The following service was streamed live via Zoom on February 14th at 10:30am.
The entire text for the service is printed below for home use by those who are not ready to return to public gatherings or who are otherwise not able to be at church on the day. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church.
There are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon . [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip] When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.
CALL TO CELEBRATION
We have come into this place of hope where our hearts and minds are opened to the future.
We have come into this place of justice where we set aside our fear to name freely every oppression.
We have come into this place of song where we unite our voices in the somber and the beautiful melodies of life.
Let us celebrate life. Let us worship God.
LIGHTING THE CANDLE (If you are using a candle at home)
Divine spark from sacred dark, symbol of our holy intent, illuminate this hour.
L: Let us acknowledge the awesome mystery embodied in every person.
R: Through us God comes to unique and personal expression.
L: Let us give thanks for the abundance of life on this earth.
R: Through it we and all people may be nourished.
PRAYER OF AWARENESS
God of grace and glory, you call to the whole earth from east to west, from north to south. You gather your faithful people to you, those who have made a covenant with you. Fill us with your light which guides our paths; touch our lives with mystery and hope that we may be made over in the image of the Christ. As we share the ministry of Jesus may we share your blessing.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation – “A Prayer for Transfiguration” by Bill Loader
Let’s go up 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…
O God, we open our eyes and we see Jesus,
the months of ministry transfigured to a beam of light,
the light of the world, your light. May your light shine upon us.
We open our eyes and we see Moses and Elijah,
your word restoring us, showing us the way, telling a story,
your story, his story, our story. May your word speak to us.
We open our eyes and we see mist, the cloud of your presence
which assures us of all we do not know and that we do not need to fear that. Teach us to trust.
We open our eyes and we see Peter’s constructions,
his best plans, our best plans, our missing the point, our missing the way. Forgive our foolishness and sin
We open our eyes and we see Jesus, not casting us off,
but leading us down, leading us out – to ministry, to people. Your love endures forever.
We open our ears and we hear your voice,
“This is my beloved Son, listen to him!’ And we give you thanks.
Let there now be a quiet time among us….(Pause)…May we find within ourselves the courage to be who we are. May we trust one another and know there are many ways to go through life. May we know that though we cannot change some of what life gives to us, we can choose how we deal with what we are given. (30 seconds of silence)
CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE
God, we confess that we come with mixed thoughts and uncertain dreams. We could not meet our daily needs without the labour of others; yet we take them for granted. We are offended by slight offences or oversights against us, yet hardly consider our neglect of your word, our patience with evil, and our slowness to act for others. We could not sense the beauty or meaning of life without your Spirit, yet we have not noticed signs of the eternal in the ordinary moments of our lives.
We have not allowed our habits and perceptions to be transfigured by your grace and presence. Grant us a taste of your love so we may acquire an appetite for justice and a capacity for fulfilment. Sharpen our hunger and thirst for you. Amen.
L: Fellow Christians, Cheer up. Jesus says: “Your sins are forgiven.” Permit God’s mercy to transfigure your lives, not being ruled by doubt and fear, but by light and love. Walk as children of the light whose ultimate glory is assured, for I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM HEBREW SCRIPTURES – 2 Kings 2:1-12
2 And it came to pass, when the Lord was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. 2 Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on to Bethel.”
But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So they went down to Bethel.
3 Now the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?”
And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent!”
4 Then Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on to Jericho.”
5 Now the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho came to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?”
So he answered, “Yes, I know; keep silent!”
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on to the Jordan.”
But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So the two of them went on. 7 And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood facing them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. 8 Now Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water; and it was divided this way and that, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
9 And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?”
Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.”
10 So he said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” 11 Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
12 And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces.
FROM THE GOSPELS – Mark 9:2-9
2 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, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 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.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9 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.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “That I Can’t Believe”
In the 1960s, Bishop John A T Robinson wrote many popular books on theology in the hope some would see there was a constant need for fresh formulations of the reality of God. One of these was titled, “That I Can’t Believe.” It was a magnet to me, because there was much about popular Christianity that I couldn’t believe back in the 60s.
From the late 1980s through to now, Robinson’s work is being carried on by John Shelby Spong, another Anglican bishop, because there are still far too many Christians trying in vain to believe the unbelievable.
I share this with you this morning because today’s gospel story by Mark is about one of those ‘that I can’t believe’ incidents, full of myth and pre-modern images; an incident in the life of Jesus called the Transfiguration or Shining.
As a story it is very imaginative. Storyteller Mark says Jesus and some of his closest friends climb to the top of a mountain. Immediately we hear a connecting link to other existing ‘hero’ stories. Going to the top of a mountain is a common thing in Israel’s stories, because mountains are regarded as ‘thin places’, where God, the Divine, the Sacred, can be experienced.
They climb to the top of a mountain. They enjoy the magnificent views. They breathe deeply of the fresh air. This experience recharges their flagging spirits and re-sensitises their imaginations. They are refreshed by Creativity God.
