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.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Prayer Unveils God’s Glory

2 Corinthians 3:12-18; Luke 9:28-36
February 7, 2016
© 2016

Twenty some years ago Candy and I lived in the L’Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hill, Ontario for four months. I worked in the Woodery where I got to know Dave. Though he could not read, he was able to operate a couple of the power tools. He was constantly frustrated by his life struggles. Shortly after coming we attended community worship in which Dave helped Father Henri Nouwen celebrate communion. When Dave put on the alb, his face lit up. He treated the bread and wine with reverent care. He 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.”
At first Moses was unaware of the supernatural glow on his face. Paul wrote of Moses’ glow in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that as we see the reflected glory of God, we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another. When we have been close to God, we can expect God’s glory to radiate from us, just as it did from Dave.
Prayer lifts the veil on God’s glory, so we may be transformed from one degree of glory to another.
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.
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.
Luke told the Transfiguration with words and images that recall Israel’s Exodus from Egypt under Moses.
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.”
The cloud of God’s glory covered Mt. Sinai. Jesus will return in the clouds, and a cloud overshadowed the Mount of Transfiguration.
For 40 years in the wilderness the Israelites lived in shelters as Peter proposed for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.
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.
Prayer lifts the veil on God’s glory, so we may be transformed from one degree of glory to another.
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.
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.
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. The seventeenth century Russian mystic Dimitri of Rostov (1651-1709) defined prayer in a way 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)
Prayer lifts the veil on God’s glory, so we may be transformed from one degree of glory to another.
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.
The departures of Moses and Elijah from this life were singularly attended by God. God buried Moses outside Canaan. God took Elijah by a whirlwind. Death is under God’s sovereign control and points to Jesus’ resurrection.
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 increased 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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