Transfiguration B, February 11, 2018

February 12, 2018

Called to Listen

Mark 9:2-9


2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.


For a couple of summers when I was a young teenager I worked for a good United Methodist man named Author Weeden, who was a building contractor. Mr. Weeden was a kind and soft spoken man, and I enjoyed being around him, but he didn’t spend a lot of time at the jobsite where I was posted. His head carpenter was a really large man named Charles who wasn’t so soft spoken. I’ve never been in the Marines, but in my mind, Charles could play the role of a Marine drill-sergeant. He could give orders well, and he liked to keep me busy. If there wasn’t something that needed to be done he would create something for me to do. I clearly remember the day he had me move a pile of broken blocks from one spot to another – just so I had something to do. Charles needed for me to stay in motion.


Working under that kind of supervision wasn’t a bad experience for me. Keeping busy isn’t something I avoid, but I’m not inclined to believe it’s the most important thing for us to do. There’s some wisdom behind that old saying, Don’t just stand there – do something!

Civilization has advanced because of people who weren’t content to stand around and do nothing. But staying busy isn’t always the most important thing to do. Sometimes we spring in to action when we would be better served by the wisdom of standing still and listening.


This morning’s passage portrays such a moment. These three disciples follow Jesus up the mountain where they have an experience that can’t be compared to anything else they’ve ever encountered in their lives. They see Jesus transfigured in front of them and then they see him talking to Moses and Elijah. Mark doesn’t use the word, stupefied, to describe how Peter, James, and John must have felt, but I think that’s a fitting way to describe how they felt. They were shocked and frightened and their immediate response was to do something. At least Peter’s response was to suggest that they do something. His anxious reaction to the situation was to say to Jesus that they should build three dwellings to commemorate the occasion, but he had hardly finished speaking when they were overshadowed by a cloud and they heard these words, This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.


My friend and mentor, Rev. Lewis Chesser, likes to play around with phrases and ideas, and on more than one occasion when I shared with him some puzzling circumstance he responded with these words, Don’t just do something, stand there!


And there’s some wisdom behind those words. I think this is the wisdom that confronted Peter when that cloud came over them, and it’s the kind of wisdom we need to maintain in our hearts and minds if we want to abide in the Kingdom of God. But we don’t just need to stand still and do nothing – we need to learn to listen to Jesus.


And this is a difficult thing – this listening to Jesus. Building a shrine on the top of that mountain to commemorate the occasion wouldn’t have been an easy thing to do, but it was the kind of thing they understood the most, and it would have been much easier than the thing the voice from the cloud told them to do. It’s always easier to do the kind of work that’s familiar to us than to hear words that challenge our familiar ways of thinking and behaving.


Listening to Jesus was a hard thing for the good Jews of Jesus’ day to do because he wasn’t promising to restore the nation of Israel in the way that they were wanting it to be restored. Listening to Jesus was hard because just prior to this mountaintop experience he had told his disciples he was going to Jerusalem to be crucified. This was not what they were wanting to hear from the person they had dropped everything to follow. They had fully invested themselves in the movement he had begun, and they weren’t understanding the way in which it was going to pay off. Listening to Jesus was hard because he didn’t build on familiar understandings of the way God’s kingdom was going to come.


I don’t always hear Jesus well – in fact I don’t always try very hard to listen for what Jesus taught, but I’m reminded that as Christians, this is what we are all called to do. We need to be reminded to listen to Jesus because it’s easy for us to lose focus on his words and to allow other messages to fill our minds with anxiety, jealousy, fear, and distrust. Fortunately we are in good company when it comes to having a hard time keeping our minds focused on the words of Jesus. Jesus’ number one disciple, Simon Peter, had a hard time listening to Jesus.


There on the mountain, Peter had started talking when he needed to be listening. And six days earlier Jesus had rebuked Peter for not listening to what he was saying – that was right after Peter had recognized and announced that Jesus was the messiah. Peter could get it – and then he could lose it. And get it again, and lose it again.


I’m so familiar with this holy roller-coaster. I go up and down on it all the time. I do it every week – several times a week. As a preacher, I find myself needing to think about the things Jesus said and did and what he wanted us to see and to do, and I try hard to figure out how to get you to see what I’m thinking Jesus would want us to understand. I get real focused on Jesus almost every week – for a little while. I don’t know if I’m able to communicate what I hear Jesus saying, but on some level I try to listen to something Jesus said every week, and sometimes I get it. I get it – and then I lose it.


I can turn around quicker than Peter. I can go from loving Jesus and wanting to follow him to strategizing about how I can get what I think I need to make my life a bit more comfortable or interesting without breaking my stride. It’s an amazing quality that I share with Peter. Maybe you do too.


Fortunately there are those moments in our lives that cause us to stop what we are mindlessly doing and stand stupefied in the presence of God. People generally describe profound experiences with the presence of God as mountaintop experiences, and certainly our story this morning portrays such an encounter as occurring high up a mountain, but these profoundly holy moments are as likely to occur in the valley of death. Certainly people have profoundly happy and ecstatic experiences that they would label as encounters with the living God, but in many cases the place where we come in contact with the profound holiness of God is when we are in the midst of staggering loss.


In fact I don’t know how else to describe the way in which some people endure the kind of pain that this world can produce other than by saying they were sustained by the hand of the living God. People who live through terrible ordeals don’t look back on their trials with happy nostalgia, but it’s not unusual for people to be able to identify the ways in which God came to them in very real ways during those difficult times.


You can’t separate this experience that Peter, James, and John had with Jesus on the mountaintop from their journey to Jerusalem – the place Jesus had announced that he was going and that he would be crucified there. This journey up the mountain took place at a very dark moment in their lives – the Kingdom of God wasn’t coming in a manner that they were happy about.


But we don’t have to experience a profound loss or tragedy in order to have a form of a mountaintop spiritual experience. There are other ways in which we find ourselves stupefied by the presence of God. I think it’s a gift from God anytime we find ourselves struck speechless by an encounter in life. I think any kind of an experience that pulls us out of our routine way of thinking is an experience that can put us in touch with the extra-ordinary presence of God. We humans like our routines and we like to know what to expect and what’s going to happen next, but it’s the surprises of life that are the most nourishing to our souls. It’s those experiences that we don’t know how to navigate that provide us with the best opportunities to be quiet and to listen for instruction from God.


I think it’s probably a lot easier for us to listen to Jesus when we’ve given up on our own strategies, and thankfully there are those moments when we are in need of a new way of thinking and seeing. And once you realize this I think it becomes more natural to seek the wisdom of Jesus. I actually think we can become better at listening for Jesus, but it takes some effort. I believe we have to work at letting go of our natural inclinations and to trust in that quieter voice that we can only hear when we stop what we are doing and thinking and seek to allow those subtle promptings of the Holy Spirit to inform us.


Life often fails to follow the course we would design for ourselves, and that’s not so bad. The journey up the mountain with Jesus doesn’t follow a familiar path. It’s new territory for all of us, and as Peter would testify, it can bring you to a terrifying place, but when we don’t know what to say or do we’re probably standing on holy ground. God is with us when we’re standing there, and God will help us find our way.


Thanks be to God for those moments when we don’t know what to do other than to stand still. That’s when we are most likely to hear the words of Jesus, who knows what we need to hear, and who wants us to find our way in to the place where we find an eternal source of grace and peace.


Thanks be to God.  Amen.


One Response to “Transfiguration B, February 11, 2018”

  1. Earl Says:

    I’m in the seat right behind you on the holy roller-coaster.

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