Epiphany 5 2016
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
February 7, 2016
Charles C. Graves IV
“Are you Listening”
YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO ME!!!
I can basically hear Jesus screaming, exasperated, trying to get to the top of his lungs but just beat down by the sheer exhaustion of it all. “for heaven’s sake, I’ve been trying to get through to you people time after time after time after time, and you just won’t listen!”. Then, like an overwhelmed grade school teacher: “no no no, keep talking, I’ll wait. I’m not going to talk while you’re talking”. And the disciples, unfazed, keep right on babbling to each other, just rambling, barely taking in air between ridiculous vacuous thoughts. “oh oh, I got it this time, here’s the answer! No Peter, that’s stupid – this is it! Shut up James, you’re wrong, I’ve got it!” And Jesus just turns and slinks away, disappointed and now nursing a serious migraine. “you gotta be kidding me”
Ok, I don’t know if it actually happened like that, but that’s what I imagine as Jesus leads the Disciples up the mountain as we hear in today’s Gospel. Take ten minutes to read the entire ninth chapter of Luke, from which our passage today comes, and like me you will be amazed by the frequency with which Luke tells us that the disciples just aren’t getting it. In each of about twelve short paragraphs, Jesus is trying to communicate a simple point, we turn to the disciples, and without fail they (and all the other people around Jesus) get it ridiculously and preposterously wrong.
The chapter starts out (before where we started today) with King Herod trying to figure out whether this miracle-working preacher from Nazareth is a prophet, or the long-dead prophet Elijah, or John the Baptist whom Herod himself beheaded not long before. Then, as if to answer the question, Jesus famously goes and feeds 5,000 people with a handful of loaves & fish. Next the disciples get to arguing about the same question – whether Jesus is Elijah or John the Baptist, and to clear things up, he tells them one of many times about his coming death and Resurrection. Naturally they remain perplexed, so Jesus tries another approach, taking them up to the highest mountain around, away from all the distractions of the world. Clearly subtlety, parables, prophecy, and even grandiose miracles haven’t done the trick, so he tries an even flashier approach:
Imagine it with me, friends – on top of a very high mountain- one it would have taken several days to climb – looking out 360 degrees onto all the sparse countryside for miles and miles and miles. It is eerily quiet. Gone are the crowds and the bustle of the city, replaced by only the stiff blowing wind. There is no one around. No one. Just three disciples and Jesus. Normally you might silence yourself in such a place, taking in the beauty, the majesty of it all. Instead, the disciples seem to be continuing to bicker as they were before.
And all of a sudden, as they are still talking, Jesus is literally transformed – transfigured before their eyes. In the blink of an ete, Jesus is literally standing there, in suddenly dazzling white clothing (and if popular depictions are correct, levitating in thin air). Moses and Elijah – who Jesus is NOT – are literally talking to him in a vision about what he’s about to go do in Jerusalem! How much clearer could he be? How can one not be moved to silence, to trembling, to reverence at such a moment?
Well, not to be outdone, Peter STILL manages to be uproariously off-base. He basically says the equivalent of “Oh wow, look at the cool thing that happened here – let’s build a church here to remember it by!” (a sentiment that I think Rome understands better than any city I have ever known). I think if Peter could’ve taken a selfie instead, he would’ve done it.
Still exhausted, and having had it up to HERE by now, God kicks it up even one notch further. Literally interrupting Peter mid-speech, the voice from heaven comes down –
“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
It may as well have added “Do you have any further questions?!?!? I didn’t think so!”
YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO ME!!!
That’s it. Don’t worry about responding, don’t worry about getting it right, don’t worry about preserving this moment for posterity, don’t worry about who’s right and who’s wrong, don’t worry about anything else.
Just to bring home the point, as he takes the disciples back down the mountain again, he commands them, for the umpteenth time, not to say anything to anyone about what happened up there. I used to wonder for a long time why Jesus, who taught in public, did miracles in public, healed people in public and a whole lot more, would so often pointlessly tell people to keep quiet, knowing full well that they wouldn’t. But the more I read & re-read Scripture, I think it’s that Jesus just wanted people to listen and really take in the incredible works that God was performing before their very eyes.
Friends, I think God is still saying that to us today….
God is constantly calling us, constantly reaching out to us both individually and in society. God whispers to us, taps us on the shoulder, works even to this day miracles large and small in our lives, provides moments of revelation and leads us unsuspectingly in one direction or another. But I believe far more often than not, we manage to miss it entirely, or misunderstand, or ignore altogether the signs that God works in us everyday.
After all, it is so much easier, so we think, to stay focused on other things. We live distracted by our work, and our calendars and schedules and to-do lists. We live with cameras and phones in front of our faces to try to memorialize moments instead of truly experiencing God in the moment at all. Or we project our own biases and assumptions onto God, assuming that we have the right answers already. Surely, we think, God is who we say God is, thinks how we think, wants what we want, or even hates who we hate. And so even when we pray, we pray with our mouths always open and our ears always closed.
So here we are, together, on this final Sunday of Epiphany. Jesus has given us this incredible transformative moment – the Transfiguration. We have seen Jesus lifted up on high upon the mountain, in dazzling white. With the disciples, we have fallen to our knees in amazement and heard the voice come down from heaven: “This is my son, the Chosen. Listen to Him”.
So friends in Christ, what will we do as we come down from this mountain? What will we do as we leave this church and go back into the busy Roman world? On Wednesday, we will observe Ash Wednesday together and begin again the holy season of Lent. In Lent we remember that we have so often failed to listen, failed to hear and failed to understand, failed to act in the way that God desires. And in Lent, we recommit ourselves to following Christ, and engage in acts of spiritual discipline to guide us on the way.
You may choose to “give up” something this Lent, and I encourage you also to “pick up” something spiritually enriching as well. Read a book that will help you in faithful spiritual reflection. Pray Evening Prayer or Morning Prayer on page 79 of the BCP as we do together in this church every weekday. Or take part in a discussion group, taking care to listen to the voice of God in others much more than you speak.
Whatever you do, pray with your mouth closed and your ears open. Listen.