Listen to Him
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 9:2–9:9
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
February 10-11, 2018
“Listen to Him”
Listening – really listening – is hard work. Listening is not the same as hearing, because what we hear can go in one ear and out the other. If there is one thing that gets in the way of a relationship – friendship, co-worker, marriage – it is not listening. The frustration of not being listened to almost always leads to certain breakdown of the relationship. Experts tell us that there are actually three kinds of listening: 1) half listening, which is when we pay attention some, but also tune out some. Half listening is when we’re distracted by other things, doodling or texting. Half listening is when we’re focused on what our reaction is going to be; waiting for our chance to break in. Then there is 2) word listening, which is when we hear the words, but not the meaning behind them and so miss the significance of the message. Word listening is when we respond with logic only, and fail to take into account other factors that may not be logical but are nevertheless very real. And then there is 3) active listening. Active listening is ignoring distractions or the speaker’s delivery quirks. Active listening is focusing on the message; seeking to understand the underlying intent and ideas. Active listening is making eye contact and being aware of body language; it is acknowledging emotions that are involved and responding appropriately and thoughtfully to these (https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-be-a-good-listener-31438). So it is significant that at Jesus’ transfiguration up on the mountain, the voice of the Father speaks out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him” (Mark 9:7). What the Lord God calls us to do is not half listening or word listening, but active listening that leads to active living as disciples of the Lord Jesus. On this Transfiguration Sunday, that becomes the theme for preaching under the theme, “Listen to Him.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Today is a day of mystery and majesty: the mountain top, the cloud, the voice. We travel with Peter, James, and John up the mountain and for a fleeting moment get a glimpse of the blinding, transcendent glory that belongs to Jesus as the eternal Son of God. Everything in the first half of Mark’s Gospel leads up to Peter’s confession about Jesus: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). This confession of who Jesus is leads to Jesus’ sharing with his disciples about his impending death and resurrection (Mark 8:31, the first of Jesus’ three passion predictions in Mark). Jesus then had to rebuke Peter for his refusal to accept this (Mark 8:32-33). Peter heard what Jesus said, but didn’t really listen; he didn’t get it. Lest we be too hard on Peter, we wouldn’t have done any better had we been there. Jesus then clarified for the disciples that they – and we – are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him (Mark 8:34-9:1). That’s a lot to take in and process. You know how it is: we can only listen for so long, and then we just can’t take in any more. We’ve reached saturation point, and we need something different to focus on. And so it was with the disciples as they went with Jesus “up a high mountain by themselves” (Mark 9:2). There, they became eye witnesses to an unbelievable sight: Jesus is transfigured before them, flanked by those towering figures of the Old Testament: Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets, both of which find their fulfillment and completion in Jesus. The original word for “transfigured” here is metamorphosis, to be transformed or changed. Jesus’ true nature as the eternal Son of God is revealed, breaking through the exterior of his outward human nature, not unlike the lowly caterpillar which undergoes a metamorphosis and is transformed into a beautiful butterfly. Amazing and astounding! Wouldn’t we be rendered speechless, tongue-tied, at such a sight? Not Peter! He blurts out: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:5). At such a time, people fall into one of two categories: either they become very quiet and can’t say a word, or they can’t stop talking; nervous and incessant chatter. It seems Peter fell into the second category. In fact, Mark’s account of this even tells us: “For he [Peter] did not know what to say, for they were terrified” (Mark 9:6). In moments like this, it’s mighty hard to listen because we are so distracted and distraught. It is then, out of the mysterious cloud, that the Father’s voice is heard, just as it was heard at Jesus’ Baptism by John in the Jordan River: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Jesus’ sonship is affirmed once more there on the mountain top, reminding the disciples and reminding us: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And just like that, it’s over; the mystery and majesty are suddenly gone. Only Jesus is there. Will we listen to him – not just half listening or word listening, but active listening that by the power of the Holy Spirit will lead us to active living for Jesus?
It goes without saying that we live with a lot of distractions in our lives that can make it really heard to listen to Jesus. There are lots of other voices around us and they are all crying out to us: “Hey! Pay attention to me! Listen to me! Look at me!” The electronic devices which enable us to be connected and listen to one another can also prevent us from being present and actively listening to others. Important as it is to listen to others, it is even more important to listen to the Lord. As we prepare to enter into the 40-day Lenten season in the week ahead, this is a great opportunity for us to really look at our own lives and how we are listening, or not listening, to the Lord. It goes without saying that most of us have not had that mountain top experience which Peter, James, and John had with the cloud and the Father’s voice. That said, are we giving opportunity for the Lord to speak to us? Are we putting ourselves in a position so that He can speak to us? Are we making space and allowing time in our overly busy lives and over-scheduled lives for this? This is a call for each and every one of us to be in the Word of God, individually as well as in groups, so that the Lord may indeed speak to us through his Word. That written Word of Scripture makes known to us the living Word, the Word made flesh (John 1:14), Jesus Christ. That Word has the power to change our lives, helping us sort out what is important and what is not. As Luther puts it: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me” (Luther’s Tischreden, https://relevantmagazine.com/god/18-martin-luther-quotes-still-ring-true).
When all is said and done, our listening is imperfect and flawed at best. We often hear what we want to hear, and don’t hear what we don’t want to hear. In our world where there is so much talking and so little listening, our hope is in Jesus, who listened fully and responded completely to the voice of his Father. Jesus came to live that life of perfect obedience for you and for me, doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. He came to fulfill all that Moses wrote in the Law and accomplish all that Elijah and the prophets had foretold. He came down the mount of Transfiguration only to climb another, Mount Calvary, where He would suffer and die on the cross to pay the price of our sin and disobedience. Jesus did all this because He listened to and acted on the voice of his Father. And having done all of this for us, we are called to listen to him. The Lord who speaks to us calls us not only to active listening, but to active living as his disciples in daily life, as Scripture tells us: “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). So what does this look like? Paul the apostle tells us what this looks like in today’s Epistle lesson: “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God… for what we proclaim is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2, 5-6). Through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament, active hearing will lead to active living.
May our transfigured Lord Jesus Christ help us that we may listen to him. Amen.