Faithlife Sermons

Listen To Him (Feb. 27, 2022) Luke 9.28-36 (37-43a)

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We are heading into the time of Lent, Holy Week, and the preparation for the celebration of Easter. In that time, we will ponder what it means to prepare ourselves for the coming of Easter. What it means to give up something to prepare our hearts and minds.
But before that time, before we look to our sin and our limited time on this earth in the day of Ash Wednesday, we have a chance to see Jesus in all of his glory. A time when we recognize that Jesus was taking his journey and ministry from the area of Galilee to the city of Jerusalem. And before this journey begins there is a revealing of the splendor and the glory of Jesus that is overwhelming.
You know the phrase “mountain top experience”. It means one is at the top of the world, that one can see the view for great distances. The view is, usually, spectacular and one can see things that one would never really be able to see down in the valley before one climbed the mountain. One place that this was driven home to me was at the Grand Canyon. There we were standing on the highest spot above the Canyon and could see it stretch for miles. The view was spectacular and breathtaking. It was with a sense of awe that we looked upon that and when we came down from that height, we were still very impressed by what we had seen.
Our texts for today have us going up onto mountains. In the text from Exodus, we are told of the experience of Moses as he met with God on the mountain. We are also told that when he came down from the mountain, his face shown so bright that the people were terrified of him. So terrified were they, Moses had to wear a veil to cover his face. This terror was because they saw that he had been face to face with God and that they were not able to face the glory that shone on his face.
Our second reading has us going up another mountain. Before this Jesus has been teaching the crowds. He has sent out the seventy to minister to the areas of Galilee. He has taken the time out of his ministry with the disciples to feed over five thousand people. Afterwards, while with the disciples alone, he asks who the crowds say that he is. After several answers he asks them who they believe that he is. Peter answers that he is the Messiah, the one that they have been looking for. Jesus takes this opportunity to tell them that they are not to tell anyone this as he must suffer greatly, be killed and raised on the third day. I’m sure that the disciples were hearing all of this and wondering just what Jesus was saying. They were hearing but not listening.
Jesus then tells them that anyone who wants to follow him must take up a cross daily and follow him. That the ones who want to have their lives must lose it for his sake. And there would be many who were listening who would not taste death until they had seen the kingdom of God. What did that mean? Again, the disciples are hearing the words, but are they really listening?
And so, Jesus, taking Peter, James and John, goes up on the mountain to pray. In Luke anytime something big is getting ready to take place for Jesus (the sermon on the plain, the transfiguration, the trial and death), there is prayer. How many times have we had something big come upon us and we have prayed before going to do that? How many of us would go and do what needed to be done without first praying about it to God? Let’s be honest, there are not that many of us who do that. But here Jesus is praying. Something big is coming.
Then something happens. Jesus is transformed. His face is changed like Moses’ was when he spoke with God. His clothes became white, as white as a flash of lightening. When you see a flash of lightening does it take a few moments for your eyes to adjust back to normal? Now imagine that someone’s clothes, clothes that were probably a bit grimy from travel on dusty roads, become that bright. This is what was happening to Jesus.
Suddenly, two men appear with Jesus. Moses and Elijah. The two greatest figures in the history of Israel. One had brought the Law down to the people and the other was to bring in the Day of the Lord that would bring about the new reign of God on earth. How the disciples knew this was Moses and Elijah, we are not told. They had no pictures of the two and so no visual representation of them. Perhaps Jesus made introductions all around. We will never know.
But what are the three talking about? Jesus, Moses and Elijah are discussing the coming journey to Jerusalem and what will occur there when Jesus reaches the city. One particular they discuss is the departure of Jesus. But this word is not nearly descriptive enough. The Greek word is exodon or exodus. It is a word that has significant meaning to Jews, and is especially significant as Jesus is speaking to Moses. Moses was the leader of the exodus of Israel, where God redeemed the people, brought them out of slavery in Egypt and led them to the promised land. Jesus is beginning a new exodus, an exodus where he will redeem the world from sin and death through his death. His death and resurrection will lead us in a new life free from slavery to sin and death to a new promised land, the kingdom of God.
