RevGalBlogPals

Revised Common Lectionary: Shine, Jesus, Shine!

This final Sunday before Lent begins brings us the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration every year. The struggle is to find something relevant to preach this year that doesn’t repeat what was said last year. The good news is that this is one of those stories that shows up in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so at least there’s a slightly different version each year!

sunset-2045247_1280God’s voice from the clouds in the Transfiguration echoes God’s approval of Jesus at his baptism. How are the two stories related or connected? This would be a particularly interesting angle to explore if you happen to have a baptism scheduled for this weekend. The 2 Peter reading provides one early interpretation of the Transfiguration for a Christian community. How can you interpret it for yours today?

One typical interpretation of the Transfiguration is the “mountaintop” experience in which someone is changed, and then finds a way to translate that transformation into their daily lives down the mountain. The “mountaintop” could be literal (we used this story when I worked at church camp in the mountains) or figurative – feeling an emotional high from worship or an awesome church event or conference or vacation. What kind of mountaintops have your people visited lately? How do you take that experience and apply it to your daily life? In this interpretation, the disciples become role models, so you might consider doing a little research into the ministry of Peter, James and John after the Resurrection.

A totally different angle would be to go with the Exodus text. While one can understand why the RCL puts the two stories together – God meets the prophet on the mountaintop – the actual content of the stories is quite different. Moses goes to the mountain with Joshua, but appears to experience God’s presence on his own. He receives the law, and remains on the mountain for 40 days. Jesus takes three companions to the mountaintop, he is given a vision and a blessing, and he refuses to stay longer than it takes for the vision to be complete. Looking at the “mountaintop” experience from the perspective of Moses gives a different angle, especially when one remembers that he came down the mountain to the golden calf fiasco.

This week there are two Psalm options (2 or 99) and both relate well to the other readings. You could take the opportunity to preach on the Psalm this week, since it would almost certainly be a new way of approaching the story for your congregation. You could even use a line from the Psalm as a refrain in the sermon, with a congregational response, making it more interactive.

A few practical thoughts or considerations for this weekend…

  • You might consider defining the word “transfiguration” since it’s not one that is generally used outside of church.
  • This is one of those places where “dazzling white” is equated with divine goodness. Why does white mean good (implying that dark means bad)? What are the racial implications of this interpretation?
  • If your congregation hides or buries the Alleluia during Lent, remember that this is the last Sunday you’ll be seeing it for a while! Often this ritual is relegated to a children’s activity. Could this be a topic for your “regular” sermon?
  • The Transfiguration bears similarities to the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. Maybe you could look forward from this last Sunday before Lent to the celebration of Easter.

Please share your sermon ideas, questions, and reflections below. Blessings in your writing and your worship preparation this week!


Katya Ouchakof is an ELCA pastor in Madison, WI, occasional blogger at Provocative Proclamations, and a contributor to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit. She is counting down the days until the next Star Wars movie comes out – 296 as of this posting!


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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Narrative Lectionary: Glory, then Guts (Luke 9:28-45)

Like eating a big pile of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, we gorge on glory before we enter the somber season of Lent.  The Transfiguration story fills us up with mystery before the Lent’s fare of sacrifice and approaching death.

Read the text here.

Read the Working Preacher commentary here.

Death and glory mingle together in this story, as Jesus moves toward the end of his life.  “About eight days after these sayings,” our story begins, making us wonder…what sayings.  Before this, Jesus has announced that his death is coming, and that following him involves more sacrifice than anyone really wants.  Then he says, “But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”  The glory at the top of the mountain foretells the glory to come, but I have to wonder if the disciples thought they were dying right then and there, on the mountain.  Looking at the glory of God embodied in Jesus, they do get a taste of death, as promised.

