It Is Good For Us To Be Here Today

Hi friends!  Happy Shrove Tuesday!

We had our big Mardi Gras celebration at the church on Sunday – it was so much fun!  Decorations, brass, food and a mocktail bar – it doesn’t get better than that!

Our Ash Wednesday Worship service is at 7PM tomorrow.  If you are in Rehoboth, I would love to see you there!  You do not have to get ashes imposed if you would just like to enjoy the service.

Here is my sermon from Sunday – the story of the Transfiguration!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 23, 2020

Matthew 17:1-9

It Is Good For Us To Be Here Today

Happy Mardi Gras!

Or shall I say, Laissez les bons temps rouler, which is a Cajun French saying that means, “Let the good times roll,” and has become a Mardi Gras mantra over the years.[1]

Of course we know that today is not actually Mardi Gras – the real celebration is on Tuesday, also known as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday.  Tuesday marks the closing out of one season before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  Today is the Sunday before it all begins – Transfiguration Sunday.  Transfiguration Sunday is the day we remember Jesus taking Peter, James and John up on a mountain, where he is transformed – transfigured! – in front of them, appearing with Moses and Elijah, and a voice is heard from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.”[2]

The story of the transfiguration is a challenging one for preachers, I think partially because it comes up every year the Sunday before Lent starts and so, like Christmas and Easter, there is a little bit of pressure to put a fresh spin on it, year after year.  It is also a challenging one, because it is a kind of a hard story to interpret on a practical, grassroots, “this is how I am called to live out my faith” kind of level.

It is one thing to read a story about Jesus feeding the multitudes and think to ourselves, “Hmm – maybe if people are hungry, we should feed them.”

Or to read a story about Jesus healing someone – even in a miraculous way that we, ourselves, might not be able to attain – and remember that we are called to be agents of healing in our own community, even if that means something as simple as praying for someone, offering to drive them to an appointment or giving them a prayer shawl.

Or to read a story about Jesus reaching out to a marginalized person – say, perhaps, the story of the Good Samaritan – and wonder how we can minister to people who are living on the margins of society.

It is a whole other thing to read this story and wander up a mountain in the hopes that perhaps Jesus might appear with a couple of Old Testament prophets and God will speak to all of us through the clouds.

On the surface, it appears that there is not a whole lot of practical application here.

Every year, without fail, I find myself participating in a conversation with clergy – whether it be on the internet or in person – about how to approach the transfiguration in a sermon.  And not that this was the sole purpose behind our new Mardi Gras Sunday tradition or anything, but I have to admit – filling the sanctuary with an explosion of purple, green and gold, festive music and the promise of delicious food afterwards does, in fact, distract from the possibility that my sermon might be terrible.

So there is that.

When I read the story of the transfiguration this week, the one thing that really jumped out at me were Peter’s words to Jesus in verse four:  “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”[3]

“Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

Y’all, it is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to be in worship, to be together as a community and to mark this transition in the church calendar year as we prepare to enter the Lenten season.

There is something about this story of Jesus’ transfiguration that connects us to our own baptism.  When Jesus’ appearance changes, God’s voice is heard from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”[4]  If this sounds vaguely familiar, it is because this mirrors so strongly the story of Jesus’ baptism that we heard a few weeks ago, where Jesus emerges from the water and a God’s voice is heard from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.”[5]

It is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to connect this story back to Jesus’ baptism and to remember, as we prepare to enter the Lenten season, that the living waters of baptism have washed and continue to wash over all of us.

That we do not have to be perfect.

That we do not have to have all the answers.

That grace is powerful and that second chances are possible.

That God is, that love is real and that the Gospel will change the world.

It is good for us to be here today to remember our baptism through this story.

It is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to hear Jesus’ words, “Get us and do not be afraid.”[6]  It is good for us to see in verse six that the disciples who witnessed the transfiguration fell to the ground and were overcome with fear and know that we are not alone when our initial reaction to something that we do not understand is fear.  But it is also good for us to remember that that we are called to live in faith, not in fear; to remember Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid.”

