February 19, 2012 Transfiguration Sunday
Mark 9.2-9 The first thing
Roy W. Howard
The first thing we have to say in all honesty is we don’t know what actually happened on that mountaintop with Jesus and his three disciples. We do know what the gospels tell us – Jesus took three of them up the mountain, a cloud descended, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus fully revealed between them in dazzling light, Peter wanted to freeze the glorious frame forever with them in it, The VOICE sounded – and then it was over. Down the mountain they went back to all that is ordinary, including the suffering of people all around them. Is it any wonder we speak of those rare moments that are so extraordinary as mountaintop experiences?
These extraordinary moments actually can happen anywhere, and do, but we refer to them as a mountaintop experiences because of the frequency in scripture that they happen on or near mountains. Moses goes up the mountain to receive the law. Elijah crawls into a mountain cave for shelter from the storm and there he hears that still small voice of God. Martin Luther King Jr. declared he “had been to the mountaintop and seen the promise land.”
It’s no accident that when Mark tells this story, he wants us to understand something important about Jesus through this particular occurrence on this mountain. Just what is it and what are we to do about it?
I find it interesting that at the moment of transfiguration when Jesus is revealed bathed in radiant light as the beloved Son of God the divine voice does not say, look at him! After all, I would think the spectacular light illuminating Jesus, setting him apart from Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, would be the one thing that captures their attention. Set your eyes on this! But that’s not what happens. The voice in the cloud, the same one last heard at Jesus’ baptism, tells the disciples, “listen to him.” The spectacular vision becomes background, what becomes most important is listening to Jesus. I find that interesting because listening to someone makes a connection but looking at someone doesn’t really require much of anything except maybe admiration. I can look at someone and keep a safe distance between us. (Okay, the wonderful exception is the Avatar world where they greet with one saying, “I see you.” There seeing and listening become one.) When I listen, truly listen, I have to pay attention to the person speaking. We are in relationship, connected.
Maybe I’m saying this all backwards, with the accent on the wrong thing. It’s not simply listening that is important. That is something we do. What is even more crucial is the subject of our listening. The voice that came from the cloud was precise: Listen to him. This is crucial, but it is also troublesome and not a little difficult. As the theologian Brian Gerrish says, “the world has grown larger, and we ask ourselves, How can we possibly reconcile our undivided loyalty to Christ with out awareness that there are, after all, many masters– that lots of people who are at least as wise and good as we are turn from him and place their trust in someone else?” I the most honest interfaith discourse is when there is utter clarity and honest about one’s ultimate allegiance. In this story, Moses who represents the law has his revered place and Elijah who represents the prophets is honored. Yet, when the cloud descends, they disappear and primacy is given to Jesus Christ the revelation of God. Listen to him, says the Divine Voice.
I think this is a summons to faith in the living Christ. Faith not as religious knowledge rightly recited, but something deeper, richer and more life transforming. This faith is seeing the world differently because one sees with the heart God’s presence. It’s more like perceiving the mystery that God is truly with us in Jesus Christ, and choosing to live in that perception. The divine voice is asking the disciples to enter into relationship with Jesus by faith, grounded in authentic listening.
We live in a noisy world. It’s hard to listen when there is so much information is coming at us 24 hours a day, from radio, television, iPhone, iPod, iPad and Internet. That make it even more important to discern what I need to ignore, because not all information qualifies as knowledge and not all knowledge qualifies as wisdom.
Lately, though I have noticed something else. In a 24-7 world of noise and information, the background noise is becoming foreground, the noise is all consuming. As a consequence, there is more and more hearing and less and less true listening to what is actually most important. We are filled with information and lacking in wisdom. We are more connected to one another than ever and yet still deeply hungry for true connection, true relationship. We hear one another, but seldom have the time to listen to each other. We have so much static in air all the time that it’s harder to listen to each other.
Listening is not impatiently waiting, fingers drumming, for the other person to finish her sentence so that I can say what I have planned to say anyway. What’s the point of that; we might as well have dual monologues sent to one another.
Listening is to be vulnerable with another, attending to what is spoken before judging, censoring or dismissing. Listening in this way is to risk being changed by the relationship that might occur when I am fully open to another person. When the Divine Voice says, “Listen to him,” I think it’s a call to risk listening in a vulnerable way to the living Christ. One can do this by attending to scripture in an attentive, prayerful way. One can do this by listening for the voice of Christ in that of another.
I have a friend who spends 30 minutes each day in prayer. She sits with scripture laid out before her, just a brief passage each day. I ask her what she is doing and she says, listening. Just listening. “Do you ever do any talking?” I ask. “Not very often, only if there is something to say. Mostly I listen, so I will know what to do next.” What she does next is in response to the scripture she has read and the voice she has heard speaking there. I think she has been doing these each day for nearly 60 years. Just listening and walking in the way. I want to be like her. Perhaps you do to; and maybe today is the day to begin listening to Jesus – if not thirty minutes, try 10 minutes a day, just listening to him in scripture.
I know people who make it a habit of listening carefully to the cries of the poor, the questions of the hungry, the stories of prisoners, the groans of the sick, and the plight of the homeless because Jesus once said he is present in the very least among us. When they listen to the least ones, they truly believe they are listening to Jesus and responding to him as they respond to their neighbor or offer hospitality to the stranger. I want to be listen like they do.
The Divine voice said, Listen to him.
How will you begin listening?