Listen to Him!
Based on Exodus 24:12-18, 2Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9
In my adult life I can’t tell you how many programs that I have attended on active listening. These programs were, for the most part, contained in continuing education programs or managerial training courses. All of these programs contained the same information and techniques like asking open-ended questions, leaning in to show interest, paraphrasing what you have heard to check for understanding, summarizing what has been heard. I have also been the trainer on listening programs many times over the years with audiences from Stephen Ministers to pharmacists to medical students. You would think by now that I might have caught on how to listen well.
Yet for all that training and practice, I still find myself at times wondering what has just been said because my mind has wandered down some rabbit-hole of tangential thoughts or distraction. I suspect I am not alone in this – especially during this part of the worship service. I mean, how many times in your life have you made the statement, “I wish I would have listened”? For me it comes at times where listening to someone would have saved me from making a mistake or wasting time on something unimportant in the grand scheme of my life. It also comes up when thinking about those sages in my life who were trying to share their wisdom, only to have me blow them off because I was focused on something else “more important” at the time. How often I long to listen to those voices again speaking wisdom into my life; providing me sage counsel when I am struggling with a decision or dilemma.
The author of 2Peter puts today’s scriptures in context when he wrote, “…You will do well to be attentive to this [i.e., the prophetic message]…” Indeed, we would do well to always actively listen to what Jesus the Christ has to say. If we did, our world might not be in the predicament that it is. Before going any farther, let’s take a moment to center ourselves here and prepare ourselves to be attentive to God…
The author of 2Peter (speaking as the Disciple/Apostle Peter) is writing to exhort the believers in Asia Minor (present day Turkey). His first letter extolled the virtues of holy living and tending to God’s flock while suffering for their beliefs. This second letter continues with an explanation that the believers’ faith must be supported, “…with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love….” The author goes on to state that Peter had indeed witnessed the transfiguration on the mountaintop and heard God’s voice proclaim, “…This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased….” Thus, the believers would do well to listen, AND be attentive to, authentic Jesus’ teachings passed to them by the Apostle and not to other human teachings.
Moses headed up the mountain of God to get the Torah and Commandments. He takes 70 elders of Israel along with Aaron and his sons up the mountain where they all saw the God of Israel. God invited Moses farther up the mountain where he stayed in the cloud of God for 40 days and nights. During that time, God communicated the Torah and Commandments while the people and other leaders waited below. Aaron and Hur were left to settle disputes and you know how well that turned out! Moses needed to have them all listen and follow the leading of God, but they rapidly fell back into their previous ways and sinned to the point that they got to wander around for another 40 years. Turns out that poor listening to God has its consequences.
Fast forward about 1500 years and we find Jesus, Moses and Elijah along with Peter, James and John hanging out together on the top of a mountain. Jesus becomes transformed (aka transfigured) through the power of God. Note that the cloud of God also comes as it did in our reading from Exodus. The presence of Moses and Elijah (law giver and chief prophet respectively) lend credence to the revelation that iJesus is the fulfillment of all the law and prophecy contained in the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh). This is something that Jesus has only just revealed to all the Disciples a few verses before our reading for today. God’s voice not only tells the three Disciples that Jesus is God’s beloved Son, but that they should listen to him (note this is a command).
God commands us as disciples to listen to Jesus. We, like the first Disciples, must be attentive to the teachings of Jesus while we are going about our everyday lives. We do not get to sequester ourselves away from the noisy distractions of our world. Rather, we must learn to listen for God and to God from within our lives and the world around us. God impels us to listen to Jesus because God knows that the world will be more insistent in its messages – messages that will lead us along the path to worldly wisdom instead of the wisdom of God. This is why God came as Jesus in the first place, because God tried all the other avenues to get us to pay attention to all that God had already said and done, and it had failed to hold our attention.
God’s long association with humans had led God to understand that we are quite fickle and hard of hearing (and of heart). Our spiritual ancestors followed Moses and God out of Egypt and then almost immediately wanted to return when things got a bit uncomfortable in the desert. They couldn’t even wait 40 days and nights for Moses to return with God’s instructions for them without getting themselves involved with idol worship (all while God’s presence was very visible still on the top of the mountain). The people did not want to hear God’s voice for themselves because it scared them so much – so they delegated that task to Moses on their behalf. Then, because they didn’t hear God’s voice for themselves, they began to second guess Moses and the laws and Commandments that he brought to them.
Following the conquering of the Promised Land, enabled by God and some heroes, the people soon stopped listening to God and began to follow the gods of their Canaanite neighbors. God sent Judges, but the people wanted a king. God anointed kings, but those kings didn’t often listen to God any better than the people, so God sent Prophets to try to get the kings and people to listen and follow. Almost all the prophets were killed because they said things the kings and people did not want to listen to or do. God then used the Assyrians and the Babylonians to teach the people a lesson in humility – and that worked for a while. However, the people’s hearing soon became selective again and they neglected God. God then sent the Greeks and after them the Romans to enslave and oppress the people of the house of Israel. Israel cried out again wondering where God was, and God came down as Jesus.
Very few people listened to Jesus in his day, either. A small band of men who tried their best to listen and follow what Jesus said. One of them didn’t like what Jesus said about being the Messiah characterized by love, and so that one betrayed Him for 30 pieces of silver. People heard what Jesus said at his “trial” and from the cross, and some came to believe because of that. Some saw and heard Him following his resurrection and came to believe. Some have always listened to the words of Jesus and have come to trust them above all other words – and have tried to live by those words. We are some of those people.
Over the years, I have found myself drawn to the teachings of Jesus – often wishing that I could be more attentive and listen better to them. Seeking in those precious words the wisdom which could make sense of my life; which spoke to me a truth that the world can never speak. The great good news is that Jesus continues to speak through scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus speaks, however, not from the mountaintops but from the gutters, from the impoverished, from the marginalized and oppressed, from the messiness and challenges of our very lives. Jesus speaks His words of liberation from the shackles of worldly wealth and possessions which try to distract and mislead us. Jesus speaks of a unity of His Body formed and maintained by God’s unconditional love instead of the siloed and competitive human body. The good news, Brothers and sisters, is that Jesus is still speaking, and God knows it is time for us to be attentive and listen! Amen and amen.