Let Yourself Be Changed

Hello and Happy Transfiguration Sunday!  I was so excited to have my podcast officially up and running that I forgot to actually hit record when I started preaching this morning!  So I went back and re-recorded the first 20 seconds.  Oh well, imperfection is a sign of grace, right?

We had such a fun Sunday at the church.  We had two baptisms – two of the most beautiful little girls and more tulle than I think was at my wedding.  Then I handed out Marti Gras beads and masks to the kids and we all paraded around the church singing Oh When The Saints Go Marching In.  Once the kids got started, I could really get them to stop!  So eventually, I just sent them marching out of the sanctuary (they had church school in our hall today – Pancake Sunday to learn about Shrove Tuesday).  It was so cute – everyone broke out in applause as they marched out.  I  couldn’t have planned it better!

Here is my sermon, enjoy!


Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 25, 2017

Exodus 24:12-18
Matthew 17:1-9

Let Yourself Be Changed

So how is everybody doing with their New Year’s Resolutions? Is anyone totally rocking them? Has anyone dropped the ball already?

Sheepishly raises hand.

Well, if you, like me, have already fallen back into old habits, then you are in good company. According to an article in Forbes, only 8% of people actually achieve the New Year’s Resolutions they make.[1]

But there is still hope! For those of you who might be looking for a resolution do-over, Lent starts this week. And while Lent will not turn back time and bring us back to the beginning of January, it does give us the opportunity to give something up, take something on or participate in some sort of spiritual practice or discipline. It gives us all the opportunity to say, “Okay, maybe I was not able to make an entire year (or even two months), but this Lenten season – for 40 days – I can try again.”

The practice of giving something up for Lent is not necessarily a Protestant tradition (in fact, I think I have mentioned this before, but growing up I was always envious of my Catholic friends who “got” to give something up, because it seemed so cool and hardcore). But I would argue that lately there has been a rise of Protestants seeking to reclaim this ancient custom as a way of creating a more meaningful Lenten experience for themselves.

Customarily, Christians would give something up for Lent as a way of connecting whatever sacrifice they were making with the penitential nature of the Lenten season. In a way, they would induce their own small suffering as a way of honoring Jesus’ great suffering.

But more than that – and I think this is why lately Christians have started to reclaim the practice – Lenten traditions have always been about taking part in some sort of spiritual disciple that can act as a catalyst for change in a person’s life.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, which is all about change. Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent begins. We hear the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, where he took Peter, James and John up on a mountain and literally changed right in front of them. His face shone brightly, his clothes became dazzling white and suddenly Moses and Elijah were standing next to him. A cloud then appeared and God’s voice was heard saying,

“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”[2]

We pair the story of Jesus’ transfiguration with the Exodus text where God sent Moses to Mount Sinai to receive the law. We do this, not only because Moses was one of the men that appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration, but also because it was in this story – where Moses received the law – that Moses had an experience of his own that changed him. It is in both of these stories that God is not only revealed to individual people, but individual people are changed by this revelation of God as well.

In the original Greek, the word used when talking about the transfiguration is metamorphoō, which means, “transfigured, transformed [and] changed in form.” It refers to an inner transformation that appears on the outside.[3] The transfiguration of Jesus was a literal change that happened to him that the disciples could see on the outside; but there was very much a change that happened within him on the inside, as well. The Lenten practice of giving something up is often a change people can see on the outside – but it almost always changes someone on the inside.

Talking about transfiguration, about metamorphoō, prepares us for the Lenten season because it is in reading this text that we bear witness to the story of a God-sized change in the Gospel narrative.

And so today I ask you to think about this question: How will you be changed throughout this Lenten season?

In my sermon last week, I talked about the television show, Fixer Upper and how one of the reasons I love it so much is because I love a good before and after. The church, I argued gives us some of the greatest before and afters because it is in the business of changing lives. Yes, we come to church to praise God and live out the Gospel, but we also come so that our lives might be changed. After all, God is in the business of personal transformation.

Peter, James and John bore witness to an outward change in Jesus at the transfiguration and this opened their eyes to see the true power of who Jesus was on the inside. But I would be willing to bet that this experience also opened their eyes to the possibilities within themselves; to the promise that they, too, could experience a powerful and God-sized change in their own lives.

So, again, I ask this question: How will you be changed throughout this Lenten season? God-sized changes are possible in our lives, as well; changes that start on the inside and changes we might even see on the outside.

