February 26, 2017

Prayer is Transformational


Matthew 17:1-9

17 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain. He was transformed in front of them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One is raised from the dead.”


Two springs ago, my father-in-law took Emily and I on a vacation out west. We went to a number of great national parks in Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. One day between stops, we took a break to have lunch on a really high mesa overlooking the valley below. The road to get there was frightening. I had to do breathing exercises in the driver’s seat. Once we got to our destination, I walked out to the edge and saw the countryside from thousands of feet in the air. Life seemed so small from that high point. People living their lives – many of whom probably felt the weight of the world on their shoulders in that moment – seemed like less than ants from where I stood.

Last Sunday during our Communion ride, Margie stopped before we got into the car and turned to look at the hills behind us. She said, “I do love this sight. I grew up near here and I love these rolling hills.” I love the Communion ride, and that gave what we did that afternoon a little perspective as well.

I think, to some degree, we have all experienced moments in time when our perspectives were changed like that. Those moments when what seems to matter so much gets put into place among all the other things that seem to matter so much, too. Whether it is the welcoming of new life, seeing the world from a new place, or enjoying a simple pleasure in an unobstructed space, we relish moments when the rhythms of life are forced to a halt and we appreciate it all if only for a few seconds.


Having moments where we break from the usual can have that effect on us. We step out of the routine and experience our world outside the constraints of our normalized point of view.


I imagine the feeling I felt in the Utah desert would be minimal compared to what the disciples saw that day Jesus took them on a journey up the mountain. They expected the normal of accompanying Jesus while he prayed away from everybody else.  Instead, he took on a new form – the form of his divinity – and spoke with two of the major ancestors of the Jewish people who had long since passed. Their identities are no coincidence. Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, respectively, and their appearance with Jesus in his transfigured state represented a full connection between the past and the present. What should have been another day for the disciples ended up giving them a whole new perspective on their journey and a new appreciation for who their master really was.


We celebrate the Transfiguration because it is a reminder to put our beliefs into perspective. Jesus was far more than the one who died for our sins. He was divinity interlaced through a human form. He took on the fullness of both his everlasting Personhood of the Trinity as well as the vulnerable creature that is us. He took our pitiful nature and showed us that we are children of God and that matters. We matter, and we can bear witness to the fact that our savior is God among us and wants the world to be made new.


When we ponder the transfiguration of Christ, we take part in a long tradition of asking God to bring us closer to what we are supposed to be. In the spirit of John Wesley, we are on the road to perfection by God’s grace. We are on the road to being made completely whole as we were meant to be. We are to partake in the legacy of God on earth as transformed creatures ourselves.


But how do we do that? I believe the answer is prayer. Prayer is the connection between God and us. It is how God chooses to work within us. In our first week in this series, I spoke about how prayer is a personal matter that connects a person to God so that an intimate relationship can grow. Trust and healthy communication flourish when we have a good personal prayer life.


Last week, I spoke about how prayer is important in community. The prayers of the saints have always been an important centerpiece in the Christian community because we believe our prayers affect God. In Revelation 4, the heavenly throne room has bowls of incense that contain the prayers of the saints. God wants to hear from us.


Today, I am telling you that praying personal prayers and communal prayers both come together to transform you into a new creation. If you are praying and do not feel God’s connection within you, something is wrong. Is your heart prepared for prayer? Do you mean what you say? Are you opening yourself up to God’s work in you? If you are in a good state for prayer, you can expect your life to change in sometimes small and sometimes big ways. And your life should change. It should be getting ever closer to the heart of God.


Prayer for transformation is hard. For one, a transformed life is scary. It means we have to think that there is something more important than doing what we want to do. Every parent in here ought to at least have some idea of what a transformed life is. As an uncle, I certainly live a transformed life when I say “I need to get on the road” and my nieces and nephew say “But let me show you this one more thing.” It’s transformed because me showing them what love looks like through patience is more important than getting out at the exact time I want to. It means staying up way past my bedtime with the youth at Warmth in Winter so I can be present for them if they have questions about God or church or why every worship leader insists on wearing skinny jeans.


Imagine how important it is, then, if it is God wanting our attention instead of our family. Isn’t the Creator of the Universe supposed to get our lives? Not just our beliefs – our lives. Those who choose to accept that life of freedom from fear of the unknown and living up to the world’s expectations will be transformed and spread the gospel of what God is doing among us, even when we don’t notice. We are to live as part of the fulfillment of the law and the prophets found in Christ. We are to bring transformation to others.


So, let’s do that. Let’s pray prayers for God to transform our hearts and our minds and our lives to do good for our community. Let’s pray that the impossible of reaching the entire county be a certainty. Let’s pray that we are known throughout the conference as the small church with a big heart that is listening to God and transforming their city.


Pray for transformation. Pray that you will be given the spirit to take part in this church’s vision. Don’t be content to show up on Sundays and not do anything about it during the week. And don’t wait to be asked to do good here. If you open your heart to God, God will tell you what to do next. You just have to step away from the usual to see it.

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