Called to Listen – Feb. 14, 2021

Called to Listen

A Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Mark 9:2-9

February 14, 2021

Main Idea –  Listen to Jesus

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

What does it mean to listen to Jesus?  Is it just knowing the Bible stories? Or trying to follow his example?  Do we remember things that he said?  “Let the children come to me”. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.”  “Take up your cross and follow me.”, “I have a dream” (wait that was someone else).  The four Gospels include a record of some of what he said to the disciples and the crowds, to the Pharisees and scribes, but what does he say to us, today?

And how is it that we listen? Sometimes we listen with half an ear – we hear the stories as quaint morality tales, like Aesop’s fables or Disney fairy tales. We judge the foolish disciples and we are quite glad not to be put on the spot with them.  Sometimes we listen like lawyers, trying to find some loophole or angle to justify what we want to do. Sometimes we listen with a downcast heart assuming that we could never live up to Jesus’ expectations of us. But here is the thing; we are invited to listen to Jesus with our whole being; to hear and see and feel God in Christ among us.  When we do this, we are changed.

So this morning we are invited to put aside all the other voices and noises that fill our days and go up the mountain with Jesus and his three disciples.  This morning we can experience his transfiguration as a call for our own transformation.

Right before our gospel text for today, Jesus has told the disciples that the Son of Man will suffer and die and be raised after three days.  His disciple Peter thinks this is a terrible idea and rebukes him.  Imagine, rebuking Jesus!  Jesus responds to Peter by saying “Get behind me, Satan! For you are putting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (8:33).  Jesus then turns to the crowd and says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (8:34-35) This is the first time Jesus explicitly states that his life and ministry will lead to the cross.  This is the first time those listening to Jesus must face what lays ahead of them.

With this stark choice in front of them, the story tells us that six days later Peter (who has somehow patched things up), James, and John accompany Jesus up to a high mountain.   Let’s imagine hiking with Jesus.  He’s a good hiker and a considerate one. He waits for us who might be huffing and puffing. What would we talk with him about?  What do you think the disciples were thinking?  Imagine a beautiful day. The views are tremendous and it is good to get away from the crowds and the scary plans Jesus has been talking about.  Once at the top we stop to catch our breath but instead of relaxing we are frozen with astonishment; our breath caught in our throat. Suddenly Jesus has changed. His appearance is dazzling.  His clothes sparkle with a color that is whiter than any white. Like sunlight reflecting on water, the color is so bright as to be almost unseeable.  Mark does not describe Jesus’ face but Matthew says that Jesus’ face shone like the sun. It is a moment like Jesus’ baptism when the heavens are torn open and the glory of God is upon the earth; absolutely stunning and beautiful.   And suddenly on the mountain top with Jesus are Moses and Elijah, two of the most famous and beloved figures in the Old Testament; both of whom had spoken with God and both of whom, tradition held, had never died but had gone straight to heaven.  We see them talk with Jesus but we don’t hear what they were talking about. It is amazing and ridiculous that Peter interrupts their conversation to suggest building tents for the three of them.  He is so overwhelmed that he just blurts out this idea of capturing the moment and memorializing it.  He wants to contain the glory that he sees. Which, of course, is impossible.  But in response to Peter’s fear, God speaks!  What we see changes from the dazzling white to the opaqueness of a cloud.  The cloud overshadows everything and a voice speaks.  “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  What do you think the voice sounds like?  Is it loud like a crack of thunder or quiet like the sound of pure silence?  Does the voice chuckle with joy as it speaks of love?   Notice that first the disciples, and we, see without hearing and then we hear without sight. We can’t do both at the same time.  Each experience is overwhelming and transformative on its own.

Suddenly the cloud lifts and we are alone on the mountain with Jesus, who is no longer glowing, yet still somehow changed.  Certainly, the disciples have been changed for they have heard the voice of God and have seen Jesus as the Divine Christ; who put aside pre-existent glory to be their teacher from Nazareth and who will return to glory with the Resurrection.  Jesus tells them to keep the experience to themselves until after the Son of Man had been raised from the dead, because who would believe it before the events of Holy Week and Easter?  Even after the Resurrection, the experience is hard to put into words.

The voice in the cloud commanded the disciples to listen to Jesus and the voice commands us as well.  On this Transfiguration Sunday we are invited to experience Jesus; to listen for his word to us; to see and hear and feel him among us.  We are invited to be changed. Jesus proclaims “The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Good News.” 

When we listen to Jesus we hear, “Wake up, pay attention.”  The world is full of the glory of God and we must live our life in response to that glory. So often we are caught up in metaphorical and technological clouds, simply moving from one obligation to the next unable to see beyond our own concerns.  So often we are numb by the overwhelming suffering in the world.  Jesus’ transfiguration dramatically points out that God is able to break into our lives at any moment.  Everything around us shimmers with God’s love for creation.  Everyone we meet contains the spark of God within them.  This is the Good News.

When we listen to Jesus we hear, “Take comfort, God is with you and whatever challenges you are facing you are not alone.” Jesus does not promise us a life free from suffering.  In fact, a life of faith almost certainly entails challenge and suffering.  Jesus promises that God loves us with a deep and unending love.  Jesus shows us that God is with us in our grief and hard circumstances.  This is the Good News.

When we listen to Jesus we hear, “Be careful.”  Our self-reliance and judgment of others will lead us away from God.  Peter is rebuked by Jesus for putting his own concerns for Jesus’ safety above God’s plans for creation.  We all are tempted to give higher value to those people and those things for which we particularly care.  We are tempted to choose fear and insularity rather than openness and welcome.   Jesus always points us toward God.  Jesus always lifts up those who are marginalized and vulnerable, those outside our comfortable boxes.    Jesus calls us to look beyond our personal concerns in order to experience God.  This is the Good News.

When we listen to Jesus we hear, “Take up your cross and follow me.” All the clouds of apathy and complacency are blown away by the clear-eyed realization that only love; self-giving, life affirming love can change the world for the better. Jesus loves us and empowers us to live out that love.  This is the Good News.

As we move into our time of prayer let us listen with our whole being to Jesus, our Lord and Savior, our lens into the heart of God.

What is Jesus saying to you today?