Year C readings
Exodus 34:29-35: After bringing the tablets of the law down the mountain, Moses’ face shines. And every time after speaking with God in the Tent of Meeting, he addresses the people with a shining face, after which he covers his face with a veil.
Psalm 99: A psalm of praise for God’s holiness and glory, for God’s love of justice, and for God’s guidance and discipline of God’s people.
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2: In Christ, believer’s hearts are unveiled to receive the truth, and we are able to reflect God’s glory, being changed to be more and more like Christ.
Luke 9:28-36 (37-43): Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain where his face is transfigured, his clothes shine white, and the disciples, who had fallen asleep, wake up to find Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah.
(Bible reading summary by John van de Laar, Sacredise)
Components of worship – see home page for links to generic resources
Call to worship
We gather as the faithful of God,
we come to listen to what God has to say to us.
God has invited us to this place;
may our faces reflect our hopes and our hearts.
We gather as the faithful of God,
people of the new covenant of hope and promise.
We boldly enter into the presence of God,
hoping to be transformed into new people.
We gather as the faithful of God,
our fears melting away in the heart of God.
We come to share in the freedom of the Spirit,
we come to praise God’s holy name.
(Source: Thom Shuman)
Call to worship
Let’s go up to the mountain
let’s go up to the place where the land meets the sky
where the earth touches the heavens,
to the place of meeting,
to the place of mists,
to the place of voices and conversations,
to the place of listening.
(Source: Bill Loader)
Dazzling: A Blessing for Transfiguration Sunday
Believe me, I know
how tempting it is
to remain inside this blessing,
to linger where everything
We could build walls
around this blessing,
put a roof over it.
We could bring in
a table, chairs,
have the most amazing meals.
We could make a home.
We could stay.
But this blessing
is built for leaving.
is made for coming down
wants to be in motion,
to travel with you
as you return
to level ground.
It will seem strange
how quiet this blessing becomes
when it returns to earth.
It is not shy.
It is not afraid.
It simply knows
how to bide its time,
to watch and wait,
to discern and pray
until the moment comes
when it will reveal
everything it knows,
when it will shine forth
with all that it has seen,
when it will dazzle
with the unforgettable light
you have carried
all this way.
(Source: Jan Richardson, paintedprayerbook.com)
We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.
I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.
(Source: Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela)
Prayer: Give Way to Glory (inspired by Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36)
May we give way to glory, O God
May we let the light tangle with our lives
that we may see what you see in us
may we see what you see
a love born in eternity
that find a home in our souls
and wants to be there
a word that lifts itself
from page into life
and tells a story
that begins with itself
may we see what you see
a vision that brings past and future
into the one meeting place
and offers is all as present
a wisdom born of generations
where time nurtures the promise
and the longings of believers
wondering if this will the be the generation that breaks it open
May we give way to glory
and dare its splendour
to rekindle our faith
and transfigure our lives
So be it. Amen
(Source: Roddy Hamilton, Listening to the Stones)
Prayer of Confession/A prayer of who we are
A light beckons us, a new day rises up, around and within us
and we are afraid;
A voice calls us, echoing in the stillness,
and we are confused;
A dream wakens in us, a hope is born within us,
and then we remember that we are the beloved,
warmed by the light that surrounds us,
gathered into a community of faith,
and we give thanks. Amen
Introduction to prayers for others……
From a cloud, and in a crowd, God speaks to us.
Calling us to be lovers of justice, to share hope with the broken.
On mountaintops and in the valleys, Christ calls to us.
To embrace the faint hearted and bind up the wounds of the hurt
In all the places we spend our days, the Spirit whispers in our hearts.
Gathering our hopes and fears, joys and concerns,
and offering them to God.
Let us pray for the world and for ourselves……
God of all transformations,
God of all glowing faces,
you have invited us to the mountain,
invited us to glow in bright light,
Lead us on through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen (Bob Eldan)
Deepest mystery of grace,
beneath, above, around and within;
on the mountain you showed your glory.
As your Spirit invites us
into new, even daring ways of following Jesus,
may our lives be parables of your love, justice and freedom
in every gesture and deed. (Bill Loader)
May God as love dwell within us.
May God as light bring new insights and encouragement.
May God as grace take us on a journey of compassion.
May God as hope give us courage to let our light shine.
