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Captain America? Mine has always been Wonder Woman! Come on, she is the warrior princess. With her really cool invisible airplane, her indestructible bracelets, her powerful tiara, and her special whip, the golden Lasso of truth?! So awesome. In another church I served they put on a play at Christmastime called A Super Christmas. It stared all the superheroes, who go around panicked because they hear a new superhero is coming to earth to save the world. They even join the shepherds to search for the baby Jesus. It’s very cute.
Well, I think this story from Luke’s Gospel of the transfiguration of Jesus has many of the elements of the story of a superhero. One author writes, “There’s an arduous trek up a mountain; a tightly knit company of friends on a “mission” together; the appearance of other-worldly figures in dazzling light; the transformation of the hero into an equally dazzling figure; (cloudy entrances), a command from a powerful voice from another dimension; a determined descent to battle those other powers back home”. Jesus the new superhero. Right? Well, Jesus is not exactly a superhero – or is he? (1) Today, let’s explore this incredible moment on the mountaintop.
Today culminates the Season of Epiphany which began with the journey of the Magi. Transfiguration literally means to change figure or form and that is certainly what happened on the mountain top with the bright shining clothes and voice from Heaven.
Well, if you haven’t noticed, Jesus likes to go up the mountain from time to time, to get away from it all. To spend time alone and in quiet prayer. But on this occasion, he brings with him his 3 favorite disciples and something incredible does happen, and we find ourselves immersed in apocalyptic imagery: Glory, light, heroes from Israel’s history: First, is the appearance of Elijah and Moses. Elijah is said to have ascended into heaven in a whirlwind accompanied by a fiery chariot. Moses experienced a visual encounter with God – so intensely did his face glow afterward that the Israelites could not look upon it. (2) In Deuteronomy we learn that Moses was buried by God himself. And so because Elijah was simply removed from the earth by God into heaven and Moses’ grave was never found, these two men of the faith were thought to be available for God to send back. God would send them to inform humankind that God’s reign was at hand. So, it is no accident that these two appear with Jesus on the mountain.
And those “favorite disciples” – always confused, always terrified. Peter didn’t know what to do! He wanted to build three dwellings, like booths, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. He wanted to hold this moment forever, to capture Jesus’ dazzling brightness, to make sure Moses and Elijah didn’t get away. But before Peter could finish, a cloud overshadowed the disciples. As suddenly as the vision came, Moses and Elijah were gone and Jesus stood alone, looking as he had when these three fishermen saw him for the first time. Rev. Lundblad states, from one angle some claim that Jesus replaced Moses and Elijah. But Jesus didn’t replace them. He incarnated their mission and ministry. The mission of Moses, the lawgiver of a new law and Elijah, first of the Prophets with a new prophecy. (3)
If you recall when Jesus was baptized God speaks directly and states to Jesus (“You are my beloved Son”), here and now – God addresses the public (“This is my son, my chosen”). And in place of a private personal address (“In you I am well pleased”), now there comes a command addressed ostensibly to all hearers (“Listen to him!”) Now Jesus becomes the divinely chosen precursor of the turn of the age. He will not be a superhero as we understand it, but more of a martyr as one who lays down his life and allows us all to be transformed, transfigured, through him.
One summer while on vacation with extended family in Aspen, Colorado – a stunning place to visit in the summer. We were asked if we wanted to go for a little hike, with a guide. Sure, sounds awesome. Well, those who live in Colorado and hike in Colorado have a different definition of a “little hike”. The hill was a mountain. The path was rock climbing. The short walk took hours. But once we hit the very top of the mountain, there was a clearing which had a beautiful long table set with food and drink. It was spectacular, stunning. Although I remember the water more than the food! It was the most beautiful mountain top experience, literally. And yes, we piled into the caters’ vans to go back down. We weren’t stupid!
Many mountain top experiences are called “thin places”, where the seemingly normal gap between us and God becomes very thin. And God, seems very close.
Every once in a while, we are presented with life transforming moments. Aha moments. Mountaintop experiences. Not necessarily religious moments or spiritual moments or moments of inner peace, but thin places. Moments where you know there is a power much greater than our own, a creator, redeemer, sustainer of life far beyond our comprehension. You know these moments. The “shiver up and down our spine, I can’t believe this is actually happening”, kind of moments. From witnessing the most beautiful sunset or sunrise, to hearing your child cry for the first time after birth, to the first note of loving words received after a tragic loss, to receiving a radical act of kindness.
