February 19, 2023
God, you bring us together in this place, we come to be fed, to be renewed, to seek understanding. God, you challenge us in this place, we embrace the challenge, trusting that through challenge we grow in faith. God, you are revealed in this place, sometimes in shining glory, sometimes in tears and struggle. God as we worship in this place, refresh, renew, and challenge us so that we would see your awesomeness. We pray in Jesus’ name, as we strive to walk the path of discipleship. Amen
PRELUDE “Dialogue” Francois Couperin
CALL TO WORSHIP
O Lord, you are a lover of justice,
You seek equity and have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
We praise your great and awesome name,
We come to worship you at your holy mountain.
*HYMN No. 446 “How Blest, Those Whose Transgressions”
1 How blest, those whose transgressions
have freely been forgiven;
whose guilt is wholly covered
before the sight of heaven.
Blest, those to whom our Lord God
will not impute their sin:
whose guilt has been forgiven;
whose hearts, made true again.
2 While I kept guilty silence,
my strength was spent with grief.
Your hand was heavy on me;
my life found no relief.
But when I made confession
and hid no sin from you,
when I revealed my failings,
you gave me life anew.
3 So let the godly seek you,
when troubling times are near;
no storm or flood shall reach them,
nor cause their hearts to fear.
In you, O Lord, I hide me;
you save me from all ill.
And songs of your salvation
my heart with rapture fill.
*CALL TO CONFESSION
In the transfiguration story, Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white, a sign of resurrection out of the violence the world inflicted upon him. Resurrection reminds us that the sins of the world and of our lives will not have the last world. God’s love, compassion and justice will be established on the earth. So let us confess before God and one another.
*PRAYER FOR CONFESSION
Merciful God, even when we see your justice transfigured before us, we cower in fear of following your way in our world. We wonder what it might cost us to walk in the way of Jesus. Help us to listen. Empower us to be formed by the life of Jesus Christ. Restore in us the confidence to be disciples of Christ. Amen.
Silence is observed
*ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Just as a cloud overshadowed the disciples in the transfiguration story, and they heard a voice say that Jesus is the beloved of God, so too we are God’s beloved people. Be forgiven and restored to our right standing as God’s beloved.
*RESPONSE No. 581 “Glory Be To The Father”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, amen.
*PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
Our peace comes from knowing how much God loves us in Jesus Christ. With God’s help, we try to love and forgive one another as Christ loves and forgives us.
“The peace of Christ be with you,”
“And also with you.”
ANTHEM “Creation Will Be At Peace” Anna Page
UNISON PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
God of transfiguring light, show us your Word as we read the words of Scripture today, so that your will and way can illumine our paths. Amen.
UNISON SCRIPTURE Matthew 17:1-9
17Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “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.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
SERMON “Prepare to Lent, ReLent & Reframe”
“Did he really just say what I think he did? No. No. That can’t be right. After all, he’s the messiah, the one we have been hoping for. He is perfect. There’s no way anyone would want to make him suffer and crucify him. Right?”
Like most who are followers of great people, the disciples believed that Jesus could do no wrong. So, it must have been quite a shock for them to hear Jesus himself tell them that he was going to have to undergo great suffering at the hands of the chief priests and scribes and be killed. But that is exactly what Jesus has just told them. Jesus has also told the disciples that if they want to be his followers, they must deny themselves and take up their cross.
After six days, which the disciples have likely spent trying to figure a way out of this whole mess, Jesus takes three of his most trusted disciples up a mountain. This may have proven to be a source of great relief to the disciples, especially Peter. Perhaps, Peter thinks, Jesus has finally come to his senses and is going to tell them how he plans to work around this whole suffering and death thing. Maybe Jesus will even apologize to Peter for calling him Satan and telling Peter to get behind him. Much to the disciples’ dismay, that is not what happens. Once on the mountain, the disciples watch as Jesus’s face and clothes begin to glow a dazzling white. It is at that moment the disciples begin to realize that Jesus was telling the truth about who he was and about what he would soon have to endure. But this still would have been a shock to Peter and the other disciples gathered together on the mountain. They had no doubt that Jesus was the long-hoped-for messiah. But they figured that Jesus was going to be the kind of messiah that would lead the people of Israel in armed revolt against the Roman government.
And now here they are, watching as Jesus is transformed before them, not into a great warrior, but into someone who is going to be crucified and raised on the third day, an identity that is confirmed by Jesus’s dazzling white appearance, which was, at that time, seen as a symbol of righteousness and closeness to heaven. With this confirmation of Jesus’s identity, the disciples also see their own future, as people who would, in the days to come, have to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. In response to this revelation, Peter suggests they build three booths and camp out on the mountain. While he is making this suggestion, a voice from heaven declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him”! This echoes the revelation given by God at Jesus’s baptism, but adds the very important command of “listen to him!” With these new revelations in the back of their minds, the disciples and Jesus begin their trek down the mountain to continue their journey.
