“Confirmed and Strengthened”
(From Luke 9: 28-36)
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 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. 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. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 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.
My mother shared a story with me many years ago about my being a miracle baby. After the birth of my brother, Mom had been unable have a second pregnancy. She required surgery in order to be able to become pregnant. Her pregnancy being a bit more difficult this time around, Mom took extra care, and she also experienced a heightened sense of concern for my welfare. On a cold and snowy February night, her labor began. As she prayerfully awaited my arrival at the hospital maternity ward, Mom received an unexpected visitor. “As clear as day,” Mom reported, Jesus appeared to her, watching over her as she lay in bed. His presence was a calming and strengthening experience for her. “I have never forgotten how I gazed at Jesus’ face while I waited for you,” she told me. Seeing Jesus watching over her helped Mom to feel that everything was going to be alright, and she would deliver a healthy baby—me. This encounter Mom received from Jesus was life altering. It both confirmed and strengthened Mom’s faith in her Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.
Perhaps some of us here have had a life experience that produced a similar outcome—one of confirming and strengthening our Christian faith and our trust in God’s plan for our good. At a very difficult time in my life, while contemplating my call into pastoral ministry, I was driving along a rain-soaked an unfamiliar country road, praying as I drove. I was uncertain of what a future in ministry might hold for me, and I was seeking a sign that I was following God’s will for my life. Around a bend in the road, I saw the most beautiful and brilliantly colored fully horseshoe shaped double rainbow in the valley between to large hills. The sun was shining here, and everything around me glistened with an almost magical luster. In that moment, I remembered how God sent Noah a rainbow as a sign of God’s covenant to always be with him. I knew that God was with me, and God was also for me. I felt more strongly than I can previously remember God’s presence, and I experienced the peace that passes understanding. It still gives me chills to recall the details of this memory. In that encounter, I was confirmed and strengthened in my faith and in my call into pastoral ministry.
Our scripture lesson for this morning from the Gospel of St. Luke describes for us a major life-altering event Peter, James and John, Jesus’ chosen Disciples this encounter, experienced when they went up to the mountain Jesus to pray. The scriptures inform us that while they were with Jesus praying, Jesus’ appearance changed before their eyes, and his clothes became dazzling white. Then, Moses and the prophet Elijah appeared and spoke to Jesus of the events that were to come when he and his Disciples reached Jerusalem. A cloud soon came along, and it overshadowed them. From the cloud there came a voice saying “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” It was both a terrifying and awesome experience for the Disciples, yet one Jesus had chosen them to receive for their spiritual growth and formation. If all of the miraculous healings they had witnessed Jesus perform were not enough to convince them that Jesus was the promised Messiah of God, these events surely sealed this truth upon their hearts, confirming and strengthening the Disciples faith in him.
Deeply and spiritually moving experiences like these that we have shared today can truly be life altering for our lives. We, however, must be prepared to both recognize and receive them appropriately when they occur, or they will be lost to us. Like Jesus’ parable of the seed sown into good soil, our hearts must be fertile ground that will receive and internalize these experiences, so that they can confirm and strengthen us in faith even as they provide a space for us to grow and change. We need to be open to, even intentional about seeking to receive, God’s presence with us and God’s activity within the course of our lives. Jesus admonished his Disciples and followers to ask, to seek, and even to knock at the door of God’s mercy, love and grace. To ask is a passive activity, an asking of God’s creative activity that awaits the opportunity to receive it. My mother prayed and awaited to receive her miracle. To seek takes an intentional effort and action on our part. We may search the scriptures, or enlist the council of our trusted Christian community, as we seek greater understanding and the faith to encounter—to find God in marvelous new ways. I encountered God when seeking God’s will regarding a call I sensed to pastoral ministry. Finally, to knock takes real courage and a strong foundation of faith. When we are mature enough in our faith to risk ourselves by knocking on God’s door, God will open it to us. Then, God will be revealed to us as Peter, James and John in today’s lesson saw Jesus upon the mountain—in full glory and awesome majesty! We too will know as unconditionally and completely as they, that God deeply understands and loves us. We will see that God has a good plan for our lives if we will trust God enough to let go of our own need to control and follow it.
Wednesday begins a new Lenten season, a time of self-reflection and personal and communal spiritual growth. This year, may we have the courage pull out the stops and truly seek to encounter God and God’s great will and plan, both for us and for the ministry and mission of this church. If we have the courage to risk knocking upon the door, may we encounter the full love, mercy and grace of God as we have never even imagined them. It is then that we will be so confirmed, strengthened, and filled with God’s peace and love that our cup will overflow. As John Wesley described it, we will “shed the love of God abroad” upon a world that urgently needs love—love that is founded upon the solid rock of our faith. Amen.