They’re surrounded by the cloud of God’s presence, and it overshadows them.  When the angel announces to Mary that she will have a child, the angel uses the same word — the power of God will overshadow her.  The word overshadow shows up only four times in the Christians scriptures, and two of the four are in Luke (plus another in Acts.)  Each time, there is a sense of power being transferred.  The three disciples are being prepared for the sacrifice and death ahead, but they are also being covered by the power of God.

The deep mystery of God’s presence is always fleeting, giving way to the concerns of ordinary life.  Just a day after they hear God’s voice, Jesus and the three disciples hear another voice, this time a desperate father, begging for help.  With Jesus away, the other disciples haven’t been able to heal the man’s son.  The unclean spirit within him has triumphed.   Jesus has a strong rebuke before he heals the boy, and we can’t tell if he’s talking to the father, the disciples or the whole crowd gathered around.   He announces his coming betrayal again, but the disciples don’t understand.  Perhaps they’re still stinging from being called  a “faithless and perverse generation,” and they’re afraid to ask Jesus what he means.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all preserve this Transfiguration story, with the healing story following it, but only Luke has the detail about James, John and Peter being sleepy.  Their fatigue here evokes their sleepiness with Jesus in the garden at the end of his life.  Here they manage to stay awake and see Jesus in his glory, but there in the garden they fall asleep and leave him alone in his distress.  On both occasions, Jesus sets out to pray, and from that intention, dramatic things happen.

Just like our own lives, the Transfiguration story holds a mixture of mystery, grandeur and sleepiness, followed by human need and our inability to meet it fully.  At the edge of Lent, Jesus calls us to wakefulness and prayer, and we follow him into a way of sacrifice, looking for glimpses of transcendence along the way.

Sermon possibilities:

  • As Jesus prays on the mountain, some of the disciples are left behind. The drama below starts as they fail in their efforts to heal the boy.  Jesus says later that their failure is related to prayer – this kind of work can only be done through prayer.  The sermon might look at the connection between prayer and the work we hope to do in God’s name.
  • The sermon might explore the theme of being sleepy or awake. To which parts of God are we asleep?  Where are we awake to what God is doing?   Is God waking us up, or do we need to wake ourselves up?
  • In a season of deep personal distress, Pastor and public theologian Jennifer Bailey recalls that the pain was so great that she “folded into myself: my arms wrapped tightly around my knees and found their rest on my heaving chest. Yet, as I opened my mouth to cry out to God, as I often do in moments of hopelessness, no sound emerged…Rocking back and forth on the cool linoleum floor, I finally uttered the only words that I could find, “I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe.” Like a gust of wind, I could suddenly feel the soulful presence of my ancestors surround me, holding me and bearing witness to my pain. Then I heard my mama’s spirit whisper gently, gently in my ear, “Baby, we ain’t never been safe”.  In a similar way, in a time when Jesus has announced that there is no safety for those who follow him, Jesus and the disciples experience the presence of Moses and Elijah, their ancestors in faith.  The sermon might look at how we find our ancestors’ presence and strength in difficult days.
  • Tracy Cochran writes “In Buddhism, a definition of faith is the ability to keep our hearts open in the darkness of the unknown. The root of the word patience is a Latin verb for “suffer,” which in the ancient sense meant to hold, not to grasp but to bear, to tolerate without pushing away. Being patient doesn’t mean being passive. It means being attentive, willing to be available to what is happening, going on seeing, noticing how things change. When we aren’t wishing for something to be over, or when we aren’t freezing around an idea about what it is we are seeing, we see and hear more.” How do the disciples keep their faith at the bottom of the mountain, as well as at the top?  How do we?

Where are your thoughts taking you this week?  Let us know in the comments section below.  We look forward to a conversation with you!

 

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Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church, a diverse Presbyterian church in the city of Detroit.  Her greatest spiritual lessons come from being the parent of a teenager.  She blogs from time to time about her Detroit adventures at Stained Glass in the City. The image above is from the Jesus MAFA series from Cameroon, and is from the Vanderbilt Library of Art in the Christian Tradition.  See more: http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/diglib-fulldisplay.pl

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RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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The Pastoral Is Political: We Shine Brighter Together

A dozen candles of various shapes, sizes, amd colors

©2017 Cindi Knox. Used by permission.

