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Altered - Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard

March 3, 2019 Series: February 10-March 3

Topic: Transfiguration of the Lord Scripture: Luke 9:28–9:36, 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2

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 The Transfiguration

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.

29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.

31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake,[b] they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,[c] one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen;[d] listen to him!” 36 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.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness,

not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened.

Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.  

Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

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.

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Come Holy Spirit Come!

Prayer:

God, God of Grace, God of Glory, God of Compassion,

God of Second Chances,

Speak here to us, in this place. Speak through us wherever we go,

That Who You Truly Are might radiate out into the world

That Who You Truly Are might radiate within us that we might

Continue to transform into the ones You would have us be,

So that at death, we are ready to greet You face to face,

So that at death we might hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,”

And so that in life, we might live the abundant life You promise,

That we might know Your peace which passes all understanding.

Amen.

  

Good morning…

Great to be here with you. I wanted to thank Matt Wilcox and the Worship Committee

For the invitation to preach here today.

 

So, the news this week.

Not so great.

From one story to the next I felt like I was ping-ponging.

News of lies, deception, abuse by those with power or entrusted to care for children.

God and the pursuit of God is heretical today.

Spin is operative. Talking points. How to not answer questions.

How to not not answer. How to spin confusion and sow seeds of discontent, how

To talk in circles that serve to end dialogue instead of foster it.

 

I know people who won’t read or listen to the news anymore because it’s too too much.

Young people are anxious and depressed at record rates.

And I mean more than FOMO (fear of missing out).—

Based on diagnostic interview data from a National Institutes of health survey, showing Adolescent lifetime prevalence of any anxiety disorder among U.S. adolescents aged 13-18.

  • An estimated 31.9% of adolescents had any anxiety disorder.
  • Based on another diagnostic interview showing past year prevalence of any anxiety disorder among U.S. adults aged 18 or older.1
  • An estimated 19.1% of U.S. adults had any anxiety disorder in the past year, with an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experiencing an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives

I mention this to state the obvious. We live in anxious times.

And I believe, I believe in my Soul, that we’re here because we seek God our foundation,

we seek the solution, the perspective, the peace that God alone brings.

We sit here with unveiled faces.

 

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!

 

When God pours out God’s Spirit, upon all people
    sons and your daughters prophesy,

And young ones shall see visions,

But instead of crying out with stories of Hashtag #MeToo

    and your old ones shall dream dreams

but instead are crying out with pain of ageism, being downsized

or warehoused

and we cry out there must be more God,

there must be more!

And we cry out we must be more God,

We must be more!

This has to change.

We have to change.

Which is why we are here, to be altered, transformed, somehow, some way.

Somewhere in our hearts we know, we are good, we can be very, very good,

But we also cannot do this life alone and like the Apostle Paul profess, For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19 NRSV)

Scripture today says, “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.”

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

We are being transformed. We are taking off blinders and anything that gets in the way

Of seeing the Glory of God, this is happening in the Spirit.

Jesus is altered in front of Peter and James and John on the mountain.

He is changed.

The Greek is from the word héteros – another (of a different kind).

("another of a different quality") emphasizes it is qualitatively different from its counterpart (comparison).

We seek a God who is other, who can break into our lives, pronounce us Loved, the Beloved

And a God who will guide us through our lives until we take our last breath

That’s what we ask.

That’s why we come to take communion, to join in mind, body, and spirit

With a God who has us

Whose eye is on the sparrow and on us

I’ve been thinking about Judaism, teaching comparative religions in community ed, with a member of the class from this congregation, and I was mindful of a Hasidic teaching from Rabbi Simcha Bunem Bonhart (of Peshischa, Poland).

He carried a note in each pocket:

Bishvili nivra ha-olam—“for my sake the world was created.”

On the note in his other pocket he wrote: V’anokhi afar v’efer”—“I am but dust and ashes.” 

When feeling anxious or depressed, a person could reach into the right

pocket, and, there, find the words: "For my sake was the world created."

When feeling high and mighty one a person could reach into the left pocket, and find the words: "I am but dust and ashes."

But you know this already, the vicissitudes of life, the altering from joy to pain, from plenty to want. 

This week Lent begins. We are marked with dust and ashes.

And isn’t this life?

We are in this middle place, swinging, sometimes between the highs and

lows that life can bring along.

 

We see it in the Bible, Jesus is baptized and it’s a glorious moment of God

Showing light from heaven, Luke (3:21-22) says, “heaven was opened”

Heaven-Was-Opened, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove,

And a voice from heaven says, “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”

 

Then we read in the next chapter, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returns from the Jordan,

Led by the Spirit in the desert where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” (Luke 4:1-2)

 

From mountain top experiences to desert wastelands.

