Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lent at Emsworth U.P. Church

Wednesday Evenings During Lent
February 25, March 4, 11, 18, 25
6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon

Come and gather with our brothers and sisters at Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon for an evening of dinner, worship and study.   The topic of our study during Lent will be, “The Jesus Creed,” based upon the book by Scot McKnight.   

The Jesus Creed is based upon Jesus’ words in Mark 12:29 – 31.  The words Jesus speaks are taken from the Shema from Deuteronomy 6 –
“Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
We will study what it means to follow the Jesus Creed – in our writing, learning, praying and living. 

Some weeks, the program will be intergenerational, with everyone together.  Other weeks, we will separate into age-specific activities for children, youth and adults. 
Brochures with more information are available in the narthex, or talk with Pastor Susan.

South Sudan Trip Information

You have three upcoming opportunities to learn more about Pastor Susan’s trip to South Sudan with five other pastors from Pittsburgh Presbytery.

Monday, March 2 at 6:30 p.m. at Pittsburgh Presbytery.  All six team members will be making a presentation to the International Partnership of Pittsburgh Presbytery.  Also of interest will be an update on Malawi, including a report on the recent flooding as well as an update on the trip scheduled for this summer, 2015.
Sunday, March 15 at 11:00 The Rev. Sharon Stewart will be our guest preacher and present her perspective on South Sudan and what she experienced there.
Sunday, March 22 at 11:00 a.m. Pastor Susan will be discussing the trip as part of our regular worship service.

Worship Schedule for March/April

Sunday, March 8         Elder Keith Mehelcic preaching at 11:00 a.m.
                                    (Pastor on Spring break from March 5 – 15)
                                    Sunday school at 9:45 a.m.

Sunday, March 15       Rev. Sharon Stewart preaching at 11:00 a.m.
                                    (Rev. Stewart is one of the pastors from Pittsburgh Presbytery who
                                    traveled to South Sudan in January.)
                                    Sunday school at 9:45 a.m.
Sunday, March 22       Prayer group for Emsworth U.P. at 9:15 a.m.
                                    Sunday school at 9:45 a.m.
                                    South Sudan Worship with Pastor Susan at 11:00 a.m.

Sunday, March 29       Prayer group for Emsworth U.P. at 9:15 a.m.
                                    Sunday school at 9:45 a.m.
                                    Worship at 11:00 a.m. (Palm/Passion Sunday)

Thursday, April 2         Maundy Thursday/Good Friday supper and service at 6:00 p.m.
                                     (Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon)

Sunday, April 5            Easter worship at 11:00 a.m.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Sunday of Lent -- February 22, 2015

NOTE: Sermons are aural events; they are meant to be heard, not read. The text below -- which was not delivered exactly as written -- may include errors not limited to spelling, grammar and punctuation of which the listener might be unaware and with which the preacher is unconcerned (h/t: Rev. Slim Wilson)

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”           

Well, the weather totally trashed our observances of Transfiguration and Ash Wednesday, so most of us are beginning Lent at somewhat of a disadvantage. 

It’s a shame, really, because there is a liturgical logic to the days leading up to the observance of Lent.  The transfiguration points us to the glory of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.  Up on the mountaintop, the door between this world and the next cracks open for a moment, and the light reveals the glory of the Son and the love of the Father for Jesus and for us.  It’s a disorienting moment for the disciples, and I’m not sure that they knew what to make of it any better than we do.   But there is no mistaking the reassuring voice of God breaking into the mountaintop scene, proclaiming who Jesus is.  The voice reminds us that Jesus is the beloved one, the Son of God, the One we can listen to and trust.  The voice reminds us that we can’t stay up on that mountain, but we have to follow Jesus down, down, down.  All the way down the mountain toward Jerusalem and right smack dab into the mess that trip will entail all the way until Easter morning.

If transfiguration reminds us who Jesus is, then Ash Wednesday is the day on which we are reminded who we are – human beings, just in case the fact had slipped our minds.  If transfiguration reminds us of Jesus’ divine otherness, Ash Wednesdays reminds us of our human ordinariness.  The words, “You are dust and to dust you will return,” is a shocking yet obvious reminder that our time as creatures on earth is limited.  If you ask me, I think Ash Wednesday is designed to shake us up a little, maybe a lot.  At least it might make us take inventory of the direction in which our lives are going.  The ashes imposed on our foreheads or hands remind us of our mortality and sin, but also give us the assurance of God’s forgiveness and salvation.   Ash Wednesday means time is running out for everyone, but it’s still not too late to turn our lives around.