One final note: In re-reading the story of the transfiguration this week, I was particularly struck by the moment where Peter, James and John were overcome with fear and fell to the ground and Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.” This phrase kept running through my head, because it is one we see over and over again in this bible. We heard it at Christmas; the Angel Gabriel said it to Mary[4] and later in the story the angels said it to the shepherds.[5] My bible study heard it this week in our study of 1 Samuel; David said it to the son of a priest who had just been slaughtered by King Saul.[6] In fact, I read online that the phrase, “Do not be afraid” appears 70 times in the bible (and that does not include variations such as, “fear not” or “don’t fear”).[7]

Change can be a really scary thing, but time and time again, our faith teaches us that we do not have to be afraid. Lent gives us a safe space where we can jump blindly into the darkness of the unknown and make feasible and attainable changes in our lives. We do not have to be afraid; God is with us and we are surrounded by the Body of Christ within our church community.  Sometimes it takes a village and our church in the village not only holds us accountable, but also supports us on this journey.

And even if we really struggle to live out these changes (as apparently 92% of us who tried to make New Year’s Resolutions do), as people of the resurrection, we know that Easter morning is coming. We can try for 40 days, knowing that Easter is coming.

So let yourself be changed: Let yourself be changed by the mystery of the Lenten season. Let yourself be changed by being intentional for 40 days and bearing witness to how that might transform you both on the outside and also from within. Let yourself be changed knowing that resurrection is coming – both in our faith and also in our lives. Let yourself be changed and may your Lenten season be full of God-sized changes and blessings.

And do not be afraid.

Thanks be to God!

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2016/12/26/7-secrets-of-people-who-keep-their-new-years-resolutions/#6c6ef7507098
[2] Matthew 17:5, NRSV
[3] The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2017, edited by Scott Hoezee, pg. 27
[4] Luke 1:30, NRSV
[5] Luke 2:10, NRSV
[6] 1 Samuel 22:23, NRSV
[7] https://bodytithe.com/frequent-command-bible/

The Radical Face Of Peace

Happy 2nd Sunday of Advent everyone! I’m still trying to figure out the audio with this blog – it’s definitely not an isolated problem (I was reading a forum with other people having the same problem), but I am almost positive there is a solution. Enjoy!

Malachi 3:1-4
Philippians 1:3-11

The Radical Face Of Peace

Der Frieden.
La Paix.
La Paz.
A Paz Galician.
Hoa Bình.
Nabad –Da.


It is a word that is spoken beautifully in languages all around the world.

It is a reality that we pray for week after week.

It is a longing that each and every one of us has deep within our souls.

The Gospel of John records that, before he died, Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” {John 14:27, NRSV}

And today the second candle on our Advent wreath, the candle of peace, burns brightly on our altar as a visible reminder that even in the darkest and most painful of moments, God is with us – and God gives us peace in our hearts.

This morning’s scripture reading from the Old Testament comes from the book of Malachi, the very last book of the Old Testament. The Book of Malachi, which takes place during the first half of the 5th century BCE, is brief narrative (the book itself is only four chapters long) of a dispute between Yahweh (God) and the people. One of the most prominent themes in this book is the corruption of the priesthood. The book describes priests as men who regularly violated laws of ritual sacrifice and neglected their duties to teach and guide their people. Yahweh was upset, Malachi relayed through his prophecy, at both the complacency of the priests and the way they used their office for personal gains. We come into the story today when Malachi says to the people that Yahweh was going to send a messenger to prepare a way for him to come.

See I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. {Malachi 3:1, NRSV}

I looked at this passage with my Tuesday morning Advent Bible Study this week. We all agreed that this verse – the first verse of the passage – is very consistent with Advent themes of expectancy and waiting. After all, “O Come O Come Emmanuel – God with us” is the call of the Advent season. We are preparing a place – both in the manger and in our lives – for the Christ child to be born. But then we read on.

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. {Malachi 1:3-2-3}

Many of us had a problem with that word “endure” – it just has such negative connotations. Childbirth is something that you endure; injury rehabilitation or cancer treatments are something that you endure; papers and finals are something that you endure. Merriam Webster says that “to endure” means “to undergo (as a hardship) especially without giving in; to suffer.” Is the coming of God really something that will make us suffer, we all asked ourselves? The notion of suffering contradicts an Advent season where we are supposed to be excitedly awaiting the Prince of Peace to come into our midst.

There was a scientist in the room that morning and she further explained and described to us the process of refining gold and silver, which is how Malachi analogized the coming of the Lord. The process did not sound pleasant; in fact, it sounded extremely loud, painfully hot and potentially dangerous without a whole lot of room for error. It sounded like a process that would be okay to purify soft metals with, but people? It just seems to me that God could come into our midst and purify us with a deep tissue massage instead. The Old Testament is a dangerous place to be sometimes.