We read of them in the Bible, we know them from our own lives.

 

Every time I think of swings in life like this, I think of this story of Václav Havel

Václav Havel,  a Czech statesman, writer, poet, the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic, I love Vaclav Havel.

 

He wrote this,  which I’ve abbreviated a bit: “Allow me to tell you a little story about the nature of hope and absurdity. In 1989, only a few months before I was to become, to my bewilderment, an actual head of state, I survived my own death.

I had arrived in the countryside outside Prague to visit artist friends. After a feast by a bonfire, I led a friend who had had too much to drink down a dark path toward a house nearby. In this total darkness, though completely sober, I suddenly fell into a black hole surrounded by a cement wall. The fact is, I had fallen into a sewer.

My attempt to swim in this fundamental mud, this strange vegetation, was in vain, and I began to sink deeper into the ooze. I could barely keep my nose above the dreadful effluvium and thought this was the end, what a way to go, when someone had the fine idea of putting down a long ladder.

Who could have known I was to leave this unfortunate sewer only to end up in the president's office two months later?”

He continues in the article:

“The kind of hope I often think about (especially in hopeless situations like prison or the sewer) is, I believe, a state of mind, not a state of the world….

Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy when things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It's not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Thank you for my Vaclav Havel moment…

Hope. Freedom. Transformation in the midst of what seems intransient, immovable.

Jesus had been traveling around from town to town, proclaiming the Good News of God, healing people, “The Twelve were with him, and also some women including Mary called Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”

Jesus predicts his own death for the first time. And, eight days later, on a mountain top praying, Jesus is transfigured, changed, altered

Before the disciples.

All three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) describe the transfiguration and John (1:14) says “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Glory glorious splendor

Clothes as bright as a flash of lightning

Again, a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son whom I have chosen.

Listen to him.”

He was altered.

Time was altered with his presence in it.

When we look at time, we use Before the Common Era, or the Common Era, or BC and AD, but here’s the thing, we use Jesus as middle mark,

His life is the fulcrum on which the lever of time pivots, and is altered.

God breaks into time

Breaking into space

You know when it’s happened for you or to you.

I have a friend who worked for religious organizations, I met him when he was twenty-five and while he worked with all these religious groups, he’d never had what he termed, “a religious experience.” He’d never experienced a sense of God.

We had conversations about that fifteen years ago. In preparation for this sermon I reached out to him and asked him if that had changed, now that he’s a husband and father of three. He was all over it. Being in love had changed that for him, praying and meditating. Being a father. While God didn’t speak to him as God spoke to Moses, for instance, he feels God is present, and that presence is enough.

Sometimes you can wonder, living in the Midwest, why you live in the Midwest.

Am I right?

But other times the sky can take your breath away, for instance you can see the rays of sun peak through the clouds and stream out for what seems like miles and you think, “Well okay, there is that.”

When the heavens break open during Jesus’ baptism, God says, “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”

This time heaven opens, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him.”

Listen to him! Listen to him!

Jesus and the disciples come down the mountain and are confronted with evil

This time in the form of a spirit in a child. But you and I know evil or darkness of spirit can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The evil they confront continues to mount as forces conspire to kill the Messiah

How is God in your life altering things?

Prayer does that.

It may not change the situation but it changes us.

Altered.

May we all be altered, changed for the glory of God. 

Listen to him.

Listen to him.

Friends,

All of us seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

We are being transformed, thanks be to God. 

We come to the Lord’s table today.

We share in the Lord’s Supper.

Surrender your plans and your power.

Surrender your pain and your anxiety.

Surrender your tight grip.

God loves You

God has your back.

God will sustain you until you breathe your last.

Then God will welcome you home as you join

The communion of saints who await you in heaven.

Like our Brief Statement of Faith proclaims,

“In life and in death we belong to God.”

 

Hallelujah! Amen.

  

References: 
Based on diagnostic interview data from National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), Figure 3 shows lifetime prevalence of any anxiety disorder among U.S. adolescents aged 13-18, from the National Institutes of Health web site

Buber, Martin (1948). Tales of the Hasidim: Later Masters. Schocken Books. pp. 249–250.

https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/news/a12135/vaclav-havel-hope-6619552/

https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/brief-statement-of-faith/

 

Romans 14:8 says, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die,

we die to the Lord; so then,

whether we live or whether we die,

we are the Lord’s.”

 

More in February 10-March 3

March 6, 2019

Ash Wednesday Service: Dusty Days - Pastor Matt Wilcox

February 24, 2019

Unexpected Kindness

February 17, 2019

The Rebellion of Love