Pilgrim Congregational 
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400 Glenwood Drive

Chattanooga, TN 37404

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TRANSFIGURED TO TRANSFORM

March 6, 2019

IN MANY CHURCHES TODAY, SERMONS WILL BE PREACHED ON THE TRANSFIGURATION, AN INTRIGUING AND CHALLENGING PASSAGE FOR SOME OF US. AUTHOR  BARBARA BROWN TAYLOR EVEN DESCRIBES IT AS “TOO DAUNTING TO TALK ABOUT!”

 

SOOOO……LET’S TAKE A MOMENT OF SILENCE, SHALL WE?  LET US SEEK GOD’S BLESSING ON THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION OF ALL OF OUR HEARTS………..

AMEN.

 

I EXPECT THAT MY SERMON MAY BE QUITE DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS SPOKEN FROM OTHER PULPITS AND HERE IS WHY:  I COULD HARDLY GET PAST THE VERSES ABOUT PETER WANTING TO STAY PUT WHERE THEY WERE.

MY PROCESS FOR WRITING A SERMON, PERHAPS HOW MOST FOLKS DO IT,  GOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS: 

 

I READ THE SCRIPTURE PASSAGES, PRAYING TO BE OPEN, AND I LISTEN FOR WHAT CATCHES MY ATTENTION.  I BEGIN TO TUNE INTO OTHER THINGS THAT I HAVE READ, WHETHER BOOKS OR ARTICLES OR POETRY OR QUOTES, AND EVEN TUNE IN TO MUSIC I HAVE HEARD.  I PULL OUT VARIOUS RESOURCES I HAVE ON HAND AND SEARCH THE INTERNET FOR RELATED ITEMS.  I MAY THINK ON IT FOR A DAY OR TWO BEFORE I EVEN BEGIN TO PUT ANYTHING ON PAPER.  OFTEN WHEN I FINALLY SIT DOWN TO WRITE, THE WORDS BEGIN TO FLOW.  FOR THIS SERMON, I STARED AT A BLANK PAGE FOR ABOUT AN HOUR, FINALLY FIXED SOME LUNCH AND BY A PROCESS EQUIVALENT TO CAT HERDING, GOT MYSELF TO FOCUS ENOUGH TO BEGIN. I THINK MY STRUGGLE WAS FROM MY SENSE THAT I WAS HEADED IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION FROM WHERE MOST RESOURCES WERE POINTING ME,

 

ANYWAY, I WANT TO SHARE  FROM THE MESSAGE BIBLE TRANSLATION, THE PORTION OF THE PASSAGE THAT JUST GRIPPED ME.  BUT FIRST LET ME SHARE A BIT OF THE PRECEDING PASSAGE FROM THAT SAME TRANSLATION.  JESUS HAS JUST TOLD THE DISCIPLES:

 

“ANYONE WHO INTENDS TO COME WITH ME HAS TO LET ME LEAD.  YOU’RE NOT IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT—I AM.  DON’T RUN FROM SUFFERING; EMBRACE IT.  FOLLOW ME AND I’LL SHOW YOU HOW.”

 

SO CHAPTER 9, VERSE 28 BEGINS:

“ABOUT EIGHT DAYS AFTER SAYING THIS, HE CLIMBED THE MOUNTAIN TO PRAY, TAKING PETER, JOHN AND JAMES ALONG.  WHILE HE WAS IN PRAYER, THE APPEARANCE OF HIS FACE CHANGED AND HIS CLOTHES BECAME BLINDING WHITE.  AT ONCE TWO MEN WERE THERE TALKING WITH HIM.  THEY TURNED OUT TO BE MOSES AND ELIJAH---AND WHAT A GLORIOUS APPEARANCE THEY MADE!  THEY TALKED OVER HIS EXODUS, THE ONE JESUS WAS ABOUT TO COMPLETE IN JERUSALEM.

 

“MEANWHILE PETER AND THOSE WITH HIM WERE SLUMPED OVER IN SLEEP. WHEN THEY CAME TO, RUBBING THEIR EYES, THEY SAW JESUS IN HIS GLORY AND THE TWO MEN STANDING WITH HIM.  WHEN MOSES AND ELIJAH HAD LEFT, PETER SAID TO JESUS, ‘MASTER, THIS IS A GREAT MOMENT!  LET’S BUILD THREE MEMORIALS: ONE FOR YOU, ONE FOR MOSES, AND ONE FOR ELIJAH.’ HE BLURTED THIS OUT WITHOUT THINKING.

