Exodus 24:12-18 Matthew 17:1-9
A sign of the times: I recall when Forrest and I were on vacation in one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Grand Canyon. We went out to eat at a cozy little restaurant. Roses graced every table. Beautiful music enveloped us. But as I looked around, I was stunned. The place was filled with couples, and most of them, instead of talking with each other, gazing lovingly into the eyes of their date, where instead busy on their phones. Electronics have weaseled their way even to the dinner table. Have you ever seen this? Sadly it’s becoming a more common sight at the dinner table both in and out of the home, in cars, gyms or stores.
Most parents I know try to consciously monitor iphone use, television, video games, electronics and social media was because we want to limit the messages our children hear from popular culture. Messages that promote materialism, greed, and violence. Of course, children are exposed to everything eventually. But we hope that if the messages came in small doses, maybe they would have less power. What children hear and see in their parents has the most power and influence over them. Our hard work, our demonstrations of sacrifice, our love and care. But there are many other messages out there that can have an effect on our lives.
What messages and voices do you listen to? What TV or cable programs fill your day? What influencers on Instagram or TiKTok do you follow? Secular culture tells us that we need certain things to be happy: lots of money, a beautiful body, a successful career, bigger houses, fancy vacations and the latest technology. In politics we hear conflicting voices about every possible issue, from the environment to immigration, health care and the role of government. What voices do you listen to? What messages do you believe?
In the passage from Matthew we heard today, a voice told the disciples to listen to Jesus. Jesus had taken three of his disciples up a high mountain. And while they were there, Jesus was transfigured before their eyes. His face began to shine and his clothing became dazzling white. Great prophets of the past, Elijah and Moses, appeared and spoke with him. A cloud overshadowed them and a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”
We heard a similar message when Jesus was baptized. When Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens opened and a voice from heaven said, “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:16-17). Today’s story comes in the middle of the gospel, and the voice announced the same thing, with one addition: “Listen to him!” This message came at a crucial time, because Jesus was just starting to tell his disciples a message they didn’t want to hear.
Up until this point, Jesus had been healing, casting out demons and teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, was right there in their midst. This was both comforting and exciting, the idea that God’s power was once again active on the earth, and God’s reign of justice was near. Who could resist such a message? But in the middle of his ministry, right before today’s story, Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was. And when Peter said, “You are the Messiah,” Jesus began to tell them that he was going to suffer and be rejected and killed.
Peter protested and told Jesus, don’t say such things. In Peter’s mind, bad things were not supposed to happen to the Messiah. But Jesus rebuked Peter and went on to tell him that “those who want to save their lives will lose them” (16:25). That kind of message is hard to hear. But this was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Now he would begin his journey to Jerusalem where he knew he would die.
Peter couldn’t listen to him. He had just confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, but he didn’t really understand what that meant. And now on the mountain, he again didn’t know how to respond. The whole experience was terrifying, so he blurted out a suggestion that they build three little structures right on the mountain, one for Jesus, one for Elijah and one for Moses. But this holy moment did not call for words or plans of action. It was a vision of who Jesus was and is. Suddenly they could see on the outside of Jesus what was inside – God’s power and glory shining through. The disciples were faced with the transforming power of God at work in Jesus.
“This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him.” That’s God’s message to us. Who do you listen to? Your husband or wife? Your parents, or children? Your friends? Fox News? NPR? It’s not easy to hear Jesus with all these voices vying for attention. It’s easier just to listen to the adds and go shopping, or just do what our boss or spouse tells us to do. But when we listen to Jesus, and walk with him, we find life. We too become transfigured-changed – our true selves, our Christlike nature, becomes visible for others to see.
This Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter. This is an important time in the life of the church. During Lent we follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, preparing for what is to come during Holy Week, the death and resurrection of Christ. The message of Jesus’ transfiguration today is a gift of light before we enter the trials and darkness of Lent. Our scriptures call us to make Lent into a transfiguring time. We frequently say we will give up something for Lent, like candy, meat, or dessert. How about we deepen our faith life through other tried and true practices? How can we transfigure ourselves over the next six weeks before Easter?
We start by asking ourselves, how do we listen to Jesus? How do we listen to someone who lived thousands of years ago and is no longer here in bodily form? We can start by reading about him in the Bible.
Every Christian who is able to read, should read the gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the first four books of the New Testament, and they each tell the story of Jesus’ life. If you have never read one of them all the way through, I encourage you to do it during Lent this year. If you’ve read them all already, you can read one again. There’s always something new to discover. You are invited to join our Bible Study on the “I AM” statements of Jesus during Lent. We meet on Wednesdays at 12:30 on zoom. Nothing would delight me more than a request to hold a second session during the week. Just speak up and let me know.
Another way to listen to Jesus is through prayer. And if you want help and guidance with that, or just some company when you pray there are many in this congregation that will step forward and be willing to pray together. Any takers on this? Again, nothing would make me happier than a Lenten prayer group!
Finally, one more way to listen to Jesus is by listening to other people of faith to hear what they think. You can listen to sermons or engage in conversations with others. Listen to religious podcasts or watch YouTube sermons, meditations, bible studies. Binge watch the Chosen, a multi-year series on the life of Jesus. This Lenten season, several local Presbyterian churches will be having Sacred Cinema Film Fests on Wednesday evenings. We’ll watch a clip of a movie and prayerfully discuss the spiritual message of the clip. Just join on via zoom. Or you can read books dealing with faith issues. Some of us are reading Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans - you are invited to read along and join the discussion the week after Easter. There will also be Lenten devotions sent out by email once a week: make sure to read them daily. Maybe Jesus will speak to you through their words.
By participating in worship, spiritual activities, we aim to change, like what’s been happening at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. Since February 8, there has been nonstop worship. Fueled by Instagram and TikTok, people from all around the country have flocked to the university’s chapel, to sing, to pray to repent, some weeping, giving testamonies, being changed. Called the Asbury Awakening, there is no doubt spiritual renewal is taking place. Look it up on social media. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get a taste of that here in our church?
By listening to Jesus through the scriptures, devotionals, prayer, and deeds of service may we be changed to the vision God has for each of us, and may we begin to change the world into the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Remember the saying: you might be the only Bible others may read.
So let us heighten our practice acts of fasting, mercy, forgiveness, kindness during Lent and make it a permanent practice in our religious walk of faith. As we read earlier this month from Isaiah, let us not just fast from food, but from hurtful deeds, harsh words and vengeful attitudes. May we bring all these changes to others by listening to them, helping them, being in fellowship and caring relationships. Listen to him. May that command be the mantra that guides us in our Lenten travels. May the transfiguring, transforming light of God be upon us, in us and shine through us, in word and deed, for all to see and give glory to our God in heaven. Amen.