February 23, 2020 – Sermon

Transfiguration Sunday February 23, 2020 Psalm 99,

Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9 Listen to him
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Last week we were up on the mountain with Jesus and a large crowd of followers listening to his Sermon on the Mount. Today we’ve climbed another mountain with him – but this time there’s only three other disciples along. And instead of a lengthy teaching that takes all of three chapters of Matthew’s gospel – today’s teaching features only a pair of one-liners from God the Father and Jesus the Son – capped with the Son’s terse instruction – say nothing about what’s gone down… on high…

The transfiguration of Jesus is all about disciples receiving a sneak preview of Jesus as the Son of God affirmed by God’s voice from the cloud… A reminder of the cloud and fiery pillar of God that led Israel through the wilderness…As Jesus is clothed in dazzling light bright as the sun – flanked by Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
Moses, who fasted and prayed forty days and nights as he received the law on Mt Sinai, then shepherded Israel forty years in the wilderness – with Elijah,
who rebuked some of Israel’s most depraved rulers – and like Moses, spent forty days and nights fasting and praying on the mountain…
Today we’re imagining ourselves in this strangely dream-like encounter – which Jesus calls a vision as he walks with disciples back down the mountain. Yet the vision is so real – that Peter offers to build three dwelling places, one each for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. A nice hospitable thought, but –
As he speaks a bright cloud appears – and Peter’s voice is silenced… as the voice from the cloud says “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.”
The voice we heard speak these same words at the baptism of Jesus, not many weeks ago, at the beginning of the season of Epiphany… Now speaks these same words again from the cloud as Epiphany fades… And God’s voice from on high now adds: Listen to him!
And three terrified disciples fall to the ground in unison.
But Jesus touches them, saying, “Get up, don’t be afraid…” and…
There’s no one there now but Jesus… Who tells Peter, James and John – say nothing about what you’ve seen till the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.
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The other morning, I actually awoke from a dream… in which I was trying to explain the transfiguration of Jesus to someone… Then, just a few minutes later, as I sat sipping coffee and looking out the window at a very bright sunny sky… Here comes suddenly dancing particles of light, falling and swirling, and filling the air. And I’m thinking ‘this can’t be snow – it’s so bright and sunny.’ So I went outside to check my vision… and sure enough, it was snow – falling without any visible clouds in the sky… Except way far off… on a distant horizon… A few tiny light-colored clouds barely visible… As if God and nature were teasing me into believing… there’s no clear borders… between God’s vision… and God’s reality…

Last week we were up on what I’m picturing as a much smaller mountain with a much larger crowd, listening to a much long teaching sermon from Jesus. This week we’re climbing a higher mountain to get a deeper view of Jesus. Necessarily traveling with the assistance of sanctified imagination…Since we weren’t there for any of the many mountain top incidents recorded in Matthew’s gospel. But fortunately Matthew’s narrative method invites us to join the first disciples in the story. Using our God-given creativity to imagine appropriate applications… and…
I’ve been remembering a song, Climbing Higher Mountains, from Aretha Franklin’s first gospel album. (There’s a video on you tube of the original recording being made live, with Rev. James Cleveland and his choir and Aretha’s band… ) The theme of the song is simple –
I’ve been climbing higher mountains, on my way home… I’ve been climbing higher mountains, on my way home… Simple, but – this song was such an important metaphor for Aretha for the struggles of her people and herself – that she requested this be the last song sung at her funeral… (which it was…)
And I’ve been imagining singing the song, on and off, mostly very quietly…(since I can’t sing like Aretha…) As we’re climbing the mount of transfiguration… Trying to keep my eyes on Jesus… Who can be hard to keep up with if I’m not paying full attention… Even though he waits for us patiently often… and explains nearly everything in words we can understand… It can be hard still for me to listen with full attention… As I get distracted too easily by too many things…
And sometimes God gives a little holler – to me – as to disciples of old, about his Son – saying ‘quit talking!’ and– “Listen to him!”
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Listening to Jesus is an art – like fly fishing as described by the Presbyterian pastor father of Norman MacLean, in his story, A River Runs Through It. Casting a fly rod takes practice – it’s a four-count motion, between two and ten o’clock – Norman’s father tells his two sons – as he borrows his wife’s metronome to help them learn the rhythm. Once learned, they can cast forever… But first they have to learn by old-fashioned persistent practice…
Most of us will never cast as gracefully as the characters in A River Runs Through It. Or shoot three-pointers like Steven Curry… But pretty much everyone learns the same way they learn – by extensive practice…

