"Are We Listening?" - Transfiguration
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
February 11, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Mark 9:2-9

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: February 11, 2018 – Transfiguration B

Mark 9:2-9


Are We Listening?


            More than once in junior high, our principal, “Mr. Grant”, treated my class to a tongue-lashing. I can’t remember exactly what we did, but whatever it was got him upset. Once, we all sat in the gym as he bellowed, “Do you have a hearing problem? You must have a hearing problem!”


            Of course, few of us had a hearing disability. What we lacked was an ability to listen. Comprehending and following directions were skills we were far from mastering.


            Listening is difficult. It isn’t just something we struggle with when we’re young (and if truth be told, I have known young people who were better listeners than many older people). It can be a tough skill to learn. It can be difficult to truly listen, say, to a spouse, or a child, or a parent, or a friend. It takes effort to drop one’s own concerns for a moment to take in what the other person is saying. Not to mention the difficulty involved in listening to a sermon! (Believe me, I know – I still struggle with this sometimes when I’m in your side of the pulpit.)  We can be so absorbed in what we’re doing or experiencing or thinking that we tune out the person trying to reach us.


            Perhaps we might take comfort in the fact that the disciples, the builders of the church, also found it difficult to listen.


            There they were, the inner circle of the disciples – Peter, James, and John – on the mountaintop with Jesus. Suddenly they see something that is too amazing for words – Jesus changes before their eyes. Mark tells us that he was “transfigured” before them. He sheds the earthy appearance they know and shows them who he really is – the Divine Christ, the Son of the Living God – in all his glory. Words fail Mark in attempting to describe this event. Jesus’ clothes become “radiantly white, whiter than anyone could bleach them”. Not all the Tide in the world could make Jesus’ clothes brighter than they were. His face shines like the sun. For a moment, Jesus shows these three disciples the “real reality” behind and above the reality they know. They see Jesus as he truly is.


            And it is terrifying. What they experience is something akin to what happened on Sinai, when clouds and darkness descended on the mountaintop and God’s voice thundered. The people were terrified then, too, and begged Moses to be their intercessor with God so that they would not have to experience such an event again. As for James, John, and Peter, they seem to act in different ways. James and John simply do not speak – one assumes that they could not. Peter, however, tries to mitigate his terror (and the experience) by running at the mouth! “Um…Rabbi, it is good to be here. Let me build three dwellings – three shrines – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Mark adds that Peter simply did not know what to say. He apparently just needed to say something, anything, to get some grasp on what was happening.


            Suddenly, the cloud descends and the same voice that thundered at Sinai thunders on this unnamed mountain. “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!” Peter just confessed his belief in Mark 8 that Jesus is God’s Anointed One, but his understanding of that didn’t go far enough. His offer – to build Jesus a shrine along with Moses and Elijah - put Jesus on the same level as those revered men of Israel. The divine voice gives both a minor correction to Peter’s confession in chapter 8 and a major one to what he wants to do on the mountaintop. Jesus isn’t just God’s anointed one – an office also possessed by Israel’s kings – he is God’s own beloved Son, on the same level as God. And the best way to show honor to Jesus is not to build buildings or worship in a particular way, but to listen to what he says. Really listen.


            Mark tells us over and over that the disciples simply do not understand Jesus. Mark 6:52 relates that after Jesus fed the five thousand, plus walked on the water to their boat, they did not understand “but their hearts were hardened”. After Peter’s confession in chapter 8, Jesus elaborates on what Messiahship really means – it means going through the cross. It means suffering and rejection before glory and exaltation. Peter is having none of that either, eliciting an extraordinary rebuke from Jesus. To admire Jesus as a great teacher or exemplar of humanity is one thing. To obey him as One with an ultimate claim on our lives is another.


            And Jesus has a lot to say to us. “Follow me” (1:17). “Pay attention to what you hear” (4:24). “Do not be afraid, only believe” (5:36; 6:50). “You give them something to eat” (6:37). “It is what comes out of a person that defiles” (7:20). “Deny [yourself] and take up [your cross] and follow me” (8:34). “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (10:31). “Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (10:44). “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone” (11:25). That’s only from Mark. Matthew, Luke, and John offer us more. The whole of the Bible, in fact, witnesses to what Jesus requires from us. Just look at Micah 6. Jesus doesn’t require the offering of 10,000 rivers of oil or of one’s firstborn, but to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” To “walk humbly” means to walk as a student – a disciple – of Christ. To realize that we always have more to learn about what it means to live the Christian life. (This is something I tell my confirmands – I remind you all of it too. Being confirmed isn’t the end of our Christian life and education – it is merely the beginning.) To realize we are on this magnificent journey of being made like Christ by God’s grace. And to understand that it is God’s Word that opens our ears and our hearts to God’s work in us.


            As we prepare to enter Lent, let’s ask ourselves – are we listening to Jesus? Are we really listening to what he says? We all know we live in a time where we are drowning in voices – from television, the internet, radio, podcasts, you name it. There is one voice that stands out for us above all others. Let’s re-commit ourselves to listening to Jesus.


            Let us pray.


            Lord Jesus, open our ears and hearts to receive your word, that we may continue with you on the path to eternal life. Help us to listen and obey your voice. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.