Transfiguration 2021

A transcript for worship for this Sunday, where I play with form and structure of our usual order of worship.

Branches silhouetted agains the late afternoon sky. In uploading it, I also noticed a rainbow lens flare.
Branches silhouetted against the late afternoon sky

“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. 

And, 

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. 

Pastoral Prayer: 

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.

Benediction:

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.

Amen, Go in peace. 

Waiting

Happy Little Christmas Eve. (The day before Christmas Eve. A Little Eve.)

Today and tomorrow are my favorite days of the year. Especially Christmas Eve. We gather together to worship with Communion and then we light candles in a darkened sanctuary. As we fill the space with light we also fill it with song, singing Silent Night, written especially for this special night. And the whole world takes a deep breath and pauses in waiting and expectation for what is to come next. My favorite part is the expectation. I could do without the presents or the hullabaloo or the movies or the Christmas specials as long as I have that time of worship the night before Christmas, where we gather in silence and hope.

It is one of my favorite times of the year.

One year, I had a slightly different experience of worship than normal.

I was visiting my sister, who was teaching in France at the time. We went to Paris for Christmas. Cold, yes, but beautiful. For Christmas Eve, we went to a ballet at the national opera house, and then we went to go to midnight Mass for Christmas Eve. We were in Paris. Where better to go than the Notre Dame Cathedral. We had to stand in line outside for a long while in the cold, and once we got in, there weren’t really seats available, so we stood for most of the service. But this service. Yes, most of the service was in French, and I don’t know much French, though my sister is fluent. But then they began to sing.

Il Est Né, Le Divin Enfant, one of my favorite French carols, filled the cathedral. Heavenly voices floated around us and drove deep into our souls. Other hymns were sung. Scriptures were read. And then they sang Silent Night.

We didn’t have candles in our hands. We were not going to be taking Communion that night at the Catholic church. My feet were aching and cold.

But none of that mattered. We were worshipping with over a thousand other people, singing or humming along with a carol that has travelled the world. We were singing in expectation and hope. We were ready to welcome the Christ Child once again.

Swinging

I love swings.

I love the free abandon of swings.

To swing, you can get a push here and there, you can have people help you along, as you begin and gain momentum, but at a certain point, there is only so much someone can push you, there is only so high you can go with a helpful hand at your back, and at that point, to go higher, you must take your own initiative, and push yourself.

Alternating your body in a sideways S in back fall, and a lengthened L in forward motion, you have to pump back and forth to be able to rise higher. But as you propel yourself through shifting your weight back and forth on the swing, you reach a higher point at each apex, until your eyes are beyond the level of the structure from which the swing hangs.

It becomes much more than a seat suspended on a rope or a chain. It is a way to glide, to test what it would feel like to fly, to feel temporary moments of utter weightlessness alternated with extra force on every limb, down to your core. The swing is a way to escape, for a moment, the normal way the world works, and feel the rise and fall of your new being, carried by the dynamic of back and forth, back and forth.

I remember having to wait in line for the swings, to take turns to be able to swing on them. It always seemed that the amount of time I was in the air was minuscule in relation to how long I saw others take their turns. I don’t think that whoever was mediating was being unfair, I believe that time on the swings changes. I think that time is different when you are going back and forth on the swings, time is different as you go from weightless to heavy and back. When we swing, we are different people. It sounds silly, of course, but many things that we do change us, and when we play we are especially changed.

When we play, we can take on other ideas, we can become other people, we can discover new things about the world and about ourselves. We grow, as we play.

I still love to play on the swings. I don’t do it as often as I could, the church where I serve has a set, and they are well sunk in the ground, so I can swing as high as I want without worrying about tipping out or over. And every so often, I do go out, taking my seat, beginning to push myself back and forth, back and forth, creating an ever widening arc, playing with the joy of a child as the cumulation of my years float away on the wind.

And I swing.

Finding Inspiration

When I am looking for a new idea or a new way to describe an old idea, I need to go away from where all the bustle is, and I need to go to find a bit of peace.

When I am struggling with feeling dry and complacent, I need to go somewhere to clear my head. Generally I can go for a walk close to my house, or if I need to I can go take a shower, something that gets my body moving and helps to work ideas to the surface. Or, if I need to, I go to practice centering prayer, where I lie still and allow my mind to open, relax, and release into the presence of God.

Sometimes I am not searching for inspiration as much as it is placed on me. When I go to the top of the mountain, or to the shore of the ocean, or even to the edge of the local creek, I am inspired by what I see, hear, and feel. I become fully present.

