Scripture Lesson: Luke 9:28-43 (CEB)28 About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. 31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him.
33 As the two men were about to leave Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it’s good that we’re here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—but he didn’t know what he was saying. 34 Peter was still speaking when a cloud overshadowed them. As they entered the cloud, they were overcome with awe.
35 Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” 36 Even as the voice spoke, Jesus was found alone. They were speechless and at the time told no one what they had seen.
37 The next day, when Jesus, Peter, John, and James had come down from the mountain, a large crowd met Jesus. 38 A man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to take a look at my son, my only child.39 Look, a spirit seizes him and, without any warning, he screams. It shakes him and causes him to foam at the mouth. It tortures him and rarely leaves him alone. 40 I begged your disciples to throw it out, but they couldn’t.”
41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and crooked generation, how long will I be with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon threw him down and shook him violently. Jesus spoke harshly to the unclean spirit, healed the child, and gave him back to his father. 43 Everyone was overwhelmed by God’s greatness.
Well, if the weather had cooperated we would be finishing a three-week series today on the General Rules that John Wesley gave to the early Methodist societies at the time this new religious movement was being formed in the early 1700’s in England. I know that some of you have been keeping up with the sermons and weekly scripture readings and devotions that I’ve been sharing in my emails and on our website. So I want to be faithful to complete this series. So let me give a brief recap of what I’ve shared so far.
John Wesley, son of an Anglican priest grew up in and followed a call to be ordained himself within a church that he had come to realize was formed around high worship practices on Sunday mornings, in ornate buildings with well-to-do parishioners who seemed to be living a Sunday-morning kind of faith. He envied the faith of a group of Moravians he had met on his mission to the American colonies, who seemed to have a kind of faith assurance that gave them a deep sense of peace and joy, even in the face of life-threatening challenges. Wesley’s own faith experiences had been based on trying to be “good enough.” But after his encounter with the Moravians, he began searching the scriptures, searching his soul and opening his heart to the work of God’s Spirit within him, which culminated in what we Methodists call his “Aldersgate” moment – a meeting of a Moravian religious society in which his heart became “strangely warm” in response to the realization that he did trust in God and God alone for his salvation, which led to a rekindling of his faith in response to God’s amazing grace.
You see, early in his life, Wesley was depending on doing and believing all the right things in order to earn his salvation, instead of understanding that God’s grace comes first – there is nothing we can do to earn it. And once Wesley understood that, and accepted this grace as a freely given gift, it changed everything. Wesley had finally fallen in love with God!
His faith was on fire for preaching this new understanding of God’s love for all of us that he took his message out to the countryside and other places where people had been left out of the Church’s high and holy and well-to-do Sunday services. He preached in fields and streets corners and even on top of his father’s grave so that everyone had a chance to hear about God’s love. And hundreds of people, many of whom were part of England’s working-class poor, dedicated their lives to following Jesus. So Wesley formed them into faith communities, called Methodist Societies and gave them these three rules for helping them live out their faith in the real world:
I love you, Lord. And I lift my voice to worship you, O my soul, rejoice.
Take joy, my King, in what you hear; may it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.
In our scripture lesson today, Jesus and his three closest disciples – Peter, James and John – have gone up on a mountain so that Jesus can pray. In the gospels, especially in Luke, there are pivotal moments in Jesus’ ministry when he goes of by himself, or in the company of his closest disciples, to pray. In fact, on Wednesday, we’ll be entering the season of Lent – those 40 days leading up to Easter when we remember the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness in an extended time of prayer before he began his public ministry. So we see that prayer was always the first thing Jesus did before taking whatever next step was ahead of him in his ministry.
John Wesley also found that prayer was an essential part of his relationship with God and his ability to follow God’s call in his life. He would begin his day around 4:30 or 5:00 every morning with prayer so that his first thoughts for the day were of God. He would offer himself to God anew every morning, praying for God to direct his steps throughout the day, and he would pray for others. Then, he would use the chiming of the hour throughout the day to reconnect with God, offering another longer prayer to God at noon, and again in the evening. When he prayed before bed, he would recount his day with God, making confessions for the times when he had failed, making plans to make amends with anyone he had harmed, and entrusting himself to God’s care for the night.
We’ve talked before about how prayer is simply our way of being in communication with God. God loves each one of us so much that God longs to be in relationship with us. John Wesley didn't understand this in his early life. I didn’t understand this early in my life, either. I want to ask you to think about the person you talk with the most. Is that your spouse or other significant person, your best friend, a sibling, or parent or other family member? And would you say your relationship with that person is stronger when you make time to talk with them? What happens to our relationship with others when we get too busy to sit and talk, when we go through our days getting all the things on our “to-do” list accomplished, but not making time for the significant people in our lives? Do we get grouchy? Do they? Do we feel lonely, or anxious or frustrated? Early in our marriage, Thomas and I read a book with our small group at church about the importance of communication in relationships. And it encouraged couples to carve out time in their calendars every week for “couch time” – for time just to sit and talk. And it warned couples to schedule this first and to make it a priority, not letting other events or activities, or even children, take this time away. We found that when we did this, our whole week together was better for it. We also found that if we did intentionally work at guarding this time, it would certainly get overtaken with other things. So how is your relationship with God these days? Are you making couch time for God? Are you spending time talking with God, your friend, your comforter? Are you telling God about the problems in your life and asking for God’s advice? Are you confessing your secrets to God, or asking for help in overcoming something that is robbing you of time, energy or joy? God is here for you. God wants to be in relationship with YOU. So what do you need to change in order to make prayer a priority in your life?