Let’s move to the New Testament for a second. The Epistle selection for the lectionary this week comes from Paul’s first letter to the church in Philippi. Paul wrote:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. … And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. {Philippians 1:3, 9-11}

This message carries with it such a more positive, loving and gentle description of purifying and refining. Paul tells us that our love of God through Christ, that the waters of baptism, are enough to purify us. It is through our sharing of the gospel, not a painful encounter with the divine, that we are refined as a people of peace, he explained.

So I was left with a conundrum this week – do I preach the pain of the Old Testament or the love of the New Testament? Or, as I asked a friend, do I preach a prophetic sermon from Malachi or a kumbaya sermon from Philippians? I decided not to choose one over the other. It was not because I was feeling indecisive the day that the bulletin was due; it was because I realized that both pain and love are a real part of life. Furthermore, when I really thought prayerfully about it, I realized that both pain and love are a real part of peace.

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama XIV once said, “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.”

Peace is not an easy emotion to feel, an easy feat to achieve or an easy destination to journey to. Peace is extremely complex. It is easy for us to say with joy, “The Peace of Christ be with you!” but it is much more difficult to actually live these words out.

I wish we lived in a world where we could easily speak Paul’s words to one another, allow our love to overflow and live in peace simply by worshiping God and following the teachings of Jesus Christ. I wish we lived in a world where achieving peace came as quickly and efficiently as a Keurig-brewed cup of coffee. I wish we lived in a world where wars would cease and where violence was replaced with constant laughter. I wish we lived in a world where no one ever felt pain – and where people felt peace – both in their lives and in their hearts – every single moment.
But that is not the world we live in.

We live in a world where there is violence, war and unrest. We live in a world people experience pain both in their bodies and in their lives. We live in a world where differences of opinions escalate and conflicts shatter relationships, homes and communities. We live in world where people feel sad, alone and helpless. And let it be known that I am not talking ambiguously about the greater world that exists beyond our walls – I am also talking about our world, our lives. We often feel sad, alone and helpless; stressed and uneasy. We so badly need peace.

The song, “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” simply, yet boldly states, “Let there be peace on earth – and let it begin with me.” When we sing this song, we cannot afford to sing it with a passive voice. We must act. The Prince of Peace was born into this world to show us the way, not to travel the journey for us. We must be agents of peace in our lives; we must be the radical face of peace to the people around us.

Know that this may not be an easy journey for us to travel. Peace is highly enigmatic; it is not achieved by pushing a button or finding the right medicinal cocktail. Part of the reason that we live the Christian story year after year is so that we are reminded that while Christ came into this world as an child born in a humble manger, he was crucified on a cross and hung between two criminals. Resurrection came at a difficult and painful price; peace often comes at a difficult and painful price as well.

As we journey through this season of Advent, being the radical face of peace might push us in new and challenging ways. We must be willing to confront the adversities that individuals are going through and the conflicts that people find themselves in with one another, acknowledge that their pain is real and seek peace in whatever way is necessary. We may be forced to have difficult conversations, sit in uncomfortable silences, accept things that we do not understand and make compromises and sacrifices along the way. We need to put the needs of others before our own, seek reconciliation and speak always with a humble voice. We need to clean out our wounds completely and not simply cover them with a bandage. We need to be both the face of peace that Jesus brought into this world as an innocent child – and the face of peace that Jesus carried with him to his death on the cross.

Remember this, however, along your journey towards peace. We cannot read the pain of the Old Testament without also reading the hope of the New Testament. There is a reason that I chose to reflect both on the Book of Malachi and the Book of Philippians. Christ did come into this world, he did extend a hand of love and friendship to the people that he met and he did imagine a world where peace would prevail over war. See the reality of the Old Testament; but never let go of the Gospel. See the reality of the pain in our world; but never let go of the Good News that Christ brought into our midst.

The candle of peace burns brightly next to a candle that has already been illuminated in Advent season – the candle of hope. There is hope for peace on earth, I truly believe that. Christ brought that hope into the world – and then called us all to live in peace.

The world needs each and every one of us this Advent season to heed the call to be the radical face of peace.

The third verse of the hymn, O Holy Night, speaks poignantly to this juxtaposition of peace. Hear now the words of John S. Dwight:

Truly he taught us to love one another;
his law is love and his gospel is peace.
Chain shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
and in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raising,
let all within us praise his holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise his name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!

Thanks be to God!