Surprised By Faith

Surprised By Faith

The Transfiguration
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became bright as light. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will set up three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they raised their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Matthew 17:1-9 (NRSVUE)

As most of you know, last week, we lost one of our beloved members. Carolyn Delgado was a shining light here in Oldtown, always greeting others with a warm smile and her “Hello dear, how are you?” She loved attending worship on Sundays, Coffee Connection (our Wednesday morning coffee hour), and working at our Oldtown suppers and yard sales. She would always ask, “What can I do, dear?” Or “Do you need any help, dear?” And as most Oldtowners know, if she didn’t get an answer, or should I say the answer she was looking for, she would just step in and start doing what she thought needed to be done, whether it was setting a table, or serving coffee, holding a crying baby, or just organizing things.

Last week, at her service, I read a eulogy that was written by her family, and in it, I learned a lot about Carolyn, or should I say “Carol,” that I didn’t know. I knew that she loved babies and little children, but I had no idea how many children and families she’d cared for over the years. Not just her own children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, but nieces and nephews and the children of neighbors and friends and coworkers. She was known as Mom or Nana or Mrs. D to so many.

For many, many years, she worked in the Attleboro school system as a cook and cafeteria worker, feeding generations of families. Later, she worked at the Motorola International Training center in Mansfield, where she welcomed and fed people from all around the world. And finally, she volunteered to serve up meals at the Attleboro Senior Center as she chatted with local friends.

Carolyn was also known for bringing meals to people who were sick or struggling, and she didn’t let anything, not even a worldwide pandemic stop her. On a personal note, I remember the day my dad died; we were in the midst of the pandemic, the church building was closed, and everyone was staying safe in their homes. I was at my mom’s house, and we were trying to wrap our heads around what had just happened and what we needed to do next when the doorbell rang. Carolyn walked in with fresh homemade macaroni and cheese and a loaf of banana bread. Carolyn lived to feed and care for others, so it should be no surprise that she loved working on our Oldtown suppers because she felt right at home!

Another thing that I didn’t know about Carolyn is that she used to enjoy mountain climbing. She, her husband Frank, her kids Marianne, Kathy, Wayne, and Bobby, and even their dog Patches used to climb Cannon Mountain and Mount Lafayette. Now I say that she enjoyed it, though one of her favorite stories about mountain climbing that was shared at her service last week was about her son Bobby when he was five years old. As the story goes, he was huffing and puffing out of breath as they climbed the mountain, and he turned to his mom and asked, “Mommy, why are we doing this?” to which she replied, huffing and puffing, “I don’t know, ask your father.”

In our scripture reading today, we heard about another mountain climbing trip. This one did not include Carolyn and Frank, and the kids. This one was about Jesus and his friends Peter, James, and John. As the story goes, they were climbing up a mountain together when suddenly Jesus’ appearance started to change. One minute he was his regular Jesus self, and the next minute he started to sparkle and shine. Scripture says, “He was transfigured before them, his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became bright as light.” And if that wasn’t enough, “suddenly there appeared Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” 

Can you imagine how Peter, James, and John must have felt? Can you imagine what it must have been like? Here you’ve been climbing a mountain with your friends. You’re beginning to get tired and hungry, your feet and your legs are getting sore, and you’re huffing and puffing. Perhaps you even start to feel frustrated because you’re not even sure where you are going or why, for that matter, when suddenly one of your friends, the one that has been leading you on this journey, starts to shine. I mean physically shine!

His clothes become a dazzling white, whiter and brighter than you have ever seen. Then you see two people who you have never seen before, but wait! You start to recognize them as Moses and Elijah, who lived about fifteen hundred years earlier! Then all of a sudden, the sound of blowing wind and the rustling trees and the chirping birds stops, and in the stillness, you hear the voice of God saying, “THIS IS MY SON. THE BELOVED. IN WHO I AM WELL PLEASED. LISTEN TO HIM!!” Then, as quickly as it began, it was over.

How do you think Peter, James, and John felt? They must have been terrified, don’t you think? I would have been, and Scripture tells us that they were: “When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus, Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.'”

My friends, here in the church, we celebrate this “transfiguration of Jesus” halfway between Christmas and Easter. It always comes just before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of lent because it marks the transition between Jesus’ public ministry when the world sees him as fully human, and the story of his passion, when the world begins to understand that he is also fully divine.

And the presence of Moses and Elijah, along with the voice of God saying “THIS IS MY SON. THE BELOVED. IN WHO I AM WELL PLEASED. LISTEN TO HIM!!”? That indicated that the Law and the Prophets must now give way to Jesus, who will replace the old way with a new way. Whew! That’s a lot to take in!

Well, folks, the important piece that I am hoping we’ll grasp this morning is that it was only once Jesus let his true self shine, it was only once the disciples witnessed the real Jesus, who he really was on the inside, that the presence of God could shine out of him.

