Sermons That Work

Listen to Him!, The Transfiguration – 2003

August 06, 2003

It’s a glorious feast today: the Transfiguration of Our Lord on the mountain top. The calendar of our Church Year (BCP, p.15ff) lists seven days as “Principal Feasts,” followed by the Sundays of the year, and then by “Other Feasts of Our Lord,” of which this day is one. The event of the Transfiguration is also celebrated each year on the last Sunday of Epiphany season.

And that is fitting, for it is indeed an epiphany, a manifestation or showing forth of God in Christ. It is, perhaps, the most vivid such manifestation in the Gospels, at least prior to the Resurrection. Indeed, it seems to be a prefiguration, or a foretaste, of the resurrection appearances, and even a foretaste of the more direct vision of God that we hope to enjoy for all eternity when, as St. Paul tells us, we shall see him not as through a glass, darkly, but face to face.

It must have been quite an experience for Peter, James, and John; one that they would never forget. In fact, we see Peter still mentioning it in today’s Epistle, and very likely it’s a story he often told to the early Christians. It was really something to see Jesus talking with those long-dead heroes of the faith, Moses and Elijah — and how did they know it was Moses and Elijah, did you ever stop to wonder? How could they have known, except that God must have inspired them with this knowledge. But then, seeing Moses and Elijah wouldn’t have been half as awesome as seeing the transfigured person of Jesus Christ — a man, remember, whom they knew well, with whom they had traveled and shared meals and conversed day after day. No wonder we are told that Peter didn’t know what he was saying!

And then a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they heard the voice of God: “This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him!” Well! There couldn’t have been a clearer manifestation, a clearer statement from God of just who this man Jesus was. “This is my Son, my Chosen.” Just in case they hadn’t understood this before, God makes it perfectly clear.

Let’s focus now on what God said next: “Listen to him!” Our NRSV translation has an exclamation point after that sentence — as well it should. These three words could form the basis for numerous sermons and countless meditations. Listen to him. We can’t go wrong, if we just listen to Jesus. We would do well to make these words our focus: “Listen to him!”

How so we do that? When and where does Jesus speak to us? There are probably a lot of answers to that question, but here are just a few.

Jesus speaks to us in the words of Holy Scripture, and especially in the words of the four Gospels, which tell us about his life and teachings. Spending a little time each day with our Bibles — reading, praying, and thinking about what God is saying to us in these words — will certainly contribute a great deal toward our ability to “listen to him,” to hear his voice.

Jesus also speaks to us through other people. Our good Christian friends have much to say that will help inspire us. Jesus also calls to us through people who are in need. “Whatever you do for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do unto me,” he has told us. We can help in many ways — through ERD and UTO, for example — but God sends people into our lives each day. The “least of these” are not only those in need of food, clothing, and shelter; what about “I was down in the dumps and you smiled at me?”

And here’s one more way that we might hear Jesus speaking to us: in the silence. Do you remember the story of Elijah waiting for God in the cave? “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.”

What kind of a sound does sheer silence make? I think we all remember an earlier translation that said: “a still small voice.” We know what that sounds like, don’t we? And perhaps it is the same thing, because it is all too easy to drown out that still small voice with wind and earthquake and fire and the like. Maybe we will have to tune out and turn off before we can begin to listen. Turn off the television for a while, sign off on the Internet, and, most of all, tune out the internal noise that is the hardest of all to still. To put it bluntly, we need to shut up once in a while, even in our prayers. The kind of prayer where we talk to God and tell him about our life and how it is going and the things we are worried about and so forth, is good-but there comes a time when we need to stop even doing that, and just listen. Is it possible to sit still and listen for five minutes? Then do that. Then maybe you can go for10 or 15 or even 20 minutes. If the internal noise starts up again, bring yourself back to the silence with some small word — “listen” or just “Jesus.” What will you hear in the sound of sheer silence? Whatever it is that God wants to say to you.

Brothers and sisters, our God wants very much to be included in every part of our lives. The Holy Spirit is actively at work in the world, the Lord Jesus Christ is with us every moment, until the end of the ages, just as he promised he would be. We must simply take the time to listen, and to look for the one who is the light of the world, the one whose light we shall one day see face to face. As St. Peter tells us in today’s reading: “You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Amen

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Christopher Sikkema


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