TRANSFORMATION & GOD’S PERFECT TIMING
SERMON FOR AUGUST 25, 2019
Chaplain Elizabeth Lahti Rosensaft
ROMANS 12:2: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
2 CORINTHIANS 3:18 “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Did you ever have an experience than really could only be termed “surreal”? Dream-like? Something that stands out from the ordinary that can’t seem to leave your mind? Did you feel the experience changed you in some way?
A month ago, Ed and I left for Mt Airy, NC for our first Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng, Reunion. That alone has a feeling of being unreal, but I assure you it was quite real. You see, Ed is the Great Great Grandson of Chang Bunker, one of the original Siamese Twins. Ed is related to the Twins through his mother, Patti Hill’s, side of the family. Patti grew up in Mt. Airy, NC where her Great Grandfather Chang and conjoined twin, Eng, were quite famous. The Twins settled there after leaving the circus, met sisters- daughters of a Baptist preacher- married and had 21 offspring.
A little background: As children, the Twins lived with their parents on a boat in Siam (now Thailand.) The boys raised ducks (on a boat!) and sold their eggs to make a living. The Twins got quite a bit of attention, even from the Royal Palace, because of their unusual disability - joined together at birth by a flap of skin on their chests. Despite their physical deformities, they managed quite well and were very athletic. Eventually they caught the eye of a sea Captain who figured out a way to exploit them in American circuses. As teens, Chang and Eng left their homeland, never to see it or their family again - spending their days and nights being indentured servants, working for very little while American circuses profited.
As the Twins got older and wanted a different life, they ended up marrying NC sisters. Together the Twins amassed large quantities of land thanks to their great business acumen and without a formal education. They even built a Baptist church where they would eventually be laid to rest in the cemetery out back. Ed and I got to see this place with our own eyes. There are streets and also a bridge named for the Twins as well as a Museum honoring Ed’s famous relatives which is connected to another famous Mt Airy native, Andy Griffith. A large statue of the Twins is also in the works.
The Siamese Twins is a wonderful true story of overcoming adversity and would make a great sermon on its own- written about by many authors including Mark Twain and most recently by Yunte Huang - “Inseparable”. I could go on and on about them but I will save that story for another time.
Today I want to share with you a related story- equally as remarkable. Ed’s Mom, Patti, grew up in beautiful Mt Airy, NC. Some like to call it “Mayberry” since it is the muse of Andy Griffith’s creation. The downtown area holds Walker’s Drug Store & Fountain Shop, Snappy’s Lunch, Floyd’s Barbershop and other familiar names for Mayberry aficionados. Miss Patti eventually became a Nurse and met Ed Mantie Sr., while he was stationed in the Navy in Key West. They married, had our Ed, and later settled in Carteret NJ- daughters Carol and Claire to follow. Despite many years in Central Jersey, Miss Patti maintained her NC drawl as well as a jar of bacon grease by the stove. She entertained many with her colorful anecdotes as she cooked up Southern treats. Pattie worked hard as a night duty Nurse in a local NJ hospital and took care of her family during the day. There was little time for sleep. Many years later, Patti passed and was cremated. It was her dying wish to return to her childhood home of Mt Airy, NC and have her ashes sprinkled from Pilot Mountain. (You Andy Griffith fans may remember this as Mt Pilot.)
Ed had not been back to Mt Airy since he distributed Miss Patti’s ashes and wanted to do something special to remember his Mom. He thought about bringing yellow flowers (his Mom’s favorite color) and throwing them off the 2400ft elevation but wasn’t really satisfied with that idea. I suggested Ed write his Mom a letter, we burn it and then he blow the ashes off the mountain. Ed loved the plan and “commenced” to writing.
It was the day after the big event where the entire Royal Thai Delegation from DC, the Governor of Shamut Songkhram, Thailand (the Twins hometown) as well as the Sec’y of State of NC signed into effect
“Sister Cities” of Mt Airy and Shamut Songkhram. This morning we had attended a lovely Baptist service with Ed’s wonderful cousins Judy and Gary. Afterward, we set out on our own on what would be a very emotional and surreal afternoon.
Pilot Mountain is an awe-inspiring sight – a 2400ft elevation of the Blue Ridge Mountains and remnant of ancient Native American Sauratown Mountains. Pilot Mountain gets its name from its navigational qualities- from land and by air. There are endless views from the top for those not afraid of heights. It really takes your breath away- especially the winding road to the summit with an incredible drop just a few feet from the side of the road we were driving on. It was already becoming a spiritual journey for me as I prayed silently the Jeep wouldn’t go over the side!
