13 March, 2nd Sunday in Lent

A downloadable version of this page is available for anyone who would like to save or print it out.

The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Rev David Coleman, EcoChaplain, EcoCongregation Scotland, for his thoughts on the second Sunday in Lent.

Weekly Worship, based on the Revised Common Lectionary, is for everyone – in any capacity – who is involved in creating and leading worship.

We may not all be gathered in the same building, but at this time, when we need each other so much, we are invited to worship together, from where we are – knowing that God can hear us all and can blend even distant voices into one song of worship.

Introduction

The weekly worship notes created for Lent have been prepared as a partnership project between Operation Noah, Eco-Congregation Scotland, Young Christian Climate Network, Quakers in Britain and Christian Aid.

They have been prepared through the lens of a question inspired by Micah 6:8: What does it mean to walk humbly with God while seeking to do justice and love kindness?

Each of these organisations have a long history of doing justice, loving kindness and walking in pursuit of God's will for all of Creation. They have learned through long walks for peace and pilgrimages to climate change talks and marching with placards that walking provides the opportunity to embody our prayer as action.

Lent is not equally observed in all churches but the ideas of reflection and repentance are familiar to all Christians. Pilgrimage has a history of being a penitential undertaken but has evolved over the years to become so much more. It is a literal walking humbly with our God.

Along with preparing these weekly worship notes each partner has contributed to a podcast episode in the "Walking Humbly" series, available wherever you get your podcasts. Do signpost your congregation to the podcast as they seek to process and reflect on the readings and worship during each week of Lent.

As the General Assembly has affirmed:

Affirm the place of pilgrimage within the life of the church and encourage congregations to explore opportunities for pilgrimage locally and how to provide practical and spiritual support for pilgrims passing through the parish.

Instruct the Church and Society Council, in partnership with the Mission and Discipleship Council and others to develop resources to support pilgrimage in Scotland.

General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 2017

The Gospel story traditionally known as the "Transfiguration", which has clearly steered the choice of the other readings, is one in which Environment is a prime player in the action of Jesus. As Jesus leads His closest friends into a dazzling and unsettling mountain experience, He is teaching them and us to look differently, both at Jesus and our surroundings – all of which predisposes us all the more, as part of Creation ourselves, to "Listen to Him" (Luke 9:35).

Stars, cloud, light and mountain, are all presented together, and experientially; rather than in isolation and abstract. For Abram this includes the sky/heaven which surrounds him, and for Jesus, His dialogue with Moses and Elijah.

It's about what we do with what we have, rather than seeking what we haven't. Though even what we have may be more than we can process. Perhaps it helps to be honest about what we have.

In a time of climate crisis, beyond the announcement of "code red" by the UN last year, we realise the "good news of warning" and the admonition to take notice, are far more than incidental or trivial gifts of grace through our scriptures.

Immersion, not isolation – in a wondrous and dazzling experience of nature, that of the immensity of the night sky (which in the languages of the Bible is also that of "heaven") – is the scenario for Abram's receipt of the promise. The promise of a future through his descendants, and provides one of the most vital Bible insights for reformation churches: that our trust in God is ‘reckoned' to our account, as is justice and integrity.

We miss out if we neglect the natural setting, in which the God of Environmental Justice keeps faith with us and calls us to keep faith with fellow creatures.

The note of warning as a gracious loving act, and the danger of neglecting to act with justice on these warnings, also pervades our readings. We should acknowledge that the learning that changes us may initially overwhelm our senses, challenging the security and trustworthiness of what we thought was wise, patient, traditional and sensible.

"Transfiguration" is one way to translate the "looking different" of Jesus' face in Luke 9:29. It's probably from the version in Matthew 17. I might prefer as a title "The Dazzling", that is, for me, the much stronger word, which describes the whiteness of His clothes.

When we are overwhelmed by the truth of what we may hear about the state of the planet, then our clear first option is to trust God rather than seek other guidance either from ‘common sense' or un-recycled, un-repurposed traditional practice.

To be dazzled is to need help. That's a fruitful start.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

What most worries you about tomorrow?

