14th February 2021
The Rev’d William Young
Good Morning! I am William Young, formerly a URC minister, now Pastor of the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ in Washington, DC. I am blessed and privileged to share worship with my faith family in the United Reformed Church on this Valentine’s Day and the last Sunday of Epiphany, and I bring you American greetings from our denominational affiliations: the United Church of Christ, the American Baptist Churches of the USA, and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. I invite you now to magnify the Lord with me, let us exalt God’s name together!
Call To Worship
Come and see the grace of God,
Christ our teacher and our friend.
Come and see the son of God,
Christ our healer and salvation.
God is moving in this place.
Come and see! Come and see.
Hymn: Immortal Invisible
Walter C Smith (1867)
God only wise,
in light inaccessible
hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious,
the Ancient of Days,
thy great name we praise.
2 Unresting, unhasting,
and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting,
thou rulest in might;
thy justice like mountains high soaring above
thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.
3: To all life Thou givest,
to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest,
the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish
as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish,
but nought changeth Thee
3 Great Father of glory,
pure Father of light,
thine angels adore thee,
all veiling their sight;
all praise we would render;
O help us to see
’tis only the splendour
of light hideth thee!
Living and Loving God we give thanks for all that You are to us and all that You have done for us. O God, you are beyond words and description, your love is beyond knowledge and explanation. You mystify us and yet You come close to us. We reflect on the many ways we have experienced you Power, Your Love, Your Mercy in our lives.
Then sings our soul, our saviour God to Thee, how great Thou art!
Yet, we confess that, like Peter, we have wanted to stay. “It’s good for us to be here. Let’s get comfortable.” We are often tempted to keep the experience of the Divine to ourselves, to enjoy the company of the saints instead of going back down the mountain to continue the work of Your Kin-dom.
Forgive us when we are complacent and comfortable with keeping the riches of your love to ourselves. Keep calling us down from our mountains of comfort. Keep expecting more of us as your
disciples. Keep reminding us to listen to your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Listen Beloved: Whether we hear a voice from the heavens or a still small voice in our hearts, listen carefully for the love of God. Believe and accept God’s love and live in God’s freedom. Thanks be to God!
Prayer of Illumination
Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept Your Word. Tune our ears and defrost our hearts. Make us a people who will hear and live Your Word. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
St Mark 9:2-10 (Common English Bible)
Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified.
Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Human One had risen from the dead. So they kept it to themselves, wondering, “What’s this ‘rising from the dead’?”
Hymn: Praise to the Lord, the almighty, the King of creation
Joachim Neander (1650-1680)
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,
the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him,
for He is thy health and salvation!
Come ye who hear,
brothers and sisters draw near;
praise Him in glad adoration!
2: Praise to the Lord, who o’er all
things so wondrously reigneth,
shelters thee under his wings,
and so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen
all that is needful has been
granted in what he ordaineth
3: Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper
thy work and defend thee!
Surely his goodness and mercy
here daily attend thee;
what the Almighty can do,
He who with love doth befriend thee!
4: Praise to the Lord!
Oh, let all that
is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises
Let the Amen
Sound from His people again;
Gladly for aye we adore Him.
In the novel The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the protagonist, Hiram Walker, is a 19th century slave in a rundown plantation, with a peculiar gift, called “conduction”. Call it a superpower, an intuition. In Coates’ vibrant words, Conduction made the earth “fold like fabric”, and Hiram can use it to transport himself and other slaves across great distances. He can literally set others free with his gift. But in order to do it he must access the memories of his ancestors. He needs to remember his mother dancing.
Now, Hiram, can remember everything — faces, stories, facts — with photographic recall. His gift is exploited by the plantation owner who also happens to be his father. But he cannot remember his mother. And the novel is largely about Hiram’s struggle to live with his gift, and to remember what is too painful to recall.
Memory can be too painful to recall; People of African descent on both sides of the Atlantic have tried to magnify, remember and honour lives taken away by police and civilian brutality in order to gain justice. Sometimes it has seemed all for naught. However, if we learn to live with our memories they can transform our perspective. When we learn to be, as Toni Morrison said, “objects of history, not subjects within it”, we may be able to transform not only our perspective, but also the world.
Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind When he invited Peter, James, and John up a mountain that day. Since I first heard the story in Sunday School, I have often struggled to imagine what The Transfiguration looked like. A psychedelic scene, Jesus glowing but not burning up. The word itself in Greek is metamorpho. The word means to change the outside to match the inside. To change the outward so that it matches the inward reality.
Jesus is offering to three ‘knuckleheads’ a meaningful memory, not a place to stay. We see Moses, Elijah and Jesus: The Law, the Prophets, and Mercy (Jesus) in a conversation. We see Peter, James and John where their knees should be: falling in awe and joyful wonder. Then we see Peter, James, and John where their head should not be: dreams of grandeur. Enjoying the mountain view. Pensive about going back to civilisation. But the way of Jesus is not a pit stop, it is not an insular journey.
