Transfiguration or Our Lord + Sunday, March 3, 2019
In the name of Jesus. AMEN.
I have a confession to make. I confess I’ve been distracted. I’ve been distracted by the big show and important people. I’m talking about the distraction found in today’s gospel reading.
Today’s gospel reading, on this day we call Transfiguration Sunday, presents us with a dramatic scene right out of Hollywood. Complete with dazzling wardrobe that Jesus was suddenly wearing, featuring legendary actors in the story of faith (Moses & Elijah), a fog machine (scripture calls it a cloud that overcame them), and God’s voice in the cloud from heaven (if it were a Hollywood movie, it would likely be the voice of Morgan Freeman), claiming Jesus as God’s son and commanding the disciples to listen to him.
Friends, I confess, I’ve been distracted by the big show and important people. What I have missed, is a detail unique to Luke’s account of this story. The detail in Luke, not in Matthew and Mark, is that this big show, the appearance of important people, and the presence of God’s voice in the cloud, all start with Jesus in prayer.
Matthew and Mark, record simply that Jesus and Peter, James, & John went up the mountain by themselves. But Luke records, that Jesus and the disciples went up the mountain to pray. Luke 9:28 … “And while Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white.”
How fitting, how common, how familiar, that I focused on the dramatic, and famous, and exhilarating, and overlooked the quiet, the unexciting, the common act of Jesus in prayer.
Now, maybe because it’s not mentioned in Matthew and Mark, the fact of Jesus in prayer isn’t such a big deal and maybe we shouldn’t read too much into it.
But then, consider today’s First Reading … did you catch what happened to Moses as he came down from the mountain? Exodus 34:29 … “As Moses came down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the SKIN OF HIS FACE SHOWN because he had been talking with God.”
Today we have two stories of prayer, Moses and Jesus, on the mountain talking with God. In both cases, their faces were transfigured, it was in prayer, theit appearances changed. It was in prayer that the big show came about.
So that has me thinking today … in prayer, how are we transfigured? In prayer, in our conversations with God, how are we transformed? How does the light of God shine in us, and through us, in response to prayer?
It’s perfect timing to be thinking about prayer. Lent begins this Wednesday with our observance of Ash Wednesday. In our liturgies at Noon & 7pm this Wednesday, we will hear the call of the Holy Spirit, to commit ourselves to the disciplines of Lent: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.
As we join with the Church in recommitting to prayer, I offer three ways in which I think prayer can be transformative. Three ways to focus our prayer life, that I believe are ways the light of Christ will shine through us for others to see:
First … praying for our enemies
Second … praying in communion with the saints
Third … praying at the foot of the cross
First, praying for our enemies.
In last week’s gospel, we heard the command of Jesus, recorded in Luke 6:28, “to pray for those who abuse you.” Let me be clear, this is not instruction to victims of abuse to remain in abusive environments. If you are being abused physically, verbally, emotionally, or sexually, you should leave that abusive environment, immediately, and seek safety and help.
God doesn’t want anyone to suffer abuse. God, in the mercy of Jesus Christ, is with and for victims of any kind of abuse. God, in judgment, speaks judgment against all abusers, and calls them to repentance, to stop their evil ways.
The invitation in this command to pray for those who abuse us, is that Jesus is inviting us past the ways we carve up society and impose divisions upon the people of God. It’s human nature to draw insiders and outsiders, it’s human nature to get pissed off because of something someone did and then to identify the other person as an enemy, but Jesus doesn’t have any time for that nonsense.
Jesus said, if you need to have an enemy, if you really want to hate someone, or be suspicious of someone, or gossip about someone, then here’s what comes with it, here’s what you have to do: you have to pray for that person.
The community that Jesus is for, is a community in prayer.Jesus calls us to pray for the person who has upset us, disappointed us, overlooked us. Jesus is always for reconciliation, and community building, in prayer, the seeds of reconciliation are sown.
Consider the powerful transformation here in this place, in a commitment and a discipline to pray for one another, and to pray specifically, intentionally, and repetitively, for the person or people in this place, that it is the most difficult for you to love. Someone who makes you uncomfortable, someone you’ve disagreed with, or someone who has hurt your feelings.
Imagine the feeling of release, of peace, of healing, that would be yours if instead of holding a grudge, instead of spending precious energy being negative, instead of wasting time see nothing in the other person, you spent energy praying?
Second … prayer with the saints
On the transfiguration mountain, Jesus talked with Moses and Elijah. This holy conversation has me imagining, what might it look like for us, in prayer, to meditate with the saints?
It must be noted, that as Lutherans, we do not preach or teach prayer to the saints. We celebrate that in faith we have direct access to the triune God. The saints are not our intercessors, but they are our teachers, models of the godly life.
We do teach, as Lutherans, that we have much to learn from the saints. And there are two types of saints … there are the saints canonized by the church, and there are saints in our daily lives. Both types of saints are humans just like us, who struggle to make sense of God’s love just like us in the midst of sin and pain.
What if, in prayer, during Lent, we meditated on the life of a specific saint? What if, our daily prayer included reflections on the life and contributions of a particular saint and learned more about them? What if, in prayer, we gave thanks to God for the saints who have blessed and formed us? Who have taught us about life? Who have led us deeper into God’s love, and more fully into faith, and grace, and peace.
Imagine the feeling of intimacy, connection, and love that would be yours, as you dwell with the saints in prayer? Imagine the transfiguration that would occur among us, as we meditated more deeply on the contributions of saints among us?
Third … prayer at the foot of the cross
Did you notice what Jesus, and Moses and Elijah were talking about on the transfiguration mountain? Luke 9:31 “They were speaking of Jesus’s departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
They were speaking about his crucifixion and death on the cross. They were not distracted by the big show on the top of the mountain. Instead, they talking about the all the events to come.
What if we prayed every day at the foot of the cross? What if, in prayer, we meditated more deeply on Jesus who willingly allowed himself to be betrayed, to be persecuted, and to be nailed to cross for the life of the world? What if in prayer, we gave central place to the cross in our lives as disciples?
What if, every day in Lent, we reflected on Jesus on the cross? What if, in daily prayer, we meditated daily on Jesus, on the cross, forgiving those who crucified him? What if, in daily prayer, we reflected on the hope and promise it gives us, that Jesus forgave the thief on the cross who died next to him? What if the cross took a central role in our prayer life?
Imagine the feelings of gratefulness, and love, and joy, that would be yours, as you prayed at the foot of the cross? Imagine the transfiguration here in this place, in a community praying at the foot of the cross?
In a renewed commitment this season of Lent to pray specifically in these three ways: praying for our enemies, praying with the saints, and praying at the foot of the cross, I believe we would see for ourselves transformation and transfiguration. I believe others would see shining in us in new and real ways, the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, leading us more fully into reconciliation, healing, and peace.
And so, friends in Christ, on this Transfiguration Sunday, don’t be distracted by the big show. Instead, focus on Jesus in prayer. See in prayer, the endless possibilities for transformation, for transfiguration, and for the light of Christ to shine through us for all the world to see.
Thanks be to God.