The most pressing existential threat for someone of Abram's culture, age and era, is to secure the reassurance of offspring to inherit.

Our experience of what motivates different generations towards environmental action and prayer in our churches is often similar – to leave a healthy world for future generations – yet the urgent immediacy of Abram's approach to God is paralleled only by the clearer awareness that this threat is neither remote nor uncertain. All generations, including our own, are endangered. We are tempted to despair. And indeed, Abram's act of faith, which is as good as if he were a just and respectable person, has something about it beyond the tyranny of rational decision. God confronts Abram with a task way beyond him: to count the stars.

What we still don't know – despite having our eyes wide open and heeding the signs of the times – becomes our pathway to hope.

However well-informed we may believe we are about a good or bad outcome, we know no more than this part of the story.

Verses 17-18

Much trouble and conflict has resulted from how to read the idea of God's gift of a homeland and the rights thereto; especially when, within the story itself this too, had yet to emerge.

Even the most assiduous scholars will struggle with the mystery of this subsequent episode: the butchered beasts and birds, the terrifying darkness, the smoking fire pot and the flaming torch. It might be useful to consider other ‘gifts of habitat' within scripture, such as to fellow creatures (e.g. Job 39:6). We are given a home in the planet, which is likewise and wholeheartedly given to fellow stakeholders in God's rainbow covenant "with all flesh" (Gen 9:11-17). That is, to other creatures too. Wherever we call home is also home to others. Grace is seldom exclusive, and the laws of the Hebrews later developed binding clauses to ensure the care of refugees, foreigners, the poor and the homeless (e.g. Lev. 19:9, 23:22), which are also seen to embody environmental wisdom.

Grabbing and clinging to every crumb of a gift is a shoddy expression of gratitude. Nor does it express faith in the Giver. Generosity comes with trust.

Maybe that's why, for God, trust is as good as righteousness.

Psalm 27

Psalm 27 is part of the Bible's resources for spiritual resilience in time of trouble. It therefore seems little more than picturesque when everything in the garden is rosy, but emerges as of great value when times are hard, or look to be turning so. That's where we are now, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear!

This Psalm shows us, quite shamelessly, what faith is for, and when it is that we're most likely to turn to God: namely, with the greater awareness of threat and danger of every concrete and emotional kind, which, with COVID and the climate crisis, makes sense.

Even the struggles we have noted, over recent years, to convince our society of the urgency of the global situation, and the need to transform the unjust structures and habits which are so rapidly fraying the web of life, find comfort here. Countless millions have been poured into ‘greenwashing' and misinformation.

Whom then do we trust, when we're constantly assured that change would be too costly compared with the deadly trajectory of the status quo?

How do we discern truth, when genuinely dangerous lies are all around us?

False witness is not only a crime against God, but endangers the Earth as a whole through denial and malicious misinformation.

There is no denial here, that bad things happen, and though comfort is drawn from what the Psalmist has already experienced (v2), they resist any naive initial temptation (vv3-4,) to pre-empt every outcome of disaster as inevitably favourable. Admittedly, you can read it that way in later verses. Even – or especially – in a crisis, God is the One it's worth having by your side, come what may. Trust, though, does not take God's response for granted.

To trust in God actually and objectively transforms the situation: we behave differently and reason differently from those who are sure they are abandoned; even in defeat, we are not annihilated.

Though for that, the Psalmist acknowledges, we also need help.

Philippians 3:17-4:1

The writer of this letter knows the cost of issuing a loving warning, which is given without means of enforcement, other than by the result of disregarding it.

They also go out on a limb in terms of offering their own record as a compelling example, which few of us might risk; yet what else have we to offer but our love and concern for family, friends, and those Christ commands us to love?

The writer also confronts their beloved audience with the sad results of a life ruled by far-too-narrow concerns.

The "humiliation", though, is shared. The tragedy of one is the tragedy of all, however foolish or selfish the attitudes which led to it. We may have opponents or enemies, but their naively chosen demise also hurts us. So we are told, with tears rather than smugness.