Wesley also believed that “all who desire the grace of God are to wait for it in the searching of scripture.” He called himself homo unis libri – a man of One book. And he believed that scripture, the Living Word of God, had a unique way of bringing people to encounter the Living God. Our scripture lesson today is a perfect example of the way that what we have in scripture is a way of discovering God’s overarching story of love, rescue, mercy, and fulfilling God’s promises to restore the world to its intended wholeness.
Verses 29-30: “29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. 31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem.” Remember that Moses also ascended a mountain and came face to face with God’s glory – an experience that left his face glowing! And the encounter in which God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments, helping to form them in their relationship with God after having been freed from slavery in Egypt. And Elijah, the Prophet, also had an encounter with God on a mountain, the same Mount Horeb where Moses received the Law. Only this time, God spoke in a still, small voice. And here, Jesus has his own encounter with the full glory of God, along with these two central figures from God’s ongoing story in the life of God’s people – the Law-Giver and the Prophet. There is so much to appreciate and try to understand in this passage. Here, God is bringing together the long-held memories, expectations and hopes of God’s people. And in a voice from the cloud, God confirms that, “This is my Son. Listen to Him!” Wow! Can you imagine being Peter, James or John in that moment? Seeing these two Heroes of your faith standing there with God’s own Son?? Reading scripture allows us to learn God’s whole story – the story that is still being written through the people God is still calling to help God’s kingdom come “on earth as it is in heaven.”
How much of God’s story do you know? How long has it been since you opened the pages of your bible and dared to have your own encounter with the Living God through God’s Living Word? Today, so much of scripture is taken out of context and hurled around as little darts meant to shape God into our own image, or fit God into our own agendas. I am convinced that this is the reason our denomination has come to such a deep divide over the issue of human sexuality. When I try to consider God’s whole story, I consider it all – even the scriptures of the Old Testament – through the lens of Jesus Christ. We cannot afford to misrepresent God’s love in our world, and in our communities. John Wesley spent nearly half his life working very hard for a faith that was not bearing fruit in his life – he was finding no joy, no peace, no assurance of God’s love in his life. Once his heart melted, though, he fell in love not only with God with all of God’s people. His heart was moved with compassion for those he saw that had been excluded from Church, for those who were living on the margins of society and those who were considered less than fully human and openly sold as property in the slave trade.
It has been said that scripture is God’s love letter to God’s world. And we should read it that way – as one whole letter, as one whole story – from creation to re-creation, and the always-working grace of God to bring all of God’s beloved back into its intended wholeness, in a relationship of mutual love for God and neighbor.
Finally, John Wesley believed that Worship and the Lord’s Supper were vital means of staying strong in our relationship with God. He had no patience with people who thought they could live as Christians without being in community. He wrote, "holy solitaries is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The holy gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness, but social holiness." When we come together as the gathered body of Christ, we experience Christ’s presence in our midst. Jesus said, where two or three are gathered, I am there.” Worship is a way for us to praise God, to give thanks for all that God has done, and to be held up and encouraged by one another as we look around and see that we are not alone! We are not trying to live our life in a vacuum; we have friends in Christ, who loves what we love, who cares about the things that we care for, and who has the same kingdom goals we have of doing kindness, loving justice, and walking humbly with God. And we have the presence of Christ in the gathered body of Christ to hear our prayers, to pour out God’s Spirit on us for another week of trying to do life as God calls us, and to comfort and cheer us. Yes, worship and prayer can and should be done as individuals – but how sweet it is when we come together as the body of Christ to love and support one another as we experience Christ in our midst.
Let me say a word here about what worship is NOT: it is not about a building, it is not about the style of music, it is not about the paraments or the candles or whether or not we have stained glass or a cross hanging on the wall. When Peter, James and John saw the transfiguration of Jesus, with Moses and Elijah, Peter wanted to build shrines and stay and worship, and just escape all that was waiting for them in the valley. Luke adds this aside, “but [Peter] didn’t understand what he was saying.” Peter got caught up in the dazzle of it all, and forgot that the dazzle wasn’t the point! The Church is us. And Church can happen anywhere two or three are gathered. When we take our eyes off Jesus, we can get distracted trying to build shrines to Jesus instead of remembering the purpose for which Jesus came. Jesus came to restore sight to the blind, to set the captives free, to heal the sick and the broken, and to call disciples to join him in doing these same works of mercy that demonstrate God’s amazing love, God’s amazing grace… so that the whole world will know that they are God’s beloved, and God is their God.
We remember this through the sacrament of holy communion, when we remember the night that Jesus broke the bread of life and shared the cup of forgiveness with his disciples, with his friends. When we remember that Jesus knelt in that room as a servant to wash his disciple’s feet and explain to them that we are all called to serve as Christ served. When he gave them a new commandment to love one another as Christ loves us. We remember that even though Jesus stood on a mountain top and brilliant light like lightening burst through every pore in his body, in a dazzling display of God’s full glory within him, that days later he was stripped, beaten and put to death by a religious system that could not see the whole picture of God’s amazing love. Love that laid down its own life so that every single person would know their sacred worth. Love that gave its own Son so that every single person would know that they are also God’s beloved Daughter. God’s beloved Son.
Love does no harm. Love always seeks to do good. God is Love – so let’s make a commitment today to attend to the ordinances of God, to commit to way of life that helps us to stay in love with God by being in prayer, reading scripture, and gathering as the body of Christ to worship and remember the mighty acts of God, in order to be filled up with the grace of God to go out to serve – to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, to visit the sick and those in prison, and to share the love of God with all.
May it be so.