Today we have the story of when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain in front of the disciples. Jesus’s appearance literally changed right before them. Luke tells us that his clothes became dazzling white.
The disciples who witnessed this incredible scene couldn’t believe what they were experiencing. They were seeing Jesus in a new way, a way they had never before seen.
This scripture leads me to wonder how open we are to change and specifically, how open we are in our understanding of who Jesus is.
Sometimes we treat change as if it’s a bad thing. We’ll say things like, “you haven’t changed a bit!” And the other person will take that as a compliment…usually. And I guess that can be a positive thing to some degree. But, it could also mean that we have reached a point of stagnation in our lives.
If that’s true in our personal lives, the same can be said about businesses and organizations and yes, even the church.
I served in a church that decided to install screens in the sanctuary since we were now living in a very visual society. And there was some push back by some of the church members. And I asked one of the persons in the church why they didn’t want the screens.
And I’ll never forget their response. This church member said, “It’s because our society is changing so much. I need my church to be the one thing that doesn’t change in my life.”
I totally understand why this person feels this way, because change can be difficult. But on the other hand, change is what keeps us growing. Change is what keeps us from being stagnant in our faith.
Just think what the United Methodist Church would look like today if it never changed over it’s two hundred year history.
If the church had never changed, only men would be allowed to sit on this side of the sanctuary and only women would be allowed to sit on that side.
If the church had never changed, the woman pastor who helped our family to deal with the sudden passing of my father wouldn’t have been there for me because there was a time when we didn’t allow women in ministry.
If the church had never changed, we would still use scripture to justify slavery.
If the church had never changed, people who are divorced would not be allowed to become pastors.
But it’s not just our Methodist history in which the church has needed to change, we also see this played out in the Bible itself when the early church changed their views on the observance of certain Old Testament laws in light of their faith in Christ.
This past week, our denomination’s General Conference decided to not change its stance regarding same sex marriage and the ordination of gay and non-celibate candidates for ministry. As many of you know, this is a debate that has been happening in the United Methodist Church for the past 47 years.
Not only did they vote to continue the current stance, they also provided more accountability measures for any pastor or church that would go against the official stance of the denomination.
So what does all of this mean for our denomination and our church specifically moving forward. Well, the short answer is that Athens First will continue to be the most welcoming and inclusive congregation that we can possibly be. That’s for sure.
The second thing that I want you to know is that the General Conference is made up of delegates from all around the world including countries where homosexuality is illegal. If this would have simply been the delegates from the United States voting, they most likely would have adopted the recommended “One Church Plan” that would have allowed each congregation, clergy, and annual conference to decide on whether or not to allow same sex marriage and the ordination of those who are gay.
To put this into perspective, out of the 864 delegates, the One Church Plan only needed 25 more votes to pass. Two-thirds of the US votes were for the One Church Plan. 85% of the delegates outside of the United States went for the traditional plan which was adopted. Since the United Methodist Church is a global denomination, it makes this an even more complex issue than what it already is.
The third thing I would say is that conservatives and progressives interpret the scriptures very differently with regard to this issue. Conservatives have a more literal understanding of the Bible where certain verses are meant for all times and settings and progressives see these verses more in terms of the historical/cultural setting when the Bible was written.
And the fourth thing I would say to you is that no matter where you stand on this issue, there are still things pending from this past week’s General Conference decision. Some things might get ruled out of order by the Judicial Council of our denomination.
There is also talk of future meetings of denominational leaders to continue to find a way forward for progressive clergy and congregations who want the LGBTQ community to have full inclusion in the church.
The truth is that even after this special session of General Conference that just took place, we don’t fully know what the future holds for our denomination. But what I do know is what we sang during our opening hymn, “God is our help in ages past and our hope for years to come.”
And my prayer is that when people look at us, they will be able to see that God is our help and our hope through any storm or challenge we may face. My prayer is that when people look at us, they will be able to see something different about us that would point them to the saving and redemptive love of Jesus Christ.
A love that welcomes all people, gay/straight/questioning, all people. It’s a love that affirms the sacred worth of every single person.
It’s a love of full justice and full inclusion. Love is love. Love is love. Love is love. Love is love. Love is love.
Somebody asked me when I changed in how I interpret the scriptures related to same-sex marriage and ordination. And the answer is that it was a very slow and gradual change for me. It involved a lot of prayer, a lot of reading, a lot of conversation, and a lot of rethinking. And so, I totally understand why people are struggling with this. And I don’t want to ever forget what this long journey has been like for me and continues to be for me.