The heaven-earth dualism, as ever, presents a problem in interpretation for English speakers. Sky and soil are, however, both within the bounds of God's one Creation, and it is their integration (an earthly citizenship of heaven/sky) rather than their current alienation, which will give guidance for the hard-pressed community of believers.

After all, this letter to the Philippians is clearly intended to be of immediate and practical use to the Church, rather than a musing on remote or abstract matters. "Standing firm in the Lord" is the desirable attitude to foster: once more, faith, hope and love make a real difference to this-world outcomes in every sphere of human activity. But the letter is written with the consciousness that the choice to respond will ultimately be that of the hearers.

Luke 9:28-36

We benefit by initially restricting our gaze to Luke's version of this story, rather than filling in gaps from Matthew 17:1-9, though it's good to note the particular differences.

It's "THE" mountain, rather than simply "a high mountain". Size, of course, is not everything: don't fall into the trap of the most is the holiest.

The way Jesus' face looks is changed, rather than His face itself. Matthew suggests a more wholesale "transfiguration" {"metemorphōthē") whereas the power word for Luke is "dazzling" for the white of His clothing. The voice identifies Jesus as "chosen" rather than "beloved".

But both accounts involve a sensory overload in the extreme environment of the mountain into which Jesus has led the disciples, that He himself (apparently not they) may pray.

So why are they – and with them the reader – witnesses to this enduringly strange and, crucially, never entirely explicable event?

Well, we read it quite rightly in a series leading to the ‘achievement' of Jesus' ‘departure' on the cross at Jerusalem. Peter has just identified Jesus as the Messiah, though like many religious terms, this will come with baggage and a certain opacity. If Jesus is the Messiah, then God, not Peter, will define what that involves.

Some will suggest retrospective writing, rather than a record of a memory of an event handed down by the disciples. For me, that feels like a miserable way to read this linear narrative.

Nonetheless, the whole incident turns into a lesson in seeing things differently, just as anyone who's ever climbed any mountain (i.e. any hill of sufficient height for a different perspective on the world) will have seen things differently. A criminal's death, on the cross, in pain and humiliation, whilst it remains a brutal tragedy, can also be a triumphant achievement, though we should be wary in the extreme of leaping to any conclusion that suffering is good or beneficial. That would be to over-harmonise the perspectives, and to blur the colours of the rainbow.

Then Peter offers the "dwellings", perhaps referring to the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. At least, some commentators have suggested that. He's got the right idea, but hasn't made the leap to activate it and hasn't recycled the treasured insight of what Messiah might mean. Why? Because he doesn't ask. In the same way that we think of stewardship of the Earth; without consulting, asking, listening to what the Earth – through science, and the wisdom of those indigenous peoples who live closest to the Earth – is saying.

After COP, late last year, and the ongoing attempts of the churches to respond to the dazzling enormity of the climate crisis, which no clear-thinking person can now ignore, Peter's response may be all too familiar – moving in the right direction (yes, and hallelujah!) – but almost literally putting Jesus back into a box/dwelling with Elijah and Moses.

Jesus is the one who, and this is the situation that makes our faith make sense. Our faith is alive and dynamic and evolving in dialogue with the context of our lives. Jesus discusses, rather than receiving marching orders, which is the only way we can claim anything like an eternal truth – one which enables us to adapt to changed circumstances.

We wonder what might be the tone of voice in the final comment from the voice in the cloud, leading on from Peter's frantic and intoxicated ritual hospitality:

"[will you finally, for my sake...] listen to him!"

But then they're silent. Because, for now, they realise – until the resurrection – that no one can share the perspective they've been given!

Sermon ideas

Transfiguration – the Dazzling

Few in the congregation will lack any experience at all of ‘the mountain'. Maybe the view out of an aeroplane window, or coming round a hilly path to a view that took their breath away. But what did they do with the experience?

Did it change their life, and the way they looked at the world? Or did they just take a picture and file it away?

How do we locate this story within the reality of terrestrial Creation and the accessible parameters of common human experience.... and yet still avoid explaining away the mystery at the heart of it? Perhaps by owning up to the mystery, diversity, fleetingness and fragility of the world we share as home.

