Today is one of the most spectacular days in the life of the church: Transfiguration Sunday! We spend a good amount of time celebrating how down-to earth-Jesus is (born in a stable, fought with his parents as a teen, but became a carpenter just like his dad after all, hung around with people of every walk of life, that sort of thing). And today’s story reminds us that Jesus also shimmers and shines. Like that friend who loves us just the way we are…but also wants us to become a better version of ourselves. Knows that we are worth the best version of ourselves– the world over!
On Transfiguration Sunday, it’s like we get this one visual glimpse of what’s possible when love triumphs over all the mess of our lives. Today we cherish the life of Connie Deyer, we receive the invitation from Avera friends to be in care for those who are ill, and we recognize the devastation of entire countries facing real-time conflict. All of this, as we receive Christ’s story of transfiguration as the gift it’s always been: God in the flesh, writing us a story of redemption with all that shimmers and shines within Jesus and within us. There has never been a better day to embrace the hope of Christ.
Luke 9: 28-36
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
The disciples kept silent about the bedazzled Christ until after his resurrection, when the pieces started slowly coming together. Even today, the idea that redemption is possible is just not easy to believe. So we keep telling these stories as signposts along the way- creating a cohesive narrative for our lives. And over 2000 years later, it’s still just sinking in. May the truth of Christ’s infinite love pierce your soul today, as we lift Christ’s love for Connie.
Words from siblings Dorothy & Pete
Connie was 7 yrs older than Pete, and 9 yrs older than Dorothy. She was a mother figure to us. We played cards and put jigsaw puzzles together. She lived in New Orleans, Nova Scotia, Seattle Washington, and Houston with her job. She was very bubbly when I called. Very inquisitive too. We went to the children museum to see how things worked. She also looked for blue stones in the floor at the capital. She donated her body to medical students, to honor our parents who were in WWII. Connie had a good sense of humor. We climbed onto the jackalope at Wall Drug, and sang with the big ape. She will be missed.
Personal Remarks from Connie's friends.
I noticed this week in Connie’s church directory photo, she made sure to wear her cross necklace. This was important to her, because it symbolized a blessing. In fact, the first time she asked for a blessing on this cross- it was Pastor Susan serving the church. Somewhere along the way, Connie misplaced the cross. When she found it, her first stop was to my office to ask for another blessing. Sometimes we need a visual reminder of the blessing that dwells within us, don’t we? I imagine you have your own version of Connie’s cross necklace. We all want to hear God’s voice, “This is my child, my chosen.”
So it was no surprise to me when Jeff called from Feigums to ask if I might honor Connie’s desire to receive a final blessing before her body was sent to USD for medical education. As I was praying over her lifeless body, I recalled as much as I knew about her wild and wonderful life. My tears that day affirmed not only how grateful I felt to have blessed Connie along her way, but also what a blessing she has been. What a blessing each of us holds in the vulnerable and honest parts of our souls.
I’d like for us to conclude today by remembering this: no matter what happens to us in this lifetime, we’ve never really lost the most blessed part of us- the glimmer of hope that is ours to behold in our coming moment of transfiguration. And no matter when that day comes for each of us, may we use this one broken and beautiful life we’ve been given to shine!
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
On New Member Sunday, here’s the perfect question to ask: With centuries of bad press and some really awful abuse across so many parts of the Christian church, why would anyone still choose to join one? I mean, really! History proves it: we’re just a bunch of humans who get it wrong half the time. There is nothing magical about religion. What is it, then, that continues to compel us to choose church, even all these years later? Even when the name of Christ has been used to hurt others?
You surely have your own answers. Here’s mine: because even when Christ’s name has been used to hurt others- it’s been humans inflicting the pain and judgment, not Jesus. How do we know? Because of his exact teaching we hear today. Jesus is SO clear, even when it’s hard for us to hear & do: Love your enemies. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Be merciful. Do not judge; Do not condemn. Always forgive.
Another reason I choose church? Because it’s a community of people who challenge me to be the best version of myself. Do you sense this too? Like Sunday mornings can be a reset of priorities? Like a short conversation with a beloved church friend can help you see your problem from a fresh perspective? Like opening your heart in worship somehow cleanses your expectations on another person’s behavior? Like it’s a chance to start over again?
All of that can only happen when we have real relationships. And at its best, church is a place for those kinds of friendship to form.
Religion professor Sarah Henrich says of Jesus’ Luke 6 teaching- it’s all about creating healthy relationships. She says, “This longing for relationship is not something unique to the ancient world. Longing for a faithful relationship, where promises are kept, and roots can go deep, a relationship that can be healing and produce joy is not something of the past. Jesus’ words to those who continue to listen today, who “give heed” in that old-fashioned phrase, promise that we have a part in that relationship with Christ and the church too. We are called to live in God’s realm, in accord with God’s character; the power is there for us to do it, to be caught up, to be healed, to lose the hostile spirits that hold us captive, to receive and live mercy.”
