Most people order their life and the world around them according to concrete and predictable rules: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west; 24 hours in the day and so on. But what happens in today’s gospel is anything but concrete or predictable. Instead, is full of mystery. It gives the disciples – and us -- a glimpse of Jesus as holy, glorious and awesome.
Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain to pray. The disciples were exhausted – after all, they had just climbed a mountain. This is all understandable. But as Jesus prayed, something unexpected, mysterious and wonderful happens as Jesus begins to glow with a holy light and prophets from of old join him on the mountaintop.
Peter responds by impulsively trying to somehow hold onto that holy moment and to stay in that holy place, saying, “Let’s build three dwellings!” In other words, “Don’t just stand there, DO Something!” But instead of a call to busyness, Peter, James and John hear the voice from the clouds proclaim, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
“Listen to him.” It’s good advice – then and now. So how can we listen to Jesus? We can read scripture. We can hear Jesus’ word in Worship. We can taste Jesus’ blessing as we come together for communion. We can see Jesus in the world around us. Jesus is present where two or more are gathered in His name. We can listen to Jesus in all of these ways. But today, I want to focus on what Jesus went up the mountain to do: pray. We can listen to Jesus through prayer.
How do we pray? I’m glad to say there are many ways, including:
At WAPO Bible camp, youth jump up and down, energized by the Holy Spirit and singing songs of praise. That’s prayer.
When we gather for contemplative prayer, a candle is lit, the body stilled and silence is held. That’s prayer.
In our worship, we read prayers together and respond to prayer petitions, asking God to “Hear our Prayer.” That’s prayer.
Before mealtimes, we join together reading or reciting words of thankfulness to God for the food and fellowship. That’s prayer.
Before and after meetings, Bible studies, and any time two or more of us gather together, we listen and respond to words calling for God’s presence and guidance. That’s prayer.
These are examples of Corporate prayer. That’s a fancy way of saying: We pray together. Whether written or spontaneous, sung, read, recited from memory or silent, when we ask for God’s presence to be with us, we are speaking and listening to Jesus through prayer.
But we don’t have to wait to pray until we gather together.
There are many ways to pray on your own – and if you don’t have a habit of prayer, you may want to consider trying one of these methods during the season of Lent. If you have a pattern already that you enjoy, great. Keep doing it. But, perhaps for the season of Lent, you may want to try something new. Here are some ideas:
If you don’t currently have a prayer that you say, you can’t go wrong by learning or reciting the Lord’s prayer. If you know the traditional version by heart, you could try another translation.
Or, you could try using the Small Catechism. Martin Luther suggests prayers for the morning and the evening as well as at other times.
Another idea is to pray through the hymnal. You may borrow one of ours – please bring it back for Sunday worship! The words of the hymns that we sing reflect our faith. As the hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus” proclaims, regardless of the challenge, you can “take it to the Lord in prayer.”
There are several Lutheran online sources for prayer – especially through Luther Seminary.
You can try the Contemplative prayer group. Send me a note on your green sheet if you can’t make the Tuesday at 10 a.m. group. I would be happy to begin a second group. Contemplative prayer gives extra attention to the listening component of prayer. You can try it with a group first – and then try it on your own.
Clearly, there are many ways to pray – and God does not prefer one more than another. As one old Scandinavian professor at Luther Seminary once said: God hears the prayers of those who jump and shout “Praise the Lord” – but my fervent quiet prayers ring just as loud in God’s ear. The style of prayer is not the issue. All that is needed is a willingness to pray to God – sharing your cares and concerns and then… taking time to stop, listen and reflect upon God’s love and mercy and the way of Jesus.
There are lots of ways we can pray. But perhaps we need to address the question of: WHY we pray.
The easy answer of course, for the faithful, is that God commanded us to pray – and in our Gospel today, God commands us to LISTEN. Listen to Jesus.
But people often ask: if God knows everything then why should I bother to tell God what God already knows? It’s true that God doesn’t need us to act as reporters on the ground informing God of what is going on. But that’s not what God is asking for in prayer. What God wants is a relationship with YOU. It’s hard to have a relationship with someone if you never talk with them – or if they never listen.
So, for example, God knows that my mother has cancer. I did not have to report that to God. But I can talk to God, share my concerns with God and am comforted by knowing that God hears my prayer. But what’s more, I can listen for God’s response. In this case, God has more than answered my prayers not by healing her completely – she still has cancer – but by giving us some time together, time that we would not have taken if she had continued to work long hours. Am I glad for the cancer? No. I would never wish anyone the pain that she experienced. But I am glad for the way that God works through the pain to bring blessing.
Another question that people often ask is: If God is Almighty and has a plan for everything, what difference does my prayer make? In response to this question, I would say: look at Scripture. God has been known to change God’s mind. For example, God told Moses that he would destroy the people of Israel after they made a golden calf as an idol. But Moses prayed to God to change God’s mind – and God did. This is just one example of many.
The point is, God wants a relationship with you because God loves you and has claimed you as God’s child. God wants the BEST for you. This is why Jesus teaches us to pray – and the voice from heaven says, “Listen to him!”
God knows that there is evil in the world and that danger and challenges are there to meet us. And God wants to strengthen us and empower us for whatever lies before us, whether that be challenges, trials or blessings.
Like Peter, we may want to stay on the mountaintop basking in the glory of Jesus. But Jesus and his disciples did not stay on the mountain top – and neither can we. Jesus and his disciples come down the mountain to find a boy suffering from what looks like an epileptic seizure. Although dismayed at what is translated as the “perverse” but what really means backward looking generation, Jesus takes the time to heal that little boy. Jesus – and we – can have mountaintop experiences. Indeed it is both the mountain top experiences and our habit of prayer, of listening to Jesus, that gives us the strength to face the trials and challenges of life in our community.
This is why we need to take time for prayer – for OUR sake. God knows that our lives are busy, full and noisy. And God knows that we can easily fill up our life with TV, texts, twitter, facebook, and a myriad of activities. But God also knows that we need a Savior. We need Jesus. And so it is for OUR sake that the voice from the cloud says, “Listen to Him.” Through prayer, we can both share our joys and our cares and listen to Jesus so that we can hear God’s Word and see Jesus enlighten our path.
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
February 7, 2016
Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now 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. 33 Just 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. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" 36 When 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.
[37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." 41 Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.]
MESSAGE: Listening to Jesus through prayer gives you the strength to face the trials and challenges of life