Because of his transfiguration, the disciples most certainly looked at Jesus from a different perspective than they had before. There have, most likely, been revelations you have experienced in your life that have caused you to look at someone in a new light. This was the experience of Scout Finch in relation to her father Atticus, who in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” defends an African-American man against a false rape charge in 1940s Alabama. In response to this brave act, Scout begins to have a new level of respect for her father. But then, two decades later, in Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman,” Scout receives another revelation. Scout had always seen her father as a champion of civil rights, but when she is home for a visit, she spots Atticus at a meeting of the White Citizens Council, a group that could be found throughout the south during the civil rights movement, that used the power of its members, who were often the most prominent citizens in town, to discriminate against and terrorize African-Americans, especially those who tried to exercise their right to vote. With this revelation, Scout begins to see her father in a whole new light. This disorientation Scout feels when she sees her father from a different perspective is likely similar to that felt by the disciples. Their fears about Jesus undergoing suffering and being killed are confirmed, and they are given a glimpse into their own future, one in which they will have to learn how to follow in God’s ways instead of their own.
Following the way God wants us to go instead of only being concerned with what we want is what it means to be a disciple. As disciples of Christ, we are called to follow the way of Jesus, which is often different that the way of the world. This may be why many of us, like Peter, would rather build booths and stay on the mountain.
Remember that following the transfiguration, Peter suggests building three booths, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. It is possible that Peter wants to build these booths because he thinks the group will be on the mountain for a long time and he wants there to be adequate shelter. It’s also possible that Peter is concerned about their ability to properly observe the feast of booths in celebration of the harvest. But I think Peter’s real concern is having to come down off the mountain. Because of the transfiguration, Peter knows Jesus is going to have to suffer and be killed. The disciples all know that as Jesus’s followers, they will have to take up their cross and follow, and Peter is not ready.
So, he suggests staying up on the mountain a little while longer. But Jesus knows there is work to be done. So, he gently puts his hand on Peter and the other disciples and tells them not to be afraid. Like Peter, we would rather stay on the mountain. Anyone who has read the commands that Jesus gives to his disciples knows that following Jesus is not easy. It is not easy to love your enemies. It is not always easy to love your neighbor as yourself. It is not always easy to give food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, or to visit those who are sick or in prison. But as disciples of Christ, we are called to follow Jesus off the mountain and go out into the world just as Jesus did.
Jesus’s trip to the mountain also served as a time of preparation for his journey to Jerusalem. The season of Lent is a time of preparation for us as well. It is an opportunity for us to prepare for our post-Lenten lives. While we may think of Lent as an opportunity to give up something or take on a practice for a short period of time, the truth is that we should see Lent as an opportunity to deepen our faith so that our lives will be changed forever, and not just for forty days. As is often the case on our faith journeys, we need guidance during the season of Lent so that it will produce real, lasting change. In this season of Lent, we have a variety of available resources that can guide us on our journey. We of course have scripture that we will focus upon during the next 40 days. During this season of Lent, our theme will be ReLent: A Time of ReFraming. We will spend time rethinking what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and how that will be different moving beyond the pandemic season: We will consider the following REs:
As we prepare for the season of Lent, we must know that we do not undertake our Lenten journeys only as individuals. We as a congregation will be on our own Lenten journey. As I said, we will use the weekly lectionary text and hear the story of Jesus’ journey to the Cross and then out of the Tomb. Following in and trusting the way of Christ instead of relying solely on our own instincts and desires is, as pastor Joan Gray says, the difference between rowing and sailing.
When the church is rowing, the people are the ones in control, and the ones doing all the work. In rowboat congregations, pastor Gray says, the only things that matter are those that can be seen, heard, and felt. There is no room, in other words, for the work of the Spirit and the guidance of Christ. In rowboat congregations, the first instinct when encountering a problem is to ask the question, “how do we fix this?” instead of taking a step back and asking, “what is God calling us to do in this situation?”
In a sailboat congregation, on the other hand, the focus is “not on [the congregation’s] own situation, resources, or limitations but rather on discerning God’s unfolding will.” This means that to be a sailboat church, a congregation has to be in tune with what God is doing in the congregation and in the community around them. This requires answering questions like, “what are the needs of the people in our congregation and in our community and how is God calling us to be a servant to those in need?” If we hope to be followers of Christ, we prepare ourselves, during this season of Lent, to sail rather than row. We must be willing to relinquish control and turn our focus away from what we want to what God is calling us to do in our congregation and in the community of Linden.
Being a sailboat congregation means having a willingness to be servants of Christ. A servant is someone who takes on the transgressions or sins of the many and does not protest or fight back when it comes time to pay the price for the sins of others. The disciples would have been familiar with this image of the servant willing to sacrifice him or herself. They would have known what it meant to be a servant and to take up one’s cross. Needless to say, they did not want that to happen to Jesus. They did not want this movement Jesus had created to end the way we know that it will. But Jesus knew. Jesus knew that he had to come down off the mountain and begin his journey to Jerusalem. Jesus also wanted the disciples to walk with him on his journey, even though he knew they would betray him, deny him, and abandon him. So instead of leaving the disciples on the mountain, he walked over to them as they lay with their faces to the ground, gently touched them, and told them not to be afraid. There is nothing easy about taking up a cross. The disciples knew that. They knew the imagery contained in that statement. At that time, crucifixion was the most humiliating way to die. It was reserved for people who had committed the crime of sedition, the crime of not submitting to the authority of Rome, which may have been why it was so unimaginable to the disciples that Jesus would carry his message to the point that this movement would end with him on the cross. And yet that is exactly what Jesus says is going to happen. Now Jesus is telling the disciples that it is time for them to continue their journey, one that will end at the cross, no matter what the disciples have to say about it.
