(Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/gpsOZyL2cA0)
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I* will make three dwellings* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved;* with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’
To get is on the right track this morning, I want to begin with a story about an old man who was casually walking along a country lane with his dog and his mule one day. Suddenly a speeding pick-up truck careened around the corner, knocking the man, his mule, and his dog into the ditch. The old man decided to sue the driver of the truck, seeking to recoup the cost of the damages. While the old man was on the stand, the counsel for the defense cross-examined the man by asking a simple question: “I want you to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the following question: Did you or did you not say at the time of the accident that you were ‘perfectly fine'”? And the man said, “Well, me and my dog and my mule were walking along the road … ” And the counsel for defense said, “Stop, stop, I asked you, tell me ‘yes’ or ‘no’, did you say you were ‘perfectly fine’ at the time of the accident?” “Well, me and my dog and my mule were walking along the road and … ” The defense attorney appealed to the judge. “Your honor,” he said, “the man is not answering the question. Would you please insist that he answer the question?” The judge said, “Well, he obviously wants to tell us something. Let him speak.” So the man said, “Well, me and my dog and my mule were walking along the road and this truck came around the corner far too fast, knocked us into the ditch. The driver stopped, got out of his truck, saw my dog was badly injured, went back to his truck, got his rifle, and he shot it. Then he saw that my mule had broken his leg so he shot it. Then he said, ‘How are you?’ And I said, ‘I’m perfectly fine.'”
What the story so accurately illustrates is the importance of listening. And not just listening to some of the story but to the whole story! Imagine if the judge had refused to listen to all of the old man’s story. Imagine he was left to judge the entire case simply on the old man’s response to the prosecutor’s question. Yes, the old man had said he was perfectly fine but only after seeing his dog and mule get shot for not being fine. Of course he had said he was fine! We ALL would have said we were fine if we were in the old man’s shoes! But rather than allow the prosecutor to get away with his sneaky trick, the judge chose to actually hear the old man explain why he had said he was fine. And it was a good thing the judge chose to listen!
I suppose it’s a judge’s job to fully listen to both sides of any given dispute before rendering judgment. But not all of us are held accountable for how well we listen like a judge. No, we are left to make decisions and render judgments whether we listen or not. We don’t have to listen to the world around us. We don’t have to listen to the people around us. We don’t have to listen to ourselves. In fact, we don’t even have to listen God. We can simply choose not to listen to anyone or anything. But we can’t choose not to make decisions and render judgments. Even choosing not listen is making a decision. We must make decisions and render judgments. It is the blessing and the curse of God’s gift of free will. Each of us is blessed with God’s amazing gift of free will…of the ability to choose who and what we want to listen to and how we want to act. In so doing, we must also make decisions and render judgments. We act according to the decisions we make and the judgments we render. One might choose not to act but even that is a decision, a judgment. We must ALL make decisions and render judgments on those around us and in the situations we find ourselves in.
That being said, is it really possible not to listen to anyone or anything? Can we make any decisions or judgments without listening to someone or something? Perhaps you can think of a decision or judgment that was made without listening to anyone or anything but I can’t seem to. Perhaps listening is more important than we thought. Perhaps listening is essential for any decision or judgment to be made. And if that is the case, what are we listening to? If listening is so important, so essential, what are we listening to before we make our decisions or render our judgments? Shouldn’t we, like the wise judge in that story, be listening to the whole story? Shouldn’t we be listening to the good story in order to make good decisions and judgments?
By now you might be wondering what all this discussion about listening has to do with our readings for this morning. From our gospel passage we heard the pivotal story of Jesus’ transfiguration. In the thick of his ministry, Jesus decided to take three of his disciples up a mountain and revealed his full glory to them. His face glowed, his clothes became white, and a voice from a cloud said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” We heard almost the exact words at Jesus’ baptism when the voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I well pleased.” Notice the difference? The addition of 3 extra words: “listen to him!” So why the extra words? And why the exclamation mark?! Keep in mind that we are hearing these words towards the end of Jesus’ ministry. They serve a couple purposes, namely to connect Jesus to the start of his ministry at his baptism and also to remind him, and us, of the Father’s love and pride of him. So why are we told to listen to him now, towards this end of his ministry? You would think the Father would have told us to listen to Jesus at the start of his ministry instead of at the end. Maybe the Father wants us to pay particular attention to what Jesus says and does after he comes down from the mountain, especially at his crucifixion. We don’t know why the Father adds the urgent message the second time around but it is an interesting addition nonetheless.
Sadly, we have a tendency not to listen to Jesus. We have a tendency of choosing to listen to others or ourselves before we listen to Jesus. We have a tendency of making decisions and rendering judgments without listening to Jesus first. They are 3 simple words that are far too easily ignored. Perhaps it was a wise choice to add an exclamation mark to the statement! We ARE to listen to him, first and foremost. We ARE to choose to listen to him before we make any decisions in our lives. Jesus has a very unique perspective. Jesus has a perspective unlike anyone or anything else. Indeed, Jesus has a very unique agenda. He wants us to know the Father’s love. He wants us to live in and through love for each other and for God. Whatever he teaches us is rooted in love. Jesus only knows how to love us. Jesus only says and does out of love. What a unique perspective! What a unique agenda!
It is the same perspective and agenda that was shared with Moses and Elijah. God called both Moses and Elijah to the mountaintop to bestow on them the Law and prophecy. Both Law and prophecy are practical extensions of God’s love for us. They help us to live well with each other and with God. They help to bring out the love that is within us. It is no wonder that disciples witnessed Moses and Elijah atop the mountain with Jesus. They, too, served to share God’s love with us. They listened to God and helped us listen better to what God had to say to us. Listening is important, listening is essential.
As we end our journey through Epiphany and begin our Lenten journey in a few days, let us be mindful of the important of listening. We all must make decisions and render judgments and because of this we must all listen. Let us choose to listen to Jesus as we go about making our decisions and rendering our judgments. Jesus’ unique perspective and agenda of love are good: good for us, good for the world, and good for God. Let us go through the Lenten season of repentance and forgiveness with open ears and open hearts, remembering to always…listen to him.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.