Pray, Listen Respond

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Last Sunday after the Epiphany/March 3, 2109
Gospel: Luke 9:28-36

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, March 3, 2019

Prayer was such an integral part of my early development that the modeling of it by my mother and grandparents imprinted its importance in my life. I remember my mother kneeling by her bedside each night before bed to pray. If I walked in on her I would just watch and listen and then tiptoe backwards so as not to disturb her. To this day, my mother kneels to pray at her bedside—a powerful image.

I remember, also, my mother’s prayer ritual before she drives. She makes the sign of the cross and says a prayer, “Lord, take us safely and bring us back—Amen.” She says this each time she puts the car key into the ignition. As a child, I would mimic this ritual. Wouldn’t you know, I mimic my mother’s prayer ritual every time I put the key into my car’s ignition. The invocation of God’s protective shield represents a deep-rooted sense that I am spiritually protected along the many “roads” in life. Make the sign of the cross. Say a prayer. The powerful imprint of prayer.

“…Jesus took with him Peter, John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray…And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became a dazzling white… (v. 29).

This passage in Luke is called the “Transfiguration of Jesus,” not the “Transformation of Jesus.” I make this distinction because transfiguration means that the outward expression of something is visibly different. The disciples witnessed Jesus’ human manifestation visibly change, as the light emanated from his being.

In contrast, transformation implies that while external changes may be noticeable, the internal characteristics are also changing. Characteristics such as the nature, substance and character of something. Jesus was transfigured, not transformed because Jesus’ dual nature—truly human and truly divine—did not change. His divinity was always a reality; this was God’s way of revealing the true nature of Jesus, and therefore God himself, to Peter, John and James. When God acts upon Jesus, Jesus is transfigured and the three disciples, witnesses to this happening, are forever transformed.

The very first thing we read is that Jesus went up to the with the intention to pray. But, what’s prayer have to do with the Transfiguration of Jesus? Everything! In vv. 28-29, we learn the sequence of Jesus’ actions leading up to the miraculous change in his appearance. He goes up to the mountain to pray, and while he was praying, God acted upon him to reveal the divine nature of Jesus.

When we choose to participate in God’s unfolding of God’s self, through the act of prayer, God acts upon us, so that over time, our human nature and our character are transformed. And, as we grow, we are nurtured by our community of faith, into the full stature of Christ. Prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, is the conduit by which we connect to the Holy, and get taken up in God’s constant self-revelation.

Think about a current of electricity which constantly releases energy, and it will continue to do so unless it is obstructed in some way. Stopping the flow of energy is the job of a circuit breaker. Humankind has a natural tendency to act as a “circuit breaker” in the presence of God’s self-disclosure. Through baptism, we have unlimited access to God’s active presence, yet, faithful people with the distractions of life, unwittingly act as the circuit breaker, resulting in a sense of disconnectedness from our source. Prayer allows us to be intentional about being caught up in the ongoing revelation of God.

We know, also, from the scriptures that it was customary for Jesus to go off to pray. A life grounded in prayer was vital to his existence, and in fulfilling his purpose on earth. For Jesus, prayer was a matter of life and death, and we must regard it in the same way. And, since we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, what was true for him is true for us—prayer is a matter of life and death.

Recall Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus prayed to God, “If it is your will, remove this cup from me,” (Lk 22:42). Through prayer he listened for the will of his Father, and responded faithfully in obedience. Yes, prayer for Jesus, was quite literally a matter of life and death, and because he listened and obeyed, you and I are assured of eternal life.

Jesus’ prayer underscores the need to pray in the darkest times of our lives of which none of us is immune. It’s a time of discernment, where we follow the model of prayer Jesus imprinted for us—Pray. Listen. Respond.

Jesus’ inner-circle disciples, Peter, John and James, just witnessed the fully-human, fully-divine Jesus’ outer appearance change before their very eyes. In the midst of this dazzling transfiguration, the disciples witnessed Jesus talking with the prophets Moses and Elijah. Moses was representative of the old covenant and God’s promise with the Israelites, which would soon be fulfilled in Jesus’ death. Elijah represented the arrival of the fulfillment of “all things.” The presence of Moses and Elijah pointed to the kingdom of God that had already come in the person of Jesus, and the not-yet kingdom come, fully realized when Jesus returns to judge all of creation.
The disciples were terrified as they were overshadowed by a cloud. The voice of God came from the cloud saying to them, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (v. 35).
This imperative by God, “listen to him!” is found in Matthew and Mark. I’m struck by the word, listen, as it is used intentionally in these gospel parallels—the word “listen” and not hear. Why is this important?

Hearing is a human sense which is dependent upon the physical instrument of an individual’s ears. Listening, however, involves perception beyond the physical ear, tapping into a deeper layer of communication—much like the earlier image of the unceasing flow of the electrical current as an image of God’s unceasing revelation of God’s self. But that tapping in transcends simply witnessing; it requires participation, some sort of response, by the witness. Pray. Listen. Respond.

In two short days from now, we will enter the holy season of Lent. It is a time in our liturgical calendar marked by intentional prayer; wondering and wandering in the wilderness; and engaging God in deep conversation. It is a time when we practice spiritual disciplines that are intended to transform us, as we are brought closer to the Holy.

There was a public service campaign that ran on television when I was very young. The goal of the campaign was to ingrain into the minds of children that if they ever found themselves in a life-threatening situation involving fire, they should do three things. Stop, drop and roll.

I remember that message to this day, and it probably saved a lot of lives over the years.

Here’s what I also know; Jesus Christ died on the cross to save all who believe in him so that they may have eternal life. That message absolutely saves lives. That message is fueled by a holy fire that sets hearts ablaze with the love of God. That holy fire can never be extinguished in our own hearts when we commit to faithfully Pray, Listen and Respond. Pray, Listen and Respond.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

May it be so.