Romans 5:6-8 and Mark 9:2-9
Welcome to Worship with First Christian Church. Announcements concerning our congregational family life will come at the end of this service. For now, please join us in singing, You are My All in All.
Call to Worship
Leader: Please stand if you’re able and join us in a call to worship…. Someone might well ask, “Is anyone feeling tired?” “Yes,” many of us answer, “We are weary and weighed down with burdens.”
All: Take heart! The God we meet in Jesus gives both strength and energy!
Leader: Is anyone hurt or grieving? “YES!” some respond, “we are wounded and in pain.”
All: Take heart! The God Jesus incarnates heals both body and soul!
Leader: Is anyone pinched for resources, running short on hope? “YES!” comes a reply from various quarters, “we are overwhelmed with the effort to make ends meet.”
All: Take heart! God’s love is the most precious thing there is, and God gives it freely.
Leader: Is anyone feeling left out or alone? “YES!” voices echo from the margins, “we feel forgotten, labelled as unworthy.”
All: Take heart! The God we now worship calls you by name, and values you more than you know.
Leader: Amen! Please join in singing, “God of the Ages, Whose Almighty Hand.
Father we gather today virtually, some alone at home and others with a household to worship and find encouragement and hope. The bitter cold and darkness of this time of year is challenging even without a global pandemic. Let us find comfort today knowing that you are in control. You designed the seasons and they give us hope, as the daylight hours grow, we work our way through winter looking forward to the rebirth of Spring. Help us remember that you are always with us during both times of darkness and of light, and that with your love we are lifted up.
We raise up to you in prayer so many of your children who struggle. We pray for those with financial insecurity, and those who work in shelters and food pantries to meet the pressing needs of so many at risk. We pray for those who are sick or battling long term illness or mental health issues. Please also bless the healthcare workers and care givers. We raise up our frontline workers, teachers, police, fire fighters and so many other essential workers that they may be safe.
We raise up our local, national and world leaders that they may find real solutions to this pandemic, as well as many critical issues of justice and peace. We pray that we each may find a way to help be a solution to some of the world’s problems, and that we may be a light that leads your children back to you.
Father now more than ever this world needs your love. Bless us today and every day as we hear your words that we may find the part you want us to play in ministering and healing this world. All this we ask in the name of the one who first taught his disciples to pray by saying… “Our Father, who art in Heaven….”
Greetings, friends! Let me again thank you for worshiping with us.
So far this year, the lectionary had us mostly dealing with readings from the Gospel of Mark. …Now, we don’t always stick with the lectionary. Next week, we’re going to have a “Holy Humor Sunday” because – between the pandemic, the political news, and the fact that we’re all so delighted to be dealing with snow by the shovel full – the worship team wants us to remember that a major theme in Christianity is JOY! John 15:11: Jesus said, “I’ve told you these things so my joy will be in you.” I love that (joy is good, and it’s sometimes hard to remember that it is Christian to laugh), but that’s next week. This week, we’re looking at something even more fundamental: we’re looking at what Mark tells us about … “the revelation of God that we call: ‘Jesus the Christ’.”
Mark begins his Gospel by announcing he’s writing to give us “the good news about Jesus Christ who is the Messiah, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) But once we read that in verse one, we go quite a ways into the book before coming across another explicit declaration about the identity and significance of Jesus. That’s partly because Mark is too good a storyteller to stop the action and say, “Here’s what this episode from our Lord’s ministry means.” Plus, most of the time, when Jesus teaches, preaches, or performs his wonders, nobody says, “Whoa! I get it! You are the Messiah, you’re the Son of God!”
…No. More typical responses were: “How did you DO that?” Or, “You did it for them, why not do it for me?” Or, more darkly, “Who does this upstart think he is, saying and doing things like that?” However, the Transfiguration story we just heard is an exception to those responses. Jesus leads three of his most trusted disciples up a mountain, and, as everybody from Moses-on-down knows: mountains are a good place to begin getting an inkling of God’s all about.
