Luke 9: 28 – 36 & Exodus 24: 12 – 18
We’ve journeyed now for three months with some characters that Luke has introduced us to, with great compassion. We’ve met the poor, in the widow who had to struggle for justice, and the well off and powerful, in the centurion who longed for his servant to be healed and trusted that Jesus could and would heal him. We’ve met the haughty Pharisee and the genuinely penitent and humble tax collector. We’ve noticed the way Luke shows Jesus praying naturally to his Father, and how he teaches his friends and disciples the power of prayer. If prayer is conversation with God, then Luke has offered us a series of stories and sayings which probe just what conversing with God means. Let’s do that now, as we pray together……
We are in your presence with open and expectant hearts.
We await your words of hope and direction, for we delight to be your people,
following you step by step where you lead us.
Storm our hearts now, passionate God, with your pursuing love, as we
listen intentionally for your guidance.
Send your Holy Spirit to be among us and within us so that what I speak and what we hear and how we respond are from you alone,
In Jesus’ Name,
Many of us here know about long nights, when sleep is elusive. I remember a dark and vulnerable time in my life, in my early thirties when I fell into a couple of pickles – and not the tasty ones either. Often, through that period, nights felt long and alarming as I contemplated where my choices and lack of wisdom could lead me, until God’s invitation to me to trust him fully for everything claimed and calmed my heart and soul, and soothed my sleepless nights.
We all know something of that ‘dark night of the soul’ experience. It might emanate from health or anxiety issues, fear for the future or the consequences of hurts from the past. Jesus’ disciples were in that dark night. They had left everything they had and placed all their hope in Jesus. Now Jesus tells them that he must be crucified. It is then when their hearts are numb with hurt and disbelief that Luke writes in chapter 9: 28, “About eight days after Jesus said this, He took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning . . .” Then Luke writes, “Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.” (NIV). These three specially blessed and chosen disciples could suddenly see beyond their despair. They were gifted with the appearance of Moses the great law-giver of the people of Israel, and Elijah the greatest of the prophets. Of course they were fully awake now! Who wouldn’t be, standing in the presence of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, rubbing your eyes in disbelief, wondering if such glory could possibly be real.
No time for self-absorption and deflation now. No longer did Jesus’ prediction of his own suffering and death, and subsequent resurrection appear foreboding and frightening. Instead comprehension, on a spiritual level, is dawning. The scales are falling from their eyes, as the Spirit of God, in a voice from the cloud powerfully reveals truth, and leads Peter, James and John into a new dimension of belief, a fresh awareness of just who Jesus is.
In fact, Jesus himself is here being prepared by the Spirit of God for what is to come. Maybe I’m off beam, but I believe that Jesus grew into his own understanding of his identity as the Son of God, and particularly here in this mountain top experience, which he chooses to share with three of his key disciples, his Father God powerfully reveals to Him more of Jesus’ purpose and destiny.
I wonder if you’ve found, as I have, that sometimes God draws us close with real intention and urgency, blessing us with His presence, and then sending us out on a mission, in faith and obedience to Him. Sometimes in our human frailty, that feels scary. But God beckons, blesses and reassures us in our deepest places, and reiterates His call, reminding us He doesn’t make mistakes, He hasn’t got the wrong person, and He is always faithful. The closer we are to God, the more He reveals to us of the world’s pain and the more insistently he calls to us to partner with Him in the healing of that pain. Moments of intimacy with God prepare us for battle with God’s enemy and to challenge evil structures. So too, with Jesus, this precious time with his Father God on the mountain top was preparing Jesus for his ultimate calling, his fulfilment of His identity as the Son of God.
In Jesus’ case Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah were preparing Jesus for his coming departure from this world, in Jerusalem. Another word for departure is ‘exodus’, like the leaving for a better place that God chooses, that epic movement of people, ordained and directed by God, described in the Old Testament, and led by Moses. The New Testament scholar Tom Wright explains that this means that Jesus will enact, in his own death, an event just like the great ‘exodus’ from Egypt, but even more so, in a completely new dimension. “In the first Exodus Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and home to the promised land. In the new Exodus, Jesus will lead all God’s people out of the slavery of sin and death, and home to their promised inheritance – the new creation in which the whole world will be redeemed.”
(Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, (SPCK) p.115)
For us also, it won’t be easy, but we won’t be alone. God will give us our own ‘transfiguration like’ moments. It will be a journey from existing for ourselves, on our own terms to a following of Jesus who calls us and equips us for service and obedience. Like Jesus’ close disciples, sometimes we won’t feel we can cope with such commitment and even with that shining radiance of God’s presence. Like them we’ll want to settle down with Moses, Elijah and Jesus tangibly with us, as Peter blurted out, but instead God will have even more adventures of faith in store for us. So God will call us, gently but insistently, from where we are comfortable, to move on with Him.
Like the three disciples who despaired at the thought of Jesus’ suffering and death, we too languish and struggle to understand what God is up to.
But in the middle of our long night God gives us hope. That is what the Transfiguration is all about. What the dispirited disciples needed at that moment in their lives was to see the glory of Christ revealed. When they saw Jesus they were able to get their lives back on track again. And that’s what we all need to know in the middle of our long night. God is always in control. God. Jesus is still Lord of Lords and King of Kings, even when our lives spiral out of control, through busyness, rebellion or sorrow. God’s word of hope and direction to us in times of suffering, and ease, is to ‘Listen to Jesus, for He is God’s chosen son.’
So what happens when we pray? Well we listen, and then we see with God’s eyes, what is happening around us. We note that in Luke 9: 28, 29, when Jesus was praying the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became shining white. So too life will take on a new appearance, a new hope, when we have the courage and trust in God, to pray.
Initially today we likened prayer to a conversation. Not a monologue, or an argument or a thesis, but a conversation.
Perhaps you don’t always find prayer a two way conversation. Sometimes you think you’re doing all the talking. Or God blasts into your life so passionately you’re lost for words, too stunned to reply.
Perhaps you’ve somehow picked up the idea on the way through life that prayer needs to be formal, rehearsed and predictable.
Earlier in this preaching series about prayer in Luke’s Gospel, when we were exploring together the encounter of Mary and Martha with Jesus in their home in Bethany, we met Brother Lawrence, the spiritual writer and monk who worked in the kitchen in his monastery over 300 years ago.
His approach to prayer was, and is now, fresh and simple. Brother Lawrence knew that Jesus accompanied him throughout every moment of his life, even and especially in mundane duties. His deep desire was for everyone who loved Jesus to communicate with him naturally.
I’ll leave the last words then to Brother Lawrence…
“The most holy and necessary practice in our spiritual life is the presence of God. That means finding constant pleasure in his divine company, speaking humbly and lovingly with him in all seasons, at every moment, without limiting the conversation in any way. This is especially important in times of temptation, sorrow, separation from God, and even in times of unfaithfulness and sin.”
‘We must try to converse with God in little ways while we do our work, not in memorised prayer, not trying to recite previously formed thoughts. Rather, we should purely and simply reveal our hearts as the words come to us.”
We respond to God in prayer