It is good for us to be here today, because there are many things going on in all of our lives that are scary and unsettling, but when we come together and we remember this story we know, with certainty that we are not alone and that we do not have to be afraid.

It is good for us to be here to live into our faith and not into our fear.

It is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to remember that the story does not end on the top of the mountain, but with the disciples coming down off of the mountain, with strict orders not to tell anyone what they saw immediately, but after the resurrection.

It is good for us, as people living on this side of the resurrection, to hear this call.  It is good for us to remember that, as amazing as those mountaintop experiences are – those moments in our faith when we feel like we are on top of the world – we have to come down off the mountain and both experience and talk about our faith in the real world.  We have to proclaim the good news of the resurrection in a way that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to all people.  We have to live out our faith, not solely within the vacuum of our church community, but out in the world where it intersects with the realities of our lives.

It is good for us to be here today so that, together, we can come down off the mountain.

Y’all, it is good for us to be here today.  It is good for us to be here today and to meet one another, wherever we are on our journey through life and faith.  It is good for us to be here today to proclaim God’s goodness in the midst of the messiness and the confusion of life.  It is good for us to be here today and sing with the saints.  It is good for us to be here today and break bread together.  It is good for us to be here to mark the end of one season in the church year and prepare to enter Lent together.  It is good for us to be here today and remember that transfiguration can happen in our own lives.  It is good for us to be here today so we can grow in our faith and strengthen our community.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Let the good times roll.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] https://www.whereyat.com/glossary-of-mardi-gras-terms
[2] Matthew 17:5, NRSSV
[3] Matthew 17:4, NRSV
[4] Matthew 17:5, NRSV
[5] Matthew 3:17, NRSV
[6] Matthew 17:7, NRSV

Preaching in Pumps Podcast Artwork

Transforming The Way You See The World

And now in the category of “better late than never,” here is my sermon from LAST Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday.  We had a Mardi Gras Sunday at the church that day (check out the pictures on our Facebook page!) and I talked in my sermon about the Transfiguration reminds us that our lives truly can be transformed by our faith.  I hope yours is, as well!

Here’s the sermon.  Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 11, 2018

Mark 9:2-9

Transforming The Way You See The World

The story of the transfiguration is one that always brings up a lot of good memories for me. I candidated at this church on Transfiguration Sunday seven years ago. Easter was late that year, so Transfiguration Sunday was the first weekend in March, which just happened to be the weekend of our annual Spaghetti Supper and Dessert Auction.

That Saturday, after a meet and greet with the congregation in the morning, everyone piled into Fellowship Hall for the supper. I remember walking into the hall that night and feeling like it was SO big. I might as well have been walking into Fenway Park that night; it was packed and just felt huge.

At the time, the task ahead seemed so daunting. There were so many people! How was I ever going to learn everyone’s names, I wondered to myself? Where was I even going to start? What if this church needed more than I had the capacity to give?

Fast forward to a few weeks ago; I was setting up for our monthly Taizé worship. I walked into Fellowship Hall, this time empty, dark and quiet, and I thought to myself, well it does not seem so big anymore.

It is amazing how, over time, God changes the way we see things.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before the season of Lent begins. The Transfiguration is about a moment in time when God changed the way people – ordinary people – saw something.

Or more specifically, God changed the way they saw someone: Jesus.

We heard the story out of the Gospel of Mark this morning. Leading up to this, Jesus was traveling, performing signs and inviting people into his ministry. While in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus foretold his death and resurrection and then told the crowd that had gathered around him and his disciples that if they wanted to be one of Jesus’ followers, they needed to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.

Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of a high mountain and he was transformed, right before their very eyes. His clothes were a dazzling white and he was not alone. He stood alongside side Elijah, a 9th century BCE prophet that can be found in 1 Kings and 2 Kings, and Moses, a prophet who led the Israelite slaves out of Egypt in the Book of Exodus. A cloud came over them and Peter, James and John heard God’s voice saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Then suddenly, Elijah and Moses were gone; and it was just Jesus standing there.

