Friday, March 7, 2014

Listen! (Matt. 17:1-13) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A concerned husband went to see the family doctor: "Doctor, I think my wife is deaf. She never hears me the first time I say something.  In fact, I often have to repeat things over and over again. "Well," the doctor replies: "Go home tonight, stand about 15 feet from her, say something and listen carefully.   If she doesn't respond, move about five feet closer and say it again. Keep doing this so we can get an idea of the severity of her deafness.

Returning home, the husband followed the doctors instructions.  He stands about 15 feet from his wife, who is in the kitchen chopping some vegetables. "Honey, what's for dinner?" He gets no response, so he moves about five feet closer and asks again.  "Honey, what's for dinner?"  No reply.  He moves five feet closer and still no reply.  Frustrated, he moves right behind her and asks "Honey, what's for dinner?"  She replies, "For the fourth time dear, I said vegetable stew!"

In this light, let’s turn to our morning story which portrays a profound event in the life of Jesus’ and his disciples: the indescribable, the indefinable, the ineffable moment of Jesus’ transfiguration.  Think now, aren’t there moments in life which are inexpressible?  We have a difficult time putting them into words.  Have you ever experienced such a time?  The joy at the birth of a child is one of those moments.  The loss of a loved one is one of those moments.  A brilliant sunset or sunrise is one of those moments.  Being caught up in uplifting music is one of those moments.  When your child says “I love you” and wraps his or her arms around you is one of those moments. There are mountaintop and valley moments throughout life.  We are often not ready for them.  They arrive unannounced and change us in irreversible ways.  They demand that we be silent and listen.  Such moments touch the depth of our souls and have something to say to us. 

Our story from Matthew's Gospel is one such time.  Jesus is on a mountain with his disciples Peter, James and John.  Jesus is suddenly transfigured before them, his face shines like the sun, his clothes become dazzling white, his appearance is radiant.    Moses and Elijah appear and are talking with Jesus.  Peter is overwhelmed and says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”   Well I should say so.   He was in the company of two Jewish superstars.  Moses, who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, the one who brought them God’s 10 Commandments and the prophet Elijah, who with God’s power defeated the false prophets of Baal and who ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire.  These are two giants in Israel’s history.  They were even bigger than Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

Peter wanted the magical moment to last forever and offers to build three booths- one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah.   Realizing they are standing on holy ground the disciples fall to their knees in awe.  Then the story says: “A voice said, this is my Son, whom I love.  With him, I am well pleased.  Listen to him.”  

The story of the transfiguration says first, God speaks!   God spoke that day and the undeniable implication is that God continues to speak to believers today.  Do you believe it?  Has God spoken to you?   A young mother said: “My 3-year-old son, Ian, enjoys the Bible story about Samuel hearing God's voice at night.  One evening after reading the story to Ian, I asked him if God had ever spoken to him.  To my surprise, he answered, "Yes."  "What did God say to you?" I asked.  Ian thought and then said in his deepest voice, "Ian! Go to bed!"  That explained why Ian settles down more quickly when I'm outside his room and tell him to go to bed.”  

Scripture tells of how God spoke to Elijah in a cave out in the middle of the wilderness, not in the wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in a still small voice.  Other translations say in a gentle whisper or in the sound of sheer silence.

If we don’t believe God speaks to us today, what does that say about our theology?   That God is mute?  That God doesn’t care to reach out to His people any longer?  That God has nothing left to say to us?  That God has decided to turn His back on us and has left us figure it out on our own?  That God is on an extended vacation to the Caribbean?  The problem is that this is bad theology.

God is either alive or God is dead.  Scripture and our Christian faith says God is alive and God love.  God loves us with a passionate and unconditional love and reaches out and intervenes in our lives.  Scripture says:  “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

A Christian writes:  “I knew that it was God speaking to me because I was in tune with my inner spirit and my spirit suddenly became light.  Years of heaviness were lifted from me.  I heard God’s forgiving and accepting voice.  A new yet wobbly courage started to live in me, and I became comfortable in my own skin, in my own circumstances.  I felt safe and certain and grateful. Nothing around me had changed, but everything was different.  I knew it was God’s voice speaking because I could smile once again.”