What then, does mercy mean? Jesus is teaching these concepts of faithful living to counter the abuse going on in human circles. Turning the other cheek does NOT mean be a pushover or allow abuse to occur. It means we lay the groundwork, one person at a time, for a community in which accountability and grace co-exist. With Christ leading the way, we practice being people that affirm everyone’s value. Sometimes that looks like naming behaviors that hurt others. Other times it means listening to the stories of pain that precipitated someone’s abusive behavior. When done in an honest relationship, that is all mercy. And it’s the remedy to our vindictive impulses as humans. Instead of judging others as evil because of what they’ve done, we see them as God sees them: people who bear the image of the divine- fault lines and all.
How is this effective? Well if you’ve ever reached the point of forgiving someone who really hurt you, you don’t need any convincing. You KNOW the power of mercy and forgiveness. You KNOW the power of choosing love. When (and only when) we finally grasp our own belovedness- we begin to see that which is worthy of love in another.
That’s why I choose church, because you all ground me in this truth. Fred Rogers says, “It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our very being is good stuff.”
How do we counter abuse without condemning others? We form a community in which mutual support and discernment alleviates abusive behaviors in the first place, by holding people accountable & by extending grace in the name of Christ. Why? Because people only change when held accountable in a supportive, not vindictive way. Redemption is possible when we trust that Christ can use us to transform abuse into healing.
The truth is, sometimes our spirits are so repressed that we won’t come to our redemption story this side of eternity. Even so, the very best place I’ve seen us try is in a church community. Families can be wonderful and supportive, but they’re often a fairly closed system-with power dynamics that make true accountability difficult. That’s what makes a church family unique: we are not a closed system. We are a dynamic community that is constantly changing and adapting, inviting new people to Christ’s table, and growing. This is why joining a church CONTINUES to be compelling, and why we absolutely celebrate the addition of new members. It’s our shared purpose to live beyond ourselves and even beyond our own families that makes the body of Christ really cool: we get to be a living expression of God’s word.
Welcome to the fold, friends. It’s here that we are free to become the best versions of ourselves. And we’re doing it today and everyday: laying the groundwork for a community in which accountability and grace co-exist. It’s here where “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Jesus is creating a new standard for what it means to be blessed. The religious elites of his day had convinced themselves that they deserved more than others, because their status in society aligned them closer to God. Maybe because they studied hard. Or because their family lineage was stellar. Or simply because it was their job to pray, to maintain temple standards, to be a visible likeness of God in the world. Have you ever faced that feeling yourself? I’m deserving of what I have, I worked hard, I’m important, I maintain standards. These feelings aren’t inherently bad or even wrong (it’s true- we work hard, right?). It’s when we allow these attitudes to divide us from others that becomes problematic.
How so? Well here’s one poor person you’re pulling away from with that logic. Jesus: He comes from nothing. He is a REFUGE. He doesn’t own a home or land or anything that would make him important in our day. And he is still the SON OF GOD. Jesus comes to set the record straight for you, for me, for anyone who thinks they are more worthy than another because of material wealth. True blessing is found not in earthly wealth or prosperity. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
We know Jesus desires all of us to have enough, not to be poor. He says it like this: I have come so you may have LIFE and have it in abundance. Enough food, enough friends, enough purpose, enough to live fully. I also know Jesus could smell excess a mile away (case in point: those religious elites of his day). You know the problem with having too much? It deceives us into thinking we’re self-sufficient. Maybe we start to believe we don’t even need God. This is the lie Jesus confronts when he preaches to those who are rich. He shakes us free from this false sense of security in earthly wealth. No matter how much we own, it’s never enough to save us; heck, it may even hinder our wellbeing.
I love the gospel; I’m also fascinated by science. As it turns out, Jesus teaches us what science tells us over 2000 years later. Excess wealth is NOT a predictor of happiness.
According to a study called “The Psychology of Wealth” published in 2014 in the Journal of Financial Planning, “The strongest predictor of financial satisfaction is the level of material desires one has, and his or her ability to afford them (Johnson and Krueger). As such, psychological perceptions about financial matters may be more important to life satisfaction than the actual financial matters themselves.”
Or as Fred Rogers says, “It’s not so much what we have in this life that matters. It’s what we do with what we have.” In 21st Century America, many of us (even in the lower tax brackets) have MORE than any human society in history. It makes a difference to acknowledge that for many of us, what we have IS ALREADY enough.
Even still, income inequality continues to be a real thing. According to research published in a 2009 Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, “ Inequalities in wealth are strongly associated with psychological distress, over and above other demographic variables and baseline health status.”
Fred Rogers offers a remedy: “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
What does all this mean? Having enough improves our wellbeing, something Jesus is concerned about. Keep in mind, he’s also concerned about our neighbors, every blessed one of them. Having too much becomes a distraction from what truly matters, if we let it. As humans, the more we have, the better we become at hoarding. We can also become pretty judgy about who is and is not deserving of nice things. I absolutely can.