I serve a tiny church. It was once a center of activity for a German immigrant community. Later, it was a neighborhood center.

Now it is a small band of committed people.

There is diversity in these people. We have people whose ancestors come from Africa, Europe, East Asia, and also the Caribbean and Central America – which have a diversity all their own.  We have mostly older members, but some young as well. We have gay and straight members, cisgender and transgender members. We have members with economic security, and members who are homeless.

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Monday Prayer

crocuses

crocuses in the manse garden. JRen17

O Precious Holy
how marvellous is your world
the land lays dormant; brown fields, bare trees
and yet, somewhere the season is advancing; somewhere
autumn is creeping,
How magnificent – that in every hour of every day, new life begins
old life wanes
the weary sleep
the dormant rise…

Holy One
may we take a moment today
to marvel at your creation
to be thankful for this world
to remember, other voices, other lands,
all yours, all known and loved by you

May we pause
Take breath
and wonder
Holy, holy, holy,
amen


Julie Rennick is a Church of Scotland minister, serving a rural community in the village of Earlston in the Scottish Borders. She blogs at A Country Girl, writes for Spill the Beans and contributed to the RevGals book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit


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Saturday Prayer: Just Say No

Dear sweet baby Jesus,

I am a child of the 1980’s and with that came Nancy Reagan and the first lady’s campaign of “Just Say NO” this was about the “war on drugs” of course, which caused more hard than good, but for millions of elementary school students we learned to deflect peer pressure and say no to drugs.

She also taught us that abstinence was the only way and that if you have sex even once you will get pregnant, and well… you know how I feel about that.

Truth is, at the end of the day, the slogan has stuck.

And here we are, 30 years later and I find myself hearing these words over and over again.

I’m saying no to politicians and my government who wants to take away rights and alienate people. I’m saying no to times when reading about it and hearing the news of the latest lies makes me hopeless and despair.

I’m saying no to the world who draws me farther and farther from you.

Be with me, be with us, because I need to just say no for sanity’s sake, and say yes, to your call. Amen.

just-say-no


The Reverend Shannon Meacham is the mother of two exhausting children Maggie and Gus, and she currently serves Ashland Presbyterian Church in the safest part of Baltimore, the suburbs. You can find her musings about any and all subjects on her personal blog pulpitshenanigans.com.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

 

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Friday Prayer: Nonviolent Persistence

Holy Christ, Prince of Peace, Pioneer of our faith, img_1941

I find myself immersed in the words of Psalm 137.

Even though I do not wish actual harm on people or their children or their animals, I can feel the urge – lingering at the edges of the least-evolved, least-sanctified, least-formed parts of my reptilian brain.

I see those who are hurt, who are afraid, who grieve, who are rejected, who are caught in the trap of lives, who have been retaliated against… I cannot count them. Their emotions hit me like waves.

I hear the words of people who said “Chance… not her… won’t matter… economics… emails… alternative facts.” And I long to flip their tables, slap their hands, shriek until their ears bleed.

I am not overcome because I continue to put one foot in front of the other. I continue to resist, to persist, to intercede, to pray against, to lift a fist in solidarity and in peace…

And it is that last part that is exhausting.

How can a revolution be a revelation?

Help me to breathe. Help me to listen. Help me to lift up and build up. I don’t think I can yet let go of the urge to pray for pain and destruction, but I can ask for you to channel this for me. I have the burning. Open for me a way that needs this fire. Open a door that leads to this passion. Open a path that I can blaze, with others, behind you- toward truth, freedom, and life for all creation.

Amen.

 


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 


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Friday Festival: Desires

February is the month of longing.

