The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) was founded on June 22, 1977, when most congregations of the Methodist Church of Australasia, about two-thirds of the Presbyterian Church of Australia and almost all the churches of the Congregational Union of Australia united.
It was a short walk to the Wesley Uniting Church, a historic Methodist church, but we were not sure that there was a service as we could detect no activity or sounds coming from the church.
We entered through the narthex and were seated in wooden pews. Everyone here had gray hair even the woman pastor who clearly had difficulty walking.
As is the case at all gatherings in Australia, the first communication is to acknowledge the use of the aboriginal land that the church stands upon by the Noongar brothers and sisters.
She referred to the Bible as having stories and traditions in these pages. This was a surprise. To most Christians, it is more than a storybook.
The first reading was from the “Hebrew Tradition”.
Now the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. But to the elders he said, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a legal matter, let him approach them.” Then Moses went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
We passed the peace which means to greet those around you by saying “Peace be with you” with the response being “And also with you.”
This church got up and shook hands with EVERYONE. It took a lot of time. How different from last week where touching each other was prohibited due to COVID-19 but the church in Singapore was more friendly.
This was a first: We were asked to fold our arms over our chests during the prayer of confession and unfold them during the prayer of assurance.
The pastor had prepared a children’s message, but there were no children. She asked us to tap into our inner child.
The theme of the story was the sport of cricket. (We were already lost, but I imagine this is what it feels like when an American pastor references baseball when people from other continents are in the congregation.)
Cade loved the game of cricket. He waited and waited for a coach. Finally, one was found.
At practice, they would work on throwing, batting and running. Soon they were ready to play a game.
However, a game is different than practice. Also, there are people in the stands.
Cade was the first one to bat. He missed the first, second, and the third. He was not only knocked out, but the wickets fell. (I don’t know what that meant, but it was bad.)
He walked back to his team hearing the crowd. His wise teammate said to him, “Don’t listen to the crowd. Listen to the coach.”
In our reading today, you will see where Jesus, Peter, James and John went up to the mountain where God told them to listen to Jesus.
Peter babbled. God spoke and told the disciples to listen to Jesus. They fell down. Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid.”
Heartfelt Prayer for Australia
Reading from our “Christian Tradition”
2 Peter 1:16-21
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
We sang a strange song called She Sits Like a Bird, Brooding on the Waters. I couldn’t see that it had anything to do with our worship.
The choir members all had gray hair except for the choir leader. I was most interested in their choir “robes” as they were just a stole around their necks. It seems to make sense when the weather is so hot.
Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration Sunday is the culminating event for the period of the church calendar called Epiphany.
The definition of epiphany is:
1) the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi
2) the festival commemorating the Epiphany on 6 January.
3) a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being.
4) a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.
In the church it is a revelation of who Jesus really is.
Here is an interesting excerpt that I read concerning Epiphany.
An epiphany is a revelation, a light bulb going off. And revelations are transformative. By their very design, revelations refuse to leave you in the same place, doing the same stuff, thinking the same things. Otherwise, they would just be reminders. And revelations are not reminders. A revelation, an epiphany, has no precedent in what you had once accepted as normal. Indeed, they come to challenge and disrupt precisely what you accept as normal. Epiphanies make you rush back to your schedule, your agenda, your relationships, your life story itself because you must have missed something. Surely there has been some mistake. A revelation reconfigures the coordinates, redraws the map, scrambles the data. And you can only proceed according to the terms that it establishes for you. It transforms you into a witness, maybe not the most reliable one at times, but a witness nonetheless.
This need not be all spiritual and religious, so let’s bring it down to earth. There are any number of epiphanies like this that we can think of. September 11th. The assassination of JFK. Tragedies unfortunately can come to mind the quickest. But any event that no matter how many years have passed you can still remember exactly where you were and what you were doing counts as an epiphany. Because to remember exactly where you were and what you were doing is to be a witness. Those events transformed you.
The point of this season is that Christ is the Epiphany. He is the Revelation, the Son of God in all his glory. Because of that, Christ’s epiphany has made witnesses out of us all. And as witnesses, all we can do is respond to the event, and even if we respond with indifference, our indifference itself is still a response. As Jesus says elsewhere in John’s Gospel, “those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” And what is this condemnation that is already here? It is “that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” The light of Christ is what defines darkness as darkness. The darkness probably felt all well and good and normal and acceptable before that, but once the light came, darkness could only be chosen as darkness, as a willful rejection of the light. Even those who choose the darkness have been transformed by the revelation of Christ. There is no vacuum in which to escape.
This Biblical event of transfiguration was and is an illuminating discovery. These three disciples will never forget it nor will we.
Jesus was visited by God as well. Considering what he was about to do and was sent to earth to save us, this must have been a great encouragement.
The season of Epiphany starts with the revelation of the Magi as the King had been born and ends with the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah. One revelation is at the beginning of his life’s journey and the other is at the end.
What can you see? Who do you think that Jesus is?
The disciples could not see who Jesus really was. It was too hard.
Then Jesus’ appearance changed. The presence of Moses and Elijah confirms His Messiah prophecy. God spoke.
Peter was able to see Jesus in a different light. When Jesus reveals Himself to us, we will see Him differently. His light will be like a bright cloud. He will lead us back down the mountain and we will follow.
Like Peter, our vision is often unreliable. He no longer was just someone who traveled down the road with him. Peter’s view of Jesus was transformed.
What was Peter’s response? He wanted to build something. He thought that it would be a tabernacle. Jesus was thinking bigger and wanted Peter to build His church.
Who knows what we are called to do?
The modern prophet from America, Martin Luther King, Jr., did not expect to speak the night of April 3 in Memphis. His words may have been as a result of a bomb threat on his plane that delayed his flight to Memphis that day.
‘Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
He was assassinated the following day.
Rob and I looked around and came to the conclusion that this church cannot sustain membership.
There is no spark here. The worship is bland. This should never be.
The gospel is exciting and is why people come to church.
If I wanted to hear an amazing speaker, I wouldn’t find that in church. I could listen to a TED talk.
If I wanted to hear amazing music, I wouldn’t find it in church. I could turn on the radio.
If I wanted to hear some clever jokes and stories, I wouldn’t find it in church. I could ask Google or go to a comedy club.
If I want to help the homeless, sick or widowed and orphaned, I could have a bigger impact if I volunteered directly to such organizations as Habitat for Humanity.
The ONLY thing that the church has that all the things mentioned above do not have is that the church is the God-given dispenser of the Good News. EVERYBODY LOVES GOOD NEWS!!!
The ONLY reason I or anyone else goes to church is to hear about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. If pastors lose sight of that, the church will die. Christians fellowship at the feet of Jesus, our King, and learn how to serve Him.