Sermon text: Luke 9: 28-36
Physical health certainly grabs its share of the spotlight these days. Outside of everyday topics of vaccines and masks there’s a great deal of time and energy spent marketing perennial health products that will help us lose weight, curb our appetites, improve our muscle tone, make us look younger, and fix us if we just ask out doctor about some prescription drug with terrible side effects.
The thing is, we all know better, either from doctors or lived experience or articles we’ve read or common sense, that a life of moderation, complete with decent nutrition, regular exercise, prescribed medications, and good rest can go a long way to restore and maintain physical health. However, that simple course of action can be elusive. Why is it so much easier to skip the salad bar for the buffalo chicken wings, and to watch Netflix on the couch instead of putting our bodies in motion, and to disregard the advice we pay for from trained professionals?
If we have so much difficulty tending to our physical selves, which are conveniently monitored through sight and feel and pieces of data, then how much more difficult is it for us to maintain our spiritual health? Our faith, just like our bodies, is healthiest when it is regularly put to good use.
If our bodies have weights, water, prescription, vaccines, macro nutrients, and all the rest, what are the ways in which we can maintain our spiritual health?
One of the first items we can utilize is something called biblical imagination. Essentially, biblical imagination is knowing a Bible story well enough for the story to suggest ways of living that are otherwise unavailable to us. Scripture is rich, it is a living word, and it offers a treasure trove of insight that we can apply to our lives, especially when we read and study narratives in the good book.
For instance, how would your faith change if you lived through indescribable, like when Jesus converses with Moses and Elijah, like seeing Jesus light up like and LED lightbulb, or like hearing a voice come from the heavens? Imagine being in those stories. Place yourself there. How would that change you? How would you live differently?
Second, our understanding of vocation can have an immense impact on our spiritual health. If we truly believe that our roles in life—be they parent, child, sibling, friend, employer, employee, citizen, or neighbor, or anything else—that each role has the opportunity to partner with God, then we can care for the world and be just as spiritually vibrant as the disciples who summited that mountain with Jesus. Vocation is the belief that we are called by God to minister to the needs of the world using whatever gifts God has given to us. When we recognize this vocational call, our spiritual health increases.
The third marker of a healthy spiritual life is prayer. The flip side is that prayer can also be a taxing aspect of our spiritual lives, because we don’t often understand it.
How do I know this? Do you know how many times I’ve asked for a volunteer to pray in a group setting and heard a long, awkward silence? Do you know how many times people have confessed to me that they struggle to pray?
Prayer is how we maintain our relationship with God. Through our listening. Through our speaking. In prayer we pour out our hearts, not necessarily in the expectation that God will do something about it (although we usually think this and it that would be nice), but more importantly, because we need to share. And as we share, relationships grow stronger. That works with our relationships with each other, and that work with our relationship with God.
Lately, though, I’ve also been musing about prayer in another way. Perhaps prayer is also a way of attuning ourselves to God and the life that we share. Prayer is a practice. It is a spiritual discipline. It is when we lift up to God our joys and concerns, our dreams and fears, our hopes and anxieties. Every time we pray we bridge the gap between our “daily life” and our “faith life,” which is a gap that many people report as a reason why they leave the church, because their faith doesn’t touch most of their lives.
Alright, so what does all of this have to do with today’s gospel lesson about the Transfiguration of Our Lord?
Of all the gospel descriptions of the Transfiguration, Luke is the only one that locates the scene in the context of prayer. Jesus goes up to the mountain to pray and it’s while praying that he is transfigured. Prayer, actually, is a huge theme in Luke, as his whole ministry—baptism, choosing the apostles, Peter’s declaration that he is the Messiah, the transfiguration, the Garden of Gethsemane, the crucifixion—are all marked by prayer. It makes a lot of sense that Jesus’ life is continuously marked with prayer, especially when we consider prayer to be the way we communicate with God.
During the Transfiguration the voice from the cloud says to the disciples—and make no mistake, these words are addressed as much to us as they are to Peter, John, and John—that they and we should “listen to him.” Certainly we can do some of this through reading the Bible, coming to church, and listening to sermons. But shouldn’t we also be “listening to him” through our regular conversation with God through prayer? Is not that also part of what Luke is telling us, that as we pray we grow not just more comfortable but also more competent and confident at thinking about all of our lives in relation to God and our Christian faith?
This year, as we wind down Epiphany and gear up for Lent, instead of giving up something like chocolate or soda or meat or social media, why not trying adding a daily practice of prayer? Take the time to open up and pour yourself out to God. Most importantly, don’t forget to take time to listen. Prayer is equally about what God has to say back to us as it is what we have to say to God. And if we know anything about ourselves it’s that it takes more effort for us to listen than to speak.
Try praying out loud. It makes a difference. I think many of us only pray aloud what is written in the bulletin, or a memorized mealtime grace, or the Lord’s Prayer. If it feels uncomfortable at first, that’s fine. But prayer is a practice, and it will get easier and come more naturally. Remember, there is no wrong way to pray. There is no way to make a mistake. Everyone can pray, not just ordained ministers. If you’re looking for a safe haven to pray aloud, try turning off the radio in your car as you’re driving and start talking and listening with God.
These three things, biblical imagination, vocation, and prayer, will all help spur on our spiritual lives. For our spiritual health is a vital part of our wellbeing. Our spiritual health is where we find our meaning and belonging in life. Today we see that Jesus is so in tune his spiritual existence that God confirms his identity, yet again. This is my Chosen. Listen to him.
May we all have that relationship with God. May we all feel chosen by God, not that we are Christ, but that we are deeply spiritually connected with our Creator. AMEN