Exodus 34:29-35 & Luke 9:28-36 Transfiguration Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert 7 February 2016
I grew up in a family that prayed aloud at home, so it was never strange for me. But I quickly learned at church and elsewhere that many people think prayer is to be led by the professional prayers. Pastor, will you pray for us? Yes, I will and I do, but you also can pray. I have always valued going to people’s homes for a meal and being led in prayer by them, by you. Of course, I don’t mind praying. In fact I like to pray, but it brings me joy to hear you pray. I have tried to make sure people understand that prayer is just talking to God and listening to God. You do not have to rush to words, or use lots of filler words like “we just wanna.” Nor do you need fanciful theological phrases, “Everlasting God, both Immanent and Transcendent Redeemer, fill us with your eschatological power and existential providence. Anne Lamott helps us to understand that prayer can be simplified into three types – Wow! Thanks! And Help! I’ve often taught that prayer is “Praise, Sorry, Thanks, and Help” In more formal languageI have learned that prayer is adoration, confession, thanksgiving, intercession, and supplication. That’s just dividing the prayers for ourselves from the prayers for others – intercession for others, and supplication for us.
It has been interesting to me to observe over the last couple of decades that as the general population has become more suspicious of the authenticity of Christian faith, people are more comfortable saying and hearing, “I will pray for you.” Yet there are still many who say “I will pray for you, but would be made very uncomfortable to say that prayer in front of even two or three others. But what I appreciate about those of you who find praying in public frightening is that perhaps your fear is rooted in awesome respect for God and the power of prayer.
Prayer is an invitation to transformation or transfiguration. It is as Annie Dillard names it, a dangerous activity, like children playing with chemistry sets, that we should wear life preservers and crash helmets when we so blithely invoke the power of God.
You can see what she’s talking about when you read the story of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the covenant tablets in his hands, his face shining.
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two covenant tablets in his hand, Moses didn't realize that the skin of his face shone brightly because he had been talking with God. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw the skin of Moses' face shining brightly, they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called them closer. So Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 After that, all the Israelites came near as well, and Moses commanded them everything that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34 Whenever Moses went into the LORD's presence to speak with him, Moses would take the veil off until he came out again. When Moses came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 the Israelites would see that the skin of Moses' face was shining brightly. So Moses would put the veil on his face again until the next time he went in to speak with the LORD. (CEB)
This is Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses. Do you know why he has horns? St Jerome’s Latin translation misguided people’s understanding the word we now translate as shining. Jerome said Moses’ face was horned. Anyway, just a good reminder that translations of the scriptures should be done by groups of people, not individuals more likely to make mistakes.
Aaron and the Israelites were scared of Moses when he came down from the mountain with his shining face. Moses was scared to let them see his face, as the shining diminished. Moses was not a politician, remember. He was not one who relished speaking to the people. No, he was only willing to deliver God’s message while God’s power was shining on his face. Then he covered up and hid from them, like any introvert would. Moses understood his power came directly from God. His message and his countenance came from God’s power.
Most of you understand that I am quiet person by nature. The energy you see on Sunday mornings, the passion, the light, the words – it is not really my nature. But God calls to me and God speaks to me, and I must try to listen and to speak what I hear to you. If I spend too much time with you, I have no time to listen to God. That’s why I escape the church office, and sometimes skip meetings. I have to hide with God, find in God the strength to keep speaking to you. All of us need this time of inspiration with God, a time of being still and listening, of being inspired by God to share God’s glory.
I remember when we had little children, the only place to get alone time with God was in the bathroom. The children would call, “Mom, where are you?” And when they were little, the second question was, “Can I come in?” “No, you cannot come in. Mom needs some privacy.” You can get your private time with God in lots of different ways, but be sure to get it. It is the only way to keep your face shining and the words coming out of your mouth anything close to what God would have you say.
Even Jesus need time away from the crowds. He went away to pray on numbers of occasions. One such time he took his closest companions, Peter, John and James. Getting away to pray does not always mean you have to be alone, but you may need the company of good friends, as Jesus sometimes did. They may offer to help you in ways that are not helpful, but hopefully at such times, God will overwhelm their well-intentioned action, and they will see that all that anyone really needs is an experience of the presence of God. That’s what we hope you get at Peace is an experience of the presence of God. Inspiring Worship is our aim, but for worship to inspire, we all must work. Your preparation, your expectation, your responsiveness, your openness to others and to the Spirit are all part of what makes worship inspiring. If you do not actively participate, worship will be less inspiring to you and to others.
But let’s read now of the inspiring experience of the three disciples when they went away with Jesus to pray. They saw in a profoundly new way the power of the One, with whom they were walking and serving.
About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. 31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus' departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him. 33 As the two men were about to leave Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it's good that we're here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--but he didn't know what he was saying. 34 Peter was still speaking when a cloud overshadowed them. As they entered the cloud, they were overcome with awe. 35 Then a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!" 36 Even as the voice spoke, Jesus was found alone. They were speechless and at the time told no one what they had seen. (CEB)
Peter, James, and John are falling asleep while Jesus prays, until they notice that the appearance of his face is changed and his clothes are glowing with light. Then they see two of the most significant leaders of their Jewish faith: Moses and Elijah. Peter is inclined to take action, but the voice from the cloud startles and interrupts him. “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him.” They are left silent and awestruck. Not too different from the Israelites at seeing the face of Moses shining. In both cases, prayer and presence of God leads the one praying to be a conduit for presence of God for others. Is not that our purpose in life? To be a conduit for the presence of God for others? To be the shining face, the loving presence, the voice of truth for all people?
Are you taking the time to soak up the presence of God, so that your life shines with glory of God? Are you taking time to listen to God, that you have the covenant of God’s truth on the tablets of your life? Do the words and actions of your life reflect a deep connection with God?
This deep connection is possible for everyone. It is how we are created to live in communion with God and humanity, by being prayerful people, glowing with the light of God’s love. Remember the opening of John’s Gospel speaking of Jesus says the true light which enlightens everyone was coming into world. Remember Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” How does your heart become pure? By bathing it in the glory of God through prayer. The prayerful heart sees God. Seeing God is what makes us whole. We can handle anything, if we are seeing God, for what we need most in life and in death is to know the presence of God and to be transfigured by it. We need to be transfigured in our thinking, transfigured in our feeling, transfigured in our behavior. As we sing “I Need Thee Every Hour” we will pause between verses to reflect on the power of prayer to transform our lives.