Just An Old Fashioned Love Song/Truly, Madly, Deeply – a sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, Mark 9:2-9

Audio only version here

Are you all ready for Valentine’s Day? I am. I have to be ready because this year Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday. There are all sorts of other things vying for my attention on Ash Wednesday.    So, my love and I will celebrate Valentine’s Day on Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday, and pancakes lends itself more easily to being transformed into Valentine’s Day than Ash Wednesday does with talk about remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

My preparations for Valentine’s Day have me thinking about love songs. A few years back, when Peter Rollins was here, he suggested that we needed to employ more love songs in worship. I think that’s why every time I tried to write today’s sermon, I’ve been plagued by an ear worm. I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head, so rather than fight it any longer, I want to share my ear worm with you. It’s an old song, an “Old Fashioned LOVE Song,” that I first heard playing on the radio, back in 1975. Anybody remember the group Three Dog Night?  Listen to my ear worm:  Just an Old Fashioned Love Song.

That old fashioned love song was playing in my head every time I tried to climb up onto the mountaintop with Jesus. Each time I ventured into the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark’s vision of Jesus on the mountaintop, I heard the electric guitars of Three Dog Night. Those old cords summoned up the year 1975, the year that I graduated from high school. I was just 17 years old. I had precious little idea who I was when I was 17, I knew even less about what love is, but I sure thought I knew who Jesus was. I was hopelessly in love with Jesus. And even though I can’t carry a tune, I sang all sorts of love songs to Jesus. One of those love songs, I bet you all remember.

            I come to the garden alone,

            While the dew is still on the roses,

            And the voice I hear falling on my ear

            The Son of God discloses.

            And He walks with me,

            and He talks with me,

            And He tells me I am His own;

            And the joy we share as we tarry there,

            None other has ever known.

            He speaks, and the sound of His voice

            Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,

            And the melody that He gave to me

            Within my heart is ringing.

            And He walks with me,

            and He talks with me,

            And He tells me I am His own;

            And the joy we share as we tarry there,

            None other has ever known.

            I’d stay in the garden with Him,

            Though the night around me be falling,

            But He bids me go; through the voice of woe

            His voice to me is calling.

            And He walks with me,

            and He talks with me,

            And He tells me I am His own;

            And the joy we share as we tarry there,

            None other has ever known.

Now that’s what I call an old-fashioned love song. I can’t tell you how often I sang this love song to my beloved Jesus. Nor can I tell you how much my beloved Jesus has changed over the years. That naïve 17-year-old girl who sang it way back when, well she may not have known who she was, but she was absolutely sure who Jesus was. But the Jesus that she was so sure that she knew is a far cry from the Jesus she knows today. I think have a better idea about who I am today, and I suspect that I have a much better idea about who Jesus is. But I know that who I am today, is not who I will be in the years to come and I trust that who Jesus is will continue to change. Lovers always do. Think about the one with whom you share the deepest of intimacies. Think about how it was when you first became intimate with one another. Now think about the intimacy you share today. That quality of the intimacy has changed. As love grows deeper, fuller, we are blessed with new ways of seeing, of knowing, of touching, of loving.

When the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Mark sat down to convey who and what this Jesus of Nazareth was, he created a story that resonated with his community. They thought they knew who Jesus was and then the gospel storyteller told them a story that gave them a glimpse of who Jesus really was. At the top of a mountain, Jesus was transformed before them.

The story as it has been handed down to us, tells about all sorts of things happening around the disciples, and it is full of symbolism. The mountain is shrouded in cloud, just like Mt. Sinai was when Moses climbed up. The appearance of Jesus was changed, in ways similar to Moses when he was in the presence of God. Moses and Elijah appeared, to fulfill prophecy. A voice from heaven speaks, confirming what was spoken at Jesus baptism, “this is my child, he pleases me, listen to him.” It’s as though the disciples have never really seen just who Jesus is before this moment. In this moment Jesus is transformed right before their eyes and they can never again see him as they once did.

Each of us carries with us our own understanding of the reality that we call “God.”  Each of us has our own way of dealing with the awesome nature of the LOVE we call “God”. For the most part our images of God help us to be in relationship with this LOVE. We need those images.   But unless we are prepared to travel up the odd mountain or two and look beyond our images to the awesome nature of the MYSTERY that IS God, our images become no more than useless idols.

Our ancestors believed that when Moses returned from the mountaintop with the tablets of the law, right up there at the top of the first tablet was a warning that we would do well to heed. “You shall have no gods except me. You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them.”

When we cling too tightly to our images we run the risk of holding on to an idol. When we refuse to allow our understanding of the MYSTERY to be transformed by the MYSTERY, on a mountaintop, by the seashore, at a friend’s bedside, in a lover’s embrace, at a funeral, at the birth of a child, at Christ’s table, or in any of the million and one places LOVE may choose to reveal LOVE’s self, then we shut ourselves off from LOVE and we become little more than idol worshippers.

Our relationship with MYSTERY, our faith, our understanding of who Jesus is, of what LOVE can do is constantly undergoing changes. Change is a vital part of what life is. There are transfigurations, and transformations in our understandings that are sometimes dramatic mountaintop experiences, and sometimes just little light-bulb moments. Some of us experience earth-shattering shocks. But more often than not these transformations come as little eye openers. If we allow ourselves to follow Jesus, then we have to expect that from time to time, we’ll see a side of Jesus that we never knew existed and never in our wildest dreams expected to meet.

There’s and Irish expression that says, when you stop expecting the unexpected, you might just as well lie down and pull the sod over your head because you’re as good as dead if there are no surprises left in your life. I can still vividly remember the surprise I had when I discovered who I am. It happened in the arms of my beloved. Wrapped in the love that Carol brought into my life, I was transformed. Together, we have climbed all sorts of mountains, some figuratively, some literally. Our song, the song that reminds us of who we are and how we fell in love, may not be an old-fashioned love song, but it does have the power to transform us from two old ladies just getting on with our day, into two women, who love, truly, madly, deeply.   Truly, Madly, Deeply, that’s actually the name of our song.

            “I’ll be your dream, I’ll be your wish,

            I’ll be your fantasy.
I’ll be your hope,

            I’ll be your love,

            be everything that you need.
I love you more with every breath,

            truly madly deeply do
I will be strong, I will be faithful

            ’cause I’m counting on a new beginning.
A reason for living. A deeper meaning.

            I want to stand with you on a mountain.
I want to bathe with you in the sea.
I want to lay like this forever.
Until the sky falls down on me.”

May each of you be transformed by the surprises you see in the LOVE that we call God.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

May the LOVE that is God

Surprise you.

May the delights of Jesus,

Move you.

May the passion of the Spirit

Inspire you.

For you are made, by LOVE


Happy Valentine’s Day!




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