The environment in which we're set, even in prayer, is never silent. Never without a perspective to share. In the Bible, God calls Creation (Heaven and Earth, Sky and Soil) to be witness to the acts of justice and injustice of humanity. With good reason, for we're made of the Earth; the land suffers when the poor and the wild creatures are oppressed.

And though, perhaps, we can pray anywhere, Jesus chose this very particular ‘extreme environment' to offer the disciples what words alone could not.

When we hear of Abram and his worries about his family's future we recognise that we can't own or control that, but we can take notice – perhaps, like the ‘dark skies' experience in parts of Scotland where light pollution does not dazzle out the glory of the planets and the Milky Way, this can help put things into perspective.

Prayers

The prayers that follow, which should be adapted to the practicalities of local circumstance, are presented for use in mainstream worship, coloured by the awareness of climate crisis, which should not be ignored or side-lined. The injunction of the voice in the cloud "listen to Him", extends in our day, to listening to the voice of the Earth, the signs of the times that Jesus expected His followers to be alert to.

Call to worship

"From the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"

Prayer of approach/adoration:

Dazzling God of the heights and the depths
all Creation is full of Your glory
all the signs are there to read
all the warnings made in love
all the encouragement, all the guidance.

Though the path be steep,
and new ways needed to get there
and things look different;
still, with Christ, we do not face them alone.

Called together, we can listen
sharing, we can grow
ourselves – but from a new perspective
our world – beloved through the Chosen Son.

Confession, assurance of pardon

Though God's voice is loud in Christ
though the stones are shouting hoarse
though the Earth bears witness daily
though the risen Lord enables –

We have not listened
have not acted
not forgiven
nor repurposed.

We have chosen harm and bitterness.
We have broken where we needed healing.
Selfishness, though God is generous,
hurts the poor, the Earth....
but then ourselves.

Silence

Yet this need not be so.
For Christ forgives and frees us.
And each day God's love new,
invites us toward justice.
As forgiven people,
we pray as Jesus taught us......

Here you may like to use your locally preferred Lord's Prayer OR this meditation, from "Climate Sunday" on the Lord's Prayer, which might also be used in a study/workshop setting but is not presented as a regular substitute.)

Parent of Soil and Sky
May our praise reveal Your beauty
May Your encircling love bear fruit
As sun, rain and snow empower creation
Provide for life, all that sustains,
Free us from stubborn arrogance, and all it brings:
that we enable change for fellow creatures
Save us in the midst of what our kind has brought about:
deliver life from evil
For the seasons, the cycles and the power of life are Yours
Now, and through all endings.
Let it be so!

Prayer for transfiguration in a time of climate crisis

Loving Christ, our trusted friend
who leads out unpredictably
to entrust us with glory –

Lead us out today
walking the hills
on the edge of our ability
to a high holiness of justice
beyond what seems safe ... and worthy of trust.

Lead us out today
from the deceptive wisdom of permanence
and the false security of short-term profit
at the expense of fellow creatures,
and therefore of ourselves.

Feed, sustain and dazzle us
beyond complacency and entitlement
to build on the best
of our traditions and customs
repurposed, remade
in response to the signs of our times

Make us discontent
with paths so safe they obscure the pitfalls
Push us to the brink of the toxic boredom
of those human cultures
which exclude the voices, rights, and friendship
of Earthself, with You,
who both warn and cry in pain.

Dazzling Christ,
show us how we are unprepared
to face the reality we have to deal with alone.
Confront us too,
with the authority of that loving Voice of Warning –
at once on Earth and in Heaven, bound together in Creation –
when the clouds part
and all we have
is the mountain,
and our Guide,
challenging us to look differently,
to look different,
and to choose to take notice.
Amen

Blessing / Closing prayer

Get up, go on your way!
Faith makes us fit to heal!

The world now needs to know
How Christ is flesh for all

As creatures of God's love
tread lightly, and with joy

Trust God, learn from the Earth
We welcome life, where we find home!

And the blessing....

Alternative material

Musical suggestions

Our online music resource is on the Church of Scotland website; you can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship. You will also find playlists for this week and liturgical seasons and themes on the Weekly Worship and Inspire Me tabs.