Besides hearing my daughter cry for the very first time after birth, my moment came with my son at 3 years old. You see, my son had some difficult challenges in early childhood which delayed his speech. And we spent a lot of time in a special speech class. Putting peanut butter in different places in his mouth to strengthen his tongue, rewarding him for making certain sounds with goldfish snacks. Slowly, he began to say dada, baba, all the first sounds. Then one day I went to pick him up from his Parents Morning Out program, and he simply turned and ran toward me, as all the children did, crying out, “mommy”. Three years I waited for that. It took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes.
Do you know some 20 years later I ran into the director of that program and she also still remembers that very moment? You should hear him talk now! These kinds of moments transform regular valley living into mountain top experiences of transformation. These “wow” moments take us outside our mundane, day to day living and cause us to pause for a moment and take in what we are seeing, what we are hearing, what we are experiencing.
What are some of yours? Share with me if you like, I’d love to hear yours. I have a few others while visiting the Isle of Iona Scotland. Sometimes we keep these moments in silence, to precious or personal to share. Like the disciples had to hold this moment in silence for a time, but this was because it was too dangerous and personal to share. But if you are able to share that moment with others, that light with others, you can radiate the light of God, the love of God and begin to transform others through your experiences. These moments can transform our understanding of what it means to have faith in God and move us to begin feeling an understanding of God’s omnipresence in the entire world and beyond.
Let me give you another example I came across recently. Jean and Jim Mulvahill have been married for over 35 years and after raising 5 children they began to adopt children from all over the world. Over the years they have adopted more than 15 children.
Jean tells this story, in her own words, she states: This happened as I was preparing for my daughter Sarah’s birthday. As usual I was busy. I stopped at the local party store to get a few things for her party. The clerk was nice and friendly. I had seen her before, and we were always pleasant but this time she wanted to strike up a conversation. She began with talking about the children. They have been there many times and she remembered them. She asked, “why did you adopt?” I immediately thought of how I could begin and end this conversation as quickly as possible. So, I kept it short and sweet, “it was a God thing,” I said, “We felt called to adopt.” Figuring the conversation would pretty much end right there. But it didn’t. She began by telling me she was adopted.
She said that she and her sister were originally from Texas, and that her adoptive mother and father were also called to adopt. But at first her mother believed God had somehow told them their daughter would be named Sarah. Her mother searched all over the local waiting child list for a Sarah. But there were not any Sarah’s. Their agency mentioned two girls that were waiting in Texas. The mom made it very clear – no, no they aren’t ours. But then she went home and something inside of her said look at those two girls. The next weekend her and her husband drove to meet these two little girls. The little one was named Tanya and she had a big sister. They were 5 and 7 years old. They met and the next thing you know the couple was driving back home to Minnesota with two little girls in their back seat. As they were driving, the mom asked the girls, “since you will be changing your last name would you like to change your first name, too?” Tanya immediately answered YES! I have always wanted to be named Sarah.”
So, we could give explanations for things that happen, explain it away, or remember that the presence of the Holy One can come into our lives at any moment. The Transfiguration story from Luke is a story we too often try to explain. What happened on that mountain when Jesus went to pray? Why did his clothing become dazzling white? How could Moses and Elijah be there when they lived so long ago?
Was this a dream? How could all three disciples have the same dream? Or was this a moment for those disciples to see who Jesus really was. What was transfigured on that mountain was not Jesus but their perception and our perception of him. Jesus was not only a man, a human being, but God made flesh, divinity among us. But here’s the thing. Jesus comes back down the mountain. He didn’t stay in that dazzling glory with God. Holy is he. Why not?
Rev. Lose states, “Jesus takes his disciples with him up the mountain, after a period of revelation, transformation, and transfiguration, they come back down again. After all, this transfigured state, attended by Moses, Elijah, and his three disciples, was much closer to the state of glory that Jesus deserved than what’s coming. Yet he comes back down. Down into the mundane nature of everyday life. Down into the nitty-gritty details of misunderstanding, squabbling, disbelieving disciples. Down into the religious and political quarrels of the day.
