It’s two months until I learn where I will be serving in ministry next, and two more after that until I will be taking my appointment and joining my new community, but tonight I will be starting a new loaf of bread again.
And as I work the yeast and water into the flour and salt, I’m thinking about how we will continue to trust in the invisible gentle work of God.
When I wash the traces of gritty, sticky flour from my hands after drawing the ingredients together, I must walk away and let the dough sit, overnight, resting, as the yeast gets to work and doubles and triples the batch in size.
I’m practicing, see, practicing for my new church. They’re already working together, waiting for me, even though neither they nor I know who we are yet. There’s a deeper truth here, too, we’re still all becoming more of what God is calling us to be.
It won’t be perfect, when we come together. We’ll still be in some portions of covid protocols, and I don’t know when the first time I will celebrate communion with them will be, and it’s coming on a year now since I last joined in a communion table, with a body of worship, with a people gathered to share and be the Body of Christ.
But I’m practicing this bread as a gift, to share, if they will accept it, as long as their tradition may allow it, since I have been at churches where a family already made the loaves that were used to celebrate. But I’m working on this loaf, still, for our family, and for the congregation where I will worship next in person.
As I fold the water into the flour tonight, I pray for the people who may not yet know that their pastor will be moving. As I let the yeast proof in water the temperature of blood tonight I pray for the people who have lost family and friends in the past year. As I sift the salt into the flour tonight, I pray that the energy I bring will draw flavor to the entire gathered body.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. it is the source of all true art and science, she to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause in wonder and stand wrapt in awe, is as good as dead”–Einstein filtered through Arthur C. Clark.
Greetings, welcome to worship with Shiloh United Methods Church in Granite Quarry, North Carolina. My Name is Reverend Kathy Randall Bryant, and I am honored to be filling in for my husband, John, today, February 14, 2021. I hope you receive the love of God from cherished friends and family both near and far this Valentine’s Day.
It is good to be in worship with you today, wherever you find yourself. I grew up singing the children’s song where we sang how the church is not the building, the church is the people, and I am glad to be part of you, with you the church, even as we are apart.
Hymn: Holy Holy Holy UMH 64
1 Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed trinity!
From Psalm 50:
From the rising of the sun to where it sets,
God, the Lord God, speaks,
calling out to the earth.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines brightly.
Our God is coming;
[God] won’t keep quiet.
A devouring fire is before [God];
a storm rages all around [God].
2 Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.
God calls out to the skies above
and to the earth in order to judge [their] people:
“Bring my faithful to me,
those who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
The skies proclaim [God’s] righteousness
because God[, God] is the judge. —Psalm 50:1-6 (CEB)
3 Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinfulness thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.
Almighty God, as you travel with us from the rising of the sun to it’s setting, shine your glory on us, that we may be faithful witnesses of your love. Amen.
4 Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed trinity!
Mark 9:2-9 (NRSV)
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
This is the word of God for all people, Thanks be to God.
Christ shines with creation’s light. but why? at this point in his ministry, and with only these three disciples? I wonder what would it have meant if Jesus shone with this glorious light on the cross?
The symmetry is there, Jesus, on a mountain, with two men, one on either side…
And then there’s the symmetry of the voice from heaven, where the voice exclaims: this is my son, the beloved! The same words that were spoken over Jesus when John baptized him in the Jordan river.
So we have ourselves here at a fulcrum of time, with the baptism at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, here, we have the transfiguration, this transformation of Christ as he shines with creation’s light, and then we will be moving towards the crucifixion. And so, where are we going from here, and why do we pause here, to see this glory, and hear peter be so terrified but still taking action to create meaning out of glory.
Hymn: Hail to the Lord’s Anointed UMH 203
1. Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,
great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed,
his reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression,
to set the captive free;
to take away transgression,
and rule in equity.
Peter wants to make a tabernacle, a place of worship like the old tabernacle where the presence of God sat, because he can see something wondrous happening but he cannot interpret it. Glory, though, looks like glory, and that is what he knows of how to manage glory: by setting a marker, a memorial, and a covering so that it does not shine too brightly. Or not manage, exactly, perhaps simply properly respond to it, to honor the glory that is shining from Christ.