In a long winter, we long for sunshine.  In unusual political times, we long for clarity.  Valentine’s Day can leave us longing for love, companionship, or just a really fantastic cupcake.  If we raced straight from Advent to preparations for Lent, we long for quiet, and a moment to breathe.  If surgery has been on the schedule, we long to move without pain, and to feel energetic again.

Our wise bloggers write about different desires this week.

New mom Traci Smith is longing for us all to have some sense when we talk to pregnant women.  We’ve all learned not to pat pregnant women on the belly (we have, haven’t we?) but we haven’t learned what to say.  Smith says that people still say things like “Wow, you’re enormous!”  Or, perhaps, “Wow, I hope you don’t have the baby right here!” “Are you sure there’s only one baby in there?” “You’re gigantic!” “You look like you’re about to pop!”  Smith adds, “Unsolicited comments about the size of one’s belly are never welcome, but for some reason, people feel like pregnancy is an exception to this rule. Few people would walk up to an overweight person and say “Wow, you’re ENORMOUS!” Yet to pregnant women, it happens all the time. Baffling.”

Spoiler alert:  Smith advises that the proper comment, for all situations, even when something else pops into our minds, is: “How are you feeling?” or “You look beautiful/healthy/happy/wonderful/radiant” or “How is everything?”

Valentine’s Day can be blissful – or hard.  Tara Ulrich longs for a wider understanding of the day, and for us all to see our worth outside of traditional romantic pairs.  She reminds us, “today especially I need each of you to continually remind me that I am one of God’s beloved. I need to know that my life isn’t wrapped up in my singleness. I need to be reminded continually that I’m not past my prime. I also need to be reminded that there is even beauty in the uncertainty of it all. (So much easier said than done)…I’m single. Not sick, not a problem and not past my prime. So please don’t pity me on Valentine’s Day, because today of all days, I need your help to remember that my value doesn’t rest in a relationship status, in a box of chocolates or in a red rose. It rests in the fact that no matter what lies ahead of me, I am God’s beloved and His plans for me far exceed the feelings of a day.”

A longing for certainty leads us to interpret some scriptures as fixed, set as guidance for all times and places.  Professor Wil Gafney sets that aside and begins with the provocative title “Jesus Rewrites Scripture and So Can We.”  Looking at the scriptures from Matthew 5 where Jesus says things like, “You have heard it said…but I say…” Gafney reminds us that Rabbi Jesus is interpreting the scriptures as he teaches.

She adds: “Jesus is our example in all things. He is out teacher, our rabbi. We are to do what he did to the best of our ability. In this case, that means we are to wrestle with scripture, wrestle with the meaning, and when necessary, wrestle a blessing out of it, which means wrestling with those bruising passages that have been used to hurt us and so many others. That includes some of today’s lesson, verses of which have been used to keep folk in unsafe marriages, or ostracize other marriages, even in church.”

A longing for perfection leads Rachael Keefe to reflect on her lack of singing ability, and then to realize that the desire to sing is part of a deeper issue.  She shares with us that “It was the desire to be perfect that was my personal demon. If I’m honest, it still is on occasion. During my teen years, I was so enamored with the idea of perfection that I nearly traded my life for it. I was driven by the idea that if I were perfect, then I would not feel pain and I would be loved.”

In a stable job, we long for room to be creative.  As freelancers, we long for stability.  MaryAnn McKibben Dana explores the different joys of being, as she calls it, “a free-range pastor.”  For anyone pondering a change of vocation, she says, “I love my quirky unofficial parish. I’ve been called upon to pastor people in a whole range of settings: walking the kids home from school with a gaggle of parents, via Facebook message, and even while running—trying to explain the Reformation while running a hilly eleven-miler was a special challenge.”

What are you longing for in these February days?  Let us know, and share your hopes, in the comments section below.

 

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Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church.  Her greatest spiritual lessons come from being the parent of a teenager.  She blogs from time to time at Stained Glass in the City.