Jesus comes to set the record straight for anyone who thinks they are more worthy than another because of material wealth. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” If we spend our lives chasing “more,” we will always come up hungry in the end. BUT, if we allow what we’ve been given to flow freely- meeting our needs AND the needs of others around us, we won’t be tempted to hoard. We won’t be deceived by the lie that we are more worthy of wealth than another. Giving in grace saves us from coming up empty-hearted in the end.
Are we Christians perfect at it? Of course not, but the most dedicated and selfless folks I know give freely of themselves and their resources. And they’re also the happiest people I’ve ever met. This church is home to many of you. Thank you for extending yourselves each week for our local non-profits. It’s been such a life-giving experience for me to witness all this generosity. We give to others because we believe what Christ offers us is already enough. Remember, even if others think you’re crazy for living so generously, Jesus says, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven!” Amen and amen.
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
I often wonder how those early disciples had the guts to drop their lives and follow Jesus. Just like that- the guy predicts where fish might be, and Simon Peter is sold! So are James and John. Sure, Jesus, let’s fish for people! They couldn’t have known what they were signing up for exactly, no one could. But they believed in Jesus, they were compelled by his message. Here it is- it’s the same one he gives us today: “You are worthy of belonging.” Let’s not get caught up in the fishing- or even the miracle Jesus performs. The main truth is that Jesus chooses regular people to do extraordinary things. All the time, even today. And the invitation remains the same: “Come, follow me; not only will YOU belong, we’ll help others believe they belong too.”
When I hear this story in terms of belonging and purpose, I get it. That message compelled me to follow Jesus early in my life. I belong to a God who loves me enough to believe I can make a difference with my life? Yes, please! That’s powerful! And it continues to be the deep truth that compels me into a life of service. The older I get, the more that truth is affirmed. I believe that deep down, none of us actually needs (or even wants) a fancy car or amazing job or all the friends. We simply want to know we belong- that our lives have purpose.
This is all that interior “big feelings” stuff we don’t really make space to talk about much; and we ignore it to our own detriment. As people, and especially as a society. Our sense of belonging and purpose influences a heck of a lot of our decisions. Jesus doesn’t ignore any of that gritty emotional stuff, because he knows sorting out our interior selves is the path to abundant life. That’s salvation at work, friends. And Jesus has paved the way for us, if only we have ears to hear and hearts to believe.
What’s it going to take before you believe that Jesus wants to have you on board? Maybe you chuckle as you think, “I wouldn’t mind a miracle!” What if that miracle was the voice of a caring person reminding you that you belong? That you are worthy of love? One voice of affirmation CAN make all the difference. This is the mission of SD Kids Belong, and it’s an essential part of making real change in this world- instilling this belief in every single child among us.
Ever since I was a kid myself, my heart has ached for kids who weren’t sure where they belonged. My friend Holly knows the foster care system intimately. Growing up in NJ, she was five when her mom told her she was heading to the store for milk, only she never came back. Holly waited and waited, but her mom never showed. Families are complex, and in Holly’s case, her mother never relinquished her parental rights, so Holly wasn’t adopted. She just lived in perpetual wondering- did she belong anywhere? Even more, was she worthy of a family?
Listen, I have no desire to demonize her mom. We make the decisions we do bc of countless variables always at play in our lives. But I share Holly’s story today from the point of view of a 5 year-old girl who never could figure out who she might count on- even well into adulthood. Thankfully Holly had a supportive foster care mom for parts of her childhood, but the deep ache in her soul remained.
I met Holly through a ministry of RCHP- my church in NJ that turned the roof of their church into housing for girls aging out of the foster care system. I’ve known no population that’s more vulnerable AND capable of transforming their lives and this world with the right support. Holly and her peers taught me how powerful sharing a little time and focus can be. I won’t tell you I changed her life, exactly, because I didn’t. But I came alongside her in the midst of it. I was an older sister of sorts. We went shopping, I cut her hair, we ate out at fun restaurants, we played games, we decorated her room, we bought groceries and cooked meals together. Sometimes we’d just sit and chat. I made sure she had something special for her birthday.
I’ll be truthful- it wasn’t always easy to make the time or gather my focus enough to really be present. She also had strong opinions and a pretty negative take on things. But as I’d drive back to my apartment after time spent with Holly, a remarkable truth washed over me: she is worthy of every second I offer. Fred Rogers captures this human need to feel worthy just the way we are:
It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair– But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you– Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys–
They’re just beside you.
But it’s you I like–
Every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself,
It’s you, it’s you I like.
Friends-it’s you I like, every part of you. You belong, right here in this faith home. More importantly, you belong to Christ. And if you know that, the invitation is simple: help spread the good news that every single child of God is worthy of belonging too.
If your heart is moved by the idea of giving children in our Pierre/Ft. Pierre area space to feel loved and appreciated, let me know! Your gifts may just be the exact thing a WRAP team needs to support a foster care family. I’ll create a list of names and how you might like to get involved, then I trust God to bring it all together. Because God is definitely in the business of belonging! And so are we!
When Jesus invites these unlucky fishermen into his service, he’s calling us all. He says, “I will use whatever gifts you have to help draw people into my love. That’s it! That’s the key to abundant life!”
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.