The biggest thing that has changed for me is that I have become much more empathetic to what LGBTQ people are feeling about our denomination’s constant debate about their self-worth.
Two weeks ago, Trey Pearson the former lead singer of the popular Christian band, “Everyday Sunday” made a surprise visit to our church and sang a song for us about his difficult and painful journey in coming out as gay. Three years ago, a sponsoring ministry group had informed Trey and his band that they were not allowed to perform a concert here because of his announcement in coming out as gay.
We were all blessed by Trey’s presence with us two weeks ago. Many of you are still talking about that Sunday of worship. Trey now has a ministry of touring the country and providing a safe space where the LGBTQ community can hear about his decision in coming out and where they feel safe to share their stories with each other as well.
I now follow Trey on twitter and follow his daily posts. It broke my heart to read his tweets this past week as our denomination’s General Conference was debating and voting on matters related to the LGBTQ community.
Let me share two of his posts from this past week as the General Conference was taking place.
“Today, I am exhausted from people talking about the United Methodist Church voting about our worth as LGBTQ persons. It is exhausting knowing that your whole life people have been debating about your worthiness of falling in love.”
And here’s the second tweet from this past week:
“Just having people debate your worth has made me think all day about how much I didn’t want to be gay. No one wants to be broken, and when you grow up being taught that that is what ‘gay’ is, it brainwashes you to have deep shame and insecurity. This is spiritual abuse.”
Trey is one example among many of why I have changed my scriptural and theological understanding of this complex issue. I continue to be open to change for other issues as well by carefully reading the scriptures, understanding it’s historical context, and then praying and wrestling over what those scriptures mean for us today.
As John Wesley, the founder of Methodism said, we are all to be moving onto perfection. And that means being open to change and where God is leading us and to realize that we’re not always going to be at the same place along that journey, as this past week’s General Conference has shown us. We are not always going to be at the same place.
This past Wednesday evening, I met with an associate pastor at a United Methodist Church in our conference. She said, “of all Sundays, I’m schedule to preach this Sunday.”
I said, “what are you going to say?” She said, “I’ve been reading and thinking about the transfiguration scripture for this Sunday, and I suddenly realized that this story isn’t just about Jesus changing in front of the disciples, it’s about how the disciples also changed because of it. They saw Jesus in a whole new light, literally.”
Friends, when we see Jesus in a whole new light, we change too. So don’t be surprised if you run into somebody you haven’t see in a while and hear them say, “there’s something different about you.”
That just might be a good thing.
There’s Something Different About You!
Sermon Discussion Questions
Luke 9:28-36 & Exodus 34:29-35
March 3, 2019
Has anyone ever said to you, “There’s something different about you?” To what were they referring?
Transfiguration Sunday is when we remember when Jesus was “transfigured” in front of the disciples while they were on the mountain together. Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white and two famous Old Testament figures from the past appeared with him! The disciples knew that Jesus was changing before their eyes and they didn’t know what to make of this experience.
When have you experienced Jesus in a new way in your life? What was different about him that you had never before noticed and what impact did that have on your life?
The special UMC global General Conference that was held this past week decided to retain our current denominational stance prohibiting same sex weddings and ordaining gay and non-celibate candidates for ministry. Pastor Robert shared these points for our Athens First church in moving forward: 1) WE WILL CONTINUE TO BE THE MOST WELCOMING & INCLUSIVE CHURCH WE CAN POSSIBLY BE! 2) Two-third of the US delegates voted for the One Church Plan which would have allowed each clergy, congregation, and annual conference to decide this issue for their own settings. 85% of the delegates from outside of the US, voted to continue our current denominational stance. This disconnect makes this issue very complex from a global perspective. 3) Conservatives and progressives interpret the scriptures on this issue very differently. 4) Some denominational leaders are planning to meet again after Easter to discuss how to move forward due to the strong stances on both sides.
Continue to pray this prayer together for our denomination: “O God, baptize the United Methodist Church afresh in the life-giving spirit of Jesus. Amen.”
Has anyone ever questioned a change that you have made in your life because you felt God leading you to a new understanding? Why do you think people are often resistant to accept change?
Share a way that God is at working in changing your perspectives, your lifestyle, your faith, your future goals, etc. Pray for God to guide and direct you to be open to “transfiguration moments” in your life and in the lives of others.