Mountains and Valleys(Helen Wiltshire) (Tune:TiS 212 Heathlands)
Stand upon a mountain peak;
hear the gravid stillness speak;
watch the golden dawn awake;
think of journeys love may take;
pause to breathe the misty air;
see God’s glory dwelling there.
Hear the words of blessing fall;
sense a presence, touching all;
feel joy stirring deep within;
see transfigured life begin;
pause to breathe a thankful prayer;
see God’s glory dwelling there.
Gaze upon the world below;
hear the cries of human woe;
take the path to valleys deep;
share the grief of all who weep;
pause to offer love and care;
see God’s glory dwelling there.
Live with mindfulness and grace;
name each vale as sacred space;
share the warmth of love divine;
see shekinah’s* beauty shine;
love the complex world we share;
know God’s glory dwelling there.
(*shekinah – presence, blessing and glory of God)
We have come at Christ’s own bidding
1 We have come at Christ’s own bidding
to this high and holy place,
where we wait with hope and longing
for some token of God’s grace.
Here we pray for new assurance
that our faith is not in vain,
searching like those first disciples
for a sign both clear and plain.
2 Light breaks through our clouds and shadows,
splendor bathes the flesh joined Word,
Moses and Elijah marvel
as the heavenly voice is heard.
Eyes and hearts behold with wonder
how the Law and Prophets meet:
Christ with garments drenched in brightness,
stands transfigured and complete.
3 Strengthened by this glimpse of glory,
fearful lest our faith decline,
we, like Peter, find it tempting
to remain and build a shrine.
But true worship gives us courage
to proclaim what we profess,
that our daily lives may prove us
people of god we bless.
(Source: Carl P. Daw Jr, Hymnary, tune: HYFRYDOL, TiS 517)
You, Lord, are both lamb and shepherd
You, Lord, are both lamb and shepherd.
You, Lord, are both prince and slave.
You, peacemaker and sword-bringer
of the way you took and gave.
You, the everlasting instant;
you, whom we both scorn and crave.
Clothed in light upon the mountain,
stripped of might upon the cross,
shining in eternal glory,
beggared by a soldier’s toss.
You, the everlasting instant;
you who are both gift and cost.
You, who walk each day beside us,
sit in power at God’s side.
You, who preach a way that’s narrow,
have a love that reaches wide.
You, the everlasting instant;
you, who are our pilgrim guide.
Worthy is our earthly Jesus!
Worthy is our cosmic Christ!
Worthy your defeat and victory.
Worthy still your peace and strife.
You, the everlasting instant;
you, who are our death and life.
(Source: Syliva Dunstan, 1991, GIA Publications, Inc, Tune suggestions: WESTMINSTER ABBEY or PICARDY)
Jesus, take us to the mountain
1. Jesus, take us to the mountain
Where, with Peter, James and John,
We are dazzled by Your glory,
Light as blinding as the sun.
There prepare us for the night
By the vision of that sight.
2. What do you want us to see there
That Your close companions saw?
Your divinity revealed there
Fills us with the self-same awe.
Clothed in flesh like ours You go,
Matched to meet our deadliest foe.
3. What do You want us to hear there
That Your dear disciples heard?
Once again the voice from heaven
Says of the incarnate Word:
“Listen, listen ev’ryone;
This is My beloved Son!”
4. Take us to that other mountain
Where we see You glorified.
Where You shouted, “It is finished!”
Where for all the world You died.
Hear the stunned centurion:
“Truly this was God’s own Son!”
5. We who have beheld Your glory,
Risen and ascended Lord,
Cannot help but tell the story,
All that we have seen and heard,
Say with Peter, James, and John:
“You are God’s beloved Son!”
(Source: Jaroslav Vajda, 1991; tune: SILVER SPRING by Carl Schalk, posted here)
This is my son
This is my son deserving of Alleluias
Listen to him, come down and do for others
Go now you must leave though it terrifies you
Valleys await, and I will come down there with you
Though we cry,
“Stay here with us, we’ll raise you the perfect dwelling
Beyond compare befitting of all your glory
Stay here with us, we’ll raise you the perfect dwelling
And never leave this place,”
but heaven’s voice cries out compelling…
(Nathan Schleicher, Black Hatted audio)
When he took the three disciples
To the mountainside to pray,
His countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame.
Two men appeared: Moses and Elijah came;
They were at his side.
The prophecy, the legislation spoke of whenever he would die.