So we missed transfiguration and Ash Wednesday.  But we still have Lent.  And the season of Lent tells us it’s to get going.  To get closer to God, to close the gap or remove the roadblock between the human and divine.  Which, when you think about it, is a completely futile endeavor since the stumbling block of being merely human is one we cannot change.  And yet we take on the challenge of Lent each year.  Each year, we vow that we will get it together.  To repent.  To change.  To live as if we actually believe what Jesus says.  That the good news that the kingdom of God has come near.           

But, lets be honest.  Most years, Lent doesn’t even leave a mark on us.  Not really.  And I will be the first to admit that I’ve totally failed at living up to Lent.  And I bet you’d admit the same. 

Oh, if we give up chocolate or sugar, we might end up a slightly skinnier version of ourselves.  If we give up social media, we may end up with slightly more rested, less bug-eyed version.  If we give up coffee, we’ll sleep a bit better.  If we participate in a Lenten study, we may adopt a more holy outlook for a few weeks.  I have one friend who gives us swearing every year and she’s certainly much nicer to be around during Lent.  And all of those are good Lenten practices.  All of them can be useful and faithful ways to observe the 40 days stretching ahead of us until Easter.  They are certainly more challenging than limiting our Lenten practice to hitting a different fish fry every Friday.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But will our observance of Lent change us in a way that lasts?  Will we come through this wilderness time not merely improved, but changed in a real way?  Will anyone notice?  Will Lent leave a mark on us?  Does it matter if it doesn’t?

Maybe some brief historical perspective would help.

All of our biblical evidence suggests that the earliest Christians were, to put it mildly, somewhat odd.  The first Christians stuck out like sore thumbs against the backdrop of the Roman Empire.  They just couldn’t help it. They were zealots, certain that Jesus would return any day, and troubling the authorities so much with their strange ways of speaking and living that they often got themselves eaten by lions or executed in other horrible ways. 

After the first Christians figured out that Christ wasn’t coming back anytime soon, they put a wooden cross on the wall and settled back into their comfortable routines.  After the world didn’t end as Jesus said it would, his followers stopped expecting so much from God or themselves.

So they lost their enthusiasm, their zeal.  Little by little, Christians began to get comfortable.  They began to stop standing out so much in a crowd.  They blended in.  They did not make a fuss about injustice.  They did not love boldly.  They did not get arrested or eaten by wild animals for standing up on behalf of poor orphans or widows.  Christians became, in fact, model citizens.  They decided to be nice rather than holy. Somewhere along the line, Christians forgot that the soul of Christ’s ministry is risk and vulnerability.  They began to value the safety of large buildings and state approval.

Eventually, someone suggested it was time to bring the church back to its senses and the Bible offered some clues to how it could do that.

The people of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness learning what it meant to trust YHWH.

Elijah spent 40 days there until he heard that small still voice of God on the same mountain where Moses spent 40 days listening to God’s giving of the law.

And then, there were the gospel stories about Jesus and the 40 days he spent fasting and praying and being tested in the wilderness.

So the early church engaged in the season of Lent.  40 days.  To remind Christians what it is to open our eyes and see what remains when all the comforts are gone.  To venture out into the wilderness like the people of God had been doing for centuries.  To remember what it is to live by the grace of God alone and not what we can do for ourselves.  After all, even Jesus had to have that time of testing and tribulation.  Lent became a practice for Christians to remember who they are and what their lives are to look like.(1)

I’m not sure even Jesus knew what his life was to be about before he encounters John on the banks of the Jordon.  It seems Jesus discovered more about himself as time went on.  Walking town to town.  Eating with tax collectors.  Healing lepers.  Eating grain on the Sabbath.  Using the wrong fork and knocking over accepted ways of being. Worrying more about being holy and obedient to God, not so worried about being nice.  Not fitting into the religious establishment of Jerusalem but opening people up to what God is doing.

But it all begins in the wilderness for Jesus.  In the desert.  Jesus is out there in the middle of nowhere and, what’s more, it is the Spirit of God who put him there. 

And the thing about wilderness is that all the markers you usually depend upon to tell you where you are and who you are have vanished.  Gone.  Wilderness is disorienting beyond description. 

