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