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Sunday Service, 14th February 2021

Led by Rev. Bob Gemmell

Welcome

Call to Worship

Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up a high mountain, where they were alone. As they looked on, a change came over Jesus and his clothes became shining white – whiter than anyone in the world could wash them.

Hymn 110 – Glory be to God the Father. Listen here.

Prayer

(Taken and adapted from Seasons and Celebrations, Prayers for Christian Worship compiled by Donald Hilton.)

Lord, in our act of worship this morning we bring OURSELVES, perhaps a little tired, a little anxious, a little preoccupied, expecting much, expecting little.

And we bring OUR THOUGHTS, some thankful and happy, some worried and anxious, some trivial, some deep.

And we bring OUR WORDS, the unexciting language of everyday, the difficult language of belief, the expressions of faith and fear, of doubt and hope.

All the ordinariness of our everyday lives we bring to this act of worship; that with Christ we might climb the mountain top to meet you our God and Father and find our human offerings transfigured by the glory of your divine love.

Lord, the disciples glimpsed something of your glory on the mountain top; the glory of God revealed to God’s people through the written word, through the spoken word, through Jesus Christ the living word.

Lord you offer us GLIMPSES OF YOUR GLORY; in the world you have made, through worship and prayer, through other people. But we confess, Lord, that, like those early disciples we do not know how to react.

We love the GLIMPSES OF YOUR GLORY. We long for spiritual highs, Epiphany moments. We would live with you on the mountain top of faith, for we do not know how to reflect your glory in our everyday life in the valley.

Lord, forgive us for rarely allowing you to transform our lives with the glory of your love.

Fill us with the light of your Spirit, so that in all our dealings with other people, in all that we think and do and say, your glory may be revealed.

Lord, hear the prayers of your people and continue in our midst as we take the words that Jesus taught his disciples and make them our own.

Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done in 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, the power and the glory for ever. Amen

Children’s talk by Mo Brand

I do like to share something from Kidz@Wardie during this time on a Sunday and it’s great that we meet before church so by the time we get here they’ve already told me lots of great ideas. This morning we talked about love as it’s Valentine’s Day, how we love people we miss and all the ways we know we are loved.

One of the things we mentioned was time; taking time to be with each other and taking time to do things for each other. Kidz@Wardie and Network have taken the time to make some Valentine’s art for outside the church. I’m aware the weather is not the best for taking a walk past to look so I thought I would share some of their work with you this morning!

Scripture readings

Exodus 34: 2735 (NIV)

27 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.

The Radiant Face of Moses

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

Mark 9: 213 (NIV)

The Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

11 And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

12 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? 13 But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.”

Reflection by Rev. Bob Gemmell: The transfiguration of Jesus

The transfiguration of Jesus is an event that is shrouded in mystery, so much so that we may honestly feel that it has little to say to us today; it has little with which we can identify. We may well find it easier to identify, for example, with the Lord in his call, or with his feelings of loneliness and desolation in the Garden, perhaps even identify with the carrying of his cross. But when it comes to the transfiguration, we may see it as something peculiar to our Lord alone, something far beyond anything that we could possibly experience, something beyond our understanding.

The transfiguration may indeed strain our faith or baffle our imagination. Maybe it’s not so much the shinning face or the glistening garments, it’s more the visitors from a world beyond, the voice speaking out of the cloud, events that leave unanswered questions in our minds. Were the disciples merely dreaming their dreams, experiencing some kind of vision, rather than sharing in an actual earthly incident?

Some of us may want to take all the mystery out of the situation and in doing so,  downgrade the transfiguration. Yet wasn’t this one of the most significant experiences in Christ’s life and in the lives of those chosen disciples, Peter, James and John? And can’t it be argued that it is also something that touches our own needs and hopes today?

This Sunday in the church calendar is the last Sunday in Epiphany, one when traditionally we turn our thoughts to the events on that mountain side before we enter the period of Lent. And in preparation for Lent we hope you will join us for our Ash Wednesday service later this week. It’s online and details of how you can join me and Ann Inglis live are in the Newsletter.

Let’s take a moment to put the event into its historical context and consider its background and setting.  It takes place after a period of spiritual retreat that Jesus had shared with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi, an event that marked the turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Gone, to some extent at least, were his days of public ministry, to be replaced with a trek south towards Jerusalem and to all that lay in wait for him there.