Then out of the blue, pious Peter attempts to secure this experience in some tangible way: ‘Let’s build our own chapel, and you, Jesus, can be our private chaplain’. But as our storyteller says, a booming voice puts paid to that bad idea. Ched Myers, a radical evangelical scholar, has this interesting comment: “After all, in Mark the true impediments to discipleship have nothing to do with physical impairment, but with spiritual and ideological disorders…”
Or, as another has said: “Because of their relationship with Jesus, Peter, James, and John experienced a walk up a mountainside in an exciting and enlivening way. Because they have allowed themselves to see life through Jesus’ eyes, however fleetingly and partially, they have come to know God in new ways and to see Jesus as the vehicle for that new knowing.”
Once again the hand or pen of the storyteller is there. After coming to know God in new ways and of seeing Jesus as the vehicle for that new knowing, the storyteller reminds them and us, they are to climb down from the top of the mountain. They are to refresh others as they have been refreshed by God. Or in other words, they are to move from a private refuge (chapel) to a public presence (community).
Now, how can we approach this mythical, supernatural story today? I guess we could approach it with a historical question: ’How/where did this happen?’
But, better, we can approach this story with a theological question: ’What connections can we make to this story that help us understand our lives in the context of G-O-D?’
For me, the first question is but an irrelevant distraction; so let me wade in at the deep end, so to speak, and tackle the second, and far more important, question. It seems to me that at least one of things being suggested in this story by the one we call Mark, is it is saying something important about God. And that something is not about any so-called supernatural power or event. That’s just 1st century mythical and cultural baggage. The important bit for me is that God is to be ‘experienced’ as a creative transforming presence in ordinary people’s lives; not by coercion and power over, but rather by lure and suggestion and imagination.
How might this be? In very personal-sounding language one colleague suggests:
• If your deepest experience is loneliness, it is the will of God to transform you from loneliness to human connectedness.
• If your deepest feeling is fear and anxiety, then God wishes to move you creatively past that, to love and to trust.
That is, he is suggesting God wants to move us beyond the meaninglessness of life to the intensity of living, characterised by joy and vitality; to a new level of depth in our existence that will provide joy and zest and empowerment.
There is still good news in this story for 21st century ‘moderns’ like us, despite all the mythical baggage. And the good news is: God is not aloof and detached, but rather works like an expert weaver. Continuing the weaver metaphor, God uses the fibres of our lives, weaving them into beautiful, powerful garments of love and creativity.
And as it is with us, individually, so too is it with us as church. It is the creative transformation of God that wants to move congregations beyond being a cosy club with ‘feel good’ attitudes, to being people at mission who meet and serve others where they are.
So if we are to continue to be the inclusive people of faith we say we are, we must continually be people who are radically open to the creative, transforming presentness of God: calling us to a better way of being the church. Because the fact of the matter is, God wishes to both refresh and unsettle us. Once again I think John Shelby Spong sums this up well:
“God, the source of life, calls us to live fully. God, the source of love, calls us to love wastefully. God, the Ground of Being, calls us to have the courage to be ourselves. So when we live, love, and have the courage to be, we are… expanding our humanity” .
For what God refreshes, unsettles, changes, God does so through us. So let me give the last word to Bishop Spong.
“The mission of the Christian Church is not to convert the world, but to call all who are also part of the creation into the fullness of life.” So be it!
A LITANY “Commitment to Life”
R: We celebrate the promise of plenty and peace.
L: In the midst of oppression and tyranny
R: We celebrate the promise of service and freedom.
L: In the midst of doubt and despair
R: We celebrate the promise of faith and hope.
L: In the midst of fear and betrayal
R: We celebrate the promise of joy and loyalty.
L: In the midst of hatred and death
R: We celebrate the promise of love and life.
L: In the midst of sin and decay
R: We celebrate the promise of salvation and renewal.
L: In the midst of death on every side
R: We celebrate the promise of the Living Christ
PRAYERS FOR OTHERS
Because your love is all-inclusive, because your wisdom can bring beauty out of chaos, we bring our intercessions to you, most holy Friend. Please receive our patchy compassion for our sisters and brothers and transfigure it with your seamless glory.
We pray for the end of injustice and exploitation within society and among nations. Bless your hardy agents who work on the political frontiers where decisions are made for the transfiguring or maiming of millions of lives.
We pray for peace and well being among the peoples of the earth, for the banishment of both terrorism and the arrogance of strong nations, and for the transfiguring of what has seemed hopeless situations. Bless your negotiators who work for reconciliation and a just peace.
We pray for the victims of drought, flood, earthquake, fire, cyclone, famine or pestilence. Bless your caring servants who work through agencies that limit the sufferings of humanity, and that attempt to offer both emergency aid, and provide long-term transfiguring reconstruction.
We pray for neighbours, workmates, friends, family, strangers and enemies, who are in the throes of hardship, suffering or grief today. Bless your representatives who reach out to them with transfiguring encouragement. And where appropriate, please recruit us among those who serve, in the name of the one who taught us to pray, “Our Father…”
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
WORD OF MISSION
R: God’s word abides with us.
L: Let your hearts burn within you as you dare to trust.
R: God’s love is real and alive in us.
L: Live in gratitude each and every day;
R: We will love sincerely and live confidently.
May we be wholly present in our own lives, ready to be surprised by the wonder of each ordinary moment. May the light around us guide our footsteps. May the darkness around us nurture our dreams and give us rest. Blessed be. Amen!