Then there came a word
Of what he should accomplish on the day.
Then Peter spoke, to make of them a tabernacle place.
A cloud appeared in glory as an accolade.
They fell on the ground.
A voice arrived, the voice of God,
The face of God, covered in a cloud.
What he said to them,
The voice of God: the most beloved son.
Consider what he says to you, consider what’s to come.
The prophecy was put to death,
Was put to death, and so will the Son.
And keep your word, disguise the vision ’till the time has come.
Lost in the cloud, a voice. Have no fear! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign. Son of man! Turn your ear.
Lost in the cloud, a voice. Lamb of God! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign. Son of man! Son of God!
(Source: Sufjan Stevens; New Jerusalem Music; youtube here)
Seeing through the Lens of Jesus
(A sermon from Luke 9:28-36 by Chuck Queen)
Spiritual teacher Richard Rohr likes to say that our tendency is to see things, not as they are, but as we are. The point he makes is that many things in our lives prevent us from seeing what really is. Our capacity to see reality is shaped by many factors: our upbringing and the ways we are socialized into adulthood, our education, our social and community networks, our physiology and genetics, our religious faith and the ways we are indoctrinated into that faith. All kinds of influences affect how we see. Thus, the truism: We see as we are, rather than what really is. In his wonderful piece on love in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul makes the point that we all see a “poor reflection as in a mirror.” The NRSV says, we see “dimly.” We are all limited and biased in what and how we see. That’s part of the human condition. However, I believe, that we will see truth and reality more clearly if we see through the lens of Jesus.
Everything in our scriptural text today is focused on Jesus. When Peter intrudes onto the scene and speaks, Luke tells us that he didn’t know what he was saying. Jesus takes center stage. The passage we read responsively from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians speaks of the transformative potential of seeing through the lens of Jesus. Paul says that the more we are able to see the glory of the Lord reflected in the image of Christ, the more we will be transformed into that same image as we progress from one degree of glory to another. I would like to suggest today three areas where we have a great need to see more clearly. I would also suggest that if we could see through the lens of Jesus we could not only see more clearly, we could be transformed through our seeing.
First, we need to see our scriptures through the lens of Jesus. In our text, Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. Moses represents the law, while Elijah represents the prophets. But it is Jesus who is alone affirmed by the Divine Voice who says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” In this way the story is saying that Jesus is the fulfillment of the best of the law and prophets. Listen to him, the Divine Voice says. The life and teachings of Jesus provide the lens through which we can read and interpret the Bible constructively and redemptively in ways that transform us into the glorious image of Christ.
If you consider any major issue that confronts the church today and that Christians debate such as issues relating to sexual orientation, issues of gender equality and authority in the church, how Christians should relate to government, the role of the military, divorce, the nature of Jesus or salvation, or any other issue relevant to our Christian faith we all appeal to scripture and draw from scripture. As you well know the Bible can be employed as an instrument of change or as a way of affirming the status quo. It can be used for good or evil. It can be preached as a means of liberation or it can be preached in ways that oppress and condemn others. My contention is that if we read and apply our scriptures through the lens of Jesus we are more likely to read and apply them in healthy, inclusive, life-affirming, and transformative ways. There is no guarantee of course, because we all tend to be blind to our biases. However, we are more likely to use the Bible in transformative ways if we see it and read it through the lens of Jesus.
Some years ago, when I was pastor of First Baptist Church in Greenup, Kentucky, I, along with three other pastors, tried to change the policy regarding women in our local Baptist Association. As the policy stood, women could not speak publicly to any issue up for vote at the annual meeting. (I know that sounds crazy, but this is Northeastern Kentucky in the 1980’s, which is still crazy but that’s the way it was). In pressing for change, I addressed the body and talked about how Jesus broke with tradition and how he developed an egalitarian approach to ministry by calling women disciples. I talked about the social vision of the new creation Paul expounds in his letter to the Galatians, how in Christ all social, sexual, and racial barriers are abolished. I pointed to scriptures where women serve as coworkers and partners with Paul in preaching and teaching the gospel.
Do you know what happened? Those who opposed the change quoted scripture too. Oh yes. They came armed with scripture too. They quoted 1 Cor 14:34 that says that women should be silent and subordinate in the church and if they have anything to say they should ask their husbands at home. Someone asked, “What if they don’t have husbands.” They said, “They need to get husbands.” Then they quoted 1 Timothy 2 that says that women should be submissive and not teach in the presence of men, because Adam was created first and the woman was the one who was deceived by the serpent. It’s in the Bible they said. And they’re right. It’s in the Bible.
