Sermon for The Transfiguration of Our Lord
February 7, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 9:28-36
Sermon Theme: “A Daily Face-Lift to God in Prayer”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 26, Part 1, Series C; original ideas; The Parables of Peanuts; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; Lutheran Cyclopedia; The Veil, the Chalice, and the Dignity of Man, adoremus.org; LiveOrthodoxyOrthoPost; johnsanidopouslos.com)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
I’m always amused by Lucy Van Pelt’s bullying tactics, her unmitigated gall, and her self-absorbed vanity. In one Peanuts strip Lucy is pictured admiring her own face in the mirror, with Charlie Brown saying to her, “And besides, never forget that beauty is only skin deep.”
Lucy replies, “I DENY THAT! My beauty is not only on the surface, it goes down deep . . . layer after layer after layer.” She looks back in the mirror at her face and exclaims, “Yes sir!. . . . . . . I have very THICK beauty!”
You know, in today’s world, plastic surgery and face-lifts are becoming increasingly popular among those who can afford them. Those who receive them say that it has helped them feel better about themselves. Gravity and the pull of the grave have a way of pulling down our countenance.
However, there is another kind of face-lift that will reap far longer lasting and satisfying results. It’s called looking up to God in prayer. Our sermon text from Luke says, “And when Jesus was PRAYING, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white.” In Matthew’s gospel account, Matthew adds, “And Jesus’ face shown like the sun.” Our Lord’s face was radiant with the glow of God’s glory. A daily face-lift to God in prayer can not only do wonders for your looks but also your lives.
While Lucy represents one extreme in the world of Peanuts, the always- needing-a-bath, smelly, unwashed dirty faced character, Pig-Pen, is the other extreme. One day Sally Brown says to Pig-Pen, “Pig-Pen, you’re a disgrace! Here it is springtime, and the world is bright and fresh and new, . . . . . and here you are with the same old dirty face!”
Pig-Pen replies, “I look upon myself as a connecting link to the past.”
The description of Jesus’ face radiantly glowing in His glory is a connecting link to the past, when we were all as filthy as Pig-Pen.
If we take a look at the past and return to the beginning of the Old Covenant between God and man, in Exodus 34, we see a time when Moses was disgusted with the faithlessness of the people.
So the Lord tells Moses to come up on Mount Sinai by himself, and bring two stone tablets. And so Moses does this and heads up the mountain to be with God. He is there, on the top of the mountain, for forty days and forty nights without eating or drinking, and God tells him to write down the Ten Commandments on the two stone tablets, which he does.
Then, according to Exodus 34:29, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” Moses gave the people the Ten Commandments while his face was still radiant, and when he finished speaking to the people, he put a veil over his face. The glowing, radiant glory of God, reflected in the face of Moses, was too much to bear for the people in the filthiness of their sin.
In this, there is a connection to be seen to the past, a connection to be seen between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, a good reason for studying all of Scripture.
The white linen cloth which covers the bread and the wine before we take Holy Communion reminds us of the curtain in the Temple, setting apart the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, the one place the people could not enter. Please note that the cloth is called the veil, and it is to remind us of our own unworthiness to come into the presence of God.
Scripture says that when Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple was torn asunder. Without Jesus’ death and resurrection, the veil could never be removed, but our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross removed it for us. Just think how awesome it is to come into the radiant, glowing presence of Christ during the receiving of the elements of the Eucharist.
When Moses lifted his face up to God on Mount Sinai, he was transformed. When Jesus lifted His face up to the Father in prayer, He was transformed into the state of His glory. One reason God let the disciples experience the Transfiguration of Jesus was to prove that His Son was God as well as man. Another reason, not only for showing us the transformation of Jesus but also the transformation of the face of Moses in the Old Testament was to suggest to us what happens when we pray.
When we lift our filthy, sin-drenched face up to God in prayer, He washes us clean just as He did at our baptism. Through prayer, we renew our baptismal vows.
Because a transformation takes place during humble, sincere prayer, folks have a tendency to use the term, “the POWER of prayer.” The problem I have with such a term is it could suggest to unbelievers that OUR action of praying is the power. The power of transformation lies not in what WE do but in what GOD can and does do. In other words, we don’t want anybody to get the false idea that we tell God what to do, and He does it.
Too many people fail to understand the tremendous importance of prayer. I was really taken by what a pastor in the Eastern Orthodox Church said about prayer. Here is what Pastor Arsenios Eznepidis Paisios said: “The soul must be constantly ready and alert and always in contact with the spiritual headquarters, that is, God. Only then will it feel secure, full of hope and joy.
“When I was in the army, during the war,” Pastor Paisios continued, “I was a radio operator. I noticed that we felt secure only when we communicated with the Army Division on an hourly basis. When our communication was limited to every two hours, we felt a little bit insecure; sometimes, when we could only be in touch with them twice a day, we felt uncomfortable, lonely and lost.
“The same thing applies to our prayer. The more we pray, the more secure we feel, on a spiritual basis, of course.” As the Apostle Paul says, we must pray without ceasing.
I’m sure that all of you have heard other people say, and maybe you’ve said it yourself, “Well, all we can do now is pray.” People say this, for example, when the doctor announces to the family that their loved one has only six months to live, or six days. “All we can do now is pray.”
The people who make such statements don’t mean to, but what they are really saying is that ‘in all my vast wisdom, abilities, , and contacts, I have done everything I possibly can to help this person, so maybe, just maybe, God can do something. I don’t know where else to turn.’ If a person has sincere faith in God, he would never make a statement like that. Nor would God be his last resort.
Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights fasting and praying when his face gleamed luminously. Jesus never did anything without first praying to His Father in Heaven, and, as Luke says, it was while He was praying on the Mount of Transfiguration that His face was altered, and Matthew noted that His face shown like the sun.
With all of the awesome things happening to Jesus and the disciples in their mountaintop experience, it is very easy to overlook this important message about prayer. When you are feeling bad about yourself, when life seems empty or devoid of meaning, when worries, anxieties and fears totally overwhelm you, when you are looking for affirmation and purpose, don’t look at your gloomy face in the mirror, — look up to God in prayer for the best face-lift ever. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.