The Transfiguration invites us to enter the spiritual realm through prayer and join those who already there.
We continue to this last Sunday of this series through Epiphany about the best part of heaven, being our relationships. And our affirmation from the creeds today, is the last statement in the Apostles Creed, where we say that we believe in the life everlasting. And in the Nicene Creed, we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Today is transfiguration Sunday. The lectionary gospel reading for today, Mark 9:2-9 describes that event. "After six days, Jesus taketh with him, Peter James and John, and leadeth them up to a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them." They went alone together in prayer.
Transcript of sermon
Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on February 14, 2021
for Briensburg UMC
Going up into the mountain reminds us of the time when Moses went up to the mountain to receive the 10 commandments. But this time, Jesus took some friends with him. There are several times in the scriptures, in the gospels, that tell about times that Jesus went off by himself to pray and spend time alone in prayer and encouraged us to do the same, but not very many times that we get to peek in there and see what's going on while he's praying. There are a few times, like when he went at the beginning of his ministry to the wilderness to pray and was tempted of the devil and then angels ministered to him afterwards. And there is this time where he took three of his friends with him and went up to pray. There was the time also when, before the crucifixion, the night he gave himself up for us, where he went to the garden to pray and took his friends with him there too, as he prayed, "Not my will, but thine be done." Again, ministered to by angels as he prayed.
Alone Together in Prayer
And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. Verse 2 (KJV)
In giving the Lord's prayer in Matthew, Jesus encourages us to go off to a room when you pray, go on into a room and lock the door. And when you're alone, there pray. So it doesn't really mean, obviously from this example, that we have to be completely alone whenever we pray. But I think the idea in that situation and in this time here and some of those others, is that if we have two or three people with us, then all of us go off to prayer together. Our congregation might go off and pray together at church.
The idea is not that you have to be personally alone, but that we would be stepping back from everything going on in the world and not be interrupted and not be trying to show off to anybody or anything. But we just step back and withdraw to a high mountain or to some other place, a desert place, a room, whatever the setting may be, where we can just concentrate on the prayer time and move into a prayer that goes beyond intercession to actual relationships and beyond confession to communion. Prayer that goes beyond adoration to fellowship and the kind of koinonia and spiritual community that we've been talking about over these last few weeks.
Prayer is the entry point to our spiritual realm. Anyone, anytime, any place, can pray. Some of the short prayers like Peter prayed are given for us as examples in the Bible, doesn't have to be a formal prayer, a long one or a memorized one like the Lord's prayer that gives us some patterns and teachings. Peter, when he was sinking in the water, when he was trying to walk on water and he just cried out, "Lord, help me. Lord, save me." So a lot of my prayers are like that. "Lord, help me." And I think a lot of people's prayers, that's it. And the Lord does. And so sometimes we may enter that spiritual connection briefly for just long enough to let our plea be known. Other times, pouring our hearts out, and it's taking some time to be there. But we can always do that wherever we are. As Paul said that God's not far from any of us at any time, "For in him, we live and move and have our being."
And when we pray, we usually take some form of a posture. If we're going to be in a prayer for a few minutes or more, we usually take a particular posture that a lot of times comes out of our own heritage or our faith community customs, like kneeling or bowing our head, folding our hands, closing our eyes, or raising our hands up to the sky and looking up. All these prayer postures that are, in part, to express a reverence, but also, in large part, to put us in a position where our body is parked and our mind is focused on the spiritual realm and not on what our body is doing or what is going on around us in the world, but to change our focus and focus on the spirit, on being in the spirit, in the spiritual realm of life and just see what blessings might come our way, during those moments.
The Psalmist wrote, and this how it's written in the Message, in Psalm 139:7-12. "Is there any place I can go to avoid your spirit, to be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you're there. If I go underground, you're there. If I flew on morning wings to the far Western horizon, you'd find me in a minute. You're already there, waiting. Then I said to myself, 'Oh, he even sees me in the dark.' At night I'm immersed in the light. It's a fact. Darkness isn't dark to you, night and day darkness and light, they're all the same to you."
We have many of our hymns about prayer that invite us, as like in Sweet Hour of Prayer. "Since he bids me, seek his face, believe his word and trust his grace and I'll cast on him my every care and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer." We're invited to engage in prayer as often and as deeply and as spiritually, and as with as much focus as we want to, at any given time. And we can do it regardless of our circumstances and regardless of our predicament. In fact, some of the predicaments really make it the best time to disengage in what's going on around us and engage in this spiritual realm of what's going on within us and among us.
His clothes became shining white—whiter than anyone in the world could wash them. Verse 3 (GNT)
In the Good News translation it says, "His clothes became shining white, whiter than anyone in the world could wash them." We see in there, how prayer changes us, transforms us, makes us different. Moses returning from the mountain, had to put a veil over his face because of the glow that people couldn't look at him because of the glow in his face from having been in this time with the Lord. But more than this, more than the outward appearance, is the inward grace prayer that changes us, that transforms us, that transfigures who we are, makes us a different person and changes our way of thinking and of experiencing things, our feelings and our understanding, all becomes something different, something altered, something that is different when we get done then when we started. And it may be just a small change, and usually is, just a small change about something, but it changes us when we pray.
In Second Corinthians 3:18, Paul wrote, "Transformed into this image by the spirit, changed from glory into glory." Those words are part of a great hymn of the Church by Charles Wesley,
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down,
Fix in us thy humble dwelling,
All thy faithful mercies crown;
Jesu, thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love thou art,
Visit us with thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.
Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit
Into every troubled breast,
Let us all in thee inherit,
Let us find that second rest:
Take away our power13 of sinning,
Alpha and Omega be,
End of faith as its beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.
Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all thy life receive,
Suddenly return, and never,
Never more thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve thee as thy hosts above,
Pray, and praise thee without ceasing,
Glory in thy perfect love.
Finish then thy new creation,
Pure and sinless let us be,
Let us see thy great salvation,
Perfectly restor'd in thee;
Chang'd from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise!
The Company of Heaven
Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus. Verse 4 (MSG)
What a beautiful atmosphere that we step into when we turn to Christ and pray, as we understand prayer to be at that moment. We engage the spiritual realm. The whole company of heaven is there waiting for us. In this passage, one of the remarkable, one of the beautiful, one of the important scenes in this event, is phrased this way in the Message, "Elijah, along with Moses came into view in deep conversation with Jesus." I like how it said, "Came into view," because most of the other translations say appeared. It's kind of the same thing in a way, except that this kind of gives us a little bit more of a gradual sense that they just didn't pop up there as an apparition, but they kind of walked into the space where they were, in the spiritual space, if we can think of it in those terms. And that they were conversing with Jesus. That imagery reinforces what we hear Jesus saying when he said that, "God is not a God of the dead, but of the living for all live unto God."
That's one of those things that changes in prayer, where we're changed, our perspective is changed. Our perspective, we tend to look at things from the earthly point of view and from a temporal and temporary point of view that's different then from God's perspective as he sees everybody is still alive. Even though in this case, Moses had laid aside his earthly tabernacle on Mount Nebo, many centuries before. And Elijah, several centuries before, in between there, had been carried away in a fiery chariot, whatever that image is communicating. And yet, they were still alive and still walking, still talking, still having fellowship, even though without the body. They were in the spiritual realm and they came into the view of those who were gathered there, Peter, James and John, along with Jesus.
And so it gives us a pretty clear understanding that those who no longer walk on the earth continue to travel in the spiritual dimension. It's reflected also in our communion liturgy in the great Thanksgiving, when we say, "With all your people here on earth and all the company of heaven." And in Hebrews chapter 12, how it begins talking about how we're surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. That great cloud of witnesses, those people here on earth and in heaven, are our family and friends, some of them. Some of them are own people that we have known in life and they have gone on to be with the Lord. And some are people we've known who have moved on to other locations around the world, but yet in the spirit, we're much closer together. We're connected in this life and in the life of the world to come. We're connected in the spirit, the great connection, the great connection that we're a part of in Christ, a network of spirits who continue in fellowship and friendship in a way that transcends life and death, or space and time.
"And coming down from the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy. He said, 'Don't tell a soul what you saw. After the son of man rises from the dead, you're free to talk.' They puzzled over that, wondering what on earth rising from the dead meant." And that's from the Message translation. Excuse me. Resurrection is the ultimate sign of the everlasting life that was demonstrated in the transfiguration event. And that is demonstrated in our prayer time together. Once that all this had come together, then Jesus sent his followers out to share all the story and the complete story, that included his resurrection and that included their experience in praying with him as he was transfigured. And we then, are sent to invite each other to join us in that prayer.
Cloud of Light
A light-radiant cloud enveloped them. Verse 7a (MSG)
Well, while they were praying, a cloud of light came upon them, and the way it's written in the Message, "A light, radiant cloud enveloped them." We're reminded of Jesus in the sermon on the mount also saying that, "You are the light of the world." And of John saying, "In him is no darkness at all." The light floods our surroundings and floods us and illuminates who we are and lets us see ourselves as we are and lets us see the... When we turn on the light, we can just see what's there. And that's what happens when the spiritual light come on, too. We can see what's there.
A voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. Verse 7b (KJV)
And so it kind of puts us in discovery mode, as the voice that came from this cloud said, "This is my beloved son. Hear him." So in the context of exploring our spiritual realm and all these things that we say we believe in, and that we do believe in, and that our faith and understanding of what that means, something we're living into and discovering, we're in discovery mode as the people of God in prayer. We're listening to hear what God is saying to us. We're observing the spiritual sensations that are taking place in our thoughts and feelings, sensitive to the heavenly presence, the presence of God, of spiritual beings, of the spirit realm.
And we explore the spiritual kingdom of God. There's not any way for anyone to say, "This is what you're going to experience in prayer today." There is no guided tours that I know of. We each enter into prayer and we join the people that have already been praying in our weightiness. We unite our hearts and minds with people who have been praying and this transcendent prayer vigil that has been going down through the ages, from the time of Christ till now in the church.
And in some ways we even join with people of other faiths who are engaged in spiritual explorations and something that we step into and we may step out of, but while we're in there, we might as well make the most of it, of our prayer and to explore what God is bringing to us and showing to us and those spirits that are stepping into our view, those spiritual relationships that we have with our family and friends and just be aware of each other's presence. Be aware of the presence of God. Be aware, try to be aware of what is going on within us and around us and of the love of God that is enveloping us and changing us.
And then, when it's time to step back into the world, so to speak, to leave the room that we were in or to step away into other conversations or other rooms, gather around other tables with other people, we take with us this prayer from the Lord's Prayer, this petition, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." We take something of what we have found in our moment of prayer and we apply that to what's going on right around us in the world.
Every time we pray, we're pretty much just like a little morsel, a little tiny glimpse of the spiritual realm, but we're stepping into this. We're walking in and discovering what is there for us today. It's like that one song [Higher Ground by Johnson Oats, Jr] that says,
I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, lead me on higher ground.”
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