Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Why do you worship?
As a pastor, leading worship has always been gratifying, but being able to be a participant in worship has always been extra special for me. That’s why as bishop I now enjoy the luxury of scheduling myself off one Sunday each month, so that I can be a participant in the worship experience. This is my week not to preach. Yet earlier in the week I met with the clergy from our Richland-Ashland Conference and prepared what, for me, was a brief homily on this Transfiguration Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark. I’ve since had even more time to reflect on my remarks to them, and I wish to share those with you since I have nowhere else and no one else with whom to share them.
I made a valiant attempt to find something different in these eight verses from Mark’s Gospel that I hadn’t seen before. In case you don’t recall the story, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him to a high mountain, where he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became a dazzling white. The three disciples also hear a voice from a cloud, which says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
We hear a version of this reading every year on this last Sunday after the Epiphany – the Sunday just before Ash Wednesday. So it’s easy to simply tune out because we’ve heard the story so often we think we know it.
But the joy of scripture is that you can read or hear a passage repeatedly and discover something new. In my efforts to present something different to the clergy group I began to explore a connection between Transfiguration and worship. I will quickly admit that the decision to pursue that preaching path was not original. Several commentaries which I read made the same suggestion. But in my case, it really applied to my life.
Each of you has a particular reason why you choose to attend church each Sunday morning, or whenever you celebrate worship. Each of you goes to church with a particular need to be met. You are looking for something beyond yourself, beyond your world. But the act of simply showing up at church is not worship. Worship is not about you and your needs. Worship is about God.
Worship draws us closer to God, or at least it should. Each week we gather, we confess our sins, we receive God’s forgiveness, we sing, we pray, we hear the good news of God’s word, we receive the tangible evidence of God’s grace through the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and we leave, transformed, to witness and to serve God throughout the week.
Mark’s transfiguration story provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the worship of God.
I can’t tell you how much I love worship. And I fervently hope worship is just as special to you. Worship is a very special time when human beings are brought very close to the glory of God. Obviously not to the same extent as for Peter, James and John. But consider this: Not only are we in the presence of our sisters and brothers in Christ, but also in the presence of God, with the people of all times and all places, with the angels, archangels, the church on earth and all the company of heaven. Everything else that we do for the rest of the week flows from our mountaintop experience of worship.
But all these benefits are lost on us if we simply come to worship and go through the motions of our liturgy without really understanding why it is that we do what we do. And that lack of understanding is reflected in our sometimes casual approach to worship.
I can’t help but think of the opening words of the Westminster Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Worship, then, is a time to be with God, to adore and delight in the One who has loved us in Christ and is therefore to be loved.
Whatever we make of this story on the mountaintop, it should be for us, the chief model of worship. Jesus came to enable us to worship God through him. And in reality, we are changed – which is what transfiguration means. We are moved to go with our changed hearts, and transfigure them into changed lives – to make a difference in the world in which we live. Worship transfigures how we look at our lives; past, present and future.
Going to worship has only one good purpose in mind: so that God might meet us here, and surprise us, love us, forgive us, and sustain us.
As we prepare for Lent, to walk the way of the cross, I pray you commit to making a greater effort to approach worship in a more spiritual and reverent way; to remember why we worship; to thank God for sending his son, Jesus Christ, to save us from sin and death. And may we, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, be moved to see the depth and breadth of God’s love, the lengths to which he is willing to go to bring us closer to Jesus, and be transformed by that same Holy Spirit, becoming more like Jesus with every passing day.