Listening to Jesus – who we learn today is to be listened to as to God – requires learning a rhythm of prayer that involves a four-count rhythm of – study – prayer – listening – and doing….
The sequence can vary, as long as the essential elements are included. We can pray and study in either order – but we do need to do both to be able to hear God – since God often speaks messages we won’t hear… without prayer and some basic familiarity with God’s main messages.
We’re only really listening to God… as we make listening part of a framework of spiritual practice that includes prayer, study and service… So –

Methodists often speak of John Wesley’s quadrilateral – his four basic ways of communing with God. Wesley believed holy Scripture is our first and most reliable way of knowing who God is and knowing God’s will. But Tradition, meaning faith traditions – meaning how we understand, worship and serve God – is a vital secondary way of knowing God’s will. And we have Reason – our God-given ability to think about and understand what the bible says and what the church teaches – another way of helping us know God’s will. Finally, we have Experience – the means of knowing God that’s the hardest to evaluate or verify. In scripture we see God communicating through dreams and visions. But obviously not every dream or vision is from God. Some dreams and visions are induced by what we ate or drank or watched on tv or read in a book last night… My sketchy dream of trying to explain the transfiguration is in this last category. I’d been reading about what I dreamt of…The dream was on topic, but not coherent…
Likewise, the snow-shower Friday morning with the sun shining bright was beautiful and notable but I don’t think it was a literal miracle from God… Though I do believe God’s been working to connect the mystery and beauty of that morning with the story I’ve been studying this week. God often helps us understand scripture through a mix of reason, nature and beauty – all of which have been regarded as means of grace by church tradition…
Today experience is center-stage. Even the down-to-earth experience of climbing this higher mountain… helps prepare disciples to experience the mind-blowing revelation that follows. Taking time to be away from all distractions virtually always helps us see and hear better… what God is trying to communicate…
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The season of Lent that begins with Ash Wednesday this week is our invitation to be with Jesus on retreat… as he spends forty days and nights in prayer and fasting… Seeking clarification of his calling…
Many of us have jobs and responsibilities that can’t be entirely set aside for forty days… But, as Reah and Rohi learned in a workshop on Mindfulness last week at the Falmouth library – we all have time – if we take it. When we think we’re way too busy to meditate, the workshop leader said, ‘Take a long slow breath right now as you inhale… Be mindful of your breathing… Now… as you slowly exhale… Be mindful again of your breath…’
“See,” the teacher said – “you have meditated. You do have time.”

We have time for prayer. If we take it. Please pray with me now. Pray for more time to pray….[Moment of silence.]

We have just done it… We’ve made time for prayer…
Now it’s just a matter of repeating… this simple exercise… more often…

So too with study. Put a bible on the table where you eat. Leave it open in Matthew’s gospel. Read for just one or two minutes before eating each meal. Read another two or three minutes after eating. Read a chapter of the gospel. Read one psalm a day…
With only a little persistence in practice we can be reading five, ten, fifteen minutes a day… Without breaking a sweat…

Please practice with me again briefly. Let’s pray and imagine Jesus speaking to us… [Moment of silence…]

Now let’s take another moment… Pray and ask Jesus – Lord, speak to me – help me listen… [Silence…]

And let’s keep practicing… as we come down from the mountain… Practice… Listening to Jesus…

Thanks be to God. Amen.