Each week, Grace’s minister, and the occasional guest preacher, seek to connect scripture to the challenges of following Christ in the world today. A collection of recent sermons can be found below.
Grace United Methodist – March 3, 2019 – Rev. Dr. Amy P. McCullough
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 and Luke 9:28-36
March 3, 2019
I have prayed more than usual over this sermon; prayed because this has been such a difficult week for the United Methodist church, prayed because of the pain I know that reverberating throughout our denomination, our midst, prayed asking God to guide my words and our collective thoughts. If I miss the mark, I pray that you know you all are in my heart; and that every sermon is a conversation, and you add your words.
The apostle Paul wrote at least 5 letters to the church in Corinth; fragments of three of them are found in first and second Corinthians. The first thing we glean from these letters is a glimpse of a divided church; divided by disagreements about Holy Communion practices, whether there is a hierarchy of spiritual gifts, by a rivalry of leadership and broken trust. Into these fractures Paul offers practical pastoral advice. Here we learn the second thing, that discussions of practical matters are occasions for deep theology. How we practice our faith reveals the God we envision and what glorious vision of God’s future we hold. The third thing we glean is that while Paul wrote practical pastoral advice built upon solid theological claims, what his letters really are letters of love. They are love letters written by a man who by all accounts should have passed over in the apostolic selection but was instead dramatically blinded by God in order to see the good news of Jesus Christ.
Now today is Transfiguration Sunday, the day we read of Jesus’s ascent upon a mountain and altered appearance. The purpose of his climb has never been quite clear to me; after all it lasts only a moment, the disciples who witness his glowing face and dazzling clothes have no idea what to do, and soon everyone is trekking back down the mountain into the world’s pain. But perhaps Jesus’ transfiguration is meant precisely to be a passing transcendent moment when everything come together because God is there and the purposefulness of the journey – if not the purpose itself –but the purposefulness – is assured.
Paul’s own encounter with Jesus is a similar moment, and it creates his life’s transformation. It is not I who lives but Christ who lives in me, and I will not stop writing you letters until Christ lives in you all also. So this morning I want to mirror Paul’s method by addressing you with a letter written in love; a letter about my own faith journey and the faith I have seen you.
As many of you know, I was raised in a United Methodist Church in Orlando, born 4 years after my parents were married there, baptized 18 months after my older sister. I faced significant health hurdles as infant, spending the first six weeks of my life in the hospital. My mother got to know the congregation – she still relatively new, young mother, by the care they provided in those weeks. On my baptismal day the minister presented me to the congregation, saying you have already loved and prayed for this child. So before I could speak I experienced what we Methodists call the prevenient grace of God, the love that surrounds us before we can name it, through faithful members of a church.
As I grew, the church was a second home to me; a place of beauty when I went with my mother to change the altar cloths; stepping into the sanctuary in the early evening light, a place of wonder when courageous Sunday school teachers donned costumes to teach us about Moses or Mary and Joseph, a place of belonging because there were adults who not just knew my name but asked me about my life and listened to my reply; a place of freedom, where I could join the choir even though I couldn’t sing and play on a basketball team even though I would never have made the cut anywhere else. And through these ordinary, practical things, faithful followers of Christ were showing a little girl what the love of God looks like: steady, curious, wide, mysterious, and found in community.
When I came to Grace, I was for the first time a pastor to a Reconciling congregation. Other churches I served had begun discussions about taking such a step, but had not yet made the decision. I was grateful to be serving a Reconciling church, but also aware of my inexperience. Over the past week, I have thought about what you have taught me about God.
The first thing you have taught me is that love is love; and where love is, God is.
The second thing you have shown me is that courage is contagious. When you stand up for something that is unjust, you make space for other truths to be told, particularly about power, privilege and fractured communities, and then in the sharing strangers becomes brothers and sisters.
Another thing you have demonstrated is the gift that comes with being open about who we are; our stories, our pains, our identities. Asking someone to hold back or bracket away some part of their identity causes harm, and limits all of us.
The last thing you have taught me is that God’s grace is generous; wide, open, and sturdy. It is a grace can hold us; making space to say “you messed that up” and “let’s try again” and we need each other to live a faithful life. Because in this community, we have the persons who hang the altar cloths, deliver the meals, pray daily, sing weekly, don costumes for kids, or make the cookies everyone wants, or counts the money, notices the newcomer and learns a new name. In this practical habits we proclaim God, and suddenly we are on the mountain, catching a glimpse of God’s glory; and the purposefulness of all that we are doing shines through – finding together, the way of Jesus, in the process becoming more like him.
When talking about being transformed by Christ’s glory, Paul uses an image of unveiling our faces; harkening back to Moses, whose face was so aflame when he descended from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments that he took to wearing a veil when addressing the people. The way the scripture reads it appears people needed Moses to cover his face; the light emanating from his face was too bright for them to accept. The disciples who saw Jesus’ dazzling appearance on the mountaintop had the same hesitation, They were scared, silent on the way down. That veiled place, suggests Paul, is the place we too often live, fractured, frightened, separated from one another. But in Christ, we can lay aside our veils. We can uncover our faces, show who God has created us to be, speak about how God is working in us. And in Christ, we will be able to shine with the glory of Christ, and see in the faces looking back at us, another reflection of Jesus’ light. and see in the face shining back at you, the same glory. This is our vision; God’s promise, our purpose, life’s work, together.