Sure, on the way, he would still take time out to meet the needs of those who called out to him; he would be able to spend time discussing matters with the crowds in and around the Temple; he would be able to spend those few quiet and very special days at Bethany and he would have the opportunity to gather his disciples around him in the privacy of the Upper Room.

Despite all of that, the one thing which was uppermost in his mind and burdened his heart was the cross, the cross which had suddenly risen on his horizon. “From this time forth, Jesus began to show his disciples how he must go to Jerusalem and suffer.”

The climb to the Mount of Transfiguration was one that took place after the period of soul searching and teaching at Caesarea Philippi. The Scriptures supply the briefest of description with minimal detail of what was discussed. What we do know is that Jesus had spoken about himself and his Church, about his death and the way ahead for his disciples. Those disclosures I imagine would have startled, perhaps even terrified the disciples. They in turn had tempted him to take another road.

Bearing that in mind, what subsequently happened on the mountainside must have been both a source of reassurance for our Lord and a defining moment in the experience of Peter, James and John.

We can’t fully grasp or understand all that happened on that momentous occasion, we can only bow in reverence as we attempt to make sense of the event. Mark tells us that Jesus’ garments became radiant and when the incident came to a close a cloud overshadowed them.

In Jewish thought the presence of God was often associated with a cloud. It was in such a setting that Moses met God and it was also the case when God came to the Tabernacle. A cloud had filled the Temple at the time of its dedication. And it was the dream of the Jewish nation that when the Messiah came the cloud of God’s presence would return to the Temple. So much for the setting and the background to the event.

What about its significance?

First of all, I believe it played an important and significant role in Jesus’ experience. Yes, he was God’s Son, but surely it would be denying his humanity if we didn’t accept the fact that he still had the freedom to make important and life-changing decisions. He had recently made such a decision, a significant one at that, to head towards Jerusalem and all that that entailed. On the mountain top, it could be said that he received double approval regarding that decision, first of all approval from Moses and Elijah, the great law giver and the first and arguably the greatest of the prophets.

And their message? “GO ON.” They saw in Jesus the consummation of all that they and the nation had dreamed of in the past, all that history had longed for and hoped for. Jesus was assured that he had made the right decision, that he had chosen the right, but nevertheless difficult, road to travel, a road that would lead, in the days ahead, to the cross. Yes, approval from Moses and Elijah. But he was also assured of approval from his Father. At the time of his baptism, his Father’s voice assured him of his Sonship and of his commission. Here on the mountain top that assurance is repeated with the additional message that in him the nation’s hope is about to be fulfilled.

On the mountain top Jesus was assured that he had chosen the right way and made the right decision, but it was a decision which would lead him inevitability to the cross. On the mountain top Jesus turned his back on his Father’s presence, from the gate of heaven, to go back down and continue to deal with the sin and pain and suffering of the world and to bear the penalty of death. Was there a greater hour in the life of Christ? For him, undoubtedly, an Epiphany moment. The glory of the mountain top fades and Christ returns, not just to the greyness of the day, but also to set his face steadfastly towards Jerusalem.

But the transfiguration surely had further significance. It was also a very precious experience in the lives of Peter, James and John.

I am sure that their hopes had been shattered by Jesus’ declaration at Caesarea Philippi. That declaration must have come to them almost as a complete denial of everything they understood about our Lord’s Messiahship. They must have felt shell-shocked, bewildered, puzzled, even let down. What they witnessed on that Mount of Transfiguration, however, must have given them new hope, something to cling on to, even if they didn’t fully understand the significance of it all at the time. Cross or no cross, they had heard God’s voice, a voice that acknowledged Jesus as his Son.

The timing and the significance of the event was for them, perfect. The word spoken at Caesarea Philippi presented the challenge of the cross. The presence and the glory of God’s majesty, there on the mountain top, would be their inspiration during the long and arduous days that lay ahead.

In a sense the transfiguration of Jesus is something beyond our experience and yet there is something present there with which we can identify.

We often speak about our mountain-top experiences referring to our own physical, emotional or spiritual experiences, our Epiphany moments. At a spiritual level, we are probably referring to those occasions in life when the majesty and the glory and the love of God have come home to us in a very special and personal way.