I wonder what Peter’s proposed temple would have looked like. If it would have been anything like Abraham’s actual tomb in modern-day Hebron, it most likely would not be adorned with flashing lights from God, but with Israeli soldiers on every corner and monitored by check-points all around. Jesus knew the danger in making monuments over making meaningful memory. Peter’s proposed monument of Transfiguration would have been, like sacred places have often become, symbols of injustice in the world rather than emblems of God’s mercy.
Peter’s suggestion reminds me of what a doctor was telling me of a growing problem in her profession. “Patients enter my consulting rooms armed with a file of Googled results. They sit down, and instead of telling me their symptoms, they proceed to tell me the diagnosis of their condition and what medication they want me to prescribe!”
I hear that’s a common problem. Instead of depending on the doctors for advice, they feel their research makes them qualified to tell the trained doctor what to do and how to do it!
But thank God for our best laid plans failing so that we can gain some perspective. Their best laid plans of “Let’s build three booths up here …” is cut short by The Voice that thunders, “This is my beloved Son, LISTEN TO HIM”
Now here is something the disciples, and the church they founded, is not good at. We are unable to really listen to Jesus. We let our anxieties get in the way. Could it be that our files of Googled answers deafen us to what Jesus is really saying to the church? The disciples want to build booths and Jesus says, “Get up, shut up, stop being afraid, let’s go!”
Esther de Waal has reflected on the experience of people who visit places that completely overwhelm them, like a cathedral or a historical site—they tend to gravitate toward the various plaques and placards which dot the walls. The placards which describe this stained glass window, or that work of art. She said that people gravitate towards those things as anchors, so that they don’t emotionally and spiritually become overwhelmed.
It’s kind of the way we treat certain types of music: so many people say they “hate” classical music or jazz. What they really mean is they don’t understand it. But we have our placards that allows a little meaning to shine through, albeit superficial—the occasional advert playing a tune and we hum it in our house. It’s a defence mechanism to get us through the experience.
The problem is, of course, that if you spend most of your time with the little square plaques or allowing the “Go Compare” advert to inform you on what opera is, you miss out on the opportunity to truly experience something—something that, if you let it, might end up blessing your life, changing your life. Go Compare just does not compare to the real experience!
The story of faith, the faith of Abraham, is a story of encounters, not certainties. Messy encounters. Grace-filled, sacred, and holy encounters. Certainties can become casualties in these encounters, our static beliefs and misinformed opinions perish when the universe calls for a pause. Too many of us have learned that lesson in the past year.
God is never static, God is always moving—on the mountain one moment…and the next moment God wants you to listen on the way back to civilisation.
The beauty of the transfiguration is that Jesus does not allow the mountain to tell his story. Jesus relies on his friends, disciples, us—to tell our metamorphosis story. Because you can argue about the validity of it if you like, but 30 years after this experience, the same Peter who was misty-eyed and stupefied on the mountain is an older fellow, still telling people of that extraordinary experience and he passes it on to the early church…and to us. In the beginning of Peter’s second epistle he reminisces:
“We weren’t making up stories…we witnessed his majesty with our own eyes. He received honour and glory from God the Father when a voice came to him from the magnificent glory, saying, “This is my dearly loved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. In addition, we have a most reliable prophetic word, and you would do well to pay attention to it, just as you would to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
(2 Peter 1:16-19 CEV)
But that day, they weren’t going down the mountain talking about the mountain, but about how Jesus was going to rise from death. Jesus didn’t want a temple built in his memory. Jesus does not seek to wait for a building program to complete. A tomb won’t be able to contain him. Jesus desires to dwell within us. We are the sacred place, and if the law, the prophets and mercy— if righteousness, hope and love are to live anywhere, it must be us. May it be so!
Hymn: Lord, the Light of Your Love Is Shining
Graham Kendrick © 1987 Make Way Music
Lord, the light of your love
In the midst of the darkness, shining;
Jesus, light of the world,
shine upon us;
Set us free by the truth
you now bring us,
Shine on me, shine on me.
Shine, Jesus, shine,
Fill this land with
the Father’s glory;
Blaze, Spirit, blaze,
Set our hearts on fire.
Flow, river, flow,
Flood the nations
with grace and mercy;
Send forth your word,
Lord, and let there be light!
2: As we gaze
on your kingly brightness
So our faces
display your likeness.
from glory to glory,
may our lives tell your story.
Shine on me, shine on me.
Affirmation of Faith
In Jesus of Nazareth, true humanity was realized once for all.
Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, lived among his own people and shared their needs, temptations, joys, and sorrows.
He expressed the love of God in word and deed
and became a brother to all kinds of sinful men and women.
But his complete obedience led him into conflict with his people.
His life and teaching judged their goodness,
religious aspirations, and national hopes.
Many rejected him and demanded his death. In giving himself freely for them, he took upon himself the judgment under which everyone stands convicted.
God raised him from the dead, vindicating him as Messiah and Lord.
The victim of sin became victor, and won the victory over sin and death for all.
Loving God, You call us down from the mountain of epiphany to notice the broken realities lived and experienced.