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RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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RevGalBookPals: Healing Spiritual Wounds

Lately, I have been paying attention to negative space. Not just space where the energy is 515o5ugeajl-_sx329_bo1204203200_less than positive, but negative space with regard to art-
making, language, and emotional processing. Negative space focuses on what isn’t. What wasn’t. What didn’t. Wha wouldn’t. Negative space can drive us to the other extreme in all kinds of ways, sprinting away from pain into a overzealous commitment to do the opposite of the thing that scarred us deeply.

The negative space created by a wounding church or hurtful church people leaves space that aches in its emptiness. The echoing lies in the negative space speak untruths about God and about our own goodness. That echo reverberates in our lives- affecting our health, our choices, our habits, our relationships, and our faith. In order to live with this hollowness, we set up a system that feeds on the negative space. But negative space has nothing to give.

3a Carol Howard Merritt writes that people who are inclined toward faith will find themselves at the edge of this negative space, again and again. They long to be filled and yet the echoes of the negative spce seem too broad, too deep, and too loud to be overcome. Overcoming this pain with healing, positive truth is a real and tangible possibility. This is the premise, the structure, and the achievement of Merritt’s book Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church.

Within the book, Merritt shares some of her own story as well as that of others she knows. The pain of church lies, leader deceptions,  and the religious idolatry of the appearance of perfection and prosperity are not the telos (end) of God’s desire for the church or for any part of creation. Resurrection and renewal as a spiritual person, in communion with God and others,  is entirely possible, achievable, and worth desiring. This book teaches those lessons gently, like learning how to swim.

You don’t need to conjure God; you simply need to find ways to awake to God’s presence and deepen your connection. (61)

Beyond her gentle prose, Merritt offers clearly structured exercises for contemplation and action. Her metaphors and examples help the reader sit with pain and roll it over like a stone in the mind. As the hurtful thoughts are rolled, their sharpness slowly smoothes. Their ability to inflict pain dulls.

Merritt’s own story- with the religion of her college years, with her father, with her spiritual journey- allow the reader to see that trauma can cause physical pain, grief, illness, and long-term internal and external work. The act of helping someone else in healing can bring healing to one’s own heart, as she often demonstrates.

Toward the end of the book, Merritt writes a litany of the power of biblical women. She reclaims their stories into her own and sees their strengths as a witness to God’s love and work through women. Merritt’s awakening in this section feels very open-ended, as though she wants the reader to know that she is still healing, still discovering, still being loved by the Divine into a new fullness. And because it is happening to and for and through her, the same is true for you.

I highly recommend this book. It would, in particular, make a good Lenten reading for individuals or small groups. Take a positive step to fill negative space in your life with healing and hope. Reading this book can be that step.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 


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Thursday Prayer

When it all gets to be too much,

When the worries large and small wash over us,

When the last straw happens and keeps happening,

When we don’t have a chance to catch our breath,

Be our deep breath.

Be our persistence.

Be our burden-shoulder-er.

Be our holder-upper.

Thank you.

Amen.img_0187

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Monica Thompson Smith is a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister, serving as stated supply pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Luling, TX. She is a contributor to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.


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Wednesday Prayer

img_1866

I believe
in spite of all that is laying around everywhere in the world,
the “can’t make this up” stuff,
the angry shouts and accusations and confusion and LOUD CACOPHONY
that threatens the peace of everything,

that You are weathering this with us.
You wrap us up in your Heart.
and then You nudge us off
to do the work,
to go many extra miles in these extra ordinary times,
to persist, resist,
to heal, to listen
to give, to offer,
to welcome,
to FACE whatever,
knowing we wear Your face…
and when we are tired,

You wrap us up in your Heart
and hold us,
and we weather this together.

Amen.

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Rev. Karla Miller is the Minister for Community Life at Old North Church UCC in Marblehead, MA, on the North Shore of Boston.

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