Sunday, February 14, 2010

Prayer and the Cross

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Valentine, Martyr
February 14, 2010
Luke 9:28-36

I hope that as I continue to teach the Word of God I will keep learning and growing. I always use teaching Confirmation Class as the test for whether I am. Since in Confirmation Class we’re dealing with the basics, the fundamentals, of the Christian faith, I could easily go through the motions; knowing the material well enough to just teach it without giving it any thought.

But it never fails to happen that I learn. I grow. I continue to be brought by the Holy Spirit to new insights in the faith and stronger growth in faith. It is that way in teaching the Word of God. There’s never a point where you can master it.

It is my prayer that as I grow and learn that I will seek to do it in the way that Christ Himself did it. It sounds odd, but Jesus humbled Himself to be much as we are, learning and growing as a man. The author of Hebrews says that Jesus learned obedience as a son. This is a remarkable statement. It’s hard to get your head around that one, as Jesus is true God of true God, fully divine. And yet, what He chose to do was to humble Himself. He chose to become a man, and even more, to submit Himself to authority. To learn. To grow. To be obedient.

This is what we need to learn in our prayer life, in our lives as Christians. At this moment in the Church Year we’re in a transition. We’re closing up the Epiphany season and preparing to enter the Lenten season. At the same time we’re not just thinking ‘transition’, we’re also focusing on a specific and unique event in the life of Christ, the Transfiguration.

In our celebration of the festival of the Transfiguration of Our Lord and in our transition to Lent and preparation for Lent we can use the event of the Transfiguration to help us understand where we’re going with our Midweek Lenten theme of “The Our Father and the Cross of Christ.” “The Our Father” is another name for the Lord’s Prayer. In conjunction with the annual Catechism Convocation our congregation joins in with several other congregations the Midweek Lenten worship services will focus on the Lord’s Prayer, which is the topic of the Catechism Convocation this year. The cross of Christ helps us focus in praying the Lord’s Prayer as well as in prayer in general.

How does the Transfiguration help us understand prayer in light of the cross? The Transfiguration of Christ has Him on the mountain in an array of glory and splendor. What appears to be shown on the mountain is the opposite of the shame and suffering of the cross. It is not because of the Transfiguration we pray. It is because of the cross. It is not through the glory displayed on the mountain that we bring our petitions to our Father but through the humiliation of the suffering of His Son.

Luke makes a point to tell us something that Jesus did often, and that was to pray. Matthew and Mark tell us of the Transfiguration but they simply say that Jesus went up onto the mountain. It is Luke who tells us that He went up there to pray. Matthew and Mark mention a few times that Jesus prayed. Luke emphasizes that this was an integral part of His earthly life. Since Jesus was all about the cross, in His Ministry heading to the cross we can safely assume that this is what His prayers were concerned with.

And while not praying to His Heavenly Father, when Jesus is talking with Moses and Elijah on the mountain they are talking about His departure, His suffering and death on the cross. He went up on the mountain to pray and ended up being transfigured before the disciples. He was displaying His glory and ended up having a conversation about His death.

Prayer was vital to Jesus’ Ministry. It was vital to His relationship with His Heavenly Father. How much more with us? We who are sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father but who are constantly struggling in this vale of tears and with our sinful flesh… if Jesus needed to pray, we more so. And as Jesus needed those times alone with His Heavenly Father in prayer, prayer always led Him to the cross. For Him it was always about the cross. His prayers were never separated from it. Even in His suffering and dying on the cross He was lifting up prayers to His dear Father in heaven.

Sometimes the Church Year and the calendar year intersect, although many may not realize it. Today, of course, is Valentine’s Day. Many think of it simply in terms of expressing love to their sweetheart. What many people may not realize is that the commemoration in the Church Year today of St. Valentine is the commemoration of his death. That doesn’t seem to fit with our American celebration of Valentine’s Day. But it actually fits better than we might think. His death is commemorated because he was martyred for his faith.

The Bible says that there is no greater love than a man lay down his life for his friends. Valentine, as with so many other Christians down through the centuries rejoiced in laying down his life rather than forsake his Lord. We would gladly give our lives to save our loved ones. How much more to give our lives rather than renounce Christ? On the day when Valentine’s Day, as well as the commemoration of Valentine, Martyr, coincide with the Transfiguration of Our Lord, it’s telling that the commemoration of Valentine is of his death—his martyrdom—and the celebration of the Transfiguration of Jesus has Moses and Elijah talking to Him about His death. It was because of the cross that Valentine willingly gave his life and by the cross that Valentine’s death brought him to life eternal. The cross is the substance of our prayers and our lives as Christians.

In our midweek Lenten worship services we will be meditating on the Lord’s Prayer, as it is the prayer our Lord has given us to pray. When we pray His holy prayer we are praying what He wants us to be praying for and for the things we need. But there’s another aspect to praying also.

We don’t pray simply by praying. We don’t learn to pray simply by praying. We learn to pray by listening. Specifically, by listening to Christ. God the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration said: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” This is how we learn to pray. We listen to our Lord. We hear His Words. We focus on what Peter, James, and John saw when they heard the voice of the Father—Jesus. Luke says that “when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” When we pray it is because of and through Jesus alone. It is by His suffering and death on the cross that our prayers ascend to the throne of the Father.

Prayer is talking with God. Jesus begins this whole thing on the mountain that way. He’s talking with His Heavenly Father. Luke doesn’t tell us any of the words from the Father to Jesus. What he does tell us are His words to us: “Listen to My Son.” How we do that is the same way Peter, James, and John did—from the source. From Jesus Himself. They literally heard His words as He spoke. We don’t hear Him speak with His mouth and vocal chords the way they did. But we hear His words as they did. That’s why He had His Word written down. That’s why we hear it read. That’s why we hear it preached.

That’s how we hear Jesus. That’s how we listen to Him. That’s how we learn to pray. We listen to Him and He forms our prayers. We read and meditate on His Word and we are formed by Him to pray according to the will of our Heavenly Father.

We begin to see more and more that everything in the Scriptures is centered in the cross. That the Scriptures bring Christ to us and are mere words apart from Him and what He suffered on Calvary. That our prayers are meaningless even if well intended if they do not flow out of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary for the forgiveness of all of our sins. The words you say may not always seem to reflect that; sometimes you may not know the words to say; sometimes you may pray half-heartedly; but don’t fear and don’t give up. Lift your eyes as Peter, James, and John did, and see the One in whom is your salvation and hope. Talk to your Lord about what Moses and Elijah talked to Him about: His suffering and death on the cross for them, for you, for everyone.

And if it still seems hard after that, then dig more into the Word of God, where you will be hearing the Word of Christ, listening to Him. Remember daily those words spoken to you when you were transformed into a new creation: “I Baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Hunger and thirst for the proclamation of Christ’s holy Word in His House. Come often to His Table where you will hear His words spoken directly to you: Take and eat, this is My body, given for you. Take and drink, this is My blood, shed for you for your forgiveness.

Your prayer at that point may simply be “Amen.”


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