Sunday, February 24, 2013

Laughing at the Shadow of Death

Luke 13:31-35

31      At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you."
32      He replied, "Go tell that fox, 'I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.'
33      In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day-- for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
34      "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
35      Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

            Years ago, the Ku Klux Klan would make an annual march down Auburn Street in Atlanta, which was the main street of the Black population during the 1950s.  One Black resident of Atlanta that I talked to recently remembered those marches.  He said it was a frightening thing to see.  All these white robed figures would march down the street.  Hoods over their heads.  At one time, they were even masked with their faces covered.  The Blacks would watch with fear as these people would demonstrate a hatred for them – a hatred based only on the color of their skin.

            Then one year, sometime in the 1950s, there was a change in the way the marchers were greeted.  The Black Americans, instead of being afraid of the Klan, laughed at them. 

            And that was the last time that the Klan ever marched down Auburn Avenue.

            You know, laughter really is an effective way to pull the rug out from under some folks, or in some cases, to pull the thrown of power out from under them.

            It is the very way in which Jesus handles Herod in our Gospel lesson for today.

            Herod wants to kill Jesus.  And Jesus is warned by a group of Pharisees.  And in response to this frightening situation, Jesus laughs, and says, “You go tell that old fox, I was working yesterday, I’ll be working tomorrow.”

            I’m not too sure of who is being laughed at here and being called an “old fox.”  Oh I know that on the surface it looks like Herod is the old fox that is being laughed at, but I’m not so sure.  I have the feeling that the old fox whose throne of power is being pulled out from under by means of laughter is not Herod, but the death that Herod brings.

            The old fox is death.

            And Jesus dethrones that old fox called death by saying, “You go tell that old fox, I’ve been at work yesterday, I’ll be at work tomorrow.”

            Most of us could not dethrone death’s power over us in such a way.  Most of us would be more like the Black Americans on Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue, frightened at the passing Klansmen.

            It’s difficult to laugh at the shadow of death.  For most of us are so frightened of it.  Most of us have no idea how to handle the prospect of our death.

            I heard about a Priest recently who, at the end of a funeral, turned to the casket and with the sign of the cross said, “My friend, may God grant you peace through all eternity.”  And then he turned to the congregation and family gathered around the open grave and continued, “And to whichever one of our group may be next for this cemetery – it may be the youngest or the oldest – it may be the most informed or the strongest in health – we do not know who it will be – but whoever’s time is next, may God grant you a peaceful death.”

            Now the person telling me about this had a strong negative reaction to these words.  I can understand why.  None of us likes to be reminded that ours might be the next funeral held in the church.  We don’t want to think that we might be the next ones headed for the grave.    There is something frightening about death.  There is something about it that you don’t laugh at in death. 

            But there is Jesus, laughing, and saying, “You go tell that old fox, ‘I’ve been working yesterday.  I’m going to be working tomorrow.’”

            He calls not only Herod an Old Fox, but also the death that Herod brings.  Laughing at it.  Not being intimidated by it.

            Jesus is not intimidated by death.  He doesn’t avoid his death or try to deny it like many of us do.  In fact, he sees everything in life from the perspective of his death.  And not just from death, but beyond death, from the perspective of his Resurrection.

            Jesus laughs and says, “You go tell that old fox, I was casting out demons yesterday.  I’ll be curing the sick today and tomorrow.  And on the third day, I’ll finish my course.”

            The third day.  An obvious reference to Christ’s resurrection.

            Early in my ministry, in fact it was while I was still in seminary, a professor sent me to the nursing home to visit some shut-ins there.  It was part of a class I was taking on ministry to the elderly.  I got to know one of the shut-ins pretty well.  Mentally, he was pretty alert, and we had a number of conversations.  Finally one day, I asked him, as one 23 year old to someone who was on the edge of being 100, “What is it like to be old?”

            It’s the kind of question only a very young person would ask.

            He thought for a minute and said, “I now view everything in life from the point of view of my death.”

            Without thinking, I pitied him and said, “How sad.”

            “Not at all,” said the old man.  “We are all dieing, but for most people, death is a secret.  People hide if from themselves.  But I know the secret.  I know I’m going to die.  And that helps me to treasure life, and to enjoy it.  Even here in a nursing home.”