As Paul sings, ‘though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.’ (Phil.2:6-7). Jesus’ downward movement from his rightful place in glory to embrace out lot and life out of love is, in a very real sense, the essence of the gospel. Jesus coming down, all the way down into our brokenness, fear, disappointment, and loss. And, of course, it only gets more so, as we will soon watch our Lord travel to the cross, there embracing all that is hard, difficult, and even despicable in life, in order to wrest victory from death itself. So trusting the mercy of the One who came down the mountain – the One who entered the dark places of the world and still seeks out the dark places of our lives – trusting this One, perhaps we will be honest enough to name what is broken and hurting in our lives and world and thereby fear it a little less. (4)
The disciples wanted to hang out with their superhero’s basking in the glory, but they too had to come back to reality. Sometimes God gets lost in the shuffle of our lives and that’s why we need to get out of the valley of our life in order to gain some perspective. To look at what is happening around us from a different angle of vision. Even in this strange way, worship on Sunday mornings is one way to climb that mountain out of the valley. On top of the mountain the disciples came to the light and saw, and they knew that from there on, they must listen to him. Down in the valley, all they could see was their life and hope slipping away. But up on that mountain they could see themselves in Jesus’ light. Upon the mountain top, we too can see and be in Jesus’ light and when we climb back down into our valley, into the deep dark places of our hurting and broken lives, we will see that God has been there all along and that God always goes with us.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten Season when Jesus will make the journey through the wilderness to the cross. And the one to whom we have been commanded to listen is the same one we are called to follow. So, look, listen and remember those visions on the mountaintop, those aha moments, the thin places; for they will make our everyday living in the valley that much easier, bearable, manageable. And they may even help create Jesus into our everyday Superhero, who has come to save each and every one of us. May it be so, Amen.
Henrich, The Rev. Sarah. “Commentary on Mark” www.workingpreacher.orgCarey, The Rev. Greg. Commentary on Luke 9:28-36.Lundblad, The Rev. Barbara. “Visions of Jesus and King on the Mountain.” www.workingpreacher.org.Lose, The Rev. David. “He Came Down” www.workingpreacher.org.
RESPONDING GOD HAS SPOKEN, AND WE RESPOND. WE AFFIRM OUR FAITH, PRAY FOR THE WORLD, RE-COMMIT OURSELVES TO MISSION,
PRESENT OUR TITHES & GIFTS, AND OFFER THANKS THAT GOD CONTINUES TO SPEAK TODAY.
* HYMN CHRIST UPON THE MOUNTAIN PEAK SHILLINGFORD
Christ, upon the mountain peak
stands alone in glory blazing.
Let us, if we dare to speak,
join the saints and angels praising.
Trembling at his feet we saw
Moses and Elijah speaking.
All the prophets and the law
shout through them their joyful greeting.
Swift the cloud of glory came,
God proclaiming in its thunder
Jesus as the Son by Name!
Nations, cry aloud in wonder!
4 This is God’s beloved Son!
Law and prophets fade before him;
first and last and only One.
Let creation now adore him!
The Transfiguration of Jesus is both one of the most mystical and perhaps difficult episodes in Christ’s earthly life to understand. Cited in the three synoptic gospels – Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36 – Jesus goes to a high mountain to pray. The musical setting deserves special mention as the intentional shape of the melody as it twice outlines the ascent and descent of a mountain. PRESENTING OUR TITHES & OFFERINGS
(We invite you to make your offering online. Thank you to everyone for your generous support!)
PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING & DEDICATION
Gracious God, you have given each of us gifts to use as members of the body of Christ. Here are our gifts – the work of our hands, our hearts, and our lives. We pray that they may help to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to our world, today and always, here and everywhere. Amen.
SHARING OUR JOYS & CONCERNS
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
SENDING WE HEAR THE CHARGE, RECEIVE THE BENEDICTION, AND ARE SENT TO CARRY GOD’S WORD INTO THE WORLD.CHARGE & BENEDICTION
POSTLUDE Christe, der du ist Tag and Licht (O Christ, Who Art the Light and Day) W. Fr. Bach * Please rise in body or in spirit.