Turning Points

CALL TO WORSHIP: The mighty one, God the Lord speaks and calls to the earth, from the rising of the sun to its setting. ‘This is my Son, the beloved; listen to Him.”

Lord, we have come. We believe that Jesus is Your Son. Speak to us now, for we are listening.

Let us imagine that we are amongst the disciples who climb the mountain with Jesus. Let us think of the steep slopes, the rough ground, the heat of the sun. At last, we reach the top. We aren’t sure why we have come, but we trust Jesus, and He is here. Suddenly, Jesus is surrounded by dazzling light, and His clothes are whiter than any white seen on earth.

Lord, we have not climbed a mountain to be here, but we have each made our own journey and now we are in Your presence. Some of us have come to this place many times before, whilst others may be here for the first time.

Whichever is true for us, help us by Your Spirit to see how wonderful and special You are. In this time of worship, may we give You all the honour that You deserve. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

HYMN 342: ALL HAIL THE POWER OF JESU’S NAME! -StF.

PRAYER OF ADORATION: As the disciples watched what was happening at the top of the mountain, a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to Him. In our prayers of Adoration, we are going to remember who Jesus is. Let us pray.

Gracious God, we offer You our praise, because You spoke the word and created the world in which we live. We praise You for its beauty, its wonder, the rich variety of minerals, plants and creatures.

We praise You because Jesus was part of Your plan from the very beginning. Jesus was the word through which everything was made, and Jesus is the one who holds everything together. When people turned away from You and did things that were wrong, You sent Jesus to live among us, to show us what a life looks like when it is lived to please You.

He became a human being, preaching, teaching, and healing. Through Him, heaven touched earth, and sometimes people looked at Him, and saw all Your beauty shining through, like dazzling white light.

Because He always obeyed You, rather than human beings, He was put to death on the cross. But You raised Him to new life, and now He is at Your right hand in heaven shining with glorious brightness.

You send Your Holy Spirit to live in us, teaching us what it means to follow Jesus, and helping us to obey You. On that we, who trust in You will always continue to depend on you. Amen

TALK FOR ALL: CAN’T BELIEVE YOUR EYES ( Mark 9:2-9)

Have you ever seen something so surprising, so beautiful, or so exciting that you could hardly believe your eyes?

Sometimes rainbows form as double rainbows that arch across the sky. The glistening colours are so dazzling that you must run to get someone to look at it with you.

Perhaps you are looking out a window on a stormy night and see lightening zip across the sky. Your mom or dad may say, “Yes, I saw that too.”

Maybe you have seen the Grand Canyon, a tall tree like a sequoia, or a skyscraper that seems to reach into the clouds. Objects that are very large make us question what we are seeing; we wonder if the object is really as big as it seems and we ask others to see what they think.

When Jesus lived on earth he took three of his disciples and went to a high mountain to be apart from the crowds of people. While he was on the mountain a great change came over him and “his clothing became glistening, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them” (9:3).

The disciples were frightened. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

“A cloud came, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him'” (9:7).

The voice was God’s voice. What they saw was so surprising, so beautiful, so exciting that the disciples needed to hear God telling them that what they saw was true. God said, “This is my Son…listen to him!” (9:7).

That is the best advice for us today and everyday. This is Jesus. Listen to him!

HYMN 91: THE GOD OF ABRAHAM PRAISE – StF

PRAYER OF CONFESSION AND THANKSGIVING: Lord of all, the disciples of Jesus were given many chances to see who Jesus was, but sometimes they failed to do so. We, too, can sometimes make the same mistake. We come to You now to say that we are sorry.

For being so busy about our own concerns that we fail to notice You at work, Lord forgive us.

For becoming so used to knowing You that we forget how very special You are

Lord forgive us.

For being afraid rather than trusting in Your power and Your presence, Lord, forgive us.

Jesus came, lived and died so that we might be forgiven. We thank You Lord, that You forgive our mistakes and give us a new start in Him. Help us to trust Him more

and to follow Him better. In His name we pray. Amen

READINGS: 2 KINGS 2: 1-12 and MARK 9: 2-9

HYMN 317- AT THE NAME OF JESUS- StF

SERMON: TURNING POINTS (MARK 9: 2-9)

This morning I’d like for us to think about turning points – those pivotal moments in which we change course and take a different direction, for better or for worse. My interest is spawned by the story of the Transfiguration. As we’ll see, it proved to be a key turning point in Jesus’ life and ministry. We’ll take a quick look at the story, then we’ll think about the significance of turning points in our own lives.