Jesus was led out into the wilderness to find out what it meant to be Jesus.  And what happened in those 40 days freed him from every thing that would attempt to distract him from his true purpose.  And he learned to trust the Spirit that drove him out there.

I think the sin that dwells within all of us is not so much the propensity to do what is bad or harmful, but a mistrust of God’s promises to us.  The voices we hear every day tell us we cannot or shouldn’t trust God – you may go hungry, you do not have enough, you are not enough.  All of us are naturally insecure in so many ways. 

But even Jesus’ trust in God was something he had to learn.  Our impulse may be to say, wasn’t it enough that Jesus was Jesus?  Wasn’t it enough for him to hear, “You are my beloved Son?”  Wasn’t it enough for him to be baptized?

Jesus had to do the work of Lent just as we do.  Out there in wilderness.  The long days of prayer.  The long days of hunger.  Of feeling lonely.  Of not knowing when it would end or how it would end.  Jesus had to learn what life feels like with no pacifier, no anesthesia, no comfort but God alone.  He had to learn to trust where God was going to lead him, just like we do.  And he had to learn to discern between the voice of God and every other voice that would show him a short cut, an easy way out. 

We are in a wilderness place, brothers and sisters.  I’ve heard the anxiety in your voices.  I’ve seen the fractures in relationships between people in this congregation.  Some of you want to go in one direction.  Some of you want to go in another direction.  Others just want to sit where you are and not move because every path out looks much too dangerous.   And just as it was for the Israelites, out in the wilderness it’s easy to begin blaming one another.  It’s easy to blame people who aren’t here anymore.  It’s easy to blame the people who never showed up to begin with.  Maybe you blame your pastor or the session.  Maybe you blame yourself.  Or maybe you blame God.  Maybe you are just sick of the wilderness and just want to go back.

Or maybe the Spirit drove us out here for a purpose.  Maybe we need to learn something here.  Maybe we need to endure the temptation that tells us to save ourselves by any means necessary.  Maybe we need to trust ourselves less, and depend upon God’s provision once and for all.  Even if we hate everything the angels have to offer us in their bag of tricks.  Even if we’d rather be eaten by a wild beast lion than spend one more minute out here in this dust-filled nightmare. 

When I was in South Sudan, you want to know the one thing that frightened me more than anything else?  It wasn’t the dust or the prospect of disease.  It wasn’t the rats in our rooms or the guys with machine guns.  It wasn’t dangerous roads or the land mines hidden on the side of them.  What frightened me most is that I would come home and be mean to you, saints.  That I would come home and say terrible, thoughtless things like, “Why are you complaining – you with a roof over your head and clean water and reliable electricity and a place to worship on Sunday even if it is running out of money and people?  Who are you with your first world problems when the majority of the world can even begin to conceive of how good you have it?” 

I might have said that if hadn’t learned something much more important while in that difficult and troubled place. 

What I learned instead was that – every wilderness is different, but what we share with every human being on this earth is that sooner or later, we will end up in that disorienting place.  And it leaves a mark that cannot be rubbed off or hidden.  Our wilderness is different from the wilderness of our South Sudanese brothers and sisters.  But what we share is the deep need to know where we are and where we are going.  Guilt isn’t the point. Anger isn’t the point.  Repentence isn’t about feeling bad about what we’ve done, or feeling bad about what we have, but about turning around and submitting to what God wants us to do. 

What was so remarkable about the people I met in South Sudan is that they knew very well they were in the wilderness and spent more time trying to discern the voice of God than finding someone to blame for their predicament, although I could come up with a very long list of villains.   Despite the fact that they had every reason to give up hope, or plot vengeance against their enemies, our partners in South Sudan realized that their time in the wilderness is a gift in the sense of bringing them closer to God. 

Jesus comes out of the wilderness and the first thing he hears is that John has been arrested.  Knowing who he is, knowing the power he commands, Jesus could take on the Roman government and establish God’s kingdom by force.  Jesus could rescue John and avenge his suffering.  But Jesus doesn’t emerge from the wilderness as a zealot ready to smite the human race on behalf of an angry God.   Instead, God’s kingdom comes through the One who goes to the cross so that history’s endless parade of victims can come to an end, and who resurrection will end the reign of death and violence. 