And it is good to be able to enjoy those intimate experiences; in fact, life would be dull and that bit emptier without them.  However, our desire, when those special occasions occur, is for them to go on, for the experience to become the normal in our lives. Like the disciples we become reluctant to leave the mountain side.

But leave it we must. Jesus and the disciples had to make their way back down – to the problem-ridden, pain-racked world, Christ from the very gate of heaven, the disciples from the glory of their out-of-this-world experience. They had to come back down; there were needs to be met and a cross to be borne.

The fresh and invigorating air of the Mount of Transfiguration provided special Epiphany moments for our Lord and his disciples, moments that would linger in their consciousness in the difficult days that lay ahead. Because those were indeed special moments for the disciples they wanted to erect memorials so that they and others could be reminded of the events. One lesson that they had to learn was that such Epiphany moments could and would be experienced in other ways and in completely other settings, that they would be repeated in valley situations just as they had been experienced on the mountain top.

Like Peter, James and John we too must realise that there is a descent to be made from our Epiphany moments, a descent to the reality of life in the valley. There is always another challenge to be met, a challenge that in itself might just provide us with another of those ‘special’ moments.

When they returned to the crowd a man came to Jesus and said: “Sir, have mercy on my son. He is an epileptic and has such terrible fits.”

I wonder what awaits us when we return to the harsh reality of the world from the glory of our mountain-top experience!

Intercessory Prayer by Karen Bowman

Thinking about today’s prayer and the start of Lent next week, I recalled the Lent Quiet Day last year, when people from four local congregations were gathered to pray and reflect in St. James’s Church, Goldenacre, led by the aptly named Epiphany group. One of the prayers was ‘A prayer for a pandemic’, part of which we will pray this morning.

…………..

Let us pray,

Loving God, You knew us before we were even born. You are the God of the present and the past and the future. Your power and grace are beyond us to truly understand, but we know that if we pray to You for others and ourselves, You will hear our prayer.

We pray for our congregation, at home but gathered together today, and we thank You for Bob, our locum minister, and all the team who make these services possible week by week. We pray for Ann, our interim moderator, Heather and Paul, our session clerks and the members of the Kirk Session meeting this week. We pray for Your guiding hand to our Nominating Committee helping to choose a new minister for Wardie Parish.

We pray for some specific people this week: Lynn Mackenzie, leading our virtual Lent retreats. Ben Liddall, who is running over 1,000 miles in 100 days for Motor Neurone Disease. Keep Ben safe and may he be encouraged and motivated, and may donors support the research into this deadly disease.

We pray for Harvey Macmillan’s children Rory, Penny and Michael and their families, who conducted his funeral service in the garden ‘under the pear tree’ last week, a place where many happy memories had been made; and we thank You for Margaret‘s music and for the few people who were allowed to be there, in the deep snow, and those joining online. We thank You, God, for Harvey’s life and his dedicated service to Your church, for his warm personality and his love for people. Jesus said ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ Let it be so for Harvey’s wider family and his many friends who miss him most.

In a moment’s silence we remember others we know in need of Your comfort and our prayer…

……

We pray for the wider world, under the dark clouds of this global pandemic, and the effects of climate change, suffering in poverty, or war and conflict, like in Myanmar and from the earthquake at Fukushima, Japan. We think of people in far-away Vanautu, in the Pacific Ocean, who prepared the World Day of Prayer, and whose islands are at risk from rising ocean levels. We pray for countries with little hope of vaccination soon, and where healthcare is basic or none:

May we who are merely inconvenienced,
Remember those whose lives or livelihoods are at stake.
May we who have to cancel our trips,
Remember those who have no place to go.
May we who have to settle in and stay at home,
Remember those who have no home at all.
As fear continues to grip some people, let us choose Love,
Where we cannot yet wrap our arms around each other,
Let us find ways to be the loving embrace of God
to our neighbours – near and far.                 Amen

Hymn 353 – Bright is the cloud and bright is the glory

Blessing

As you enter into the days of this week,
May you know that God goes before you.
Through the strength of his Spirit, share your faith with the uncertain;
share your love with the unlovely;
share your presence with the lonely;
and share God with everyone, just as God has shared himself with you.
And now may the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
rest and remain upon you and with all whom you love, now and always. Amen.