First, the story. According to Mark, Jesus and his disciples went all the way up to Caesarea Philippi, at the base of Mount Hermon. It was here that Jesus asked his disciples, “‘Who do men say that I am?’ They told him, ‘John the Baptizer, and others say Elijah, but others: one of the prophets.’ He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”” (Mark 8:27-29)

Mark goes on to say that six days later Jesus took Peter, James and John with him, and they went up on the mountain, and there he was transfigured before their very eyes. Moses and Elijah stood beside him. His clothes became a dazzling white. A voice came from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” And then, just like that, it was over and everything went back to normal. (Mark 9:2-8)

For the early church, the transfiguration served as a restatement that Jesus was the son of God, and that he had the authority to speak and act in God’s name. The story echoed back to Moses on Mt. Sinai, where Moses came down the mountain after meeting with God, and his face shown so brightly that he had to wear a veil. (Exodus 34:29-35)

Anyway you look at it the transfiguration marked a turning point in Jesus’ life. Up to now, he’d been teaching, preaching and healing in the area north of the Sea of Galilee. After the transfiguration, all that stopped. He came down the mountain and headed south. As Luke put it, “He intently set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51)

I’d like for us to think about turning points we see every day. They’re everywhere. For example, in football, we know that a fumble recovery or pass interception or an injured player can prove to be the turning point of the game.

In war, a decisive battle or major offensive can prove to be the turning point at which the outcome of the war is decided. For example,

• In World War II, there was the Battle of Midway in the Pacific and the Russians’ defeat of the Germans at Stalingrad.

• And, the discovery of Covid-19 vaccines has brought a turning point in the virus pandemic

There are turning points in health care. My father tells the story of a time when my grandmother was seriously ill. Everybody wondered whether or not she would recover. The family assumed a death watch. He said he was standing by her bedside when she whispered that she’d like a drink of water. A nurse happened to be in the room and heard her mumbling. “What did she just say?” he asked. Dad told him she’d asked for a drink of water. She breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Well, then, she’s going to make it.” And she did.

Life is filled with turning points. Some are unintentional. Life throws you a curve, and the effects are life-changing. In a negative way: Unexpected circumstances can have tragic consequences. You hear things like …

• “That accident changed the course of her life. She was never the same after that.”

• “He never got over her death.”

• “When he lost his job, that’s when his life took a turn for the worse.”

• “He was a different man when he came home after the war.”

On the other hand, tragic circumstances can have positive consequences. For example,

• “I thought all was lost when the business failed; turns out, it was a blessing in disguise.”

Some turning points come about because someone else cared enough – or dared enough – to intervene. A woman told me the other day about how she had all but dropped out of church, but a couple of the other women wouldn’t give up on her. Turns out, they took it upon themselves to pry her out of her shell. They called her one evening and said they’d be by to pick her up to go to the fellowship. She didn’t have much choice. It proved to be just the stimulus she needed.

Another told me about how he came to faith. He said a couple of girls kept pestering him to go to church with them. Finally, he gave in and went to a service or two. He enjoyed the music and the fellowship and he related well to the minister. He started going on his own. Then one day one of the members encouraged him to make a profession of faith, and he did. He got down on his knees and prayed for Jesus to come into his life. He said that marked the beginning of a whole new way of life for him – a life of peace and joy he’d never known before.

When it comes to turning points, the Good News is that, in many ways, God gives us the grace to choose the direction we want to go. As a young person, for example, you can join the army or go to college or get married or take up a particular trade. As an older adult, you can choose to keep working or retire; to venture out or stay put. It’s up to you.

Plus, there are times when you come to a turning point in your life and you consciously say to yourself, “From now on …”, and that becomes for you the start of a new life. For example,

• Giving up an old habit. I was three years old when my father quit smoking. For one thing, the cigarette smoke affected my asthma. I’d catch a big whiff and I couldn’t stop coughing.

Plus, it was expensive. He had better things to do with his money than buy cigarettes. So, he quit—he never lit up again. That was many years ago. He says it was one of the best decisions of his life.

• Recovering alcoholics say the same thing. Many celebrate their birthday, not on the day they were born, but on the day they stopped drinking. It’s the turning point of their lives.

• Starting a new habit can have the same effect. I knew a man who was grossly overweight. He started having major back pain. The doctor told him he might avoid surgery if he lost some weight. So, he went to a rehab centre, changed his diet and started working out. In time, he lost the excess weight and got in great physical shape, so that, to this day, he can outrun, out-lift and outlast most men half his age.

You may well be at a turning point in your life today, a place where you need to decide which way to go. If so, I encourage you to look to God to trust God to lead you down the right path.

Of course, the greatest turning point in the life of any Christian is the moment you accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour; when, in the words of an old revival song, you’re able to sing, “I have decided to follow Jesus … no turning back, no turning back.”

But that’s not always as simple as it sounds. As many of you would like to know, I was baptized as a baby and grew up going to Sunday School and church every Sunday. Afar back as I can remember, I knew that God loved me and that Christ died for my sins. Many of you could say the same thing. So, what does it mean when we talk about accepting Jesus and being saved?