Lent begins for us, as it does for Jesus – by first knowing who we are.  And we are, as Paul tells us, a new creation in Christ through our baptism.  We are a new creation, co-crucified, co-buried, and co-resurrected with Christ, afflicted, then exalted.  Marked for life as God’s beloved.  Created out of dust by a love so deep, so broad, so high that it will sustain even in the wilderness.

In a few minutes we will sing a hymn, “O Love So Deep So Broad So High” with lyrics written by a 15th century priest named Thomas a Kempis.  Kempis also wrote “The Imitation of Christ,” which contains this quote that I find incredibly encouraging : “The Lord bestows his blessings there, where he finds the vessels empty.” 

O love so deep, so broad, so high

how beyond all thought and fantasy,
that God, the Son of God, should take
our mortal form for mortals’ sake!

For us baptized, for us he bore
his holy fast and hungered sore;
for us temptation sharp he knew,
for us the tempter overthrew.

For us he prayed; for us he taught;
for us his daily works he wrought:
by words and signs and actions thus
still seeking not himself, but us.

For us to evil power betrayed,
scourged, mocked, in purple robe arrayed,
he bore the shameful cross and death;
for us gave up his dying breath.

For us he rose from death again;
for us he went on high to reign;
for us he sent his Spirit here
to guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.

All glory to our Lord and God
for love so deep, so high, so broad —
the Trinity, whom we adore
forever and forevermore.

We have to sit with the silence.  The loneliness.  The hunger.  The weakness.  The panic.
It is hard.  It is awful.  It is necessary.  We are empty vessels, worn out with worry. But that emptiness is not a sign that we are doing something wrong.  It is that God shaped space in us that only God can fill.  Nothing else on earth will do.  Not even church.  Not even this church.  If we allow the wilderness to have its way with us, we will fall out of love with everything that separates us from God, anything that isn’t God. 

But God is with us in wilderness.  God provides.  With angels that look an awful lot like the ordinary saints of our lives.  With this table and this holy meal to sustain us.  God has always cared for God’s people.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

1. The historical review of Lent is adapted from Barbara Brown Taylor's sermon, "Lenten Discipline," in Home By Another Way.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Lenten Season Begins Tonight

Fat (Shrove) Tuesday

Tonight, we'll be enjoying pancakes and bacon here at Emsworth U.P. Church with our friends from Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon.  Stop by at 6 p.m. and enjoy the fun as we celebrate the last night before Lent begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday

Tomorrow, we will gather for an Ash Wednesday Service including imposition of ashes and the Lord's Supper at 11 a.m. and  7 p.m. at Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Transfiguration Sunday -- February 15, 2015

Stumbling Around in the Light

See the complete order of worship below, including hymns and prayers:

Mark 9:2-9 
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. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. 

2 Corinthians 4:1-12

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Let us begin with prayer:  Holy and gracious God, we do seek your light, your glory, your Word for us revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit.  Speak to us this day, we pray.  Amen.

Somewhere along the line, we were told a big, fat lie.  Somewhere along the line we were led to believe that when life feels steady, secure, predictable and comfortable, God is close to us.  

Or maybe we weren’t taught that exactly, but we somehow picked up the notion that God is most present when life is going well.  But that’s not true. The reason I know this it isn’t true is because the Bible tells an entirely different story. In Scripture, the entrance of God into human experience is almost always accompanied by disruption, and not always of the most comforting kind.

Like today’s story from Mark.  If there is any scene in the Bible that defies easy interpretation, and disrupts the world of those who witness it, it is the transfiguration.  Jesus takes three of his disciples up a mountain with him and right before their eyes, Jesus is radically changed. Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white in a way that even Mark has trouble describing.  They are white “like no one on earth could make them,” lit up with a shimmering glow that is beyond the ability of our minds to comprehend.  

And then something even more mind-blowing happens.  Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah -- the heart and soul of Israel’s history.  Not only are Moses and Elijah the representatives of the law and the prophets, they also share the distinction of having been dead for many centuries.  Yet there they are, alive again and talking with Jesus who is lit up like a firecracker.