            I have remembered that man’s words for a long time now.  And I think he’s onto something.  There is something very liberating about knowing that we are all dieing.

            Garrison Keeler is a radio personality who is heard each week on Public Radio’s Prairie Home Companion.  He’s a story teller and in one recent show he told this story.

            A man was tilling manure into a field in the Spring, using a tractor and a disc plow. 

It was a long field.  The tractor was moving at five miles an hour, and the man was bored.  It was a warm day and the man wished he could be anything other than a farmer.  He was tired of working for his father.  Out of sheer boredom, he dozed off and started to fall backwards off the tractor seat. 

He woke up falling and, because the tractor was an old model with the throttle lever that was notched into place, the tractor just kept moving.  The man fell in between the tractor and the discs and, as he hit the ground, he grabbed on to the tow bar.  He hauled himself up as far as he could, but he couldn’t pull himself all the way up.  He just hung onto the tow bar with both hands as the steel discs were moving behind him.

His body was literally being dragged through the dirt and the manure.  He held on as tightly as he could because, if he lost his grip, he would have been cut in two by the moving discs. 

He was just about to lose his grip.  He didn’t even have enough strength to cry out or to weep – he just kept hanging on. 

The tractor kept moving, ever so slowly, until it came to the end of the field.  It began moving up the incline of a hill, and then into the woods. 

Finally it hit a tree and stopped, although the wheels kept spinning. 

It took him about ten minutes before he could stand on his two feet, climb up into the seat, and turn off the engine.

That man lost his life and got it back again. 

As Garrison Keeler told this story, he made the observation that he would think that after an experience like that you would have the feeling of absolute freedom and liberty.  All the weight would be gone. You would feel the sort of liberty that you read about in the Epistles when a person has died and has been reborn.

The sunsets are lovelier.

The friendships are richer.

Life is savored more deeply.

And you know, Keeler is right.  There is something liberating about realizing that at the end of our journey is a death and a Resurrection.

Jesus realized it.  He knew that he was going to die.  In this passage, he looks out before him and he sees Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you.”

            Jesus knows that he is going to die in Jerusalem. 

And yet, knowing that he is going to die does not paralyze him.  That doesn’t keep him from working.  Instead it liberates him.  “You go tell that old fox,” laughs Jesus.  “I’ve been working yesterday.  I’ve been working today.  I’ll be working tomorrow, until the third day when my course is finished.”

            Seeing his life from the perspective of his death and resurrection, liberates Jesus.  It takes all the fear of death away.

            When we can begin to view our life from the perspective of our death and resurrection into eternal life, we will be able to look at death as Jesus did.  To smile at it and to tell death – we worked yesterday.  We worked today.  We will work tomorrow and we will keep on working until our death and resurrection into eternal life.

            I have a friend who has two children, ages 2 and 5.  He was going through the early evening ritual one evening, getting the kids ready for bed – feeding them, bathing them, getting their teeth brushed.  They finished a little early and the 5 year old asked if they could stay up and watch a little TV.  The father agreed. 

            So the kids turned on the TV and on came an old program called the Incredible Hulk.
            I don’t know if you have ever seen the Incredible Hulk, but my friend watched as the screen showed his 2 year old and 5 year old a plane crash.  Bodies were strewn all over the airport.  Out of the wreckage came a green monster, the Incredible Hulk, wearing rags and picking up bits of the wrecked plane and throwing them into the air at terrified people.

            My friend began to wonder if this was the sort of TV show that a 2 and a 5 year old ought to see just moments before being tucked into bed.

            The 5 year old picked up on the anxiety and turned to the father, pulling out the thumb from his mouth he said, “Don’t worry Dad, we’ve seen this episode before and it turns out alright in the end.”

            The Christian can say the same of life and death.  We’ve read the Book – the Bible.  We know that it turns out alright in the end.

Copyright Maynard Pittendreigh, 2013
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Half Way


Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

     Every day as I drive to and from the church I see people dressed up as the Statue of Liberty, waving signs about the people they work for and how they will, for a small fee, do my taxes.


