Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
Franklin Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the USA, often complained that nobody really listened to him or paid attention to what he said. He had lots of practice with this during the long receiving and handshake lineups he had to endure as President. One day, he tried an experiment. To each person who came down the line he would say “I murdered my grandmother this morning” as he shook hands. The guests responded with “Marvelous! Great job! Keep up the good work! We are proud of you! God bless you, sir!” It wasn’t until the very end of the line while greeting the Ambassador from Bolivia that his words were actually heard. Not knowing what to say, the Ambassador leaned in and whispered “I’m sure she had it coming!”
Listening is such an asset is it not? Last week’s sermon referenced this idea too when Jesus said “But I say to you (((who hear))), Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (LK 6:27). God gave us two ears and only one mouth because we’ve got twice as much to hear than we have to say! This week we have before us a special day in the church year. Transfiguration is here, bringing to a close our Advent, Christmas and Epiphany seasons. It binds together all of Christmas themes and prepares us for our Lenten journey to the cross. It is the final theophany, the grand revealing of who God is and what He does for us and our salvation. “And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” (Luke 9:35). Listen. Hear. Perk up your ears, something amazing is happening here.
Back in the Seminary days I had to take a pastoral counselling class. In theory, it should have been a great class. However, in reality it was a bit lacking. One of the skills taught was called “active listening.” What this is designed to do is to help people be better listeners by echoing back to people what they have heard. Someone might say “I’m completely dishevelled that my parakeet Oscar has died.” The reply from the active listener would be something like “What I hear you saying is that you are completely dishevelled that your parakeet Oscar has died.” And this goes on and on and on until you want to punch the active listener in the face for this annoying skill! But it is truly imperative that people be listened too, that they feel they are being heard. You know how it bugs you when people don’t listen to you. You know how it drives you crazy that mid sentence someone starts texting or just goes um-hum, um-hum, um-hum instead of hearing you. Now, imagine how God feels. Are we listening? Do we have our ears on?
So Jesus brings Peter, John and James up a mountain to pray. We know from the Scriptures that our Lord would often retreat to solitary places to be alone with God. It was a perfect example for us about what prayer ought to be. It is nearly sacramental in nature in that we are joined to God and we are blessed by Him when we pray. We speak words, but we also listen. And this listening is often overlooked. Most of the time we whip off a bunch of requests for God before saying Amen and falling asleep. It’s like we put our order in at the drive through and wait for the food to come out. But spiritual prayer, is more than a list of wants and needs. It’s a communion, a conversation involving speaking and also listening. It is being in the presence of God, sometimes saying absolutely nothing. It’s like what Luther said about his dog. The puppy would sit at his table, loyally, and watch with absolute stillness, waiting for a morsel. Luther said, “Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches this meat! All of his thoughts, hopes and wishes are concentrated right here!”
But seldom can we muster the focus and concentration of a house dog waiting for a scrap! Our minds are like a monkey, jumping all over the place and our lives are often one big giant distraction. I’m fairly sure this is why Jesus Himself would retreat from the world and find a quiet place to pray – gardens, mountains, hillsides, boats, etc. Here, our Lord would listen and be in the presence of His Father. It’s much like water constantly taken from a well – it will surely run dry unless it is replenished. Prayer in this manner is as much about taking from the well as it is in being filled up. If we do all the talking in prayer, all the taking from the well, it will run dry and empty. We stifle ourselves and cater to our own wants and needs rather than being filled by our Lord and listening to His still small voice.
The disciples fall victim to this on the Mount of Transfiguration. It says “And as [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white.” In the experience of Prayer, Jesus makes Himself known. The glory and light of His Divine essence shines forth. We’re told though that up to this point, the disciples were “heavy with sleep.” They had lost their focus on Jesus. This is the same temptation we face, not only with literal sleep at the end of the day when we are tired, but also with spiritual sleep. It’s letting the world around us and the sin within us push God out of us. Everything else comes before prayer, before Bible reading, before the Divine Service. But we ought to strive to become “fully awake” as the disciples did, so that we don’t miss the truly amazing things that God is doing in our midst.
The scriptures say that Moses and Elijah show up out of nowhere and they talk to Jesus. They speak to Him about His “departure” in our English translation, but literally it is His ex-hodus in Greek… Or Exodus as we know it in English. - His leaving, the way out of this world to ascend to back to heaven. It’s no mere accident that the word chosen here is Exodus. It rockets us back in time to the Israelites being freed from Egyptian slavery. The people were rescued and delivered by God’s mighty arm. Pharaoh and his men were smashed and defeated, drowning in the Red Sea. This is the same victory that our Lord would again accomplish for us and all people in His exodus through the cross. Sin, death and the devil would be the new Pharaoh who will be crushed and utterly defeated by death itself. This Divine and spotless Lamb of God Who is shining brilliantly before the disciples eyes would accomplish His greatest miracle, His most wondrous sign. His grandest Epiphany would soon be displayed for all the world to see and believe!
Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the Prophets, all point to Jesus. They reveal that God truly is with them and with us. Peter, still groggy with sleep, offers to setup 3 tents, one for each of Moses, Elijah and Jesus. But sleepy Peter had it all wrong. Jesus wasn’t equal to Moses and Elijah. He wasn’t just “one of the boys.” He was the only One. The Old Testament gives way to the New, the Law and the Prophets give way to Christ. And the message from God the Father that speaks around them all: “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” (LK 9:35). The One Who was transfigured for you is the same one who will be crucified and resurrected for you. He is your Savior, your Lord, your Messiah. He is the chosen One. In Him your sins are forgiven. In Him life reigns. In Him is your hope. Put your trust in Him. Listen to Him. Listen for His voice when you pray. For our Lord is always doing something amazing, illuminating our dark world with His heavenly light. And it is His light that leads us from the mountain top through the valley of the shadow of death and resurrection. Thanks be to God now and forever. Amen!