Now friends, as follows of Jesus, we tend to believe what we hear in the scriptures, right? But this story? I don’t know. It sounds pretty strange, doesn’t it? It’s one of those moments that we can’t fully explain, and any time we experience things we can’t fully explain, that sense of mystery tends to bring out several different responses. We can be filled with fear like the disciples were. As scripture says, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. We can be filled with doubt, questioning what we experienced or heard as we begin to look for scientific proof as to how it happened. Or we can be filled with an incredible sense of awe, knowing that what we just experienced, though we can’t explain it, is somehow sacred or holy.

The truth is, though Jesus’ appearance did change that day, the sparkle and shine that came from him also changed his friends, the disciples, because it began to show them that there was more to Jesus than human eyes could see and human hearts could begin to understand. It was the first time that the divine inside of Jesus was apparent to the world around him.

Friends, I wonder, how would you react if a person in the pew next to you started to sparkle and shine? Would you be nervous and afraid, maybe even get up and walk out of the sanctuary? Would you look around, trying to figure out if they had a special light shining on them? After all, it must be a trick of some kind. Or would you be in awe of that which you can’t explain, simply holding onto the mystery and the fact that you might be standing or sitting on holy ground?

As I told you earlier, along with celebrating the life of Carolyn Delgado today, we are also remembering the five-year anniversary of the passing of Betty Grant. Betty was a long-time member and deacon here in Oldtown, and she was also well known as the hostess at Dyer Lake Funeral Home. Betty was the essence of extravagant hospitality and warm welcome, and I know many of you here today were first welcomed to Oldtown by Betty.

But Betty had another gift, something that she was very good at. She was a people person, and she had a very strong faith. And because of that, she trusted in things that she couldn’t explain. And in so doing, she experienced an amazing world of mystery all around her, like the dimes that her husband Joe would leave for her and her family in unexpected places, or Joe’s uncanny ability, from the other side, to get her parking spots by the front door of wherever she was going. But one of Betty’s most amazing gifts was that she would see and comment on the sparkle that she saw in another person’s eyes, meaning that she saw something special in them, something that the world might not see. You see, Betty could often see the gifts within others before they could see them in themselves.

I remember when our church celebrated its three-hundredth anniversary back in 2012. We had a special worship service and a chicken BBQ out back in Maxcy Hall to celebrate. And we had lots of visitors! But there was one visitor in particular that stands out in my memory, a cute little lady with a sweet smile who insisted that her family had been part of Oldtown for generations. As she told her story, Betty saw the sparkle in her eye, and she knew that something special was happening. She knew that there was a reason this lady was here, and with open arms, she welcomed Carolyn Delgado home to Oldtown.

You see, after getting married, Carolyn attended All Saints Episcopal Church in Attleboro because that was her husband Frank’s church. She raised her kids there and made many happy memories. But deep in her heart, she felt a call to Oldtown because, in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the Todd family, her maiden name, lived, worked, and worshiped here in Oldtown.

In the 1890s, before electricity, Carolyn’s grandpa George and his brothers Henry, James, and William started Oldtown Ice Company and they harvested ice out of the pond just down the road, delivering it to families in the area. It was a very profitable business. And Carolyn’s grandfather and several of his brothers lived in the big Victorian houses just down the street. In 1895, the Todd family, along with the Lathrop and Kent families, became owners of the Newell Tavern, which was built around 1761 right here on Old Post Road. The Newell Tavern was an important stagecoach stop and meeting place, and rumor has it George Washington even stayed there!

By the 1940s, the Newell Tavern and the Todd’s Pond ice houses were torn down, and much of the Todd land was sold to build houses. But growing up, I remember Carolyn’s Aunt Beulah, who still lived in the Victorian House just before the bridge. She was a teacher and proud member of the Oldtown Church until her passing in 1998. You may have noticed that in the garden in front of our church, there is a stone that reads “Todd Memorial Garden” which is in thanks and honor for years of service here in Oldtown by the Todd family.

Folks, I know that we have heard lots of stories today, stories about Carolyn and Betty and their families, stories about Jesus and the disciples, Moses and Elijah, stories about histories and mysteries, and things that sparkle and shine. But I think the golden thread that runs through it all is the importance of what we allow ourselves to believe.

During funeral services, I often talk about the fact that love is vaster than the limits of our understanding and how sometimes we can’t understand and prove everything that happens around us. Sure, sometimes we have historical records or scientific proof, but sometimes we just have to listen to our hearts and simply look for the sparkle in another person’s eye.

Because the truth is, just like Carolyn and Betty, each and every one of us was created in the image of God. So each and every one of us, like Jesus, has a light that sparkles and shines inside of us. That sparkle, my friends, is the piece of God we carry within us! We just need to let go of our fear and our doubt and not be afraid to embrace the mystery, allowing ourselves to be who God created us to be, because when we do, we sparkle and shine for the world!

So, brothers and Sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, allow yourself to be surprised by faith. Embrace the mystery all around and within you, and don’t ever be afraid to be who God created you to be, as you sparkle and shine for the whole world to see.

My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!


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