Yep, it’s that time of year again.

     Some time back, I read about a person wrote to the Internal Revenue Service and said, "Several years ago, I cheated on my income tax. I can't sleep, I feel so guilty, so I'm sending $25."

     Interesting letter! Of course, its ending was particularly interesting. In closing the letter said, "If I find I still can't sleep, I'll send you the balance."

     You know, many of us do things in a half-hearted manner. We don't give 100%.  We give 50%.

     Here is a letter of a fellow who wants to make restitution, but isn't willing to go all the way, but just half-way.

The story is told of a chicken and pig both lived on a farm.  One day, the farmer walked into the barnyard and told the animals the family wanted ham and eggs for breakfast, and the farmer asked if there were any volunteers?

The chicken nudged the pig and said, "C'mon, let's volunteer."

The pig said, "No way. It's easy for you to volunteer. From you they want a little contribution. But when they say ham and eggs, for me that means a total commitment."

And it is tough to give total commitment.  To anything.

      You know what the greatest temptation in life is? It is to do things half-way.

     Too many marriages are suffering because one or both of the marriage partners are doing things in a half hearted manner, not giving total commitment.

     One of the complaints many people have about American industry, rightly or wrongly, is that workers are not giving 100%. They give less.

     In Cub Scouts, the motto is "Do your best!" But for many of us our motto is
"Do good enough to get by."

     Now, the greatest tool that the devil has to use with us is to tempt us to follow God. That's right; the devil wants us to follow God -- but ONLY half way.

     He doesn't want us to give total commitment to God, knowing that half of a commitment is really NO commitment.

     In our New Testament lesson for this morning, Jesus is tempted by the devil. This passage is a familiar passage to many of us and is a traditional passage to read for the first Sunday in Lent.

    Take a look at how the devil tempts Jesus. He never comes right out and says, "Turn away from God." What he suggests instead is that Jesus follows God, but only half way.

     For example, take a look at the first temptation. Jesus is in the desert, where for forty days he is tempted by the devil. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread."

     God is concerned with us as a whole, 100%, body and soul. The devil's temptation is for us to be concerned with only half of ourselves. Body, period.

     In response, Jesus replies to the devil, "It is written; man does not live by bread alone."

     Jesus' response to this temptation, and to all of the devil's temptations, is to use the Word of God as a sword and shield in combating the temptation. What Jesus is doing here is recalling a passage from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (8:3), and the fuller text says, as Jesus quoted it, "Man does not live by bread alone," but the text also continues in the Old Testament passage, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the Mouth of the Lord."

     God is concerned with us 100% of the way.

     God is concerned about us body and soul.

     God wants us to be concerned about our body and soul.

     The devil's temptation, however, is for us to go only half way. To be committed only 50% of the way - to be concerned about the body but not the soul.

     In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus tells us, (6:25ff) Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow, or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them...Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

     God knows you have needs for the body, and needs for the soul. God will take care of you 100% if you let him.

     The devil, however, wants to tempt us to be concerned with only half of who we are.

     How many of us are concerned with just 50% of who we are?

     We take care of the body. We buy the best clothes. We buy great tasting food.

And if we don't, we worry about how we can start getting all of these things to provide for the body.

     Well, the body is important. St Paul called it the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

     But that is just 50% of who we are. How many of us exercise our body regularly but never our soul – never pausing for prayer or Bible readings?

     We need to be concerned with 100% of what God created us to be -- body AND soul. The devil would rather us be concerned with just half -- the body.

     Another way that the devil tempts us is to give us 50% of the truth and 50% of a lie.

     Take a look at the second temptation Jesus endured.

     "The devil led him to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will be yours."

     The 50% that is true is that Jesus can be given all that authority and splendor.

     The 50% that is a lie is that it is the devil's to give. It is not the devil's to give, but God's.  And God ends up giving Jesus the very things that the devil promises. As Jesus is ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples, "All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations."

     Also true in this temptation is that Jesus ought to worship. But that again is a 50% truth, with the 50% lie being that Jesus ought to worship the devil.

     Again Jesus responds by using a passage of Scripture, "It is written, Worship the Lord your God and serve him only."

