February 26, 2017 – Listen to him

Transfiguration Sunday    February 26, 2017   Psalm 99, Exodus 24;12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-19, Matthew 17:1-9    Listen to him

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The voice of God speaks aloud from the cloud of presence. Again we hear from on high the same words we first heard when Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased...”  And now God adds three words: “Listen to him!

Familiar words where I live. Anytime I’m going out the door for a meeting my wife or my daughter is likely to remind me, “Remember – Don’t speak too much. And listen well.” And I’m not the only disciple who ever needs reminding…

Just before this hike up the mountain Jesus has been telling disciples he must go to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and die, then rise from the dead. First round draft choice apostle Peter says“God forbid it Lord! This must never happen to you.” Jesus rebukes him, saying, “Get behind me Satan,” and continues talking about the need for disciples to take up their cross and follow him. Soon after he and these disciples come down from the mountain Jesus tells them again – he is going to his death. Jesus has to say a lot of things like this more than once. We’re not always good listeners. And I can identify with Peter. I know I need frequent reminding – to say less – and keep listening to Jesus…

Sometimes we can be so busy giving Jesus our Prayer List, our Wish List… our advise on how to run the universe…. Sometimes we get so into speaking to Jesus that we’re not doing much listening to Jesus… Sometimes God has to resort to a little drama to get our attention…(So…)

Jesus takes three disciples up the mountain with him. There he’s transfigured before their eyes – shining bright as the sun – clothes dazzling white – flanked by Moses and Elijah of old, talking with him…

That’s probably enough to have his disciples feeling shaky… Though Peter manages to sound brave, as he offers to build little mountain huts for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. But while he’s talking, the voice from out of the cloud interrupts, causing disciples to fall to the ground in fear and trembling…

The word of God can be frightening at times. When the law was first given,  Mt Sinai was all covered in cloud and fire, and people were so afraid they asked Moses to ask God not to speak to them anymore, except through Moses….

Now Moses has re-appeared, along with Elijah the prophet, talking with Jesus…Who is shining with the light of God’s glory – transfigured, meaning transformed – in the Greek the word is metamorphosis… Foretelling the metamorphosis Jesus will undergo as he puts on his resurrection body. And the voice from the cloud names Jesus Beloved Son of God… Saying Listen to him

Causing disciples to hit the ground trembling…

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And…the next word we hear is the voice of Jesus, saying Get up…and… Do not be afraid.

Jesus of course has much more than this to say, and we need to listen and hear all he says. But when times are difficult – when fears arise – remember especially what Jesus says on the mountain:  Get up. Rise up… Do not be afraid

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From our vantage point on high today we see Jesus connecting our sacred past, present, and future… Appearing in glory with Moses and Elijah.

Moses, who, with God, led Israel out from slavery to the Egyptian Empire with its legions of armored chariots – parting the Red Sea waters – receiving the law in awe and wonder, fasting and praying, forty days and nights on the mountain. When Israel worships a golden calf Moses goes back up the mountain again to fast and pray, forty days and nights, again, face to the ground before God, pleading for Israel…

And here is Jesus, reconnecting us also with Elijah, the great prophet who stood up to Israel’s wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel – defeating the servants of Baal, god of war, wealth, and fertility… Elijah then fasting as he fled forty days and nights in the wilderness to hear the word of God that came to him on the holy mountain…

Here, now, on the mountain we see Jesus, connecting past and future – giving a glimpse of the glorious future Jesus has opened for all who come to him… Somewhere back in Matthew 13 Jesus has told us, ‘the righteous will shine like the sun.’ Those in right relationship with God through Jesus will shine as Jesus shines. Our destiny is to become more and more like Jesus, till we share in his glory. Which is all good, of course – but which can also seem scary enough to make me feel like falling flat on my face like Peter, James and John…

But the first words Jesus says to disciples high on the mountain – he now says again to us: Get up. Do not be afraid. The Greek word translated here as “get up” can also be translated as rise up. Rise – as in Be resurrected… Rise up from the dead… And the “do not be afraid” Jesus speaks is the same message God’s angels give whenever they encounter fearful humans. Get up. Rise up… Do not be afraid.

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And the word from on high for us today is about listening to Jesus. So how do we listen for Jesus, down from the mountain, here and now?