Hear our prayers, now, as we lift up all those who are overwhelmed in the valley. For all who are lonely, those whose relationships have been broken or who have never enjoyed the relationships they might have had; those who feel rejected by society and unsure of their worth; those feel hopelessly isolated; the homeless, the exiled, all who have no land to call home; those approaching death and grief.
Give to each one the knowledge that You are with us always, and we pray that You enrich their lives with companionship and friendship.
We lift up those who keep our world going even when plagues ravage our lands. From essential workers and medical staff, to neighbours who check up on us. We pray that lessons will be learned from this pandemic era that will provoke systemic change that will give healing and renewal to the lives of the most vulnerable and exploited, and our environment, for generations to come.
We lift up those who hold the power and wealth of nations upon their shoulders, particularly those who manage new routes for trade, security and services for people in the United Kingdom. We pray that sense, sensibility and righteousness will be the order of the day.
So much to pray for, so we pause to call out to You in silence the concerns of our own hearts…
In Your mercy, Lord, keep us living in hope and never again in fear. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
What shall we render to the Lord for all God’s benefits towards us? We shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon God’s name.
Creator, how we thank you for the capacity and the privilege of giving. We only ask that you accept us first, God, then our gifts, that they and we may be used for your honour and glory. Amen.
It was night… the meal of the Passover… It was an upper room in the city… Outside people were moving… pilgrims from other lands… travelling here for this feast… so we remember that this meal began among wanderers… refugees…
The disciples… themselves in no one’s own home… but in a strangers… themselves having been travellers for three years… and now in a country they didn’t recognise, so different it was from the Galilee… and Capernaum…
In the middle of this ark of memory is Jesus, himself a refugee, “Out of Egypt”, with no place to lay his head…
Here they gathered… refugees remembering refugees… and sharing a common… hurried meal…
The bread lay in his hands… and he tore it… and it broke into pieces… crumbs crashing to the ground in slow motion… bouncing like a shard of heaven…And he says to his friends:
“My body… broken for you all… eat of it all of you… in remembrance of me”…
And the bread was passed… broken… and continued its own migration round the table…
The cup was filled in Jesus hands… he held it up to the candle light… yet a greater light lay within in… and Jesus says to his friends:
“My blood… shed for you all… drink in this covenant… all of you… and remember me”…
And Paul said to the church in Corinth, “As often as you do this, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns.”
Let us pray:
Loving God, May this bread and This wine be more than they seem to be to us, yet still remain the crumbs of grain and the fermenting of grape.
And as we see those greater truths in these elements, may we recognise those same truths in the people close to us: more than they seem to be. And as we pass this bread and share this wine may we remember the cost of passing one life onto another.
May our communion be with a Saviour who is passed once more from one to another: May our great thanksgiving come in encountering The One who did nothing more holy than persist in being the traveller, the border crosser. The one who had no home no place to lay his head. Amen.
Music for Sharing
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Sweet Honey from the Rock.
Introduction to final hymn
Our final hymn is a gift from our congregation to you, wherever you are. In the United States, the month of February is Black History Month, and African American churches (with a growing number of traditionally White American congregations in solidarity) traditionally sing the hymn that is known as our “alternative” National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing. It was written by James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamund Johnson over a century ago. It is about shared memory and shared responsibility—to God and to each other. It is sung for us now by the Director of Music at Covenant Baptist UCC, Mr. Aaron Myers.
Hymn: Lift every Voice and Sing
James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamund Johnson
Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
‘Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God, True to our native land.
We leave you with this benediction, the final words of the late John Lewis:
“Keep walking with the wind and may the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be our guide.”
And may God our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sustainer be with us and in us, today and always. Amen!
Sources and thanks
Call To Worship
Affirmation of Faith
Prayers of Approach “The Indescribable Radiance of Love”, Service Prayers for Transfiguration Sunday, was written by the Rev. Dr. David Bahr, pastor of Park Hill Congregational United Church of Christ in Denver, Colorado.
Communion Adapted from a liturgy by Rev Roddy McDowell,
New Kilpatrick Parish Church, Glasgow
Immortal Invisible – Walter C Smith (1867). Taken from BBC’s Songs of Praise.
Praise to the Lord, the almighty, the King of creation – Joachim Neander (1650-1680). Taken from the BBC’s coverage of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee service.
Lord, the Light of Your Love Is Shining – Graham Kendrick © 1987 Make Way Music. Taken from BBC’s Songs of Praise.
Lift every Voice and Sing. James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamund Johnson sung by Aaron Myers
Fugue in G Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Procession by Arthur Wills (organ of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Venice, Italy – 2014)
Both pieces played by, and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
Thanks to Steve Summers, Graham Handscomb, Andy Braunston, Sue Creswell and Elizabeth Gray-King for reading various spoken parts of the service.
Thanks to Alison Jiggins, Marion Thomas, Christopher Whitehead, Christine and David Shimmin, Kath Haynes, Ray Fraser, Phil, Carys and Lythan Nevard for the Call to Worship and Affirmation of Faith.