Alma Lewis: Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday
Sermon Luke 9:28-36 The Transfiguration
Todays Gospel is 8 verses long but what a lot is packed in it!
We begin with Jesus going up a mountain to pray. Nothing unusual about that! We frequently hear that he goes alone to pray, usually after a heavy day’s preaching and healing. But today he doesn’t go alone; he takes Peter, James and John with him. Now one thing I’ve observed about Jesus is that in his dealings with his disciples he always has a reason for doing, or saying, what he does and I don’t think that today is an exception. Jesus private prayer times are just that – private! So why is today different? What does he want them to learn? Lets remember what happened. As he was praying the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white. Then suddenly the disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking to him! We tend to think of this as the miraculous demonstration of God endorsing Jesus as the Christ – a one-off occurrence.
But maybe it wasn’t! Maybe this is what normally happened when Jesus went alone to pray! Maybe this is what Jesus wanted them to see – to experience!
Three words kept niggling at me each time I read this passage.
The first was pray. In the Christian faith prayer plays an important part. Just look at our service today, and the variety of prayers we offer. Prayers of praise, confession, thanksgiving, intercession, all familiar and comforting in their familiarity, and in the fact that we are sharing in our prayers with others in our community. Most of our formal prayers are set out for us, with only the prayers of intercession being unfamiliar, and even then we follow a set pattern, praying for the Church, the world, our community, the sick and the dead.
But what about our own prayers, our private communion with God – because that is what prayer is – the way we communicate with God? And just like Jesus, that time is private to us! We all have our own way of praying, which I suspect we seldom talk about, probably because we would find it embarrassing! Even the frequency of our prayers differs from one to another, maybe every day at regular times, maybe only when we’re worried or frightened or just need some reassurance. Maybe we find it difficult to pray, not knowing the right words to use in case they are disrespectful and not couched in the right language. Maybe we think our problems are too trivial to bother God with.
This is a problem that the disciples had too. Two chapters after today’s reading we find the disciples saying ‘Lord teach us to pray!’ and from it we get one of the most beautiful and succinct prayers of all time
! On the other hand maybe we find it easy to chat with God, at any time in our heads or out loud.
This brings me to my second word, listen! Communication is a two-way thing, both parties speaking and listening. So often our prayers consist of us doing all the talking and expecting God to listen and then do what we have asked. Can you imagine how you would feel if the only time anyone spoke to you was to make demands on you without giving you a chance to reply? How often are our prayers more like a list of instructions with an occasional ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ thrown in? In our reading God says, ‘ This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!’
Jesus himself says, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear!’ In other words, stop talking and let God get a word in! We can’t complain that God never listens to us if we don’t afford him the same courtesy! But we often have to actively remind ourselves to listen, I know I do!
Cue our third word, silent. Of course if you are going to listen you have to be silent, you can’t talk and listen at the same time even if you aren’t talking aloud.
And sometimes that is the most satisfying way of praying, being silent and giving God the chance to talk to you. It’s also, without a doubt the most difficult. When you’re actually having a conversation with someone its easy to be quiet while they’re talking. After all you can hear what they’re saying. But have you noticed that if they don’t respond right away you begin to feel uncomfortable with the silence? Its easier to talk than cope with the silence. Emptying your mind of all the daily detritus and allowing yourself to just be does not come easily; we have to learn to open our minds. Mother Theresa said “We need to find God and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature-trees, flowers, grass-grow in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence……The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and through us; words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness.
The story of the Transfiguration is a mystical, magical and not likely to be repeated event, but what can we take from it today? The meaning of transfiguration is change, metamorphosis!
Jesus tended to go alone to a high place! Thin places between heaven and earth, between God and us, away from the worlds noisy stimulations and distractions. We can all find our thin place, in a garden, by the sea, up a mountain! Somewhere where there is peace.
Appreciating the Glory of God, is the first step, the beginning of the transfiguring journey – the rest is our own personal journey; who knows where it might lead.
Listen! Surrender to the silence !
We talk so much about our independence. We pride ourselves on not needing others. Surely we should be thinking more about interdependence. Sharing our dependence with others, recognizing that no-one is an island and that not only do we depend on each other but we have to be ready to be entirely dependent on God, to trust that whatever happens He is there beside us, suffering with us, supporting us when we need it and cheering us on in our successes. Most of all we need to see God in all his glory in the world around us, that he has created and in the good that he has inspired us to create
But there are two sides to every coin. Seeing beauty in simple things is only one aspect of our looking, listening and accepting God presence.
The other side of the coin is trusting God, having faith in him. That’s easy when things are going well but what happens when they don’t?.
Richard Rohr says, ‘Alongside all our knowing, accompanying every bit of our knowing, must be the humble ‘knowing that we do not know’. Strangely enough this unknowing is a new kind of understanding. We have a word for it, ‘faith!’
Mature spirituality will always teach us to enter willingly, trustingly into the darker periods of life, which is why we speak so much of faith and trust.
Both Richard Rohr and Barbara Taylor Bradford talk about getting lost, about venturing into places unknown and that is what we do when we surrender ourselves into mindlessness and silence. We are in unknown territory. No map, no signposts, just silence. We are in a wilderness.
The wilderness figures a lot in the scriptures. Both actual physical wilderness and the mental wilderness of unknowing and doubt and fear. Think of Abraham and Sarah’s journey, the Exodus from Egypt into the unknown with all its dangers, Jesus time in the wilderness where he was tempted by the visions of power, and his final time in the Garden of Gethsemane where he acknowledged his fear of what was going to happen to him. But every time what shone through was the faith that God was there with them.
Richard Rohr talks about at-one- ment, (not atonement but at-one-ment)_ where we surrender ourselves to God completely and by becoming at one with him so we become more like him.
I found this prayer by Thomas Merton
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really Know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
(Thoughts in Solitude)
Jesus wasn’t changing God’s mind about us, he was changing our mind about God. And that is our transfiguration our metamorphosis!