Sacred Soil


On Prayer and Other Ways to Make Folks Squirm
February 10, 2013, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

Transfiguration

Exodus 34:29–35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:12—4:2
Luke 9:28–3

So, Pastors may not have super powers, but I’ve quickly learned we have this incredible way to get utter silence in a room: ask someone to pray. Immediately, a hush falls over the room as lips are sealed. All eyes fall to the floor, lest a flicker of eye contact may be perceived as willingness. In the deafening silence you can hear the hurried thoughts… “not me, not me, not me… please, God, someone else…” Though, there are some who say to themselves, “I thought we hired you to do that for us pastor…” Ummm… no.

Truth is prayer, for many of us, is a rather daunting subject. I know that this isn’t universally true—some of you are tremendously wise in the art of prayer, devoted to conversation with God in ways that inspire. But, I would argue you are the outliers. Most of us, if we’re honest, are baffled by prayer. Uncomfortable. Uneasy. We’d rather suffer in silence, hanging on indefinitely, until the pastor caves and does her professional duty.

There are many definitions for prayer. Writer Anne Lamott suggests the essential aspects of prayer are the cries Help, Thanks, and Wow. I like that. I think of prayer as a conversation, a conversation where we bring our deepest needs, joys, and gratitude to God, in a spirit of openness and listening. And not just our needs, joys, and gratitude, but the world’s.

And in the midst of this conversation, in the course of prayer, something happens. It is as if this need, this joy, this gratitude gets transfigured in the very presence of God.

I suppose I should explain this. As transfiguration is not a word we generally toss about. Indeed, I was astounded when auto-correct knew how to deal with it.

In our lesson this week, Jesus and a few of the disciples have gone up the mountain to pray. This is mere days after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, quite to Peter’s own surprise. And while they are praying, Jesus’ face changes and his clothes become a dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear– and Peter, befuddled, wants to build a few booths, to hold all of this. But in the midst of this awkward request, the presence of God surrounds Peter, like a cloud, and explains to him, that Jesus is God’s son, making it clear that he should listen to Jesus. Stop trying to build booths. Stop trying to stand in Jesus’ way.

We call this the transfiguration. And it all takes place in the midst of prayer. Interestingly, on the face of it, nothing truly changes in this moment. Jesus has always been God’s son, the chosen. Peter has always been a bit too earnest. But on that mountain top, as they pray, God’s presence becomes known. The clarity of God revealed in Christ, shines on them. The surrounding presence of the Spirit overshadows them as a cloud. In those moments they bring all that they are, their need, joy, and gratitude, and experience them in the presence of God. And they are transfigured.

And then they come down from the mountain. And they move on to Jerusalem. They move forward, toward the cross.

Now, it’s clear from scripture that Jesus get’s it, and that this transfiguring moment made sense to him, and perhaps provided him with the lasting clarity needed to make that journey to Jerusalem. But the disciples—not so much. Indeed, as they get ever nearer to the cross, they seem to get more and more confused. Who are we, why are we doing this? Why do you think you have to die Jesus? They don’t really get that until the transfiguring moment of the Holy Spirit, later, at Pentecost. Well after the resurrection… and even then they needed to be constantly in prayer, constantly seeking the presence of God… because the truth is this is hard work.

I recently heard someone argue that the prayer is the hardest spiritual discipline. When I first heard this, I scoffed a bit. Under my breath I asked, now what’s hard about “now I lay me down to sleep…” or “oh, the Lord is good to me…”? But then she went on to say, it is the hardest because prayer asks us to bring our deepest needs to the presence of God, and in order to do that, we need to know what those needs are. We need to be in touch with our brokenness. To invite God’s presence into that which breaks our hearts, into the place we hide our shame, into the place we lock up our pettiness… We must invite God into those places and listen, allow ourselves to be transfigured. It seems obvious to me why we resist this. We don’t want to go to those places ourselves, much less invite God there.

And then it’s one thing to presume we will pray quietly with our God, but then to do this in the presence of others? No wonder the word “prayer” stuns so many of us into silence.

After Moses had his mountain top experience, his face too was bright, shining with the glory of God… It was too much for the Israelites. They asked him to put a veil over his face. That must have been awkward… The presence of God was too much, and so they leaned on Moses to be an intermediary. To do the praying for them. To bear the presence of God. To hide God’s glory from their eyes.

But, in Jesus, we have this gift, and this challenge. The challenge to take the veil away. To stand in the presence of God, freed to see the glory of God, the power of God surrounding us as a cloud. To see God present in the midst of our need, our joy, our gratitude. To invite the Spirit to move through us. It is a powerful thing. Daunting.

Truth is, God is there in our midst whether we pray or not. God is persistent that way. It is not up to us. When Jesus’ face changed and his clothes dazzled, the disciples were asleep. Snoring away. The presence of God did not depend on their noticing. God’s love does not depend on our getting it, and yet, our God desires us so much, longs for this conversation, aches for us to bring our needs, joys, and gratitude, such that our God keeps coming to us again and again… notice… notice… wake up… God cries out, “I am here.”

To be honest, these days, prayer is my hardest spiritual discipline, though I used to be better at it.

I first learned to pray as a young kid, probably 6 or 7, as I walked to and from school. It was a long walk, and I was frankly afraid. These days we wouldn’t let a young kid walk so far, but then, this was normal. I learned to talk to God along the way, noticing my fear, noticing the blooming flowers, noticing the rain, the water sloshing in my boot. I brought all these things to God, the joy of Spring, gratitude for my rain coat, and certainly my fear. I learned to talk to God, and let that fear transfigure, to gain clarity, to reveal my little first grade heartbreaks and fears. To know that I never walked alone.

I suspect that many of our kids also know how to do this. It’s sort of innate. They know how to pray in ways we grown ups have forgotten. They know how to carry these things to God, their lives a constant conversation with the divine.

So I wonder, as we enter into this congregational meeting and this Lenten season, I wonder can we set aside this time to deepen our commitment to prayer? To be as children, constantly in conversation with God. I propose that we set this time, this season, to hold each other in prayer, in holy conversation with God, bringing our needs, joys, and gratitude, opening ourselves to the transfiguring power of our God, to the clarity of the Holy Spirit, to the love of God, which surrounds us always.

To bring ourselves to God, ever attentive to how our God may transfigure us, attentive to how God has been present all along.

Amen.


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