Matthew 17:1-9; Colossians 4:2-6; Luke 5:16
On the radio the other day I heard a woman talk about her relationship with her father. She is a stand up comedian and was doing a show one night and was extra nervous about it because she had invited her Dad. In her routine she joked about the fact that she is a person who always picks up pennies off of the sidewalk. She figures it's the easiest money she's going to make. She said she figured out that in the amount of time it took her to pick up a penny, which she factored as 18/100ths of a second, that she was making $64/hr or $2,560/wk— except, of course, that the supply wasn't always there. Her father, who was literally a rocket scientist, came up to her after the show. But instead of saying, "Great job" or "You were funny" or anything you might expect, his comment to was that she she did her math correctly. That could've been the end of it, of course, but a few months later when she went to visit him, he handed her a bunch of index cards. On each one was a coin that was taped to the corner of the card, and there were hand written notes about each coin. The first few just had the date and place he had found them, but after a couple there were more notes about who he was with or what he ate for lunch at the place he found it or even what he thought the coins were doing. On one he had written, "opened car door and found two pennies, face up, talking to each other. I interrupted them, putting one in my right pocket and one in my left pocket. That silenced them." What this woman came to real-ize, as her father gave her index cards each and every time they were together, is that while he wasn't the kind of father who would ever say "I love you," he was invested in their relationship and now every time he saw a coin, he was thinking of her. My guess is that it didn't just change her view of their relationship. It must've also changed his. For now his day is interrupted every time he sees a coin and stops to pick it up and note where he is and what his day has been like. Each time he does this, he thinks of her. I realized, she said, that love isn't always a loud proc-lamation; sometimes it's a shared understanding.
Last summer when our Church leaders gathered and decided to pray our breakthrough prayer each day at 11:07, that being our church address, I didn't really think about the impact it would have on me. I was focused on praying for the church and for all of you. But almost from the very first day, I was surprised at how different it felt to be interrupted to pray. Prayer began to interrupt my daily routine which was a different kind of prayer than when I set aside time or I'm feeling desperately in need of praying. And what has happened in my life, is I've begun to think dif-ferently about prayer. All of a sudden when I pray our written prayer, I also pray for whatever is happening at that moment— so my prayer life has expanded to include all kinds of things I’d never prayed for before-- daily seemingly insignificant things or people that I'm thinking about at that moment or the plans that I am making. And while I am sometimes alone at 11:07, other times because I have to explain why my phone alarm is going off, it seems natural to invite other people to pray with me if they want to. My children now ask when they hear my phone, "Is it time to pray?" Our staff here at church intentionally prays together once a day now which has opened us up to also being in prayer in a variety of different ways during our staff meeting. And I have been encouraged when I go to visit our homebound members to find out that many of them are praying daily at 11:07 and they are pleased to have a way to feel connected with the rest of the church. But more than anything else, by not keeping my prayer to a specific time and place of my own choosing, prayer has become a much bigger investment in my life and I find myself praying more frequently than ever before.
In Colossians the writer of this letter is asking the community at Colossae to pray for him while he is in prison. But instead of asking for safety or comfort or a way out, the writer is asking that they pray for him to be able to share the Gospel while he is there. And not only that, but he asks that they pray continuously for each other and for their community. This is not an afterthought. Time and time again, especially in that early church, the writers of Scripture ask the early church to pray. It is not obvious to them that there will still be church communities two thousand years later. They are praying for God's love to keep being shown, for Christ's way of living in the world to continue, for them to have the courage to keep living their faith.
You see prayer isn't about us getting what we want-- although Jesus does say that we should ask for what we need. Prayer truly is about lining our hearts up with God's heart. To pray so fre-quently and to listen well enough that through God's grace we begin to align our lives with God's will to bring about the Kingdom here on earth. When we are invested in prayer, when we either set aside time or set our watches to interrupt us or somehow make prayer intentional in our lives, then we are able to see far beyond our own vision, and get a glimpse of God's vision.
In our Gospel this morning, Peter, James, and John go up to the mountain top with Jesus. It is one of those experiences that I’m sure they never forgot afterwards because it was truly what we often call a “mountaintop experience.” They get to the top and Jesus’ face begins to shine like the sun; his clothes become dazzling white; Moses and Elijah— the greatest leader of the law and the greatest prophet in all of Scripture join Jesus there. This is the moment they have been waiting for. If you’ve ever had an experience of God like this where the Holy Spirit seems to be everywhere and the petty nature of the world lessens its hold on you for a moment and you are able to see a glimpse of God’s glory— than you know a bit about what they are experiencing. If ever they had been waiting for some proof that Jesus truly is the Messiah; if ever they had any doubts— and they’re human, so why wouldn’t they have any doubts— than this is it. This is what they needed. This is the experience they’d been hoping for to confirm all of their dreams about Jesus. It is in this moment that they see God's glory and all of their prayers are confirmed.