 

“WHILE HE WAS BABBLING ON LIKE THIS, A LIGHT-RADIANT CLOUD ENVELOPED THEM.  AS THEY FOUND THEMSELVES BURIED IN THE CLOUD, THEY BECAME DEEPLY AWARE OF GOD. (RECALL HOW GOD’S PRESENCE IS OFTEN SYMBOLIZED IN SCRIPTURE AS A CLOUD…SO THEY WERE ENVELOPED IN GOD’S PRESENCE AND BECAME DEEPLY AWARE OF GOD!) THEN THERE WAS A VOICE OUT OF THE CLOUD: ‘THIS IS MY SON, THE CHOSEN! LISTEN TO HIM.’”

NOW IF YOU GET NOTHING ELSE FROM THIS SERMON, I HOPE YOU WILL HEAR:

 

1)PETER WAS STUCK IN A TIME WARP AND 2) GOD WAS QUITE CLEAR ABOUT LISTENING AND JESUS WAS QUITE CLEAR ABOUT FOLLOWING.  OKAY, SO MAYBE THAT’S THREE. 

 

IN ANY CASE, HOW DOES THAT APPLY TO US TODAY?

 

I RECALL BACK IN THE 80S IN THE ERA OF PHIL DONOHUE AND SALLY JESSE RAPHAEL TALK SHOWS, A WOMAN ON ONE OF THEIR SHOWS WHO HAD BEEN MARRIED FOR A YEAR ,HAD WATCHED THE WEDDING VIDEO EVERY SINGLE DAY AND CRIED BECAUSE THE WEDDING WAS OVER.  SHE WAS IN A TIME WARP. PETER WAS IN A TIME WARP.  ARE WE?  ARE WE LOOKING BACK ON THE “VIDEO” OF PILGRIM’S PAST AND HOPING TO RECAPTURE IT?  OR ARE WE IMAGINING CHURCH EVOLVING INTO SOME NEW WAY OF BEING? 

 

I HAD A CONVERSATION THIS WEEK WITH A YOUNG WOMAN WHO LEFT HER CHURCH BECAUSE IT WAS NOT OPEN AND AFFIRMING BUT CAN NOT FIND A CHURCH HOME THAT SHE FINDS MEANINGFUL FOR HER AND HER FAMILY.  SHE AND HER HUSBAND GREW UP IN A FUNDAMENTAL CHURCH WHERE THEY HAD A PRAISE TEAM AND DID A LOT OF CHORUSES.  SHE SAID, THEY DON’T KNOW HYMNS AND HYMNS HAVE NO MEANING FOR THEM.   SHE SAID: “WHAT IF THERE WAS A CHURCH THAT HAD EVENING SERVICES SO I COULD RELAX WITH MY FAMILY ON SUNDAY MORNING?  WHAT IF THEY FOUND NEW WAYS TO ENGAGE WITH GOD, TO WORSHIP IN CREATIVE, AUTHENTIC, MEANINGFUL WAYS?”  SHE MENTIONED A METHODIST PASTOR WHO IS STARTING AN OUTDOOR SERVICE AT REFLECTION RIDING.  SHE IS HUNGERING FOR SOMETHING SHE HASN’T FOUND AND ASSURED ME SHE KNOWS MANY OTHERS LIKE HER WHO WOULD WELCOME FINDING REFRESHING, RENEWING  COMMUNITY.

 

OF COURSE WE CAN NOT BE ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE.  BUT PERHAPS WE HAVE OPPORTUNITIES TO BROADEN OUR HORIZONS THAT WE ARE OVERLOOKING. 

 

SEVERAL YEARS AGO I MADE NOTE IN ONE OF MY JOURNALS OF THESE WORDS WRITTEN IN AN ONLINE UCC DEVOTION:

 

“ WHAT NEW LANDSCAPES ARE YOU EVOLVING IN YOURSELVES?  WHERE IS YOUR MINISTRY OR CONGREGATION EMBRACING AND RISKING THE NEW AND FINDING THERE IS A HAND OF GOD THERE EVEN IN INCOMPLETENESS?” (EVEN IN FLUX, EVEN WHEN THE END PRODUCT ISN’T EVIDENT?)

 

I HAVE RECENTLY BEEN REREADING MARCUS BORG’S BOOK THE GOD WE NEVER KNEW.  I WAS STRUCK BY HIS WRITING ABOUT A STUDY THAT REPORTED SOME MAINLINE CHURCHES ARE GROWING AND THAT WHAT THEY HAVE IN COMMON IS THIS:  THEY TAKE GOD SERIOUSLY.  CONGREGATIONS THAT ARE FULL OF GOD, HE WROTE, ARE FULL OF PEOPLE.  THE CONVERSE ALSO SEEMS TO BE TRUE, HE ADDS, CHURCHES THAT ARE UNCERTAIN ABOUT GOD WILL SOON FIND THEIR PEWS EMPTY OF PEOPLE.