The season of Lent is a time of preparation. It is a time to prepare to walk with Jesus on his journey to the cross and to carry on Jesus’s message after the celebration of his resurrection. Preparation during Lent can take many forms. You can give something up or you can take on a practice. You can prayerfully consider how you could ReFrame your walk with Jesus and also consider how Jesus is calling us to sail the ship known as the Presbyterian Church at Woodbury instead of row. All of this will be done so that we will experience our own transformation during Lent.
In the early church, baptisms were generally performed on Easter, the thought being that the person being baptized died along with Christ and like Christ was raised to new life. It was expected, in that day, that when you had been baptized, you would live your life different than you had before by taking to heart Jesus’s call to serve others. As happens each Lenten season, we are being given the opportunity to repent, to turn from the ways of the world and follow instead the ways of Christ. But first we must be willing to follow Christ off the mountain. There is nothing easy about this journey. But the good news is that we do not go on this journey alone. As we begin this journey off the mountain, Jesus is going to take our hand, and whether we are sitting on the mount listening intently to his sermon, walking with him on his journey to Jerusalem, or sitting at the foot of the cross, Jesus will be there to ever so gently lay his hand on us, and say to us “Get up and do not be afraid.” Amen.
Liturgy and Commentaries provided by Rebecca Luter, Ruth Chadwick Moore, Stephen M. Fearing, Matt Bowman, Scott Hoezee, Roger Gench, the PCUSA Book of Order and the PCUSA Book of Confession.
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH from The Confession of Belhar
We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family. We believe that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another; that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain; that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted; that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways; in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind. Amen.
*HYMN No. 451 “Open My Eyes, That I May See”
1 Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth thou hast for me.
Place in my hands the wonderful key
that shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for thee,
ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my eyes; illumine me, Spirit divine!
2 Open my ears, that I may hear
voices of truth thou sendest clear.
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
everything false will disappear.
Silently now I wait for thee,
ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my ears; illumine me, Spirit divine!
3 Open my mouth, and let me bear
gladly the warm truth everywhere.
Open my heart, and let me prepare
love with thy children thus to share.
Silently now I wait for thee,
ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my heart; illumine me, Spirit divine!
THE PASTORAL PRAYER AND THE LORD’S PRAYER
O Lord our God, Christ has been transfigured before us on a high mountain. You have revealed your way to us in Christ. The way of the cross and resurrection calls us to be agitators of non-violence, love and justice in our world. Indeed, in the power of Christ you have enabled us to be your peace in our world. In his crucifixion, the violence of our world has been exposed as contrary to your way of justice. Transfigure us by your Spirit and shape us by your love to be disciples of Christ in our weary and broken world.
In your Spirit, O God, form us to be the liberating life that was displayed in Moses, the prophetic witness of Elijah, and the risen Christ who established the new creation in the church and world. Let our lives shine like the transfigured Christ so that we might be a blessing to those that struggle, a hope to the dying, and a sign of your resurrection life.
And as we continue to struggle with gun violence in our communities, we pray that you would give us wisdom to know how to leave peaceably on our world. We ask a special measure of wisdom for the leadership of our country and world that they might discern the path to end violence and war. And may we be agents of your love for those within our church- es and in our communities. We pray all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray saying, “Our Father…”.
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
God is the giver of life and the resources therein. Let us now dedicate our lives and resources to the God in whom we live and move and have our being.
*RESPONSE N0. 609 “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow”
Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below. Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully known; Creator, Word, and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
* PRAYER OF DEDICATION
We give you thanks, O God, for the gifts we have received from your good creation. We now ask your blessing upon the gifts we offer here today so that they might be a sign of our commitment to serve you in all that we are and do. Amen.
*HYMN No. 546 “Lord, Dismiss Us With Your Blessing”
1 Lord, dismiss us with your blessing;
fill our hearts with joy and peace;
let us each, your love possessing,
triumph in redeeming grace.
O refresh us,
O refresh us,
traveling through this wilderness.
2 Thanks we give and adoration
for your gospel’s joyful sound;
may the fruits of your salvation
in our hearts and lives abound.
to your truth may we be found.
3 Savior, when your love shall call us,
from our struggling pilgrim way,
let no fear of death appall us,
glad your summons to obey.
May we ever,
may we ever
reign with you in endless day.
Hear the voice from the cloud saying to each and to all: “You are my beloved.” So beloved of God: Listen to Christ. Follow in the way of Christ. Resist evil. Love one another as God in Christ has loved you. Amen.