We parked, had a discussion of how we would go about burning the letter, and walked to the first overlook. Let me just say it rendered me speechless and Ed will verify that doesn’t happen often. Looking out over God’s creation from such a vantage point really gives you a feeling of His majesty – the endless land, the colors, the beauty of nature, birds of prey soaring overhead…
After a few pictures, we set out on our hike to the top. Each rest area gave way to views even more devastatingly beautiful than the last. Ed found a secluded spot with only a simple open wooden fence separating us from the tops of giant trees, overlooking NC. He removed the letter to his Mom, lighted the paper and ashes started to fall. I said a prayer thanking God for Miss Patti’s life and joy in knowing she was safe in her Savior’s arms. Ed spoke a few words and told his Mom he
loved her. It was a very moving moment as we watched ashes fly into the air and become one with the mountain.
Suddenly Ed said, “LOOK!!” A few inches to his right, I saw a large yellow butterfly had landed on a purple flower. We watched, holding our collective breath –mesmerized. This beautiful yellow Swallowtail butterfly calmly fluttered its wings and kept us company- yet staying close to Ed. We took pictures, wanting to capture this incredible moment- feeling we had been a part of something really special.
Later, we talked about what a momentous trip this had been and eventually spoke of the yellow butterfly. Neither of us could get it out of our mind. What did it mean? A sign from his Mom? A sign from God to comfort Ed? Or was it just a coincidence? The timing was incredible, just after our little service.
Ed revealed to me he could have been a better son to his Mom and was apologizing to her in his letter- telling how he regretted his actions and loved her. Ed was making an amends to mother. After we both cried, I said I think the Butterfly was about forgiveness- about forgiving others and also about forgiving ourselves. There is much beauty in that.
Later, I shared this story with my friend Linda. She told me about her doctor. He had just buried his wife; the graveside service was over when a green Butterfly landed on his forehead. He was at first struck by the fact he had never seen a green butterfly before. Then, he too, wondered if this was a sign from his wife? Or God to comfort him? The Doctor mused that the timing was incredible.
Does God always show Himself to us but are we often too busy and distracted by life to notice? Is God trying to get your attention? And… why a butterfly?
The Beautiful Butterfly everyone appreciates, but it has its humble beginnings as a caterpillar. I don’t think anyone thinks the Caterpillar is beautiful. It’s definitely not delicate but chunky, furry and not nearly as colorful. Farmers certainly don’t like them to eat their crops. Caterpillars don’t glide through the air but crawl along. They are definitely the world’s best “before/after” makeover as they undergo the process of METAMORPHOSIS. Did you know that in the Greek Bible, Metamorphoo is translated to Transform? Paul’s letter in Romans tells us to metamorphoo or transform by renewing our minds. He’s telling us to be picky about the things we read, what we see, what we hear and what we do. Simply- put good stuff in – get good stuff out.
Our world is so full of anger and violence- in news, our movies and books. God’s word can’t fit in with a steady diet of that. Zig Ziglar, a Christian Motivational speaker (fav of my Dad’s) said,”Feed your mind with the good, the clean, the pure, the powerful and positive.” I believe this means read God’s Word, go to church to recharge, Bible Study, watch spiritual movies (there are more coming out these days), volunteer and hang out with positive like-minded people. Input- output.
Do any of you know someone who may have been a little shady or unkind? Someone who perhaps might be the LAST person you would expect to change and then they DO?! One might even say they “Transformed” as in our reading from Romans 12. They are no longer “conforming” to the world but are “transforming” to what is God’s will? (Ed’s letter and admission of not being the best son was a process of transformation.)
Perhaps you know someone who has reached the bottom in life, found God and changed 100%? Experienced their own Metamorphosis? We all know people like that – maybe a friend, a relative, maybe even ourselves.
Don’t you think the Butterfly is an awesome symbol for a person’s TRANSFORMATION as they accept Christ into their lives? When you put Jesus first, the rest of your life will just fall into place. The person has let go of the old ways (ugly caterpillar) and been reborn/”metamorphed” into something beautiful like the butterfly. The possibilities for growth and change are endless. 2nd Corinthians points out that we are “transformed in the same image” as we are saved through Christ. However, this is an ongoing process- an ideal or goal. We as humans often take one step forward only to take two steps back.
Sin and this world can really get us down- we might feel we are crawling at times…just inching along in our misery. In contrast, the transformed butterfly can go far- some migrate as far as Mexico in their short lives. God enters us and we feel “uplifted”, our hearts “soaring” with gratitude of His wonders-a beautiful view from a mountain, a sunset or a rainbow-a symbol of our Covenant with God. Jesus never promised our lives would be easy, but HE overcame the world and we can too when we are transformed by His love for us during our lives as in Romans 12 and 2nd Corinthians. Jesus gave his life for us. There cannot be a greater love or greater sacrifice.
So… was the Butterfly on Mt Airy a sign? Or mere coincidence? You decide. The Butterfly did very importantly remind us of the TRANSFORMATIONAL powers of God in our lives when we ask Him into our hearts. As you leave here today, take time to notice the joy in simple pleasures. Notice the beauty around us that God has created. Thank Him for the lovely sunrise each morning as my Dad always did or that much needed cool breeze on a hot August afternoon.
God has such incredible timing…