The scene is crazy.  It’s like a dream.  A dream that makes no sense.  For centuries, preachers and teachers and all manner of holy people have tried to make meaning of the transfiguration, to make it more orderly and, well, preach-able.  Which is understandable.  In fact, that’s what Peter tries to do.  He tries to make meaning out of what he’s seeing by placing it into a theological framework that he knows well.  When Peter sees Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, he thinks “this must be it!”  This must be the “Day of the Lord,” when God draws history to its climax and defeats Israel’s enemies – a day which is associated with the Feast of Booths.  Peter takes this incomprehensible scene on top of that mountain and does his best to fit it into a framework he already knows so be can make sense of what he sees.  Without the framework, what he sees makes no sense. That’s why Peter offers to build the dwellings or booths.  It’s not an odd or misplaced impulse at all. 

But it’s the wrong impulse.  Peter is interrupted by God’s voice – “This is my Son.  The beloved.  Listen to him!”  Peter almost misses what God wants him to see.  Peter wants to fit what is happening into a plan of his own, a framework he can understand.  God, however, seem to wants Peter and the others to simply experience the wonder and mystery of Jesus.

We do the same thing as Peter – all the time.  Something happens that is disturbing, confusing or frightening for us.  We try to fit a disruption in our lives into a “divine plan.”  Or come up with a new plan of our own.  But I wonder if we sometimes we just need to sit down, shut up and experience the mystery and wonder and work of God.  Which is filled with all the meaning in the world.  Yet it is meaning that is sometimes beyond us.  Which is as frustrating for us as it must have been for Peter. 

One of the deep privileges for me during my trip to South Sudan was the opportunity to meet with the PCUSA missionaries serving in that part of Africa.  When the civil war broke out in late 2013, the missionaries, all of who were scattered throughout the country, had to be evacuated.  Some went to Uganda or Ethiopia.  Eventually, as the situation stabilized, they all moved to Juba.  They are now waiting for their return to the field.

The stories they told our Pittsburgh group when we gathered with them around a dinner table were, to put it mildly, quite harrowing.  Many of them were based in Malakal, the capital of the Upper Nile state in South Sudan, which endured horrific violence.  Schools and churches were burned to the ground, along with most of the city.  Patients in the city’s one small hospital were executed in their beds by soldiers.  There is literally nothing left of the once bustling town of 150,000 people except for 8,000 civilians still crammed into a UN camp outside the city.  The PCUSA missionaries in Malakal held out as long as they could, but as the violence grew, they were evacuated. 

One of the missionaries talked about lying in her bed, hearing nearby gunfire, and debating whether or not she would be safer in her bed with bullets flying outside her window, or under her bed where she’d most certainly have to deal with rats.

Our missionaries in South Sudan are extraordinary, awesome people.  All of them have faced situations that are difficult for us to imagine.  And yet, I have to also say, that they are, without a doubt, the most faithful people I have ever met.   Which makes no sense to me. They have seen the worst of what human beings can do to each other and yet, they continue to persevere with crazy, seemingly misplaced hope that God is present and active and creating something new and maybe even beautiful in South Sudan.  They don’t try to make meaning of what they have seen, and they call it part of some divine plan. They may be the most foolish people I’ve ever met, but they are fools of the very best kind.  They are fools for Christ, or, as I like to put it, goofballs for the gospel.  They are the kind of people who can endure the most extreme and violent disruptions in their ministry and lives, and still somehow manage to point to the glory of Christ.   

I don’t know how they do it.  Yet, I think they have something to teach those of us whose tolerance for disruption and dislocation is pretty low. 

In our text from 2 Corinthians, Paul is also facing extreme challenges in his ministry.  He is preaching his heart out but seeing very little success.  In fact, he is, as he says, “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible...” Paul knows that anything good that might come out of his work has nothing to do with him, but everything to do with God’s mercy.  Paul is entirely realistic.  Paul knows how the world works, all too well.  He understands that some people are going to “get” what he preaches.  For others, the Word of God will bounce off them like Teflon.  God’s Word doesn’t depend upon Paul’s skill as a preacher or church planter.  Everything depends upon the glory of God, not the glory of Paul’s plans.  All Paul can do is continue to create a space for those to whom he preaches to discover the living Christ for themselves. 

God’s glory shines everywhere, and yet we in the church continue to stumble around, even in the dazzling light of all that glory.  And part of our problem, I believe, is that as much as we desire to encounter the living God, we are also scared to death of what that means.  We are frightened out of our wits that being in the presence of God means we will have to be changed or transformed or stretched in some deeply uncomfortable and unfamiliar way.  So when God comes near to us – even in an event not as nearly as dramatic as the transfiguration, or the civil war in South Sudan or the conversion of Saul to Paul – we try to cram that disruptive experience into a plan that we can manage.  Or a plan we think we can manage.  The Christian Church has been doing just that for nearly 2,000 years.  We’ve tried to stuff the glory of God into a manageable box.  Not that the church is a bad thing.  It’s just not the whole story of God.

