Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Prayer Unveils God’s Glory

Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36
February 10, 2013
© 2013


I.                Twenty years ago Candy and I lived in the L’Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hill, Ontario when I had a four month sabbatical. About 50 mentally handicapped “core members” lived with about 100 “assistant members.” Candy worked in the day program with some of the most disabled, and I worked in the Woodery with some who were higher functioning. I got to know Dave in the Woodery. Though he could not read, he was able to operate a couple of the power tools. He was constantly frustrated at wanting to gain new skills. Shortly after coming to Daybreak we attended community worship in which Dave helped Father Henri Nouwen celebrate communion. When he put on the alb, his face lit up. He treated the bread and wine with reverent care. He clearly knew he was handling the holy. He was beaming as he served us. After worship I said to Candy, “That must have been something of what Moses looked like after he had been with God.”

A.           Moses’ glowing face was supernatural, though he was unaware of it at first. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul concluded his commentary on Moses’ glowing face by writing that as we see the glory of God as reflected in a mirror, we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another. We may not be Moses, but when we have been close to God, we can expect God’s glory to radiate from us, just as it did from Dave.

B.            Paul used Moses’ veil as multi-metaphor to make several points. In 2 Corinthians 3:12 he suggested Moses timidly veiled his face so people wouldn’t see the glow fading, in contrast with the boldness of the hope of the Gospel. Perhaps our timidity at proclaiming the Gospel would be remedied by being with God until we glowed.

C.            Prayer lifts the veil on God’s glory, so we may be transformed from one degree of glory to another.

II.            Luke’s emphasis on Jesus’ praying is the context for the Transfiguration in Luke 9:28-36. But it started in verse 18, when Jesus was praying and asked his disciples about who he was. When Peter answered that he was “The Messiah of God,” Jesus told them he would suffer and die and rise again. Then he said that anyone who wanted to be his disciple would have to take up a cross and follow him, and that some of them would not die before seeing the Kingdom of God.

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said.34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

A.           The Transfiguration was a crucial turning point in Jesus’ ministry. From here forward everything took him to the cross. Just as at his baptism when he started his ministry, now as he headed to the cross, the voice of the Father affirms him as the Son with the Father’s blessing.

B.            Luke told the Transfiguration with words and images that connected it with Israel’s Exodus from Egypt under Moses in the past and the hope of Christ’s appearing in the future with glory at the culmination of history.

1.              Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai. Elijah met God on Mount Horeb. Jesus will return to the Mount of Olives, and was Transfigured on “The Mountain.”

2.              The cloud of God’s glory covered Mt. Sinai. Jesus will return in the clouds, and a cloud overshadowed the Mount of Transfiguration.

3.              For 40 years in the wilderness after the Exodus, the Israelites lived in shelters such as Peter proposed for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

4.              The Exodus was the great redemptive event of Israel’s history, and the word for “departure” that Moses and Elijah spoke about to Jesus is “exodus.” The “exodus” Jesus was to accomplish at Jerusalem was the great redemptive event for all humanity: his death and resurrection.

C.             Prayer lifts the veil on God’s glory, so we may be transformed from one degree of glory to another.

III.       Jesus’ prayers mark the beginning of two parallel sections meant to be seen together. In verses 18-27 the order is: he was identified as Messiah, he foretold his suffering and ended with coming back in glory. The order reversed in verses 28-36 for the Transfiguration. His glory was revealed while he was praying, he spoke with Moses and Elijah of his departure, and the voice of the Father identified him as the Chosen Son.

A.           Luke wanted us to be sure we knew Jesus was praying at this momentous turning point in his ministry. Since our prayers tend to be asking God to do something for us, we may assume Jesus was asking the Father for something: revelation of his glory, confirmation of his identity and mission, strength for the ordeal ahead, maybe even a precursor to his prayer in the Garden to let this cup pass from him. While these things might have been included, I think Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah about “his departure that he was about to accomplish” points in a different direction. I think Jesus was having a conversation with the Father about the significance of his death and resurrection and what it would bring to people, which continued with Moses and Elijah who had anticipated that redemption in their times and could now see it far more clearly and full of glory.

B.            God does not need our prayers to be informed and instructed about what to do. That is not to say we shouldn’t ask God to act, but if that is most or all of our prayer life, we will miss out on God’s glory. But if our prayers are a conversation with God in which we do most of the listening, glory will shine through on us and we will glow. Back in September I mentioned the definition of prayer from Dimitri of Rostov (1651-1709) which I think gives us insight into Jesus’ praying at his Transfiguration. “To pray means to stand before God with the mind, mentally to gaze unswervingly at [God], and to converse with [God] in reverent fear and hope.” (The Art of Prayer, Igumen Chariton, Faber and Faber, Boston, 1936 Russian, 1966 English; p. 50)

C.            Prayer lifts the veil on God’s glory, so we may be transformed from one degree of glory to another.

IV.      Even if only for the moment, Dave was transformed from his frustrating disability to a degree of glory when he distributed the communion bread and wine. We may not glow like Moses, but as our praying brings us into God’s presence, we will be transformed from one degree of glory to another. Like Moses, we may not notice it ourselves, but others will know when we have been with God.

A.           You may remember Betty Eadie book Embraced by the Light in which she told her 1973 experience of dying after surgery and coming back to tell what she had seen. Many Christians wrote her off, but recently a number of books by Christians telling their stories of coming back from death have recently become popular. While I can’t discount someone else’s experience, I must admit to being skeptical about what these experiences are and what they really tell us about what awaits beyond this life. However, they do share in common a yearning for glory.

B.            A whole constellation of ideas explain of why Moses and Elijah were the ones to talk with Jesus at his Transfiguration. Among them is that their departures from this life were singularly attended by God. God buried Moses outside Canaan. God took Elijah by a whirlwind. These may indicate that death is under God’s sovereign control and point to Jesus’ resurrection.

C.            Though I thought of Moses when I saw the radiance on Dave’s face at communion, I can’t say I’ve seen the supernatural glow of Moses. However, I have been with many people as they are dying and believe some of them have seen the glory of God absorbing them. The account of the 4th century Desert Father, Abba Sisoes rings true.

When Abba Sisoes was at the point of death, while the [Brothers] were sitting beside him, his face shone like the sun. He said to them, “Look, Abba Anthony is coming.” A little later he said, “Look, the choir of prophets is coming.” Again his countenance shown with brightness and he said, “Look the choir of apostles is coming.” His countenance increase in brightness and lo, he spoke with someone. Then the old men asked him, “With whom are you speaking, [Abba]?” He said, Look, the angels are coming to fetch me. … Once more his countenance suddenly became like the sun and they were all filled with fear. He said to them, “Look, the Lord is coming and he’s saying, ‘Bring me the vessel from the desert.’” Then there was a flash of lightning and all the house was filled with a sweet [fragrance]. (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers; tr. Benedicta Ward, SLG; Cistertian Publications,1975; p. 215)

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