Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH February 14, 2021
Beloved, Covid – 19 has and continues to bring many changes to our world. This reality is all around us from the way we share worship to our social interactions. And these changes feel like an open wound as the changing world groans in pain – right before our eyes. However, change does not have to be terrifying, it can be a loving transformation into the world God is calling us to become. It can be a transformation of love recreating the way we engage the world – our lives – and one another. We have witnessed this transforming love happen to us over the last year; but, have we lived into the breath of the Holy Spirit in our midst. We are following Jesus up the mountain; but are we listening to the transformation happening? The prophets are there on the top of the mountain and now is our time to choose: do we fear the change or live into the transformation on the mountain?
As we begin would you pray with me:
Christ Jesus, lead and I will follow. Show us the way to your mountain so we may witness your transfiguration and welcome the transformation you bring within us. Show us the Way of love, God, the way to Love You – which we never knew was possible through Your Holy Spirit. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God.
Now beloved I do believe we have and are following Jesus up the mountain – faithfully. We are living into the faithful teachings which guide us as we struggle with this new world being created. So, well done. Yet, I also feel it is important to recognize that the past year has been a struggle for many people – many who are disenfranchised – many who feel trapped with abuse – many who feel silenced by politics – many who are starving for a hug – many who engage with virtual education – many of us who miss the physical presence of each other during worship. It is important to recognize these struggles; for each struggle reveals how we are resistant to the changes happening and not accepting of the transformation of the Spirit into God’s new Creation. Mind you, this resistance is not necessarily a bad thing – we could be discerning how to live into the transformation happening. Then again, we could also be fearful of the changes – so fearful that we miss the miracle of the transfiguration.
Either way, many of us are struggling as a community who misses our sanctuary full of our beloved friends. I hear our prayers that we will all be together again soon, a prayer which I believe will come true soon; but, what if it does not. What if it is years before we can gather again safely. This conflict is the struggle many of us are feeling. And this is only one struggle; but it is one we are facing together as we climb the mountain of faith.
Much like the disciples who were called to follow Jesus struggle with the transfiguration which is happening on the mountain in our reading from the Gospel according to Mark. Struggle when Jesus was transfigured from their teacher to the manifestation of … “divine power and glory,” according to theology professor Pheme Perkins. These disciples resist the manifestation though by continuing to call Jesus: “Rabbi” which is the Hebrew word for teacher. They also struggle with what is happening before them by offering to alter the world and build three dwellings – one for Jesus – one for Moses who is there to represent the Law Jesus fulfils – and one for Elijah who is there to represent the Prophets who came before. Instead of witnessing the loving vision before them, the disciples struggle with the meaning of the manifestation and the presence of Moses and Elijah. Thereby, resisting the transfiguration by offering to remake the mountain in human needs instead of living into the transfiguration of the New Creation before their very eyes.
To all of this, Jesus … “did not know what to say.” Imagine that beloved, Jesus did not know what to say. The disciples had followed Jesus up the mountain. He had been transfigured right before their eyes into clothes so dazzling white that no human hands could equal. His divine power and glory is further recognized in the presence of the Law and the Prophets. Yet, these three disciples could not comprehend what is being revealed to them and Jesus did not know what to say.
Is this reality any different from all of us who are following the path of Jesus – who have witnessed a manifestation before us which we never imagined could happen, like our sanctuary being closed. Faithfully, many have embraced virtual worship. Yet, some of us still resist by either avoiding worship all together or anxiously awaiting the return of our hybrid worship service. I admit that I am amongst this latter group. I struggle with not being in worship physically with all of you and resist the transformation of a strictly virtual worship service. And Jesus did not know what to say…There is no teaching here from Jesus because we have not fully discerned the changes or comprehended what is being revealed.
But there is Good News, Good News in the words of God who clearly shares the message of the transfiguration and through this message transforms the lives of those disciples on the mountain. God from within the manifestation of the Holy Spirit says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!” She says listen – listen to Jesus – the vision before our eyes and witness the transfiguration happening because Jesus is my Son and with him is “(my) divine power and glory.” Sometimes the message from God is that clear and we only need to listen. Sometimes the simplest message of God’s love is all that we need to help us understand and be transformed by the transfiguration happening right before our eyes.
So, what is the simple message today – what Good News did God bring us to help us become transformed by the altering of our sanctuary worship? Well God, through Jesus in the Gospel according to John says, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” In other words, beloved, there will come a time when worship will not be in any sanctuary, neither on the “mountain nor in Jerusalem.” When this coming kin-dom happens, we will all worship God in “spirit and truth” wherever we are in the world. But we are not there … yet. Though I believe we are being called to enter this transformation – into this way of worship through “spirit and truth.” Yet, we resist. So perhaps today, we need to witness the transfiguration happening and see Jesus’ words as an invitation that worship can and should happen throughout the world. Can and should be however and wherever we need to be in order to be at-one with God and each other in worship. Perhaps this transformation into the breath of both in this sanctuary and virtually is the transformation we are called to embrace.
And I believe we have been faithful, so far. We have climbed the mountain and embraced ways to remain in worship together. “It is good to be here”; but is the place where you are worshipping, a spiritual place of God. Does it feel like the worship of “spirit and truth” – does it feel the same as when you are within this sanctuary when all of us are together or are, we just experiencing worship in this way until the day we can get back to “normal?” What about the souls who cannot experience worship virtually and it is dangerous for them to still be physically present? Are they able to be in worship with us through the “spirit and truth?” Are we transformed or simply resisting the transfiguration happening right before our eyes? Truth be told beloved; I do not know the answer to these questions. But I witness our resistance and know that God is calling us to a new Creation – a way to worship together that is spiritually fulfilling for all people. And I pray that each of us can help discover and be transformed by all the ways God is lovingly manifesting in the world today.
To further these thoughts beloved, I would like to remind you that today we are celebrating the ministries of Horton Center. And these are blessed ministries. Ministries which I have personally had the privilege of witnessing firsthand when I joined a group of seekers on their confirmation weekend. I will share that when I went up the mountain to a place far away from the sanctuary of any church building, I felt us worshipping God in “spirit and truth.” I suspect anyone who has climbed the mountain of Horton Center can also testify to feeling God there on the mountain. Likewise, a member of this community has testified that while sitting on her porch this last fall and participating in worship, she felt the spirit of God present throughout the worship service. And many of us have felt that same “spirit and truth” each time we share worship at an Easter sunrise service or in this sanctuary. That connection with the divine and one another through worship is what God is calling us to feel, again. In other words, the feeling of a transformed worship service which welcomes all people and all ways we worship in a sustainable way regardless of pandemic struggles. What this solution looks like is unclear, but it is the call God is inviting each of us to be involved in as we lovingly discover the new Creation of worship, embrace the invitation to be transformed on the mountain, and become closer to God in the kin-dom. May God use this invitation of the transfiguration to be a blessed transformation for each of us to not only be recreated in worship but also through all the struggles happening in our world, today. Amen.