And perhaps the most frightening prospect of all is this – maybe there is no “plan,” divine or otherwise.  Perhaps there’s only love.  

Maybe our job in the church isn’t to help people fit their disruptive experiences of live into a “divine plan,” but simply to create a space for people to experience the wonder and mystery of God’s divine love.  

Maybe the task of the church is not to help people believe correctly or behave correctly, but simply to help people remove whatever veil that is blocking their view of Jesus, and help them fall more completely in love with him so they can follow him wherever it is he calls.

The transfiguration isn’t a story about our going up to somehow be more like Jesus, it's a story about Jesus coming down, all the way down into our brokenness, fear, disappointment, and loss to be with us. And, of course, Jesus goes even further than that. We will soon watch Jesus travel to the cross, embracing all that is hard, difficult, and even despicable in life in order to transform death itself so we might live in hope knowing that wherever we may go, however badly we stumble, Jesus has already been there.  We can look at our brokenness through the lens of hope and redemption, taking a God’s eye view just as the disciples witnessed on the mountaintop.

Transfiguration does not change what is going to happen in Jerusalem.  And it certainly doesn’t change the way the disciples are going to react to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion and death.  In fact, when all is said and done, Jesus never really is going to give them a detailed plan for how to build a church when he is gone.  I find that comforting because we too enter into moments that we believe are moments of transformation, thinking we finally have a plan, only to find ourselves no further along in our journey of faith than we were when we began. 

So we enter into the story with same imperfect understanding as Peter, James and John.  Up on the mountaintop, the door between this world and the next has cracked open for a moment, and the light reveals the glory of the Son and the love of the Father for Jesus and for us.  The light also reveals who we are…a bunch of tired, dusty pilgrims with blisters on our feet from the long climb.   It is not a light that will keep us always from stumbling when things get messy.  But it is a light that will keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  The Son.  The beloved.  Let’s listen to him. 

Thanks be to God.

The order of worship for today would have been:

February 15, 2015              11:00 A.M
Transfiguration Sunday
The Rev. Susan Maxwell Rothenberg, Supply Pastor

“On Transfiguration Sunday, this epistle text and the Gospel reading from Mark 9, in drawing upon the motif of Moses’ shining face, together point us toward the glory of God as revealed in Christ. These images remind us that it is the glory of God and not that of his disciples (then or now) that makes possible the proclamation of the Gospel, a proclamation that is not guaranteed to convince all who hear it in spite of the clear glory of Christ that is attached to it.”
Craig Vondergeest, Good

L: The world is changing rapidly before us;
P: God’s love endures forever.
L: Our ways of understanding have been challenged and stretched;
P: God’s love endures forever.
L: What we once knew has passed away, and we do not know what lies before us.
P: God’s love endures forever.
L: May we move forward as the body of Christ, assured of God’s presence;
P: May we embrace the future with hope. May we know God’s love endures forever.

*HYMN OF PRAISE                                                             156
Sing of God Made Manifest

Sing of God made manifest
in a child robust and blest,
to whose home in Bethlehem
where a star had guided them,
magi came and gifts unbound,
signs mysterious and profound:
myrrh and frankincense and gold
grave and God and King foretold.

Sing of God made manifest
when at Jordan John confessed,
"I should be baptized by you,
but your bidding I will do."
Then from heaven a double sign--
dove-like Spirit, voice divine--
hailed the true Anointed One:
"This is my beloved Son."

Sing of God made manifest
when Christ came as wedding guest
and at Cana gave a sign,
turning water into wine;
further still was love revealed
as he taught, forgave, and healed,
bringing light and life to all
who would listen to God's call.

Sing of God made manifest
on the cloud-capped mountain's crest,
where both voice and vision waned
until Christ alone remained:
glimpse of glory, pledge of grace,
given as Jesus set his face
towards the waiting cross and grave,
sign of hope that God would save.
We all have so many idols and false gods, which draw us away from you, God of our lives.  The seductions around us cry out so loudly, we are not able to hear you calling to us.  Your forgiveness is a mystery wrapped in your love and revealed to us in this and every moment.  Open our hearts so we may listen to you whispering our name, even as we would follow Jesus Christ, your Beloved, into our world.


