The idea of spiritual togetherness permeates Christian faith and is even a hallmark of most other religions as well. We are spiritually connected even when we are physically alone. When we gather to worship, even two or three of us, we affirm that Christ is with us. When we go to be with others, we join with Jesus who is already there with them. Consider that when we pray, we join with Jesus spiritually, and through Jesus we join with all with whom Jesus is connected spiritually – people on Earth and people in Heaven, people in our community and people around the world, people who share our beliefs and people whose beliefs are vastly different. We are united spiritually with those who are all different places on every spectrum of life we can imagine. And there in the Spirit with Jesus, we pray.
Manuscript of the sermon preached on February 19, 2023, at Briensburg UMC [Audio Podcast]
Transfiguration Sunday Bible Readings:
Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
[Video of readings by Briensburg UMC lectors]
People on Earth and in Heaven met on the mountain.
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, (Matthew 17:1 KJV)
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. (Matthew 17:1 RSV)
These five people were apart together with Jesus: Peter, James, John, Moses, and Elijah.
Six days later, after they were in Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered that people variously speculated that Jesus was John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or some other prophet. (Matthew 16:14). “What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15-16 GNT). Six days later they went up the mountain, where Jesus was transfigured.
John Wesley described the Transfiguration in his Notes:
[Jesus] was transfigured - Or transformed. The indwelling Deity darted out its rays through the veil of the flesh; and that with such transcendent splendour, that he no longer bore the form of a servant. His face shone with Divine majesty, like the sun in its strength; and all his body was so irradiated by it, that his clothes could not conceal its glory, but became white and glittering as the very light, with which he covered himself as with a garment. (Wesley’s Explanatory Notes for Matthew 17:2)
The Bible says that it was during this Transfiguration experience Moses and Elijah appeared in visible form, talking with Jesus. This is the only time the Bible tells about this specific kind of thing happening, and even then Jesus told those who were with him not to tell anyone about it until after the Resurrection. But just think what it was like to be with Jesus at other times – when he was praying, when he was teaching, when he was healing. Even though they might not have seen other people who had died long ago, or heard the voice of God from heaven, or seen the brilliant light described in the Transfiguration, they surely experienced all these things at different levels while they were with Jesus.
Togetherness is a key principle of interpreting God’s Word.
For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. ." (2 Peter 1:17 KJV)
For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." (2 Peter 1:17 RSV)Peter reflected on this event decades later as he wrote in his letter, “And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.” (2 Peter 1:18 KJV). He continued, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20 KJV)
Interpreting the Scriptures is a communal undertaking. We all need each other’s perspectives to come to a shared understanding. In our Methodist heritage, we have received this concept as “Holy Conferencing” – one of the Means of Grace. Like the one hundred and twenty people who were gathered together in prayer as they awaited the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, we come together “with one accord” (Acts 2:1 KJV). We work and pray and share our positions to bring each other in love to consensus in what we think and teach and do together. Without love and unity, there can be no consensus about anything.
We need them and they need us, and we all need Jesus of whom God said during the Baptism of Jesus and then during the Transfiguration as worded in the Good News Translation, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased—listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5 KJV). Peter’s letter continues in today’s reading, ’For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:21 KJV).
Although Peter was referring to prophets from long before his time, the early Church included these letters from Peter along with those of the other Apostles and the writings of the Evangelists from his time as well, and the Church has always had some degree of reverence for the written and spoken words of holy people of God who were moved by the Holy Ghost.
Through our Holy Conversations – our Bible studies, worship services, religious books, inspirational literature, even our music and our discussions, and through our spiritual conversations with God in prayer, our thoughts and feelings are changed and our spirits are shaped as we hear Christ speaking to our hearts and minds. We are being transfigured in the sense Paul wrote about, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2 KJV).
Jesus taught that love is the basis for interpreting all the law and the prophets. Love doesn’t happen in a vacuum but in relationships. The greater the love, the greater the understanding of God’s vision and will for us and for all. The love Jesus demonstrated on the cross at Calvary is reflected in the Word of God at the Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Be with Jesus’ vision for humanity, and for the kingdom of God, and for Heaven.
The king's strength also loveth judgment; thou dost establish equity, thou executest judgment and righteousness in Jacob. (Psalm 99:4 KJV)
Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. (Psalm 99:4 RSV & Most Others)
There were a lot of people with Jesus in the sense of being in close proximity to him during his earthly ministry. The scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees were with Jesus in the synagogues and at people’s homes and other settings, but they weren’t with him in his vision. There were many people who followed him for his miracles, but not for his teachings. There were the religious leaders and government officials who presided over his Crucifixion, but they certainly were not with him in any mental or spiritual sense of the word.
Long before Jesus walked on Earth, the Psalmist identified God as not only Creator, but “lover of justice.” We often reiterate how Micah said that all God wants from us is that we “act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8 NJB). Being with Jesus means more than sharing the same space; it means sharing the same love for all of God’s creation. Hear these key words from this verse: justice, equity, righteousness.
Christ invites us to be with him.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them. (Exodus 24:12 KJV)
This is one of many invitations from God to Moses. It is like the invitation from Jesus to Peter, James, and John. It is like the invitation of Jesus to all of us, “Come unto me…” (Matthew 11:28). It is like the many invitations of the Bible to all of humanity, invitations like:
- “Come now, and let us reason together…” (Isaiah 1:8 KJV)
- “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters…” (Isaiah 55:1 KJV)
- “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come…” (Revelation 22:17 KJV)
God gave Moses the Ten Commandments carved in stone, notably after Moses had waited for six days. God came to Moses as promised on the seventh day. In John 14, Jesus said he was going “to prepare a place for [us]” and promised to return for us, “that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2-3). Paul wrote that “[Christ] hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6 KJV).
God told Moses he was giving the commandments “That thou mayest teach them.” Jesus sends us to be in ministry with all the world with this Great Commission, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations…” (Matthew 28:19 KJV).
The Bible invites us to be in an ever-growing relationship with Christ, with God, with each other, with humanity, with Creation. Our role as the “Priesthood of Believers” challenges us to connect spiritually and build bridges in prayer, not just for others, but with others. Our spiritual connection begins in our thoughts and feelings, regardless of what outward manifestations may follow. Everyone can do this, and now is a good time to practice spiritual togetherness with Jesus.
We have come to the conclusion of the liturgical season of Epiphany when we have been reflecting on some of the ways Jesus brought light into the world. Next, we turn to the season of Lent when Christians of all denominations encourage each other to focus on prayer and spiritual renewal. Even people of other religions and those who profess no religion usually find ways to be supportive of everyone who is using Lent as a time for spiritual growth.
As we pray, let us not think only of the requests we have for others, but let us think of how we are spiritually connected with them in their situations. Are we praying for healing and comfort and providence as we do for so many each week? Are we praying for groups of people we may never know but who are suffering from all forms of oppression and victims of various disasters and struggling with all kinds of issues? Are we praying for the lost, that they might find their spiritual way home to God? Are we praying for people of other religions that they may be converted or that their beliefs may be reconciled with ours? Then let us pray and build spiritual bridges, not only for them but with them. Let us think about how Jesus is praying for and with them, and join with Jesus in our prayers. Let us seek to connect mentally and emotionally and spiritually with those for whom we pray.
As we go to our mountaintops or prayer rooms, let us watch to see who meets us in prayer; let us listen to hear how God speaks to us in prayer; let us be mindful of how we are being transformed in prayer.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.