Once they reach the summit, the disciples have a stunning “mountain-top experience.” Is it a vision, a dream, something that happened as matter-of-factually as you brushing your teeth this morning? We don’t know. But they see Moses and Elijah—two great figures from Israel’s history—talking with Jesus. Did it look like this painting? Probably not, but I think that’s how it felt to them (it was fall-on-your-knees stunning). They suddenly understood: Jesus is in line with the greatest prophets of Israel. And when Moses and Elijah disappear leaving only Jesus, the disciples see that Jesus is even greater than the best of yesteryear. They hear a voice from heaven, and [unlike the voice from heaven at Jesus’s baptism, which, in Mark, only speaks to Jesus (“You are my Son, whom I love” Mark 1:11)…] instead of a heavenly voice only Jesus hears, now the disciples hear God addressing them: “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7)
On his way to the cross, Jesus has taken his often-confused disciples up a mountain. And they are given this stunning revelation, an explicit statement about who Jesus is and how he is the full revelation of God. …Ever wonder who God is; what God’s up to? The voice from heaven says: look at Jesus, listen to him.
In our modern world, when the subject of God comes up, there’s usually someone who says, “God? God is the great unknown: unprovable, mysterious, vague and mystical. We can’t say anything for sure about God.” But today’s Gospel reading says, “Not true.” God is seen in the carpenter’s son from Nazareth who was miraculously, wonderfully transfigured before his gob smacked disciples, the one of whom the voice from heaven said, “This is my son. Listen to him.”
Scripture texts like this invite us to realize: God is determined to be known. God knows about our doubts. (Though I often think God is a lot like Calvin’s dad: pretty sure that Calvin’s doubts have more to do with not wanting to obey him than truly questioning his authority.) God knows about our doubts, but also knows we want truth and we want it in a form we can grasp. That’s why God has self-disclosed in a seemingly lowly Galilean carpenter and rabbi. God has taken comprehensible form so we can know God’s intentions, God’s nature, God’s mercy, and God’s love. By entering history as a Jewish peasant from Nazareth who lived briefly, died violently, and then somehow continued, God is refusing to stay comfortably in heaven and leave us alone. The historical analogy is: God is not like brilliant watchmaker who creates a complicated timepiece (the universe), then abandons it to move on to something else. God cherishes creation, stays with it, and (for some reason) especially cares about us!
I used to think human history was a constant progression upward; we’re pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, getting bigger and better in every way. Nowadays, I wonder if that isn’t kind of a myth. (Especially given how we keep finding ways to hurt each other and damage the environment…, in a word, how we keep finding ways to sin.) However, what I believe is NOT a myth is that Jesus is God’s decisive revelation.
God is seen in the one who loves us enough to die for us, who is powerful enough that death does not end his story, and who sends us out to help everyone hear the good news and keep the human-divine conversation going. Time and again we mess it up, but God keeps coming back to restart the conversation.
When Paul invites us to pray that God might “open a door for the word” (Col. 4:3), he’s acknowledging that the Word’s getting out depends on God’s initiative. God’s tried any number of ways to get the word out about who we are, where we’re going, and who God is. And Jesus – the Word Made Flesh – is the ultimate, most imaginative communique of all.
Among other things, this means that when we’re ready to get serious about faith, we don’t have to laboriously climb up to God; because, in Jesus, God has come down to us. All we have to do is to listen.
The Letter to the Hebrews opens with words we often read at Christmas: “Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways, but in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, whom God appointed heir of all things, and through whom God created all that is. He is a reflection of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:1–3).
In other words, Christ is a messenger who is the message. Hebrews doesn’t tell us what Jesus said; because as far as the author is concerned, his death and resur-rection says it all. More than being God’s spokesperson; Jesus is everything God is. As Jesus himself said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
Now, that’s not to disparage prophets, creation, or any personal encounters people have with the Holy. Jesus is the best revelation of God, but not the only one. In fact, God is so determined to self-reveal and engage in conversation, that God’s tried all kinds of things. Moses heard the voice of God coming from a burning bush. (Exodus 3) God speaks to a misbehaving prophet named Balaam by putting words in the mouth of Balaam’s donkey! (Numbers 22:21-39) The prophet Elijah may have expected God to speak through earthquake, wind or fire, but instead hears God after all those things in a “still, small voice.” And for you and me, the simple act of communion “Proclaims the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 1:26).