L: Whether we hear a voice from the heavens or a still small voice in our hearts, listen carefully for the love of God. Believe and accept God’s love and live in God’s freedom.
P: Thanks be to God.  Amen.

*CHORAL RESPONSE                                                             132
Good Christian friends rejoice with heart and soul and voice
Now ye need not fear the grave; Jesus Christ was born to save
Calls you one and calls you all to gain the ever lasting hall.
Christ was born to save!  Christ was born to save!

When we were strangers, Christ welcomed us. Let us share the peace of Christ with one another.
L:  The peace of Christ be with you!
P:  And also with you!


GOSPEL READING                                       Mark 9:2-9                               
EPISTLE READING                                    2 Corinthians 4:1-12


SERMON                                                                        Rev. Rothenberg                                     
Stumbling Around in the Light                                                
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH  -- from the PCUSA Brief Statement of Faith (1991)
We trust in Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God: preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives, teaching by word and deed and blessing the children, healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted, eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners, and calling all to repent and believe the gospel. Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition, Jesus was crucified, suffering the depths of human pain and giving his life for the sins of the world. God raised this Jesus from the dead, vindicating his sinless life, breaking the power of sin and evil, delivering us from death to life eternal. With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

*HYMN OF RESPONSE                                                            189
O Wondrous Sight, O Vision Fair

O wondrous sign, o vision fair,
of glory that the church shall share,
which Christ upon the mountain shows,
where brighter than the sun he glows!

From age to age the tale declare,
how with the three disciples there,
where Moses and Elijah meet,
the Lord holds converse high and sweet.

The law and prophets there have place,
two chosen witnesses of grace;
the Father's voice from out the cloud
proclaims his only Son aloud.

With shining face and bright array
Christ deigns to manifest today
what glory shall be theirs above
who joy in God with perfect love.

And faithful hearts are raised on high
by this great vision's mystery,
for which in joyful strains we raise
the voice of prayer, the hymn of praise.


L: We are your house, O Lord, and the people of your promise;
P: Help us to hold fast our confidence in your saving glory.

L: God of Glory, the God of this city: as you once revealed yourself to Moses face to face, so you have shown yourself to the world in the glory of your Son. Help us by your Spirit to know him by faith, to love him with all our heart, and to serve him with all of our being.
P: Help us to hold fast our confidence in your saving glory.

L: God of Glory, the God of this city: your disciples once saw Moses and Elijah point to Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenant of Sinai and all the prophets’ words. Reveal yourself now to us in your Scriptures that we may behold him whose suffering and death give life to the whole world.
P: Help us to hold fast our confidence in your saving glory.

L: God of Glory, the God of this city: you once came to a world lonely and afraid and showed to us the face of love and hope. Use us to reflect your glory and grace in our world and so represent you here to those who are alone, those troubled by fears and sins, and those whose hearts are grieved by their own faulty decisions or the harm of others.
P: Help us to hold fast our confidence in your saving glory.

L: God of Glory, the God of this city: your Son came to reveal your kingdom through words and works of mercy. Give to the sick your healing and to the suffering your hope. May your saving will and the glory of your steadfast love support all who call upon you in the day of trouble.
P: Help us to hold fast our confidence in your saving glory.

L: God of Glory, the God of this city: you once spoke through a cloud to your disciples of old that they might see Jesus by faith even when earthly eyes cannot see. Grant to us this bold and courageous faith that we may see Jesus, trust in him for our salvation, and be ready to receive him when he comes again in clouds of glory. We are your house, O Lord, and the people of your promise;
P: Help us to hold fast our confidence in your saving glory.
L:  And now we pray boldly the prayer that Jesus taught us, saying…
A:  Our Father, who art in heaven…

*DOXOLOGY                                                                                                606

L: Let us give thanks, for God is good and God’s love is everlasting!
P: Thanks be to God – whose love creates us.
     Thanks be to God – whose mercy redeems us.
     Thanks be to God – whose grace leads us into the future.

*CLOSING HYMN                                                                        666
O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright


*CHORAL RESPONSE            Threefold Amen                          601                       
*Please stand in body or spirit.