I think about this older student at Wesley House in Cambridge, who was working on a Ph. D. in Old Testament. He was like a 20th Century scribe – he pored over the scriptures day and night. I can’t imagine anyone more devout than he. Well, one day he was eating a sandwich when a teenager walked up out of the blue and said, “Mister, have you found Jesus?” Not batting an eye, he looked up and said, “What? Have you lost him again?”

What does it mean to be saved when you’re already saved? I’ve been asking that question for a long time now. Here’s just part of what I’ve found.

One person I asked used the word surrender. He said he knew that he was a child of God and that he was saved. But he said he also knew that there were parts of his life that he didn’t want God to have anything to do with; that, to be honest, he lived by the motto, “not Thy will, mine be done.” Yet, he knew that he’d never be at peace until he surrendered his will to God’s will and so, one day he did just that. He surrendered his life to Christ and vowed to trust God, no matter what. From that point on, his life took a turn for the better.

Another used the term, “letting go.” And accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour: “Letting go,” and letting God watch over you and guide you, trusting that God won’t let you fall.

O.K., let’s go back to Jesus and the Transfiguration. It was the turning point of his life and ministry in Galilee. The way Mark tells the story, when he came down from the mountain and headed to Jerusalem he knew full well what he could expect when he got there. Not a week before, he’d told his disciples, “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer

many things, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)

Yet, knowing what the future had in store for him, he went anyway. In Paul’s words, “…he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8)

This is how I hear the Transfiguration speaking to us today: Christ has set the example. Because he has shown us the way, we can follow in his footsteps and allow God to use us as instruments of his grace and love, as he chooses.

I don’t know of anyone who understood this better and expressed it more beautifully than Thomas Troeger. He begins by saying, “Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory, heaven’s voice, the dazzling light,” and goes on to recount the story of the Transfiguration. Then he writes,

“Lord, transfigure our perception with the purest light that shines, And recast our life’s intentions to the shape of your designs, Till we seek no other glory than what lies past Calvary’s hill And our living and our dying and our rising by your will.” (Presbyterian Hymnal, p. 73)

The season of Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday. May that be a turning point for us, as we accept Christ anew and resolve to walk evermore in his foot-steps.

HYMN 259: JESUS, ON THE MOUNTAIN PEAK– StF

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION: In our Old Testament reading, Elisha had to cope with great change as Elijah was taken from him into heaven. In the Gospel, the disciples witnessed a change in the appearance of Jesus, and struggled to understand it. Today, in our prayers, we shall be thinking of those coping with change.

Let us pray.

Lord, in the midst of change, Thank you that You stay the same.

First we pray for the leaders of this country, and of other countries. So often, they have to manage change, deciding how to spend money, use other resources, and relate to other countries. Help them to remember all those who are affected by the changes that they make, and consider everyone in their decision making.

Lord, in the midst of change, Thank you that You stay the same.

We pray for the church everywhere, struggling to make changes that will equip it to speak to people in ways that they can understand. We pray for fresh expressions of churches, new styles of worship and new members. Help those who are implementing change to be sensitive

and thoughtful. Be with those who find it hard to cope with changes in the church. May all Your people remember that Jesus is the one who should occupy the central place.

Lord, in the midst of change, Thank you that You stay the same.

We pray for those who are facing change in their working lives; for those who have lost their jobs, and are seeking employment; for those who have retired, and are missing the daily routine; for those starting new courses at university or school. Help them not to be afraid of change, but to step into the future, knowing that You go with them.

Lord, in the midst of change, Thank you that You stay the same.

We pray for those facing change because of illness; for those who are having to make big changes to their lives, or to their homes; for those who know they will have to have a long spell in hospital; for those who cannot do what they used to be able to do. Help them to remember that You love and value them, whatever their abilities.

Lord, in the midst of change, Thank you that You stay the same.

We remember how Elisha watched Elijah went to heaven. We pray for those whose loved ones have died. They are seeing a big change in their family circle. Comfort them in their sadness, and give them joy as they think of happy memories.

Lord, in the midst of change, Thank you that You stay the same.

We pray now for ourselves. Some of us may be facing change at the moment; for others, life may go on much as before. But whichever it may be, help us all to put our trust in You, for whatever our situation may be, You are with us always.

Lord, in the midst of change, Thank you that You stay the same. Amen

HYMN 260: SWIFTLY PASS THE CLOUDS OF GLORY -StF

BLESSINGS: After the dazzling light had gone back to heaven, Jesus walked with his disciples down the mountain. We thank You for this time that we have spent with You today. May we remember that Jesus stays with us. And may the Blessings of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit Be upon us and remain with us always. Amen