The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire

Sermon - February 7, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 9:28-36


The Rev. Robert Vodra


     I don’t know if any of you have the same problem that I have.  I lead two lives.  No, not as juicy as some stories you may read in a tabloid, I only have one wife, one family.  But part of my time I live in my church world.  I am a minister, expected to dress in certain clothes, say certain things, and be a certain way.  And then I have my other life.  This is the time that I spend with my family, working another job, doing other non-church things.  For this part of my life, I dress a different way, and can say things that I might not say in a church setting.

     There are times in which these two lives overlap, but much of the time they are separate.  I believe that most of us have these two lives.  We have our church lives.  These are the times in which we may wear a little bit nicer clothes, we might carry a Bible, we may say “The Peace of Christ be with you.”  Even that common greeting for us here might seem a bit strange to greet someone in the grocery store with.  And in this setting we have a basic knowledge of many of the Biblical stories.

     Our non-church lives go in all sorts of different directions.  Some of you are retired, but many of you still hold a job doing something.  Even if you are retired, you may hold a volunteer position someplace.  Our families, friends and neighbors know this part of us, at least to some extent.  And hopefully the knowledge that we have from the church, or at least from the Bible, can and does influence the way this other part of our lives works.  We have hopefully all heard in church, from the Bible, that we need to protect the earth.  I doubt that anyone here regularly throws their trash out of their car windows.  We hear that we are to give to those less fortunate than us, feed the hungry.  And we bring in food for our food pantry.

     This week’s text is difficult to understand.  If you have not learned it yet, I am not really big on miracles.  I am a science guy, I want things to be repeatable, proven as much as possible by the scientific method.  And therefore, when I read about miracles in the Bible, I read them with some hesitation.  And if you read like I do, you will have heard most of the explanations for miracles.  The feeding of the five thousand could have been each person gave what little they had and there was enough for all.  That is a miracle, but not quite as powerful as God taking bread and fish and stretching it to feed everyone.

     And this morning we are faced with something that is beyond explanation.  In my life, I have never seen a transfiguration like the one described by the passage.  Some may try to explain it away by saying that they were high on a mountain top, lack of oxygen to the brain, perhaps they were having hallucinations, seeing and hearing things that were not really there.  Perhaps those two that appeared near Jesus were two more wandering people not Elijah and Moses.  How would they even know what Elijah and Moses looked like, well before their time, no pictures of either of them?

     And then the cloud.  If you have done any serious hiking or even less serious traveling you will know that clouds can come quickly over mountains and make seeing very hard.  A few summers ago I brought Keri, Glenn and Collin up to the top of Mount Washington.  We went by car, Collin was still in the stage between “I want to walk” and “I want to be carried.”  I was not about to try to hike up Mount Washington carrying a small child.  At the bottom of the mountain the forecast was partly cloudy.  We looked up and could see the top, so good to go.  We got above tree line, and there were some clouds, then suddenly we were in a cloud.  We got to the top and could not see 50 feet ahead of us.  We followed a walkway which brought us to the big building, found the top of the mountain, and even saw the cog railway train at the top.  We kept a very close eye on the boys.  If they had wandered away from us, we would not be able to find them.  And if it was a cloud like that one, I can see where the disciples would be a bit concerned.  Seeing two figures, you somehow assume are Elijah and Moses talking with Jesus, who had somehow changed his appearance into dazzling white clothes, and then a cloud comes and you cannot see anything.  You hear a voice, and then the cloud disappears and it is just Jesus.

     I have been thinking a lot recently about my two lives and prayer.  Jesus went up to the mountain to pray.  He had just told his disciples that he must undergo suffering, be rejected, and killed.  So certainly there were a lot of mixed feelings going on.  Sleep deprivation, perhaps hungry, traveling into the mountains with some guy, who you thought was going to save the world, and just told you that he first has to die, and if you want to follow him, you might have to die also.  This is where the church world and the other “real world” if you will, come head to head together. 

     I would like to suggest that prayer is the way to bridge the gap between these two.

     Now prayer can be a little intimidating.  I grew up in public schools, went to University of Maine, and I don’t think I will ever forget my first class in seminary.  Old Testament.  The professor came in, introduced himself, and then said “let’s start with prayer.”  Wait, you cannot do that.  This is school, you cannot pray in school.  Well yes, I prayed a lot in school, especially before big exams I did not study enough for, but that was silent prayer.  This was a teacher, a professor, with a doctorate or two, leading a prayer in our classroom.  I quickly got over that, as I learned that most, but not all, of our professors started the class with prayer.

     But sooner or later, it becomes the minister’s job to pray.  Yes, you may fill in at times.  You may say grace at home before meals.  You may even pray before you go to bed at night or when you get up in the morning, for at least a second or two.  For those in school, I imagine you may have also said a prayer before a big test.