     Now, the fascinating thing in looking at where Jesus gets that passage is that it comes in an Old Testament text in which God is telling the people about the Promised Land that will someday be theirs. In that passage, God tells them that when He brings them into the land they should look around and see the things in the land. They will see...
     ... a land full of cities,
        --which they did not put there;
     ... and houses full of things,
        --which they did not put there;
     ...and wells,
        --which they did not dig,
     ...and vineyards,
        --which they did not plant.

     Then they are to be careful so they do not forget who gave them this land full of things they did not put there, but that were given to them by God. Then they are to worship God, and only God.

     The devil tempts us to go half way, and to take these things God gives us, but not to go all the way and remember that it was God who gave us these things.

     The devil tempts us to give 50%, and to worship, but not to worship God.

     How many of us accept the things God gives us, but acknowledge that they came from the wrong source?

     We take the things God gave us and we say hard work gave it to us.

     Or we say, our parents gave it to us.

     Or we say, it sure was good luck!

     Well, maybe it was good fortune, or the generosity of our parents, or the hard work we put to it, but that is just 50% of the truth. Ultimately, it was God who gave us all we have.

     Therefore, we ought to remember this and worship the Lord as the only God.

     The third temptation of Jesus takes place when the devil "led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," The devil said, "Throw yourself down from here."

     And then in an interesting twist, it is The devil who this time quotes Scripture, as he reminds Christ that the Word of God says, "God will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against stone."

     But Jesus stands firm and also recalls Scripture, in which it is said,
"Do not put the Lord your God to the test."

     The devil, knowing Scripture very well, tempts Jesus with a part of the Bible.
Jesus, however, knows the whole of Scripture.

     This temptation of the 50% is a dangerous thing.

     We are called to take care of ourselves body and soul. To care for 100%
of what God created us to be. The devil tempts us to care for only 50% -- ignore the soul, just care for the body.

     We are called to worship God. The devil would have us to go 50% of the way and to worship, but to worship material possessions, or to worship evil. God calls us, however, to worship the Lord and only him.

     In all of our great temptations, the hardest ones are those in which we are tempted in the right direction, but to stop half way, or to be diverted slightly from 100% of the truth.

     Those are the hardest temptations to resist. And the easiest to justify.

     St Paul, in his trial toward the end of his life (Acts 24:14) referred to Christians as "followers of the WAY."

     He didn't say followers of the half way, but followers of the way.

     If you did not follow the Way of Christ 100%, you had to call yourself something besides a follower of the Way. You could not be called a Christian.

     The story is told of Alexander the Great, and how he was known to reward soldiers who performed bravely and to punish those who had demonstrated cowardice.

     On one occasion, while celebrating a victory with his generals, Alexander's guards dragged a young soldier before him. The man had been charged with deserting his post, and was now to receive Alexander's sentence.

     The automatic penalty for such an offense was usually death. But for a reason known only to him, this time Alexander hesitated. He looked down on the young soldier, who was trembling with fear and asked him a simple question.

     "Soldier, what is your name?"

     "Alexander," the young man replied.

     "WHAT did you say?"

     "Alexander," repeated the soldier.

     In a flash, the great ruler was on the young man, grabbing him by his clothes and pulling him close, looking at him face to face.

     "That's my name. I will let you live, but you must either change your conduct, or change your name."

     Alexander's point, of course, was that if the soldier was to share his name, he must behave in a manner that was consistent with the ruler's reputation and character.

     If we are to bear the name Christian, we too must demonstrate behavior that proves us worthy of that name, giving 100% of ourselves to God.

     If we yield to the devil's temptation to give 50% to God, we'd better find a new name -- because a Christian is a follower of Christ's Way, not a follower of the half way.

Copyright 2013
Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
Ministers may use all or part of this sermon in their own ministries.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

In One Ear And Out The Other

Luke 9:28-35
28         About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.
29         As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.
30         Two men, Moses and Elijah,
31         appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.
32         Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
33         As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters-- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying.)
34         While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
35         A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him."

When I was a child, my parents would sometimes become frustrated with me and say, “Maynard, when we talk to you it just goes in one ear and out the other!”