It seems that the common thread in all of these places and situations of inspiration is the ability to become fully present in those places and in my own body. When I am at the edge of the ocean, I can taste the salt in the air, feel the sand under my feet, hear the waves crash against the shore, and see the water continue its endless and never replicating cycle of movement. I have no choice but to sense the place of where I am, and so stand more solidly in myself, rather than have my mind flit between a hundred different places and a thousand different thoughts.

It helps if I don’t have my phone on, tethering me to everyone who has my number. Sometimes I need to get away, and be where I am, rather than wondering or worrying about this friend or that family member. I need space to remember who I am, in my own skin. When I do that, I can more ably respond to others with grace and kindness.

When I know who I am, I am better at being who I am.

I guess, in a way, that I find inspiration in places that allow me to be myself at my fullest potential. When I am not able to be myself, I end up rehashing old ideas and lack the creativity that lies silent and deep in my core. I can grow crusty with old things, but when I crack the shell of routine I am able to do more than I could ever do before.

When I go to find inspiration, I find more than that. I find joy.

Storm Shelters

A storm blew through our community last night just after sundown. The sun was setting in the west, and the storm was blustering in from the north and the east. It made for a pretty sky, but it also made the darkened storm clouds approach with a deeper darkness than we would have had otherwise. I love the way that storm clouds rush in over a landscape, and so I went to a neighbor’s yard to get some photographs with my phone. As I was taking the pictures, I looked back toward my house, and noticed that the storm had blown even closer, sinking us deeper into the dark. The wind was picking up as well, bending trees and whipping my hair around my face. Lightning flashed. It was time to get inside.

The Storm Appoaches
Storm Rolling In

I get nervous when a storm approaches. I can feel the storm approach deep in my bones. I get antsy. If you try to have a serious conversation with me when a storm approaches expect unthoughtful, one word responses. Lightning and thunder make me startle and jump, and the rush of a heavy rain with possible hail makes me check the storm reports and the colour of the sky, just in case of tornadoes.

I also love storms. I love their power, I love their force, I love the way that they renew the earth with fresh water. I just need a little more comfort when they blow through.

I’ve gone through some storms recently in my personal life, when I really needed extra comfort. Watching the storm clouds brewing in abstract doesn’t give me nearly the same kind of joyful awe as seeing the ones that blew over us last night. Life storms—whether they are upheaval, heartbreak, or loss (sometimes all three at once)—tend to solely fill me with dread and utterly sap my energy. The comfort I sought, through my support system and reliance on God, didn’t shelter and protect me the same way that the roof over my head covered me last night. It is as if I am stuck in a picnic shelter in the midst of a huge rainstorm, and the wind is blowing nearly horizontal sometimes. I still felt the creeping cold of loss deep into my bones.

Perhaps I need to learn to build better storm shelters, dig myself a shelter deep in the ground somewhere, go hide until the storm blows over. But if the shelter is deep and secure enough, then I may not know when the storm has gone. I may hide in my shelter and never realize that the skies are blue again.

There is another problem with a shelter dug too deep. I am the only one inside it. Sure, folks can come and provide me with some essentials now and later, but a shelter that protects me from every single little thing has only space for me inside it. Not only is it lonely, it is also selfish. With a deep personal hiding hole, I don’t provide shelter or provision for others. I cannot help others with their storms and crises when I am sunk deep into the earth myself. Part of the way that I heal is by providing shelter for others. I can’t do that deep within my own insulating shelter.

And so I keep myself from digging a cellar in the ground, a metaphorical storm shelter that will insulate me from every single drop of hurt and brokenness. Instead, I expose myself to the storms, feeling the pain and hurt of those around me, looking for the way that each new storm will provide the space for new healing and renewing power. Because storms have power. They have the power to destroy, but they also carry energy to wash away the debris and detritus that have built up in our lives. Yes, destruction will occur. Objects, emotions, and relationships will be torn away. But what remains is space for renewal and rebuilding. The cold will seep deep into my core, but sooner or later the skies will clear and allow warmth and healing to begin.

The storm is not the end of the story. The storm does not speak the final word. The storm is a powerful, magnificent, awesome (in every sense of the word) force of nature. But the one who created nature is bigger, and has a bigger story to tell. And so I celebrate the storm. I know there is a sun shining right behind it.

Inbreaking
Inbreaking Light