Stop, Look, and Listen

Sunday, February 11, 2018 – Transfiguration
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church – Loudonville, NY
Mark 9:2-9

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. We take pictures so we can capture the moment. We want some way to make spectacular moments last, so we can re-live that moment over and over again. New cell phones make that a lot easier, so that when one of these moments happen you can take a picture in an instant.

I’m not just talking about taking pictures while on vacation. I’m talking about taking pictures while an extraordinary or special event is happening. With the Olympics beginning this weekend, there are many opportunities for people to take pictures of these special events. Yet, as I watch events like the opening ceremonies or figure skating, I can’t take my eyes off of them. If I were there to take a picture, I’d lose being caught up in the moment.

Or think about occasions like baptisms or weddings. So often people are so concerned about getting a picture at just the right moment that they are distracted from the actual event. In a sense, they are missing this opportunity because they are more focused on preserving it, rather than being present in that holy moment. You see pictures, and other things to memorialize an event are great, but the problem is that we can become so focused on taking the picture, that we actually miss the glory of the moment. The focus is on getting the right picture, holding the camera steady, making sure it’s the right lighting, etc.  and we miss that holy moment entirely when God’s glory is revealed in a spectacular way. I’ve witnessed that at some weddings or baptisms when there are so many pictures being taken that the holiness of the moment is missed by the photographers, and many others. It can be a terrible distraction.

We hear about just such a spectacular holy moment in our gospel story from Mark today. Peter wants to do that very thing; he wants to preserve a spectacular moment forever. He doesn’t have a camera, but when Jesus is transfigured on the mountain with clothes dazzling white he suggests building a booth or tent for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. While the Israelites were used to building tents or booths for a yearly harvest festival, it seems like a rather odd thing to us today doesn’t it? But think about it, when we are overcome with extreme emotion – terror, excitement, confusion….we don’t always know what to do or say either.

It happens a lot when a tragedy happens to someone, and so often we don’t know what to say, and often like Peter, we end up saying the wrong thing because of that. Our emotions get the best of us, and we want to do something, but we just don’t know what to do. It’s at times like those when the best thing to say is nothing at all, but that can leave us feeling uncomfortable. Most people aren’t comfortable for long with silence, especially when extreme emotions are involved.

It’s at that time we need the voice of wisdom from the Holy Spirit to guide us. We need that voice to snap us out of being trapped in our emotions to being present. We too, like Peter, James, and John need to hear the voice of God to bring us back to the present moment and what really matters. And what God says really matters is listening so we can see the whole picture, and experience the truth.

Listening isn’t just hearing with our ears; it’s being fully present in the moment. It’s engaging all our senses – hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell – so that we can more deeply understand. Take for example a lemon. We can see a picture of a lemon and know intellectually what it is, but until we touch it, smell it, and taste it, we really don’t know the fullness of the lemon.
That’s what God was saying when he spoke to Peter, James, and John, and to us today – stop what you are doing, and really be present in that holy experience. “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Listening is one of the most important skills we can master, because when we really listen, we are changed, sometimes even transformed. We have a clearer picture of who another person is, and who we are. How often during worship services do we really stay in the present moment? Every week we are blessed with the real presence of Christ in Holy Communion, yet we might be thinking about what we are doing after worship, the things we need to do during the week, the hurt or angry feelings we may be holding on to. Something extraordinary happens here every week. Are we present enough to really experience it?

It’s becoming harder and harder for people today to listen because we are always thinking about something, or checking our cell phones, dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future. God is saying, “Stop and listen.” “Listen to him!” “Listen to Jesus, because when we stop and really focus on Jesus and what he is saying, then we hear the voice of God speak to us, and we no longer are terrified. We have a peace beyond comprehension.

We may not experience Jesus’ transfiguration on a mountaintop like Peter, James, and John, but there are times when Jesus’ glory is revealed to each one of us. After all, he came down from the mountain to be with us. He came down from that mountain knowing he would suffer and die. He knew he would face unspeakable terror, but Jesus listened to the voice of God and he knew he would be raised to new life again. We have that assurance too through our baptism.

We come now to the end of these six weeks of epiphany where we have been trying to be more aware of where God is revealed to us each day. As we transition to the season of Lent, remember the same God who was revealed on the mountain of the transfiguration walks with us on this Lenten journey. During the forty days of Lent, let’s listen to the voice of God, listen to Jesus, and listen to one another. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit always guiding us to an awareness of God’s spectacular holy moments every day if we stop long enough to look and listen. Amen.

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