Christianity is a “revealed religion,” which means faith comes to us as God’s gift, rather than something we brilliantly work out. We have not only been encountered by God: we have seen God at work, heard God speak; and the name for that revealed presence, action and word is: Jesus Christ.
Now, out in the world, this week will be known for several things: ridiculous cold, for one. (Of course, we are Hoosier humans, not cats, so we can deal with it.) But we are also coming up on Valentine’s Day, beloved of florists, candy makers, and greeting card companies. Then, as now, we won’t be talking much about love. As I mentioned, next week the subject isn’t love, but Holy Humor (because, while we do believe in a suffering Christ, we also believe in a joyful one). And this week we’re looking at Jesus as God’s ultimate self-revelation.
But maybe this is a sermon about love, even so. Not in a Valentine’s Day syrupy kind of way, but we ARE talking about a God who loves, loves us enough to be revealed in one who died for us, and whose resurrection proves that death ends neither his story nor ours.
Yes, Valentine’s Day is a secular holiday, but even Christians – if their marriage has any mileage on it – know: guys, if we ignore it, and we can end up sleeping on the couch. Plus, for all the commercialization surrounding Valentine’s Day, there is a valid point at its heart. …It is not good to simply assume someone knows you love them: love has to be expressed in word and deed; it has to be shared, communicated. It can be done badly, but if you love somebody, you try.
Consider: why does an otherwise clueless middle-school boy send a valentine card to the girl of his dreams? Hormones, obviously, but even if his endocrine glands have him playing way outside his league, give the boy credit for knowing: it’s important to actually say, “I love you.” And give him more credit for the courage to not hide his feelings and to risk rejection.
My point (besides just having fun) is that what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration has something in common with Valentine’s Day. God’s love for us was declared, not through a sappy greeting card, but at great risk through a suf-fering, loving Son. God loves us too much to hide from us, ignore us, or leave us.
Yes, I’m aware: today is NOT Valentine’s Day, and – even when Valentine’s Day DOES arrive – it’s a commercial creation, not a church holiday. But this day – any day – is a good day to gather (even if electronically) and hear the words, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. Listen to him.” That’s God telling us how to KNOW how much we’re loved.
Amen. …Well, with that as prelude, let’s prepare for communion by singing a poem written back in 1840 by Disciples’ founder Barton Stone. He believed Jesus was not crucified to pay an angry God for our sins, but as a symbol of God’s love. To the tune of, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” we will sing Stone’s poem, “Behold the Love, the Grace of God.”
Now, may the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, enabling us to rejoice in – and share – the love we hear in the Word that is Jesus Christ.
Thank you yet again for worshiping with us. I now have a few housekeeping announcements about our church life.
- The elders will meet soon to decide if and when it’s safe to resume getting together for in-person worship, but at least for the rest of February, we’ll continue in this format.
- Our youth are going to meet today (meaning Sunday, February 7) at church or on Zoom at 3:00. You can call Kelli and me at 241 8491 to get in on that.
- FCC is hosting a blood drive this Wednesday, February 10th from 1:30 to 6:30. Call (800) 733-2767 to make an appointment if you can give.
- Leslie Maxwell is starting a Zoom study on intermittent fasting that starts this Wednesday at 7:00. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org to get in on it.
- Terry Pickering is recovering nicely from shoulder surgery, but she’ll still be out of the office for a few weeks. Cornelius Burks has asked for prayers for his uncle, and Joyce Starks would like us to be praying for her as she contends with health issues and an upcoming move.
- Finally, as I already mentioned, next week is “Holy Humor Sunday,” which gets us just under the wire for Lent, which our elders will kick off with a special Ash Wednesday service on this YouTube site. That service will be posted on Wednesday, February 17.
With that, blessings on you, and (one last time): thanks for being part of our First Christian worship family.