And peter is awestruck. He is caught in the glory of the moment and in this glory of Christ shining creation’s light, we join him in wonder and awe and even, yes, in terror.
Because this light reveals us for what and who we are. This light shines into our deepest parts, to the hiddenness in shadow and shade, the things we hide from others, the wrongs we participate in without asking questions, the things we are willfully ignorant about.
Let’s not throw peter under the bus here. He also knows that this glorious light is holy. And he knows that holiness sits in the seat of honor. And so he’s caught in knowing that holiness sits in the tabernacle. The proper place for glory is in the tabernacle. I know that the translation I read said dwellings, and that’s not what I had remembered, I grew up reading a translation that said tents, which isn’t big enough. Peter means a tabernacle. A space where the worship of the creator happens, where the holy of holies is held precious and contained.
And I just…. Jesus does’t do rules like this. Jesus is always, every time, inviting a wider understanding of goodness in his gospel messages.
2. He comes with succor speedy
to those who suffer wrong;
to help the poor and needy,
and bid the weak be strong;
to give them songs for sighing,
their darkness turn to light,
whose souls, condemned and dying,
are precious in his sight.
On the moment of his death, The temple curtain is torn in two from top to bottom, revealing the holy of holies to the people gathered in the temple, on the sabbath of passover. I wonder if this is a preview of that moment.
And after Christ rises from the dead, this moment of the disciples encounter with his glory is shared. And so the story comes to a full circle, that the glory of creation’s light shone from Christ, and the voice of God spoke again, “this is my son, the beloved, listen to him!”
And creation’s light shines. The glory of God’s wonder and beauty.
Uncertainty happens when changes happen. And our desire is to set markers. And to lay a foundation in our place so that we can make sense of it.
Because it is so hard to sit in the space of the unknown. But our call and challenge is to revel in this unknown space. That’s the grace of this moment, that we do not have to understand it.
We don’t have to get it perfect.
3. He shall come down like showers
upon the fruitful earth;
love, joy, and hope, like flowers,
spring in his path to birth.
Before him on the mountains,
shall peace, the herald, go,
and righteousness, in fountains,
from hill to valley flow.
I recently read a prayer by Cole Arthur Riley that opened grace into this idea of being perfect in God. She writes:
Help us to reject the mirages of perfection, remembering that when Christ says be “perfect” it does not mean without flaw or error, rather whole and complete with a God who is whole.” -Black Liturgies January 16, 2021 COLE ARTHUR RILEY
And what an invitation this is, to be invited into Christ’s wholeness. What if that was what we were seeking in this passage, an invitation to awe and reflected glory.
What if we could say: If I want to be recognized, it is for how I reflect the glory of God in all I do.
I want to be a person who learns. I want to help others live in harmony. I want to be able to reflect at the end of the day and see how there was less of me and more of God.
Because I want to live fully in my body, and feel all the parts of me that are whole, and all the parts of me that are holy and I want to know, like truly know, that the light of creation was part of my actions.
Because I want to be part a community that is learning together and finding ways to create systems, patterns, and spaces around us that allow our members to thrive.
Wouldn’t that be glorious?
As in, that would be something that reflects the love of God and God’s hope for creation, that wonder and awe and love are held and shared and reflected in a fractal pattern that always manages to catch a new glint of the wonder of creation in the light that shines and pierces every shadow.
That’s my kind of glory. The kind that brings more life to everything it touches. That sees each person for who they are, how they belong to the whole and how they are also specifically needed for their own way that they participate in the midst of the being.
Unity is not erasure. Focus on God isn’t done one way. There is no one right set of words to say or songs to sing or times to gather or clothes to wear or hair to style or emotions to share.
Our coming together is not a uniform act. Its an invitation. An act of wonder and awe.
And that’s what this moment on this mountain top is.
And invitation to a day brightly dawning.
Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman put it this way:
When day comes,
we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light.
If only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
—The Hill We Climb, by Amanda Gorman
Let us be brave enough to reflect the shining glory of Christ.
4. To him shall prayer unceasing
and daily vows ascend;
his kingdom still increasing,
a kingdom without end.
The tide of time shall never
his covenant remove;
his name shall stand forever;
that name to us is love.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glorious God, shine your light into us. Reveal all that is within us that keeps us from you and your will and your people. Create in us a welcome space for your creative light to shine, so that we may be beacons of hope and joy to those we encounter, even briefly, as we go through our days. Show us ways to create ease for others, because our lives are closely linked with all those around us, and we are always learning about ways we are more connected than we think.
Guide us in your righteousness, that we may do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you in all that we do and say. In your faithfulness, lead us to more faithfully living out the call you have for us in our communities, that we may create spaces for thriving love.
All power and glory and honor are yours, beloved Christ, whom we hear and listen to, especially as we pray as Christ taught us, 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 trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
May the grace of the lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
and the glorious power of the holy sprit go with you.
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.
The storm breaks over us and washes us downstream. We drift in and out of consciousness, held up by the debris around us, until we make our unsteady way to a new shore. Abraded by the harsh flow of the water and everything in it with us, we are sore and weary, wary of injury and unknown or unidentified cuts and bruises.
The stars come out, granting just enough light to create layers in the shadows, and we stumble our way further onto uneven ground, up the roots of the bank, and hope for a level path or a break in the tree line.
Our clothes dry slower than our skin, faster than our hair, weak parts in our clothing give way, and new patches become necessary. But where we will find the fabric for the patch runs to the edge of consciousness while we keep looking for a way into higher ground, in case the flood rises above the crest of this hill.
Deep breaths now, feel the rush of blood through your heart, your ears, your fingertips. Feel the flow of the thickness that carries your life through your body, that keeps you breathing and moving.
You are alive. You are alive. You are alive.
Your heart beats the message of your being in your chest.
Exist. Exist. Exist.
Flow with your blood now, feel the forceful tug of the patterns that have kept you up to this point.
I don’t know what the future will bring. But I do know that my heart is beating. I know the water falls and washes.
And I know that God spoke existence into the world over the face of the deep.
Day cannot exist without the night, light was birthed out of darkness, and we are seeing over and over how we are called into our beautiful selves by the voice that called all of creation into being.
I listen for the whisper of being in the darkness. The light shines, even the stars layer depth into the night sky. Like the moon reflecting the light of the sun, let us reflect the light of holiness into the world, so that nothing is left unturned, unexamined, unrevealed.
Let us see it, all of it, how it is. And wash us. And let us flow.
You don’t have to sing it right/who could call you wrong?/You put your emptiness to melody, your awful heart to song/you don’t have to sing it nice/but honey sing it strong/at best you find a little remedy/at worst the world will sing along/so sing.
—To Noise Making, Hozier
Oh. There is so much. The unveiling continues. The cracks are showing in the foundations. The brokenness built into this country is echoing it’s purpose loud and clear.
And I? Broken and brave. Refusing to be silent in yet another atrocity in a line of atrocities cast by the very system itself.
You know, democrats now have control of the house, senate, and as of January 21, the presidency. You know that right? That was yesterday morning’s news. Is that why they mobbed? Because they do not know how to exist and lose?
Lord, white supremacy doesn’t know how to exist and lose. So let it not. Dismantle it. My hope from this is that this is yet another breaking in the foundation of white supremacy. A shattering.
When a coup is instigated by the outgoing president, and an insurrection happens with a mob of angry white people, who storm the U.S. Capitol building and take it by force, and the police manage to not use deadly force as the very Capitol is occupied… this is who we are. This has been building since the foundation of the nation. For four hundred and two years since the first enslaved African survived the middle passage to be claimed as property by my ancestors who had no right to do so.
We are not surprised. Appalled, yes. Angered, yes. Even furious. But I am not surprised. This is just another example of how terrible we are. Our sin. Our recklessness with human lives.