And everything that the Bible says is God’s word, right? No. No. A thousand times No! Now please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying one is a bad person if he or she believes that the whole Bible is literally the word of God. I was taught this in the church where I grew up and believed it. I believed this in the early years of my ministry and I wasn’t a bad person. I have family and friends who believe this today and they are not bad people. There are many caring, good, and decent people who believe the Bible is literally the word of God. I am not saying you are a bad person if you believe that, but I don’t know of any belief that has been used more to legitimize the status quo and justify so many bad and oppressive religious, political, and social customs, traditions, and practices. When I was able to take my blinders off (I still see dimly, I don’t see perfectly), I realized that believing the whole Bible is literally the word of God defies common sense.
For example, in one place in the Bible it says that God told Moses, and in another place God told Joshua to wipe out an entire group of people, men, women, and yes even the children. According to the Bible God tells Moses and Joshua to commit genocide. Do you believe the God of Jesus who tells us to love our enemies would order genocide? When I debate this biblical inerrantists hate it when I bring this up, but it’s in the Bible isn’t it? I ask them, “Would you ever order the complete destruction of a people, all men, women, and children?” And they say, No. So, I say, why do you think God would? You are more loving than the God you believe in. I know in my heart God would never commend or commit genocide. If God actually told Moses or Joshua to do that God would not be good. God would be evil. God is not evil, sisters and brothers. God is good. As we used to sing in one church I was in: God is good all the time.
So what was going on in those biblical texts where God orders genocide? I will tell you what was going on. The biblical writer was using God to justify his own evil. He was projecting onto God the hate and prejudice in his own heart. He was doing what many Christian leaders do today when they use scripture to justify their hatred and mistreatment of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, immigrants, or any person or group who they dislike. Isn’t it ironic that we would use scripture to dismiss and reject people, when it’s very clear that Jesus said we are love them.
We find in our Bible scriptural texts that are truly inspired by God’s Spirit and are inspirational, highly enlightened, and powerfully transformative. And yet we also find biblical texts that are uninspired, petty, punitive, vindictive, stifling, and only concerned with the status quo. Some texts take us three steps forward, while other texts take us two steps back. Now, sisters and brothers, we can’t go wrong if we let Jesus be our guide. If we could see all our scriptures – if we would read, interpret, discern, and apply these scriptures – through the character of Jesus – that is, through the grace, compassion, forgiveness, love, kindness, goodness, humility, integrity, generosity, and gratitude of Jesus, and if we could all our scriptures through the passion of Jesus – that is, through his commitment to speak truth to power and his commitment to restorative justice, to do what is good and right and just and loving – if we would see and read these scriptures through the character and passion of Jesus, then it would be fairly obvious to us which scriptures are relevant and which ones are not, which scriptures are inspired and which ones are not, which scriptures bring healing and liberation, and which ones do not. We need to see our scriptures, and for that matter all our religious customs and traditions through the lens of Jesus.
Second, we need to see our sufferings through the lens of Jesus. It’s important to note that this epiphany on the mountain takes place in a context where Jesus has just told his disciples that in Jerusalem he is going to undergo great suffering and be rejected and killed by the religious and political establishment of his day. Luke also tells us that Jesus’ death is the subject of conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on the mountain. One of the interesting differences between Luke’s version of the story and Mark and Matthew’s version of the story, is that in Luke’s version the discussion about Jesus’ death in Jerusalem takes place on the mountain, while he is enveloped in glory, rather than on the descent down the mountain as in Mark and Matthew. Luke’s version makes a stronger connection between Jesus’ experience of transfiguration and his suffering and death. Perhaps Luke is suggesting that there is a kind of glory in suffering, or even , better that there can be no glory without suffering. The pattern for all spiritual transformation is death and resurrection, suffering then glory.