 

What an incredible moment that must have been for Peter, James and John; where God changed the way they saw Jesus, showed them the undeniable divinity of Christ and demonstrated the power of God’s love in this world.

Up until this point, they all knew there was something special about Jesus. How could they not? When John baptized him, God spoke from heaven and said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus then cast out evil spirits, healed the sick, spoke in parables, fed thousands of people with mere morsels of food and walked on water.

But, in this moment, they saw him differently. They understood the Gospel and what it meant for their lives on another level. Their lives would never be the same.

How, in your life, does God make you see things differently? How does God help you understand the Gospel and what it means for your life on another level? How is your life changed?

Perhaps it is in how you spend your time and money, who you interact with or what you say and do. Maybe it has to do with the career path you have chosen or the values you instill in your family. Maybe it means making different priorities than those around you. Perhaps God will open your eyes to see the needs of others more prominently than your own wants. Or maybe God is simply working on you, as an individual, reminding you that you are loved, you are cherished and you are made whole.

The freedom in having faith comes from letting our lives be defined, not by the earthly stuff, but by the grace God gives to us. If we allow God to, God can transform the world we are living in.

And the crazy thing is, the world, itself, might not change. But we, ourselves will change. The way we view the world and the way we live in the world most certainly will change when God gets involved.

The Transfiguration reminds us that God-sized transformations are happening all around us. Sometimes they can be found in the small things in life and sometimes it is in the big things in life. But in order to see them, we need to follow Jesus up that mountain, we need to open our eyes to witness the presence of God and we need to believe that what we are seeing is real and true.

As much fun as Mardi Gras is, it is not just about having an excuse to throw a party in church; it is about marking the end of one season and the beginning of another.

Lent begins on Wednesday. This season leads us on a journey where we experience the story that defines our faith. Resurrection is the reason that we gather; from this comes the radical truth that death did not and does not have the final word. It is because of this story that people can discover hope, find strength, extend forgiveness, show compassion and uncover grace. Sometimes this goes against all logic and reason, but, as Christians, we know that love always wins and we live our lives bearing witness to this great testimony.

We see things differently.

Certainly, this does challenge us at times. It is hard to look beyond our earthly lives and see the glory God is shining upon us. But this story reminds us that God is always with us, constantly transforming the pieces of our lives, whether we are on the top of a high mountain or down here, just doing day-to-day life. God is helping us to see things differently.

I see the church much differently now than I did seven years ago on that cold March night in a crowded Fellowship Hall. The task no longer seems daunting, per say; but enriching, grace inspiring and, quite frankly, a lot of fun. I see breakfast and suppers, community events and completed mission projects. I see confirmation classes, bible studies, hospital visits and board meetings. I see a church filled with people who are not only willing to go along with my crazy ideas (like Mardi Gras Sunday), but who usually show up with food, as well. I see a church not only with a rich history that I was able to learn about, but also a vibrant present and a hopeful future I am apart of. I not only know people’s names, but I know their stories, as well.

Only God could have done this. Only God could have transformed our ministry together.

Today I wish you many blessings on your Lenten season. I hope our Mardi Gras celebration brings the changing seasons to the front burner in your life and reminds you to mark the beginning of Lent this week, on Ash Wednesday. I pray that, at some point during this Lenten season, your eyes, minds and hearts will be opened to the ways God is working in your life, to the ways God is transforming your life.

I want your lives to be changed by your faith. I want God to help you see the world differently.

So may you, like Peter, James and John, stand in awe in the presence of Christ. May you see the ancient scriptures come alive in your life as you seek to live out God’s word. May you feel and know that God is with you, in the extraordinary moments and in the ordinary ones. May God transform your life. And may you see the world differently.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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!
Amen.

[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/