Peter and the others had been half asleep. It is thought that this might have taken place at night as Jesus was in the habit of praying all night. Therefore, the disciples were most likely drowsy and about to take 40 winks. But suddenly they see the glory of Jesus and the transformation that takes place; now they are wide awake. They see the other two persons with Jesus and are struck with awe. Peter even wants to build dwellings for the three. This would have been in keeping with the feast of Tabernacles where the people would have stayed in temporary shelters that reminded them of the Exodus. With talk of a new exodus, Peter might have thought that this would have been a good way to commemorate this moment. Perhaps he was thinking of something more permanent and lasting. One never knows because we are not told what Peter was thinking at that time. We just know that he wanted to build something (I believe that Peter was the first Presbyterian. He wanted to make sure a commemoration of the event was made, preferably with a brass plaque that was not to be removed.)
But something takes place that puts that thought out of Peter and the other disciples’ heads. The text tells us that: While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”[1] Imagine that you are on a mountain and it is a bright and clear day. Suddenly a cloud appears, something like a fog and encloses around you. You cannot see the area around you anymore and it seems that the sun has gone out. It is a bit creepy not being able to see around you, not having your bearings on where you are. Then a voice comes out of the cloud saying “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”. I would have been terrified just like the disciples.
To listen to what Jesus, one had to acknowledge the sayings and teachings that he had said before this. But what did all of this mean? Surely, he was the Messiah; he told them not to tell anyone. That meant that he was waiting for just the right time to declare himself. But what was all of this talk about dying and being raised? About taking up a cross and laying one’s life down to live? These men were familiar with the cross. One could not be familiar with them. Rome used them a method of quelling violence and asserting their rule. Yet, if one is to listen to Jesus then one is to take up a cross willingly and carry it. One is to die to oneself. How is that possible and what do these words mean? Again, the disciples hear, but they don’t seem to be listening.
But then the cloud is gone and Jesus is standing there. Jesus who was full of glory and shining like lightening, was now back to the “ordinary” Jesus that they had seen before this transformation. Imagine how the disciples must have felt. Imagine for a moment how you would have felt. Was this all a dream? Did we have something to eat that did not agree with us? Or maybe, just maybe, this happened just like we saw it. Whatever they thought, they did not tell anyone what had happened.
It is said that we often hear to answer and not to listen. When someone is talking to us, we often ask a question and while the other person is answering, we are already forming our response. We are not listening to the person who is talking. This occurs especially when we ask someone how they are doing. Most often the answer is a “Fine” and we are all on our way. But sometimes there is an answer that takes some time. When this happens, we begin to formulate a response and will miss what the other person is saying. When we hear to listen, we take the time to understand and know what the person is saying.
Too often we are like the disciples. We hear the words that Jesus says and yet we do not listen to them. When we are told that we are to help the least of these, how often do we hear but not listen and do the words of Jesus? When we hear that we should take up our cross and follow Jesus even if it means our own death or just death to ourselves, how often do we claim that it is just a metaphor for bearing burdens? When we hear Jesus say love your enemies, how often do we say “But you don’t know what this person is like, Jesus! How can I ever love someone like that?” When we are told to reach out to the oppressed and the weak, how often do we say, “I wish I could but what good would I be able to do?” We hear but we do not listen.
There are many times that we have a moment like the disciples on the mountain. We see the glory and come down ready to be on fire for God and for Jesus. But then we hit the nitty gritty of the “real” world and the fire that burned so bright burns down to almost extinguished embers. But then we hear a soft voice telling us to listen. And we ignore it. Then the voice becomes louder, commanding, saying “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When we see the person standing of the street corner with a sign, Listen to him! When we see the enemy that we want to hate so much it drives us to a place we never thought that we would be, Listen to him! When we see and hear of a country being invaded by an authoritarian government, Listen to him! When we see those who are in turmoil over their identity, Listen to him! When we see systemic racism raise its ugly head to keep the status quo, Listen to him! When we go through trials for our faith and just want to throw in the towel, Listen to him! When we hear the words of justice that we just don’t want to hear and follow, Listen to him.
When we listen, truly listen, then we will hear the good news that Jesus brings. The good news of justice and salvation, the good news that it has come for us and to us. Let us listen to him. Amen.
[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989. Print.
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