But there’s also something else happening. In the midst of all this glory, at a time when you would think they would just stop and listen and soak up the mystery and beauty of God, there is one person who speaks— Peter. Peter interrupts this moment. He feels the need to add to the conversation. You’ve met someone like Peter before, haven’t you? Someone that is uncomfort-able with silence; someone who feels they need to interject something, anything, so that they can be important too? Someone who perhaps is a bit insecure and wants to prove that they're part of the team also? Or maybe you are Peter. Peter sees Jesus, Moses, and Elijah all together on the mountain top and he chooses to interrupt them so that he can tell them his great idea. “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” And in this moment, as Peter is offering some way that he can be of service, some way that he can be useful, some way that they can stay up on that mountain top forever. In that moment he is so overcome by what he is seeing, that he thinks this moment is the goal-- the reason for Jesus' coming-- instead of just a beautiful moment along the way.
How easily we, as a church, can be like Peter. If we at First United Methodist Church aren't in-vested in prayer, than we may make that same kind of mistake. We may come to believe that this church community exists solely for those of us who are here today. We may come to be-lieve that we built this building so that we can have a wonderful home to enjoy. We may fool ourselves into thinking that all of the ministry that happens in this building is for us-- that God lives right here in this beautiful space and we did the right thing by creating a beautiful booth as Peter suggests so that the law and the prophets and Jesus can all live together in a cozy space we call church.
But while Peter is still talking-- still suggesting they build a beautiful space for all of them to live all cozy on the mountain top-- a bright cloud overshadows them and a voice says, "This is my Son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" And Peter and James and John fall to the ground in fear. And it is Jesus who goes to them and says, "Do not be afraid. Get up. Let's go." And when they get to the bottom of the mountain, there is a man there waiting for them who is looking for healing.
Peter thought they'd reached the pinnacle-- he thought they'd accomplished what Jesus came to do-- to be joined with Elijah and Moses-- to be transfigured into someone who looked more godly than Jesus usually looked. Peter mistakenly thinks that this is the goal! But Jesus says to him, "Don't be afraid. This is not what I'm here for. This is not the end goal. We've got to keep going."
In his first sermon to his hometown synagogue, Jesus told them that he came to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free. And the prophets before Jesus said to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. To listen to the words written on our hearts-- words of love and kindness. To welcome the stranger, to give a home to the refugee, to bring a day of jubilee-- when all the world will rejoice because there is enough. This is our work. And it is this work that will send us deep into prayer because we cannot do it by ourselves. And it is an investment in prayer that will send us back into the world, because while the mountain top ex-periences are beautiful, they are not the places God is calling us to stay.
You see while a proclamation of belief is beautiful-- as Peter witnessed to what he was seeing and rejoiced in Jesus being the Messiah-- it is a shared understanding of what God wants in this world, of what God's Kingdom is about, that is the most important.
WIth an investment in prayer we will stay focused on how it is that God is calling us into the world to share what we have experienced here. With an investment in prayer we will find the courage to invite people to come be a part of this community and bear witness for themselves how God has been a part of their lives. With an investment in prayer we will never forget that this building is not for us-- it's for those who have never experienced God's love so that we have a space to share that love. With an investment in prayer we will be able to reach out with children's ministry and youth ministry and all other kinds of ministry that we do, from prayer shawls to connection groups to the third Saturday meal and realize that those ministries aren't just for us, they are gifts to the wider community. This building is a gift to the St. Cloud region. We are meant to be a gift to this community and so we can't stay on the mountain top-- we must go. Go without fear and find Christ in the valley healing people, unbinding people, and sharing the good news. When we are invested in prayer, when it becomes a way of life, then we will be able to see how much bigger God's vision is for us than the one we often create for ourselves.
So what will it take, church, for us to take the next step of investing ourselves in prayer? For some of you, that may be starting to pray daily at 11:07-- the prayer is in the bulletin and on our website and you can get it texted to you. For some it may be joining a connection group to deepen your connection with God and with others here at church. Praying with others is a whole different experience than praying alone. For some it may be picking up praying for those fruits of the spirit. February is still patience for a couple more days, and then prayers for kindness and goodness in March. Maybe it means asking our prayer volunteer to pray with you after worship. Or even choosing one thing in your life that is going to be like the pennies were for that father-- what one thing will remind you to stop, pray, and listen every time you see it? How will you invest in prayer this spring?
God is inviting us, challenging us, to pray continuously; to be invested in our relationship with God through prayer so that we can be open to all God is calling us to as people of faith. God is wanting us to see that this community, this building, this church we call First UMC, has been blessed in order to be a gift to the world and when we are people invested in prayer, we will begin to understand God's vision for who we can be and what we can do right here in St. Cloud to heal the sick and be healed ourselves; to give sight to the blind and to learn to see with God's help; to let the oppressed go free, and to find ourselves freed up to serve God. May it be so. Amen.
Resources Used this Week: Russell Rathbun, The Hardest Question, 2001 Breakthrough Prayer Initiative, MCCI Workshop, Spring 2016 The first story was a repeat of the Moth Radio Hour from New York Public Radio. Try as I might, I could not find the woman's name, nor the episode they were playing while I was listening to it in the car because it was during a member drive!