Sermon – Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
What happens when you pray, when you connect with God? Are you transformed? Do you visibly reflect God’s glory? Our gospel today says that is exactly what happened to Jesus.
For quite some time, Jesus has been traveling with the disciples teaching, preaching, healing and praying. He does a lot of that. In the third chapter of Luke we are told that when Jesus was baptized and was praying, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and said, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Before choosing the apostles, Jesus goes to the mountain alone and spends the whole night praying. Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah is revealed while Jesus is praying. Jesus prayed when He was in the garden of Gethsemane. And Jesus prayed even while He was dying on the cross. It seems quite obvious that Jesus placed a very high value on prayer.
Today, we hear that Jesus goes off to pray again. He takes Peter, James and John along with Him, up to a mountain. We hear, “And while He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became dazzling white. Wow! Can you even imagine such a sight? Peter, James, and John went with Jesus up on the mountain and while Jesus was praying He is transformed. One minute Jesus is the teacher the disciples think they know and the next minute……Jesus is on fire with the glory of God. His face was changed and His clothes were dazzling white. It didn’t even look like Jesus anymore! This was no magic trick, no special effects, this was a real transformation – a transfiguration! Jesus was changed from one form to another.
And it doesn’t end there. Suddenly – Peter, James, and John see the prophets Moses and Elijah talking to this radiant Jesus! Glory surrounds all of them and Peter, James, and John are in awe. They don’t want this moment to ever end. Peter suggests to Jesus that they make three dwelling places or booths for each of them. One for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
Now maybe Peter was thinking about the Festival of Booths when he spoke about building three separate booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. After all, Peter heard all of them talking about Jesus’ departure, which He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. And the original word for departure was exodus. And every year since the time of Moses until today Jews celebrate Sukkot or the festival of booths based on the laws in Leviticus 23:40 “”You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt”
But our reading says that Peter didn’t know what he was saying. He didn’t realize that Moses and Elijah were talking about the exodus that Jesus would accomplish through His death in Jerusalem.
Like Moses who led the people out of slavery, the exodus Jesus was going to accomplish in Jerusalem would lead all people out of the slavery of death into the freedom of life with God through His death and resurrection. But why didn’t Peter and the others understand this? A week before this, Jesus explained that He was going to be “killed and raised on the third day.” Then He said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Weren’t they listening? I don’t think so. Maybe that is why after Peter suggested constructed booths to keep Jesus, Moses, and Elijah there, a cloud overshadowed them and they heard a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!” They weren’t listening. They wanted that glorious moment, that mountaintop experience to last forever.
I can understand how Peter felt. Mountaintop experiences can be pretty amazing and you don’t want them to end. I’ve been to the top of a few mountains. The tallest was Pikes Peak in Colorado – 14, 110 feet up – and standing at the top what a view awaited me! Looking out over four states it felt like I was on the top of the world. And NH has almost 150 mountains. I’ve been to the top of one of them – Mount Washington twice so far– not quite as tall as Pike’s Peak, but the tallest mountain in the northeast. At 6288 feet up it may not be the tallest, but it does boast the world’s worst weather. It’s covered in fog 60% of the time, but on a clear day your view stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the east, across VT to the NY Adirondack Mountains in the west, to Canada in the north and MA to the south. It’s a glorious view. There’s something about being high up on the top of a mountain that changes your whole perspective on things. And standing there on the summit, you don’t want to leave.
But we weren’t meant to stay on the top of the mountains forever. Not even Jesus stayed on the mountaintop. He had to go down. He had to go down where the real ministry awaited Him. Down from the mountain people were awaiting Jesus’ healing. Down from the mountain people were waiting to be delivered. Down from the mountain people were in need of transformation, in need of a transfiguration just like Jesus. And how did Jesus’ transfiguration begin…..prayer.
“While He was praying, His face changed….” That mountaintop experience was spectacular not because of the location, but because of the prayer. Prayer is the means by which we are connected with God. It is through prayer that we are able to listen to God. It is prayer that changes our whole perspective on things because we can see the view through God’s eyes. When Moses spoke with God on Mount Sinai his face was visibly changed. It was shining from the reflection of the glory of God, just like Jesus at His transfiguration. Moses was changed – changed to bring the message of God to God’s people.
Can we not expect the same transformation through our encounters with God in prayer? We don’t have to go to a mountaintop to pray, but prayer can lead us to a mountaintop experience. We do not have to hide or veil ourselves from God. We can pour out our deepest longings, our deepest desires before God. But most importantly, we can listen. Prayer is more than just speaking to God, it is being still and listening for the voice of God. It takes time. Like any deep and meaningful relationship it requires spending time with that person. And one person can’t do all the talking. Each person needs to share the communication. So often in our communication with God we tend to do all the talking and rarely listen. God is speaking. God is speaking to us and through us. God wants us to see people as God sees them. God wants us to love through us. God wants to heal people through us. God wants to transform people through us. Authentic, honest, heart-felt prayer bridges the gap between God and humanity. It transforms us to visibly reflect God’s glory and transform others. May the light of Christ shine through us. Amen.