 

NOW PART OF THE BEAUTY OF THE UCC IS THE ENCOURAGING OF QUESTIONING, THE RECOGNIZING OF DOUBT AS INTEGRAL TO FAITH.  THIS IS ALSO OUR CHALLENGE TO HONOR THAT ORIENTATION AND AT THE SAME TIME TO REMAIN ON SOLID GROUND.   WHAT DO WE STAND FOR?  WHAT DO WE VALUE ABOUT OUR FAITH, ABOUT OURSELVES AS A CHURCH? HOW WELL ARE WE CONVEYING THAT?  OR AS OUR INTERIM CONFERENCE MINISTER WROTE IN A RECENT CONFERENCE CONNECTIONS NEWSLETTER:  VALUABLE QUESTIONS FOR A CONGREGATION TO CONSIDER ARE: “WHO ARE YOU? HOW DO YOU KNOW? HOW DO OTHER PEOPLE KNOW?” THAT IS, HOW ARE YOU DEFINING AND DEMONSTRATING WHO YOU ARE?

 

THIS IS NOT TO SAY WE DON’T DO SOME LOVELY THINGS, SOME IMPORTANT THINGS.  BUT HOW DO WE EXPERIENCE AND EXPRESS OUR EXPERIENCE OF GOD? HOW DO WE DEFINE OURSELVES AND OUR MISSION? CLARITY ABOUT IDENTITY AND MISSION, AS JESUS DEMONSTRATED IN OUR SCRIPTURE TODAY, COMES OUT OF OUR EXPERIENCE OF GOD’S PRESENCE, JUST AS IT DID FOR JESUS IN TODAY’S SCRIPTURE. 

 

THE UCC SERMON ONLINE FOR TODAY SPOKE TO THIS.  AUTHOR KATHRYN MATTHEWS WROTE:  “IF OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS, WITH GOD, IS THAT---A RELATIONSHIP, THEN I THINK IT’S A GOOD THING TO CONSIDER OUR HUNGER FOR AND RESPONSE TO EXPERIENCES OF GOD’S PRESENCE.  THAT QUESTION LEADS TO OTHER, RICH REFLECTIONS ON THE HUMAN NEED TO ‘TASTE AND FEEL’ GOD WITH US.”

 

THAT EXPERIENCE OF PRESENCE IS WHAT TRANSFORMS US, SOMETHING THE PASSAGE ABOUT THE TRANSFIGURATION POINTS US TOWARD!

I WAS  MOVED ALSO BY ANOTHER PASSAGE FROM BORG’S BOOK WHERE HE WROTE: “….WE COMMONLY LIVE OUR LIVES ‘EAST OF EDEN,’ OUTSIDE OF PARADISE (WHERE PARADISE IS UNDERSTOOD TO BE THE MANIFEST PRESENCE OF GOD.)  OUR PROBLEM IS OUR ESTRANGEMENT, OUR BLINDNESS TO THE PRESENCE OF GOD, OUR SEPARATION FROM THE SPIRIT WHO IS AROUND US AND WITHIN US AND TO WHICH WE BELONG.”

 

THE POET ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING PENNED A POEM THAT RESONATES WITH THIS MESSAGE:

EARTH’S CRAMMED WITH HEAVEN

AND EVERY COMMON BUSH ALIVE WITH GOD.

ONLY HE WHO SEES TAKES OFF HIS SHOES

THE REST SIT AROUND AND PLUCK BLACKBERRIES.

MAY THE STILL SPEAKING GOD GRANT THAT WE AVOID PLUCKING BLACKBERRIES AND HAVE SENSE ENOUGH TO TAKE OFF OUR SHOES, TO ENLARGE OUR AWARENESS OF GOD’S PRESENCE AND TO EXPAND OUR VISION, TO RISK THE NEW AND FIND EVEN THERE THE HAND OF GOD, EVEN AS WE ARE STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS.

 

AND MAY GOD OPEN OUR EARS TO LISTEN AND OUR HEARTS TO RECEIVE…..AND OUR WILLINGNESS OF SPIRIT TO FOLLOW GOD’S LEADING………….

FOR GOD IS STILL SPEAKING!         THANKS BE TO GOD.

Preached March 3, 2019 Pilgrim Congregational Church UCC, Chattanooga, TN

 

 

 

 

 

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