Then I would really make them angry because I would look at my parents with full innocence and ask, “Did you say something to me?”

Oh, and by the way kids, DON’T try that at home.  I did not turn out well for me!

In our New Testament Lesson, the voice of God is heard telling the disciples, “

This is my Son, LISTEN to Him.”

But do we listen?  Do we hear?  Or does what Christ say to us go in one ear and out the other.

This is an interesting text from our New Testament lesson.  It is the event that we call the Transfiguration and today is the very day that we celebrate the Transfiguration in the life of the Christian Calendar. 

Jesus and his disciples are on a mountain to pray.  This event comes in the midst of a busy time in the life of Jesus and his disciples.  Fatigue has set in.  The disciples are tired.  More than tired.  They are sleepy. 

Then suddenly, while Jesus is praying, the appearance of his face changes.  His clothing becomes as bright as lightening. 

That in itself is dramatic, but as if that is not enough, two men suddenly appear – Moses and Elijah. 

Imagine – two long dead fathers of the faith suddenly appearing, alive and well, and talking to Jesus.

It would be like being in the halls of Congress – and all of a sudden, right in the middle of a congressional hearing, two men suddenly appear.  George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  Something like that makes watching C-Span worthwhile.  George and Tom have been dead for a couple of centuries.  Imagine not only the excitement, but the fear of having these two suddenly appearing, alive and well.

So it was for the disciples who suddenly see Moses and Elijah.  These two have been dead for a long time – I mean a long, long time.  But they are the founding fathers, the fathers of the faith.  And there they are.

Now, Peter and his disciples had been very sleepy, but this is enough to wake them up. 

But waking up doesn’t give you any intelligence.  Peter starts talking and he begins to jabber away meaninglessly about how it’s good for Moses and Elijah to be here, and how the disciples can build three little houses or shelters for them.  Luke seems to be embarrassed by Peter, because in parenthesis, Luke says about Peter, “He did not know what he was saying.”

Then, as if all of this is not amazing enough, suddenly there is a cloud that envelops all of them, and the voice of God is heard saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

Now that is a fascinating sequence of events, and it is easy to read this as a historical story and to then move onto the next historical event in the Gospel.

But what draws me to this story and bothers me is what God says to the disciples.  “This is my son.  Listen to him.”

And it is at this point that I think back on what my parents told me when I was a child.  “Maynard, when we talk to you it just goes in one ear and out the other!”

Do we really listen to what Christ tells us?

Looking at this text, it becomes obvious that listening to Jesus involves at least three very specific things from us.

First, to listen to Jesus is to listen to all of Scripture.

We live in a consumer age.  We are professional, full time shoppers.  Who would have thought years ago when cable television was first being developed that one or more channels would be devoted to nothing but shopping.  Nothing but 24 hour commercials.  But that suits us because we are always buying and consuming.  We are always shopping. 

My mother used to like to go shopping, but she would never call it shopping.  She referred to it as “Picking up and putting down.” 

And that is our approach to religion and faith.  We pick up and we put down.  We try things out, and we either buy it, or not.

We don’t accept the full Christian faith.  We just accept parts that make us feel good.

I had a friend who told me one time that his wife divorced him because of her favorite movie.

Favorite movie?  How could a movie cause a divorce?  What in the world was this movie?

My friend told me it was “The Nine Commandments.”

I reminded my friend that the name of the movie was “The TEN Commandments,” to which he replied.  “Yep that was the problem – she sort of left out the one about adultery.”

Actually, we are all like that.  We shop through the Word of God as if we were consumers trying on outfits to see what feels good and looks right.  And if some of the Commandments don’t look right or if they are uncomfortable, well – we pick it up and then we put it back down.  We don’t buy into it.

But this Scripture passage introduces the presence of Moses and Elijah right next to Christ.  As if to say you cannot have Christ without Moses and Elijah.  Moses – the law.  Elijah, the prophet.  The Law and the Prophet.  The Old Testament.  You cannot have Christ without the fullness of all of the Scripture. 