     And I think one of the problems is that we don’t know what to pray.  I have nothing against Catholics, but I understand that if they go to confession with a priest, the priest will give them something that they have to do.  They have to say the rosary so many times, or a bunch of “Our Lords” or “Hail Mary’s.”  That is easy.  Might take time, might discourage you from sinning in the future, but I wonder how much it connects you with God.

     I also believe that many think they are not good at prayer.  I have been in a lot of group prayer times.  They can be good, but often I find myself worried about what I will say.  I listen to others, I don’t want to go on too long, but don’t want to make it too short.  Everyone else is praying for this person or that person, so I should include some people in my prayer.  Oh, they are also including world peace, and no more hunger, so I want to make sure to include some world issues in there also.  And then, unless you are doing the circle prayer or some kind of order, you are trying to judge the silence.  Wait too long and people will assume you don’t want to say anything, or someone else will jump in, but you don’t to cut anyone off either.  So at times group prayers can be good, but more often I find them not as good as personal prayer.

     I would like to suggest that our lives, the church lives, and our non-church lives intersect through prayer.  Perhaps prayer is a way of attuning ourselves to God and our shared life. It is a practice where we lift up to God our joys and concerns, dreams and fears, hopes and anxieties. Which means that we think about all these things in light of our relationship with God and our faith.  If you have ever felt like your “real life” and your “church life” don’t relate to each other much, prayer maybe the practice in which you begin to see all the ways in which they are connected.

     Or if you have ever heard anyone say that they don’t go to church because they don’t think religion means much to them.  Perhaps, it would be through prayer, that they can begin to see how much religion and their lives are fully connected.

     So what does this passage have to do with prayer?  The first is that all of this happened when they went up to the mountain to pray.  This is just after the disciples learned that Jesus was going to be killed, which also would affect them, and could end up in their own deaths.  That real life stuff.  And then they had this experience, seeing Jesus in a new way, both literally and figuratively, and being in conversation with great leaders from the past.  Doesn’t that real life stuff cause you to pray?  You see a doctor and are waiting for a diagnosis?  A close friend or family member is sick?  You have had some bad luck and really need something to go your way?  Often it is those real life, non-church things that cause us to pray.

     The second has to do with the words that these disciples heard from the cloud.  Very similar to Jesus’ Baptism, but with a command, “listen to him.”  The disciples are commanded by a voice in the clouds, to listen to Jesus, to follow Jesus, to continue to be his disciples no matter what happens.

     It is through this intersection of our non-church lives, and our church lives, through prayer that we are also called to follow Jesus.  That “listen to him” is probably one of the most important verses in the Bible.  We know many of the Bible stories, and we know the stories of our lives, I believe it is through prayer that we see how those stories are similar or different.  It is a time to really think about the way our lives are going, any course corrections we may need to make in order to truly follow the one we call Lord.

     Let me give you an example.  I get easily frustrated by people that don’t know how to drive, sorry, people who drive differently than the way I think they should drive.  The ones that go 40 miles per hour in a 45 zone, or the ones who blow by you on the highway at 90 miles per hour.  The ones who ride in the left land with their blinker on, but never move over to the right lane so you can get past them.  The ones who assume 50 feet is plenty of room for them to pull out, making you slam on your brakes in order to avoid hitting them.  And when I get home from drives like that, I am often upset with them.  I think about Jesus instructing us to love one another.  Easy, except for those people who need to learn how to drive.  So I pray.  It is a way that I can sort out who Jesus is calling me to be, and maybe not let all those non-church life things get in the way of the relationship I have with God.

     I am sure you have heard the joke that doctors practice medicine, lawyers practice law, they are not perfect at it yet, so they practice on us.  I would like to suggest that we, as Christians, practice prayer, but less of a joke.  We are not perfect at it, but we can try, we can practice and we can get better.  The good thing is that God knows we are not great at it.  We don’t use the right words, because there is no one right way to pray.  We don’t have to start with Dear God, or and with Amen.  We can pray out loud or silently.  While I personally find it helpful to set aside a bit of time, I also pray many times each day.  Thanks for this food.  Thank you for this sunset.  Let me keep my cool in this situation.  Let my car start on this cold day.  Bringing all that I care about to God.  Does not always mean I will keep my cool or that my car will start, but it helps in small ways to connect my life to my church life, and to God.

     I also pray for you, sometimes by name, sometimes just as a church.  When you raise prayer concerns in church, I will pray for those.  Does not necessarily mean that God will do what we think might be best, but connects us and all of our concerns to God.  And I encourage you to do the same.  God is bigger than we can imagine, but the best way I know to connect to God is through prayer.