Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
March 13, 2022
I remember hiking a few years back with two good friends from my high school days through the Catskill Mountains in upstate NY.
You know how it is…you begin moving through deep foliage. The terrain moves from a mild incline to an intermediate incline. Then the switchbacks start to come. And as invigorating as it is to be outdoors and moving, eventually you start to feel it – right? Maybe it’s a part of your back or an old tightness in the leg or the knee or the neck – or maybe it’s just the breath.
But then you hit upon one of those switchbacks and whaddya know…an overlook. You know those mid-mountain moments where there is some space to stop and take in the view? It’s not “the” view – the one you’ll eventually get to at the top right? But it’s still pretty great. It’s a brief rest and a brief reminder of what is all around and where this hike is headed.
Just before our passage from Luke 9:28-36, Jesus tells his disciples this: “If any want to
become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and
If you want to follow me, let’s be clear…there’s a cross. A weight. A sacrifice. And whether it is the back, or the leg, or the knee, or the neck, or the breath…there is something about the very nature of the faith journey that entails hardship.
And then the very next thing we read is that “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.”
Jesus is giving them one of those views.
In this particular moment, they see Jesus’s face change appearance, his clothes become a dazzling white – we get the sense of this pureness and radiance.
They also see Moses who gave God’s people the law, and the prophet Elijah – and it’s becoming clear that this Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets and all that they said.
This is also a scene reminiscent of Moses when he encounters God on Mt Sinai where Moses gave the 10 Commandments and we read “the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”
The word Luke eventually uses to try and give some semblance of what was experienced is this: “they saw his glory.” In the Bible, “glory” speaks of God’s presence and the word literally has the meaning of ‘heavy’ or ‘weighty.’
There is a fullness to this moment that settles upon Jesus and his disciples -and it is so very clear that no matter all the questions and confusions and aches and all the rest that may be going on…this is God. This is substantive. And this is good.
And it is no accident in the Gospel of Luke that this overlook is being given right on the heels of Jesus’s words about how hard the journey is.
- Because how often when the burden gets real,
- the weight of the world’s pain gets real,
- the weight of trying to love another gets real,
- the weight of trusting God amid so much that is unknown gets real,
- the weight of seeking justice in the face of real danger gets real…
…how often do we need a timely overlook?
One of those mid-mountain moments to catch our breath and see a clear view of Jesus and his kingdom – “Oh yeah, that’s where we’re headed. That’s what’s already unfolding all around us. That’s whose hands we’re in.” Where is that particular switchback today? In this Lenten season, in our tired journeys, in this weary world… is it possible we’re nearing a part of the trail where we are coming upon that kind of overlook?
Perhaps it is not as far as we thought.
Notice how our passage begins – Jesus goes up the mountain to pray and as he is praying all this unfolds. And this is a theme in the book of Luke and the book of Acts, also written by Luke.
- As Jesus prays earlier in Luke just after his baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon him (Luke 3).
- Jesus selects the 12 disciples after spending an entire night in prayer (Luke 6).
- Peter at one point clearly sees who Jesus is and confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, in the context of Jesus praying. And it’s not limited at all to Jesus.
- In the book of Acts, the early church prays, and we read “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
- Or again, this soldier named Cornelius prays and an angel comes to him.
- It is while Paul and Silas are praying in prison that God frees them. We could go on, but the point is that for Luke – prayer is the overlook. Time and again in Luke and Acts, prayer is the space where the foliage-filled hike opens unto a different space, a different clarity, a different power.
For Luke, there is an expansive opening in prayer.
And my sense is that in our ever-distracted society where we find our attention pulled in dozens of ways at all times (phone) – I find actually that there is a real and growing hunger for the overlook that is prayer.
I think one need only look at the rise in phone and tablet apps that are dedicated to sleep and meditation exercises – I think it speaks to this very real hunger we as a society have for overlooking space.
And while we could spend sermon after sermon on what is meant by prayer and how we enter God’s presence, let me offer two practical things:
- I take heart in the words of the Trappist Monk Thomas Merton: “We do not want to be beginners [at prayer]. but let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything but beginners, all our life!” We can go around and around about the depth and breadth of prayer – and rightly so – but let’s name this simple grace: we’re all beginners at this particular mystery where we commune with God.
- I find that many of us are paying much more attention not only to Ukraine and Russia but then also the Eastern Orthodox Church about which many of us in the West – myself included – know very little even as they are sisters and brothers of the faith. But I do know that one of the more central prayers of the Orthodox Church is called the Jesus Prayer and it is often repeated numerous times by the faithful throughout the day. It goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” (In fact, I would love for you to have this and so let’s practice…Repeat after me)
And many in the tradition will incorporate a physical aspect to this. And so they will breath in the first part of the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God….” As if breathing in the very reality and goodness and weightiness of God upon themselves.
And then breath out the second part, “have mercy upon me, a sinner,” as if exhaling the sin, the brokenness, the pain, the shame, the guilt. “
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” What a wonderfully appropriate prayer for a passage that focuses upon the unparalleled beauty and goodness and truth of Jesus even as the disciples in our passage (we read) are half-asleep.
Breath in Jesus, breath out the brokenness.
Have we in these recent days known the goodness of God meeting us in our tiredness, our semi-slumber, our distractedness, our weighed-down-ness?
Perhaps we have gathered this day because at some unconscious level our souls ache to stand at this particular overlook.
To know a glimpse of Love who holds all things together and…
Whose beauty is brighter than all this pain, Whose love is stronger than all this death, Whose faithfulness is more unyielding than all this unfaithfulness.
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”
But a word of warning.
Do you know what my friends and I did when we got to that overlook? We took off our packs and took a photo. And then sat down and ate some snacks. Drank some water. It was nice.
“Guys,” I said, “what if we just chilled out here for a while?”
“You mean not keep hiking?” And yes, a little part of me was kinda thinking maybe we just let this be our thing for the day.
But at another level in the back of my mind I was thinking sort of half-joking and sort of not, “you upstate NY in the late spring is so beautiful and the air so good and the friendship so genuine…What if we all just moved our families here and this was every day. Could we do it?!”
“Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” – for, we read, he did not know what was saying.
Once we glimpse God’s faithfulness, the temptation is always, then, to make our home in the gift itself.
Peter was preparing to spend his time and his physical and mental and spiritual energy building tents to hold onto that space.
All of us have snapshots of God’s glory filling us with its weight, its radiance, its love…maybe it was just the way the church used to be in 1985. Or it was a moment at a certain campground. Or with a certain person or group or church.
How good…and, we are never permitted to stay there. The journey of faith is always forward. And quite frankly, always back off of the overlook, down the mountain that we may do what?
It is no accident that right on the heels of Peter thinking we need to hold onto this for all that it is worth…A voice from the clouds comes – “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
Now that you have encountered he who is my Son, listen to him. Trust his voice.
Prayer and worship – they are overlooks, not campgrounds. And if we have truly encountered the living Jesus, he will speak and we will quickly discover that his word is pulling us with him back into the valleys of this world…
So that we ourselves might become something of an overlook for others.
So that we might shine with the life and weighty goodness we have encountered.
So that through God’s body on earth others on the trying journey might encounter an opening of light and life.
And so, having come together this morning and stood on the overlook, breathing in Jesus and breathing out brokenness…let us now take a moment to listen to Jesus. To hear Jesus’ words speaking to us straight from Scripture – and trust that we will hear a specific way or two that he is sending us down the mountain to show forth light.
- Let your gentleness be evident to all
- Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
- Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
- Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
- Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
- We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
- Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
- Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
- Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.
- Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,
- Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
- Rejoice in the Lord always.