How interesting, as well, that it took place on Epiphany: that this revealing took place when the church calendar marks the time when a political occupying force was so afraid of losing power that a generation of children were murdered. Shine light on this, then. Let’s reveal it for the brokenness it is. And for the way that our systems of power laid the groundwork for it. In clear daylight. Let’s see it. Look.
The unveiling is happening. O God, open their eyes. Can the people who have been so blinded to how they have been manipulated see that someone is trying to pull their attention away from the truth? And those things I have chosen not to see, the things I have turned away from, turn me to action, in the midst, to healing from the root.
I could not have written my reflection without the influence of the Black women and activists from whom I have learned so much in the last few years, namely adrienne marie brown, Prentis Hemphill, Morgan Harper Nichols, and Austin Channing Brown. I’m still learning.
Christmas isn’t over yet. We will be reading these each night as a family. All scripture from CEB, all prayers original and by me.
December 25: Christmas Day (1)
In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.
Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told. (CEB)
Christ, Jesus, be born in us today. Fill us with wonder and glory. Show us in our fear that we can still be amazed at your Good News. Amen.
December 26 (Christmas 2)
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
The Word was with God in the beginning.
Everything came into being through the Word,
and without the Word
nothing came into being. (CEB)
Creating Word, pull us into being in you, so that we can fully exist. Amen.
December 27 (Christmas 3)
What came into being
through the Word was life,
and the life was the light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. (CEB)
Living Word, shine your light on us so we can see your love. Amen.
December 28 (Christmas 4)
The Word became flesh
and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
glory like that of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth. (CEB)
Human Word, live among us so that we can see your truth. Amen.
December 29 (Christmas 5)
“Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
because my eyes have seen your salvation.
You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory for your people Israel.” (CEB)
Saving God, give us rest, we are so tired. We need your help. Amen.
December 30 (Christmas 6)
I’m going to bring them back from the north;
I will gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the disabled,
expectant mothers and those in labor;
a great throng will return here. (CEB)
Gathering God, we are so far apart. We long to be together. Be present with us while we wait to gather in your presence. Amen.
December 31 (Christmas 7)
With tears of joy they will come;
while they pray, I will bring them back.
I will lead them by quiet streams
and on smooth paths so they don’t stumble. (CEB)
Guiding God, let us know that our feelings are valuable, and that you honor our tears as we wait for you to bring us together. Amen.
January 1 (Christmas 8)
God said, “Truly, they are my people,
children who won’t do what is wrong.”
God became their savior.
During all their distress, God also was distressed,
so a messenger who served him saved them.
In love and mercy God redeemed them,
lifting and carrying them throughout earlier times. (CEB)
God of old and new, be with us in hard times. Carry us, make us yours. Amen.
January 2 (Christmas 9)
When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I have called my son out of Egypt. (CEB)
God of refuge, be with refugees who flee for their lives. Move us to prepare safe places for them as you prepared for Jesus’ family when he was a child. Amen.
January 3 (Christmas 10)
A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and much grieving.
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she did not want to be comforted,
because they were no more. (CEB)
God of sadness, grieve with us when we learn of unjust death. Help us change the world so that mothers no longer lose their children from violence, unnecessary disease, and hunger. Amen.
January 4 (Christmas 11)
After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. “Get up,” the angel said, “and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel. Those who were trying to kill the child are dead.” Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. (CEB)
God of protection, bring us home to you, make us a home wherever we are. Amen.
January 5 (Christmas 12)
Arise! Shine! Your light has come;
the Lord’s glory has shone upon you.
Though darkness covers the earth
and gloom the nations,
the Lord will shine upon you;
God’s glory will appear over you.
Nations will come to your light
and kings to your dawning radiance. (CEB)
God of Christmas, with your birth your dawn approaches, shine your light through us. Amen.
January 6 Epiphany
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route. (CEB)
King Jesus, reveal our lies and false words, so that in truth and honesty we honor you. Amen.