Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
There was an advertising campaign about financial planning. Who remembers it? “When E F Hutton talks, … (fill in the blank).” Today’s texts are very much about listening.
In the Bible, amazing things happen on mountains. We have today in our readings several stories that take place on mountains. Moses and his assistant Joshua set off up the mountain to talk with God. The purpose is for God to give Moses the tablets, the Ten Commandments, and to explain their meaning to him. As Moses listens to God, the mountain glows with God’s glory.
Hidden by cloud, Moses stays on the mountain for 40 days. Often in scripture, when Moses speaks with God his face glows when he returns to the people. The people were afraid of this, because they remember the warning, “If you see the face of God, you will die.” To hide the radiance, Moses wore a veil when he came down from the mountain. Eventually, the glow faded until the next time he went to spend time with God.
We don’t read the story of Elijah today, but he shows up in the Gospel, so let’s talk about his time on a mountain. Elijah was a prophet in Israel, the Northern Kingdom, at the time of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel, roughly 800 BCE. He had just defeated the priests of Baal in a cooking contest, and then had all the priests killed. Jezebel wanted Elijah killed in retaliation, so he fled into the wilderness. Hiding in a cave, he ranted and raved to God about how poorly he had been treated.
God’s Spirit told him to go outside the cave, where he discovered that God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. The presence of God was made evident to him through a still, small voice, a gentle whisper, a sound of sheer silence.
Moses and Elijah both had experiences of the Divine on the mountain, and lived to tell others about it. We don’t know just how God communicated with Moses, we just know Moses knew what God was saying. Perhaps that, too, was through a still, small voice. They both had to listen in order to hear what God was saying. Together, they are seen as representing the Law and the Prophets, which together the entirety of God’s messages to God’s people.
… Centuries later, Jesus takes Peter, John, and James with him up the mountain. These three disciples are like our deacons, although they would not have been called that, of course. Jesus relies heavily on them, and entrusts them with guiding the mission after he dies.
While on the mountain, they have an experience with the Divine. They see Jesus glowing from head to toe with God’s glory. They look again and notice that Moses and Elijah are there too. Peter is suddenly looking forward to a long chat with the heroes of the faith and offers to build shelters to make them more comfortable. Peter is often criticized for this, but it’s a very human response. Moses spent 40 days and nights on the mountain, why wouldn’t he stay a while with them?
But, just as quickly as the vision appeared, it was gone. A voice speaks out of the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved One. I am pleased with him. Listen to him.” The disciples are terrified and cower on the ground; they have never had this kind of experience, and don’t know what to make of it. Perhaps they believe that those who see God will die. Perhaps they are afraid it is a ghost intending to harm them. I don’t know that our response would be any different, except we might wonder if a movie special effects team was at work.
Jesus walks over to the disciples and touches them. “Do not be afraid. Let me help you stand up.” It’s easy to overlook this verse. Jesus’ compassion is on display; the disciples are terrified and Jesus reaches out to calm them and raise them from the ground.
Once again, God’s message is there on the mountain. Listen! In order to hear God’s message, we have to listen.
So, now, the task of listening turns to us. How do we today listen to God?
Your first automatic response is, read scripture. God’s speaks in words there.
Your other automatic response is – in prayer. Right? So, when we pray, do we take time to listen? Do we give God your list of requests and cries of despair and say Amen? Or do we also wait in silence for the still small voice of God’s answer?
Do we listen to God’s answer through the words of our friends? Are they comforting us or challenging us?
Do we listen with others to the interpretation of scripture, in group Bible studies?
Do we listen in public spaces for God? Do we hear God’s voice in the cries of the hungry, the poor, the oppressed?
Do we hear God’s answer in the happenings around the world? Last week, I mentioned the changing situation in Ukraine, where the people had demanded and received the promise of change. How is God continuing to work there? Do we hear God’s voice in the call for peace?
A number of years ago, I saw a play called “This is God. I need you.” In it, several characters have a dialogue with God. They challenge God, wondering why bad things happen. They ask God why there are still poor people, and why there is still war, since Jesus said there would be a new creation.
God’s response is that it is through us humans that God works wonders, ending hunger, poverty, and war. And God asks the characters what they have done in God’s name to bring about a new creation. Were they listening to God’s voice or ignoring it?
This week, I encourage you to pay attention to the ways Jesus speaks to you.
How do you respond to the concerns of a friend?
How does a friend challenge you and encourage you?
When you hear negative ads about politicians, do you believe them, or do you want to know the whole truth?
To what mission is God calling you? Are you responding with action, or do you close your ears and ignore the message?
How, indeed, do you stop what you are doing and listen to Jesus?
Please pray with me. Holy God, you speak all the time, help us to listen and respond. Amen