I am not implying that God is responsible for our suffering. But God most certainly uses suffering and incorporates suffering into our healing and redemption. Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison, eighteen of them on Robben Island performing the totally senseless task of breaking big rocks into little rocks. The unrelenting brightness of the light which reflected off the white stone damaged his eyes making it difficult for him to even bear the flash of a camera. He and his colleagues were arrested because they stood up for rights that in other countries were claimed to be inalienable. When he was sent to prison, he had been leading the armed wing of the African National congress. Some look at the twenty-seven years he spent in prison and say, “What a waste.” But according to Bishop Tutu, who knew Mandela well, when Mandela first went to jail he believed in violence. He was angry, belligerent and quick-tempered, but he mellowed in prison. He began to discover spiritual qualities and attributes that he did not know he had. He became resilient and tolerant and patient. He learned to appreciate the weaknesses and failures that are part and parcel to all of us. He became, through his suffering, more compassionate, forgiving, gentle and understanding.
How is it that great suffering can either ennoble us or embitter us? Some, like Nelson Mandela, are transformed through suffering; others become calloused and hard and angry and evil. It all depends on our response to suffering, how we handle it, how we choose to react to it. Paul acknowledges this connection between suffering and glorification in his letter to the Romans when he says that if we suffer with Christ we also will be glorified with Christ. He tells the church to exalt in their sufferings because suffering produces endurance, character, and hope.
I realize that there are forms of suffering that seem to all human reasoning and logic to have no redemptive value. At least in this life we can’t see any redemptive value to them, and it all seems so senseless and tragic. But who knows how God may somehow even use suffering that is horrific and evil in ways that we cannot now see. One of the keys is the ability to see our suffering through the lens of Jesus.
Lastly, we need to see our sins through the lens of Jesus. In the movie The Mission a Jesuit priest is committed to establishing a Christian mission in South America for the Guarani Indians. In the process of carrying out this mission the priest crosses paths with Mendoza, a slave trader who terrorized the Indians, capturing and selling them into slavery. Mendoza kills his brother in a jealous rage and then is plagued by guilt and regret. When the priest meets him he is in despair and he has given up on life. Mendoza says to the priest, “For me there is no redemption.” But the priest is persistent in his claim that there is redemption, there is always hope. But Mendoza says, “There is no penance hard enough for me.” The priest responds, “But do you dare try it?” And Mendoza replies, “Do I dare? Do you dare to see it fail?” But the priest instills a small ray of hope and Mendoza decides to pursue a path to redemption.
Mendoza must face the Indian tribe against which he committed many atrocities. The priest requires as penance Mendoza to carry along 100 pounds of armor on their journey to the Indian village. It is an arduous journey over cliffs and waterfalls, and it is grueling for someone bearing 100 pounds of armor with rope and net. When they finally reach the tribe, the Indians are excited to see the priest. But when they recognize Mendoza, it becomes a moment of truth. One of the Indian leaders unsheathes a knife and holds it to Mendoza’s neck. Mendoza remains calm and prepares to receive his justly deserved punishment. But then, in an unexpected demonstration of grace, the Indian removes the knife from his throat and cuts the pack of armor free that has been strapped to his back. In a deeply moving scene we watch the armor clank down the mountainside. Suddenly Mendoza is overwhelmed at the grace, at the forgiveness and mercy given him, and he begins to sob uncontrollably as he falls to the ground in great remorse and repentance. It marks the beginning of his new life as a new person. He realizes that in spite of all the evil he had done to others, his life has value and God loves him. By the way, that’s how we most often experience God’s love. We experience God’s love and forgiveness through the love and forgiveness of others.
In v. 32 of our text Luke says that Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep. That’s where so many of us are today. We get weighed down in our narrow, punitive, petty understandings of God. We get weighed down in our trials and sufferings. We get weighed down in our failures and sins. Is there hope for us? Yes, a thousand times yes. Luke tells us that while the disciples were weighed down with sleep, they did not give in. They stayed awake, and behold says Luke, “they saw his glory.” If we will stay awake, if we will keep pressing on, if we will keep trusting and hoping and especially loving, because the greatest of these is love, if we will be faithful even though we may feel weighed down with confusion, or suffering, or sin, we too will see the glory of Christ shine through all of it. We will see and share in the glory of Christ.
Our good God, give us the will and resolve, the faith, hope, and love to keep pressing on even though we may feel weighed down by our misunderstandings, our sufferings, and our sins. Help us to persist. To keep on keeping on. To endure and not give up – so that we might see through new eyes the glory of Christ. O God, help us to see the beauty of who you are. Help us to see how our sufferings can be incorporated into our transformation. And help us to see how magnanimous and unconditional is your forgiveness. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.