Without the whole of Scripture, we cannot listen fully to Christ.  Later on in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus teaches about a parable and at the conclusion he says (Luke 16:31), “If people do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”  Interesting words, since Jesus was about to rise from the dead.

The first heresy the Christian Church faced involved a man named Marcian, who during the early years of the church tried to edit the Bible.  He threw out some of the books of the New Testament and almost all of the Old Testament.  Against this the church declared that the whole of Scripture was the Word of God.  As Paul himself said in his second  letter to Timothy (2 Tim 3:16-17), “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 

But this is a heresy we still struggle with in the church.  We study portions of the Word of God, without reading and studying all of the Scripture. 

If we are to truly listen to Christ, we must first listen to all of Scripture.

Second, to listen to Christ means that we must listen to His words as having the authority of God.

Imagine experiencing that transfiguration event.  You are with Jesus.  There’s Moses and Elijah – they’ve been dead for a long time, but there they are, alive and well and having a conversation with Jesus.  Then there is a cloud that envelopes everyone and you hear the voice of God speak.  “This is my son, listen to him.”

Whatever Jesus says, he says with the authority of God almighty.

There is, in our modern culture, a tendency to reduce Christ to having been nothing more than a great teacher or historical figure around whom fictional stories about miracles developed.  But Christ is the Son of God. 

As soon as we fail to accept that Christ is the Son of God, we become unable to fully listen to the teachings of Christ. 

In our New Testament Lesson, the voice of God is heard declaring, “This is my Son.”  It is not the first time that voice had been heard making that declaration.  It was also heard at the moment of the baptism of Jesus.  (Matt 3:17)  “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”

From time to times, even the demons are heard in the Gospels affirming that Christ is the Son of God.  In one instance a demon possessed man sees Christ and they address him, asking,  (Matt 8:29)  "What do you want with us, Son of God?  Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?"

We cannot be followers of Christ, without accepting that He is the Son of God, and that his words have the authority of God himself.

Anytime we make Christ out to be simply a teacher or a wise man, and nothing more, we loss our ability to truly listen to him as God instructed.

If we are to truly listen to Christ, we must first listen to all of the Scripture, and second listen to Christ’s words as having the authority of God.

Finally, to listen to Christ is to be willing to do what He tells us and get to work.

There are people who have a deep desire to study the Word of God, read the Word of God, learn all about the Word of God, but that doesn’t do any good until they then go out and are willing to DO the Word of God. 

Until you DO what Christ tells us, you haven’t LISTENED to what Christ tells us.

In the New Testament Lesson, there is a wonderful image of the disciples being on a mountain top.  Literally, they are on top of a mountain.  The are also on a mountain top in a symbolic or figurative sense.  We all talk of great moments of our lives as being mountain top experiences.  For Peter and the disciples, seeing Jesus change and radiate light, seeing the appearance of long dead people of the faith – Moses and Elijah, and hearing the voice of God – that was indeed a mountain top experience. 

Maybe that is what prompted Peter to babble on about “Jesus this is good.  Let’s build some shelters for the three of you and we can just stay here.”

But they were not to stay.   They had to go down from that mountain top experience and go into the valley.

And once in the valley, what did they find? 

We didn’t read that far when we read the New Testament Lesson, what happens immediately after the voice of God announces that the disciples are to listen to Christ is that Christ and his disciples leave the mountain and go into a valley.  There they encounter evil – a demon possessed boy. 

Work to be done. Hard work.

Then Jesus begins teaching them about his coming death.  Hard lessons to learn.

Then they begin to call on others to follow Christ, but some say they are too busy.  Hard work, and sometimes hard failures.

Listening to Christ means hard work.

It means getting back into the valley of the world, getting back into the midst of life and confronting evil.  Loving those who are hard to love.  Forgiving those who hurt us.  Inviting others to join Christ.

Hard work.  Hard service.  But if we are to truly listen to Christ, it means we do what he says.

When my parents spoke, it really did go in one ear and out the other.  At least sometimes.

But Christ speaks, do his words go in one ear and out the other?  Let’s not let that happen.

Let’s remember the voice of God calling us, “This is my Son.  Listen to Him.”

Copyright 2013  -  W. Maynard Pittendreigh