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/

The Transfigurations Of Us

I am loving all of my colleagues posts about Ashes to Go this morning!  It makes me wish I lived in a more commutable place and could do something like that.  We are having a labyrinth available in our Fellowship Hall tonight 6-7 and then worshipping at 7.  I am looking forward to it!

Here is my sermon from last Sunday …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 7, 2016

Exodus 34:29-35
Luke 9:28-36

The Transfigurations Of Us

By now, most of you have heard that longtime RCC members, Paul, Kathy and Cassandra Lumbra were on vacation in Mexico two weeks ago when Paul became very ill. He was hospitalized and eventually life flighted to Fort Lauderdale last Friday. I was able to fly down to be with them this week; I showed up at the hospital armed with the prayers and well wishes of a concerned church community (as well as an RCC prayer shawl, of course!).

I am sure that it will come as a surprise to no one that Kathy is down there making friends with the other families in the ICU. She and I were sitting together in Paul’s room and it seemed like she waved to every other person that walked by.

Eventually Kathy started telling me some of their stories. One girl was the daughter of a man who had complications from his cancer treatments while on vacation. One woman was staying vigil by the bedside of her estranged son, who had been shot. One couple was visiting their son, who was terminally ill. They, like Kathy, were all from out of town. They were away from their homes, their friends and their support networks. Their worlds had been turned upside down.

And yet, in the midst of their chaos, they found one another. They checked in with one other and kept track of how everyone’s loved ones were doing. They brought each other coffee and food. One family let the mother of the boy who had been shot stay at their hotel when she did not have a place to stay. They prayed together and they rejoiced when one person’s loved one was doing better, even if theirs was not. “It has become our own little community,” Kathy told me over breakfast on Friday.

I talk about “grace – unexpected” all the time, but it was real to me this week. I saw – in vibrant color – what it truly means for God to work through ordinary people in this world.

Outward and visible signs of outreach and hospitality continued as the day went on. The drivers of the shuttle between the hotel and hospital knew Kathy by name. The woman in charge of cleaning up breakfast at the hotel packed a bag of snacks and drinks for Kathy to take with her to the hospital each day. The nurses cared for Kathy as if she was their patient as well. Other couples staying at the hotel asked Kathy how Paul was doing when they saw her in the lobby and celebrated when she noted his progress. My phone never stopped buzzing, whether it was about monetary donations, fundraiser ideas or wonderful comments from our amazing Facebook prayer community back home.

When I preached on the body of Christ last weekend, little did I know that I would have the opportunity to see it come alive in such a marvelous and grace-filled way this week.

In fact, I was starting to wish that I had been scheduled to preach on the body of Christ this Sunday. After all, everyone coming together to do God’s work in this world is seemingly an easier scripture for many of us to try to live out in our lives than the one where Jesus takes his disciples up on a mountain, starts to glow and then is seen standing next to thousand-year-old prophets.

Which, I can pretty much guarantee, is not going to happen today.

This morning we heard the story of the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration marks the last Sunday before the beginning of the Lenten season. It is the powerful narrative of the moment in time when Jesus transformed on a mountaintop in front of his disciples; where Jesus became radiant and appeared with Moses and Elijah and God’s voice was heard claiming Jesus as God’s son.

This can be a challenging story for us to think about. It is a miracle; and miracles are not always easy for us to believe in and understand, especially when they seem so far out of reach in our own lives.

My Tuesday morning bible study and I just started working our way through the gospel of John. John is – by far – the most mystical and miraculous of the four gospels. In two weeks we have made it through just three chapters as we try to pick apart and find meaning in stories that really do not make sense in our world.

And yet we are captivated; captivated by the stories, captivated by the miracles and captivated by the language that John uses to express God’s miraculous, yet unexplainable grace in this world. We are realizing that even though we may not understand these miracles or see them literally unfolding in our own lives the way they do in scripture, we need these miracles. We need these miracles to draw us into God’s story, we need these miracles to inspire us to see what could happen in our lives and we need these miracles to leave us wanting more.

I think this is what the story of the transfiguration can do for us. It can draw us into the suspense of what God can do, not only in this world, but also through us. It can show us – in a spectacularly visual way – that God comes into this world through people. This narrative, the transfiguration of Jesus, was the point in Jesus’ life where God and human nature intersected; Jesus was not only changed, but he appeared with Moses, the giver of the law and Elijah, the prophet. This proved that time and time again throughout history God has used people – ordinary people just like us – to do God’s work in this world.

In the same way that God used Moses and Elijah, God uses us, today. We may not appear with Jesus in a literal way on a mountaintop, but we are illuminated by the light of Jesus Christ when we live our lives according to the gospel. We become the hands and the feet and the voice of God to a world that is broken when we bear witness to a faith that is still alive and a Christian story that is still being written.

The transfigurations that we witness in our lives may not be as dramatic as they were for the disciples that day, but I assure that they are happening. God is using us – all of us – to minister to a world that so desperately needs it. Every single time we do something in the name of our faith we are appearing on that mountain, illuminated by the light that Christ brought into this world and showing the world that hope is still alive, that grace is real and that God’s love always wins. When we allow ourselves to be changed by our faith and reach out to a world that is in need, even is that means being scared or uncomfortable or pushed outside of our comfort zones, we are standing alongside the cloud of witnesses who came before us and laid the foundation that we continue to build on today.

The transfiguration reminds us that not only can we be changed by our faith, but that we have the capacity within ourselves to change others because of our faith as well. Lives can still be changed because grace is found at the intersection of God and human nature and that intersection is happening in our lives today.

I have been humbled by the way that people in this community have reached out to the Lumbra family during their time of need. It has proven to me that good does exist in this world, that the Christian Church is more than the negative stereotypes sometimes make it out to be and that our faith can still be relevant, meaningful and accessible in our lives. It has reassured me that our lives can be still changed by this powerful gospel narrative and that we can change the lives of others because of it as well.

So today, as you remember the transfiguration, let down your guard – and let yourself be changed. Remind yourself that for thousands of years, God has worked through ordinary people; and hold onto the bold and radical truth that today, God is working through you. Let your faith change you so that you can go out into the world and not only proclaim the Gospel, but live it out as well. Beam with the light of the glory of God and shine that light into the world. Let is shine so that you will continue to be changed, let it shine so that others will be changed and let it shine so that the world will be changed – one person at a time.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.