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Today is the last Sunday before Lent begins. It is called Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration is really just a fancy word for transformation. Moses’ face is transformed and turned white in the presence of God. Jesus’ face changes and his clothes becoming dazzling white so that the disciples can see that he is God.
I’m not really sure I understand what Luke is trying to say or what happened that day on the mountain – this story of light and change and heroes who are long dead. Who knows? I can’t really say I understand the transfiguration, even though I have read a lot of scholarly accounts that try to rationalize the transfiguration of Jesus into something understandable. Maybe it was a dream – weren’t the disciples always sleepy? Maybe it’s a vision or a hallucination caused by altitude sickness up on that mountain. None of these explanations come even close to touching the power of this event. Does it matter that we don’t understand? Not even Peter, who was there, understood what was happening! The issue is not understanding, or even believing, the issue is the transfiguration – of Jesus, of the disciples and for us. The issue is how we can be aware of this transfiguration – because it really does happen all the time – even if we aren’t conscience of it. We need to give transfiguration a big enough place in our understanding of the Christian experience.
The most obvious place for transfiguration or transformation is in the practice of prayer. Prayer is more than petition. It is more than begging God to do something for us. It’s being with God, sharing our life with God, and opening ourselves to receive the fullness of God’s Spirit and grace. Prayer allows God to do in us what God wishes to do – to transfigure, transform, to change and ultimately to redeem and save.
But there are other ways and other places to experience the glorious, the holy and the sacred in the world around us – even in the messy and mundane circumstances of our lives. Can you see or experience transformation when a child crawls into your lap for a story? Can you see the holiness of the moment when the hand of the homeless reaches out for a sandwich? What about when you hear the melody of a hymn that just floods your soul? What about when you open your bible to read and study, or you come through a disagreement with your spouse and remember your call to forgiveness and reconciliation. Can you feel it as you pray with someone who is sick? What about when you wake up and the sun is shining? I spend so much time in the mundane and secular nature of this world instead of transforming the secular into sacred and the mundane into momentous.
And while we are in the process of transfiguration – and I believe it is a process –I would also encourage you to listen as well as to look for God. I am not always a very good listener. And this is a skill a pastor should have, so I am constantly trying to improve my listening abilities. I’m not alone in not having this skill – many of us are poor listeners and we don’t really pay attention when someone is talking to us. We have other things on our minds, or we’re working on our responses before the other person even finishes talking. “Let me tell you how I solved that problem or how my family dealt with that issue,” we say. Maybe the person talking doesn’t want my two cents worth; maybe he or she just wants me to listen, to pay attention, to really hear what she’s saying.
Franklin Roosevelt often had to endure long receiving lines at the White House. He apparently was known to grumble that no one really listened to what he said as they went through the line. So one time during a reception he decided to try an experiment. To each person who came through the reception line and shook his hand he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep us the good work. We’re proud of you! Thank you for all you do for our country.” It wasn’t until almost the end of the line when the ambassador from Bolivia greeted the president that he was actually heard. Not quite knowing what to say, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
Listening is such an integral part of the communication process that you’d think we would get it, but apparently we don’t. We hear the sounds that people make so our ears obviously work. But we don’t grant those words meaning or we ignore the meaning that is conveyed by the words. Parents, children, spouses, co-workers, employers, even preachers – we all complain that no one listens to us. Or that we are not really “heard.” And to be sure, to be a good listener takes enormous discipline not to just barge in during the middle of a sentence and give our own opinion about the situation. I think this is why Peter told Jesus he wanted to build dwellings up on that mountain – he wanted to let Jesus know he had been paying attention. But he really hadn’t. Sometimes being a good observer or a good listener just means staying quiet. Good listeners respect others and value their opinions. They try to stay inquisitive about each other, remembering that we can usually learn from others, even if we don’t agree with what they’re saying. Good listeners take it slow and easy; they don’t jump to conclusions or race ahead in the conversation. They stay in the moment and prepare to respond thoughtfully.
That’s why I think it is so amazing that when God takes a moment to tell us once again who Jesus really is – his son, the Chosen – he reminds us to listen. God is talking to us this morning, just like God talked to the disciples on that mountain centuries ago. God is asking us to listen to him and to listen to his son Jesus the Chosen one. God is not asking you to respond. God is not asking you to do something. God is asking you to listen.
When the three disciples experienced something they would never forget – their leader’s face changing and his clothes turning dazzling white, not to mention seeing Moses and Elijah – I can’t help feeling sorry for Peter. He feels like he has to respond or do something, to build tents or booths or monuments for the three great leaders in his life. But after God talks and asks him to listen, Peter is silent and the three disciples tell no one what they have seen.
And think about it. What was there to say really? There are times when words are inadequate. How can words express what you feel when you hold your newborn child for the very first time? What words are adequate enough to comfort someone who has just lost their spouse? Even more dramatic, what can you say when you have been in the presence of the living God? As Luke tells us – “they kept silent” – because that is an appropriate response. We could learn from it. Looking for the glory of God. Looking for the holy in our everyday lives. Listening for the voice of God.
Listening when what you really want to do is just talk. These are life lessons, instructions for living a Christian life. If you have the awareness that you are in the presence of God, in the presence of the holy what do you think you’ll see? What will you hear? How about healing and mercy. Challenge and judgment. Voices and visions of those in trouble or distress. Voices and visions that challenge the status quo of comfort and familiarity. Imagine if we looked and listened – what would be transfigured, what could be transformed – what grace might we encounter that we cannot now even imagine? As the church season of Epiphany ends and the season of Lent begins, the journey to the cross has began. Let’s walk it together – looking and listening for the transforming presence of Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Chosen One.
esermons.com, “A Time for Silence,” by King Duncan.
esermons.com, “I’ve Been to the Mountain,” by Maxie Dunnam.
“Feasting on the Word,” Year C, Volume 1, Transfiguration Sunday.
Homileticsonline.com, “A Flat Top Future.”
“Lectionary Tales for the Pulpit,” Series IV, Cycle C, The Transfiguration of our Lord.