Transfiguration Sunday, February 10, 2013 Listen
Listening to Jesus
There are those rare occasions when the voice of God seems so unmistakably clear that it cuts through and transforms ordinary experience, if only for a moment. But, let’s face it, ambiguity is the order of the day. Most of the time you and I live with a variety of experiences and voices that we must through, asking for God’s help, to discern the right path. Though once in a while clarity – like the light of God – transforms our experience.
The Swiss theologian Karl Barth was searching for something to say to the people of his congregation who, like the rest of protestant Europe, were drenched in the ideology of human progress. They assumed everything would simply get better day after day. Yet, all their notions of the march of human progress were shattered by the outbreak of World War I. At the time, Barth was a young pastor serving a village congregation. As the story goes, one Sunday morning he was walking up the long spiral staircase to the pulpit when he slipped and grabbed a rope to the bell tower to catch his fall. The bell rang loudly across the city and straight into Barth’s heart. He didn’t just hear a church bell ringing, he heard a distinct call to speak the Gospel afresh to a people whose positive outlook had been shattered by human atrocity.
So it is in that in ordinary life that we get an unexpected wake up call from God. When it happens it best to listen.
Luke’s gospel tells of two events in Jesus’ life where the voice of God emerged with utter clarity. Both times Jesus was praying and that’s worth noting as we prepare to embark on a Lenten study focused on prayer. Once at his baptism when the skies were ripped open and the Spirit of God fell upon Jesus, declaring that he was God’s beloved One. The other is the transfiguration when Jesus went to the mountain with his disciples to pray. It was an extraordinary moment; if there was ever a mountaintop experience this was it. What happened on that mountain is a mystery – and it’s best for us to bow before the mystery.
Mountaintop experiences happen, but we don’t live there for very long, soon we return, as the disciples did, to ordinary life on the plain. On the plain – ordinary life – is where people live with suffering: a lingering sickness threatens ones life resources, relationships are shattered by betrayal, dreams die, children grow old before their time, and so sadly people die suddenly and much too young. The plain is also where ordinary people become deacons and elders to serve their congregation; where ordinary folks go on mission to Haiti to support the body of Christ, and our brother Bill Nathan returns to share with us. What claims do my neighbors have on me when I Jesus calls me to follow him? On the mountaintop these concerns fade to the background but in ordinary life they face us daily.
Which is why Jesus’ transfiguration is not an escape from ordinary life. It is a revelation of God given that the Church may be strengthened in faithful discipleship on the plain in ordinary life. On that mountain, not unlike the other mountain in the history of Israel, as Moses and Elijah fade, the light illuminates Jesus and the voice pierces the sky, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!” Listen to him. The only appropriate response was silence.
Enough is enough, said Annie Dillard. As Annie Dilliard says “enough is enough. One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief. From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home”.
The bell is ringing. Listen to him.
We live on both sides of the mountain. On one side is the call to take up our cross and lose our life for Jesus’ sake. On the other is our inability to bring a halt to human suffering or heal the array of illnesses that wreak havoc, and still shockingly take away our loved ones, as with Aimee Wallis Buchanan or Mark Lang.
So how do you and I – the Church – get our bearing in the world? To whom do we listen?
Baptism and Transfiguration are bookends for the season of Epiphany; in both Jesus is revealed as the Beloved One and in both the message is emphatically clear: Listen to him when you face the risks of discipleship. Transfigured on the mountain, Jesus is revealed as the One wholly sufficient to uphold our lives as we bear his cross in this broken world.
Here is our life.
Here is our hope that life itself will be transfigured by God’s light as we walk in the light of God.