You can find further musical suggestions for this week in a range of styles on the Songs for Sunday blog from Trinity College Glasgow.

  • CH4 105 – "Glory to God above" – A song emphasising the manifest praise of all Creation, over and above any additional special occasion
  • CH4 132 – "Immortal, invisible, God only wise" – a grand and very traditional hymn, dealing with the sensory overload of encounters with the divine, which nonetheless lead us into more just living
  • CH4 609 – "Come, living God, when least expected" – A quiet meditative hymn, with the scriptural background of transfiguration well in mind. Might be sung by a choir, or with the congregation seated
  • CH4 715 – "Behold! the mountain of the Lord" – A soaring, uplifting song introducing the importance of the mountain-top experience
  • Suggested hymns for Lent can be found on the Church of Scotland website
  • "The Clouds and Light and Mountains" – Hymn poem written for Transfiguration Year, C. David Coleman. Free to use in all churches. New words to metrical tunes of your choice: meter 7676 (e.g. "Hail to the Lord's anointed", "Sometimes a light surprises")
  • Luke's narrative of the ‘transfiguration' incident uses so much that is commonplace in human experience to convey an extraordinary message about the significance of Jesus and His teaching.

  1. The clouds and light and mountains
    the people met by chance
    each creature with their warning
    transformed by Christ's bright glance.
  2. The daily grind and workplace
    the fuel we burn and sell
    the cost we've disregarded:
    Christ points to these as well.
  3. For ‘gainst our world's injustice
    the poor, the Earth need Voice:
    injustice, plain as daylight:
    God says: you have the choice.
  4. Take notice when the Cloud's gone
    don't hide from what Christ says:
    to warn and to encourage
    just living is high praise.

Reflecting on our worship practice

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the way we worship has changed and we need to reflect on the changing or newly established patterns that emerged and continue to emerge as a result of the disruption.

We can facilitate worship for all by exploring imaginative approaches to inclusion, participation and our use of technologies in ways that suit our contexts. This is not an exhaustive list, but some things we could consider are:

  • Framing various parts of the worship service in accessible language to help worshippers understand the character and purpose of each part. This is essential for creating worship for all (intergenerational worship) that reflects your community of faith.
  • Holding spaces for reflection and encouraging prayer to be articulated in verbal and non-verbal ways, individually and in online breakout rooms
  • In online formats the effective use of the chat function and microphone settings encourages active participation in prayer, e.g. saying the Lord's Prayer together unmuted, in a moment of ‘holy chaos'
  • While singing in our congregations is still restricted, we can worship corporately by using antiphonal psalm readings, creeds and participative prayers
  • Using music and the arts as part of the worship encourages the use of imagination in place of sung or spoken words
  • Use of silence, sensory and kinaesthetic practices allow for experience and expression beyond regular audio and visual mediums.

The following questions might help you develop a habit of reflecting on how we create and deliver content and its effectiveness and impact, and then applying what we learn to develop our practice.

  • How inclusive was the worship?
    Could the worship delivery and content be described as worship for all/ intergenerational? Was it sensitive to different "Spiritual Styles"?
  • How was the balance between passive and active participation?
  • How were people empowered to connect with or encounter God?
    What helped this? What hindered this?
  • How cohesive was the worship?
    Did it function well as a whole?
    How effective was each of the individual elements in fulfilling its purpose?
  • How balanced was the worship?
    What themes/topics/doctrines/areas of Christian life were included?
  • How did the worship connect with your context/contemporary issues?
    Was it relevant in the everyday lives of those attending and in the wider parish/ community?
    How well did the worship connect with local and national issues?
    How well did the worship connect with world events/issues?
  • What have I learned that can help me next time I plan and deliver worship?

Up-to-date information for churches around COVID-19 can be found in our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) advice for churches section.

You can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship in our online hymnary.

You can find an introduction to spiritual styles in our worship resources section

You are free to download, project, print and circulate multiple copies of any of this material for use in worship services, bible studies, parish magazines, etc., but reproduction for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Please note that the views expressed in these materials are those of the individual writer and not necessarily the official view of the Church of Scotland, which can be laid down only by the General Assembly.