Good listening is an art…And of course we listen for Jesus differently now, compared to when he walked the earth. Though once in awhile we may still hear a word from God as if spoken aloud…

I remember a clergy colleague, speaking at our closing worship service for Troy Annual Conference, just before we divided and merged with New England and Upper New York Conferences… Jim, my colleague and friend, is a self-described conservative Christian, serving in a predominantly liberal-to-progressive Conference. He told us he had only heard a word that he was confident was directly from God three times in his life… One of those times had been on a mountaintop… Now, preparing to speak at our Bishop’s request, he said he heard a word from God – so clearly he knew it was from God. And the word was “home.” Our conference, even with all the parts he struggled with, was home. And the word was from God, he said, he knew – because it was not a word he could have come up with on his own. Yet it was a word straight from Jesus, who tells us our home is with him wherever we are… No matter how strange all else seems….

I remember another time listening to a member of an AA group that met in a church I served in Vermont… Telling me about when he finally gave up smoking dope… “I was rolling a joint,” he said, “When I heard a voice clear as a bell, saying ‘we’re done with that crap.’” (It was actually a stronger word than that, as I recall, but appropriate in context.) And this guy said he knew it was Jesus speaking, again, because he knew it was consistent with all Jesus teaches and it was a word he could never have come up with on his own…

I’ve been pretty sure I’ve heard God speak to me more than a few times. But seldom with such absolute certainty that I didn’t need to check my hearing with others. Even when God seems to be saying something pretty clearly… I nearly always feel the need to check my hearing with the words of scripture… And with Christians I trust…

Thankfully we have many of the words of Jesus recorded for us in holy scripture. (We know we don’t have all his words, since John’s gospel tells us the whole world isn’t big enough to hold all the books that would have to be written if all Jesus did were to be written down.) But what we do have in scripture is enough for us to know who Jesus is, how much he loves us, and what he expects of us…

And the first and most obvious way in which we should be listening for Jesus is in the study of his words in scripture.

Abundant spiritual riches come to us in the study of God’s word. The more we study, the more we practice speaking the words of the bible aloud, the more we work at committing scripture to memory…the more the word can sink deeper into our souls… So we can recall the life-giving words of Jesus in times of need…. And in all our prayers, and in our sharing of the gospel, the words of life will be there for us… If we commit the time to Jesus…

Like any new routine, bible study takes practice. With practice study becomes easier, more enjoyable… It’s best, usually, to start with books of the bible we love already, or are more nearly comfortable with… And work from there on into more difficult parts… (A good study bible can be a big help…and… )

Since we’re in Matthew’s gospel most of this year, why not try memorizing some of the sermon on the mount? (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7.) The beatitudes – the eight blessings that open that sermon are beautiful… Words of grace, comfort, wisdom…

I hope we’ll all read through Matthew’s gospel at least several times this year. I hope we all already have (or will get ourselves) a bible we can underline and make notes in. (Along with at least one bible we don’t mark up… I can help get you one if you don’t have one…) And of course…

We need to keep learning all Jesus says… (and does not say…) in the bible… Because there are always other voices – not from God – which we may think might be from God. The more we know the word of God the more we know the difference… If a voice is saying ‘You’re no good, you can’t succeed’… Be very sure that voice is not from God… God will chastise us at times. God will correct us at times. God will warn us when we need warning. But God will always do this as a loving Father, a loving Mother does…for beloved children…

So – study also always everything that Jesus does… to get a better feel for the context for whatever he says… And before we come down from the mountain today – notice… How even before Jesus speaks a word to disciples as they lie fearfully on the ground (after they hear the voice speak from the cloud)… Notice…

How before he speaks to disciples, he touches them. His touch comes even before words of encouragement. And many have come to know Jesus through a loving touch from one of his disciples. Hands laid on in prayer… Hands and arms extended in warm welcome…

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The more we love someone, the more we want to hear them when they speak…

The more we love, the better we listen…

The more we listen to Jesus the better we know… his promise to be with us always… His pledge to welcome us into the beloved community of our Father’s kingdom… Where, persisting in faith, and listening well, we may hear God say –

“Here are my beloved sons and daughters, of whom I am well pleased.”

By God’s grace, may we all be good listeners….

Thanks be to God. Amen.