Second, the story of the transfiguration says something else – listen!    Why should you and I listen to Jesus?    Jesus is the Word of God.   Jesus is God’s word of life and truth.   Jesus is the path to Life and Eternal Life.  Jesus is the way out of darkness into the light.  Jesus is the way out of despair to peace and joy.  Jesus is the way out of fear to courage.  Jesus is the way to discovering purpose and meaning.  By faith in Christ we are welcomed into God’s kingdom and become children of God.  Jesus is lord over all other rulers and authorities in the world.  Christ is the Head of the Church and is present in both Word and Spirit.    The Risen Lord sent the Holy Spirit to instruct and empower and guide the Church according to His purposes.  Jesus carries out His ministry through you and through me, that is, through our faith and service and witness.

Why should we listen?  Because God commands it: “This is my Son, whom I love.  With him, I am well pleased.  Listen to him.”

How does God speak to us?   It’s a question about which Christians agree and disagree.  It engenders lively discussion and debate.   Both from my spiritual experience over the years, and by my reading of scripture, I believe the answer is God speaks to us in a multitude of ways.  God speaks in different ways at different times in our lives.  God speaks to one believer in one way and to another believer in another way.  Why?  I don’t know.  Perhaps because the hearts and minds of certain believers are more reachable in some ways and closed in others.  It’s a mystery.  It’s God’s prerogative.  

Clearly God speaks through the Bible.  Reading and listening to scripture, in Bible classes or in one’s daily devotions, is essential to our spiritual journey.  We are to listen not only with our ears, but with our hearts.  For instance, say you are experiencing a highly stressful and difficult time, you’re at an emotional low and you read: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” or “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  or “Be not afraid.” And by that word your soul is lifted, your spirit is renewed, you experience an inner strength and peace.      God has spoken.

We hear God in worship.  In faith and trust we listen and the ordinary, humble, human words of a sermon become, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God’s word and you feel like the sermon was meant for you.  God speaks to us through the music of worship, through the choirs, the hymns and songs, through the prayers, through someone’s personal testimony, through the videos and multimedia in worship, and through the sacraments.  We cannot limit God’s passionate desire to speak to our minds and hearts in worship.

God speaks to us in dreams or through our conscience, as we wrestle with a moral decision or through a vision, or through a surprise, or through unexplainable guidance where you feel led to do something, like get in contact with someone and your not sure why.  God speaks when we exclaim it was a “God moment or God thing.”  Faith declares that “coincidences are small miracles where God chooses to remain anonymous.”

I’ve personally had such spiritual experiences. Other believers have shared with me their spiritual experiences as well over the years.  I’ve had people say to me:  “Pastor I would like to tell you about something spiritual that happened to me, I think God was talking, but I’m a little uncomfortable about it, so please listen and don’t think I’m crazy.”     

God speaks through the voice of a trusted friend.  No, not every word that someone else says is God’s word.  We must always be discerning.  We need to test the word, to check it out.  But the Bible is clear that the Holy Spirit does speak through the counsel of others.   

We hear God‘s word in prayer, through continual, expectant, thankful and persevering prayer.  Prayer is a key means I believe in which God speaks to us.  

God's word can come through a call to action.   A call to a job, a call to involvement in the church, a call to getting involved in the community like in Military Outreach Ministry.  You feel convicted to volunteer, to help with some need.  It might have to do with homelessness or raising money for the battle against cancer or with concerns about the environment, or helping with foster care, or serving in the schools or in the military.

Sometimes you just feel a nudge, to just check something out, and later realize after you are fully involved that God spoke to you, that it was a calling from God?  When have you heard a comforting word, a corrective word, an encouraging word, a hopeful word, an insightful word, an inspiring word, a challenging word, a helpful word?  That was the word of God.   I believe the question is not - does God speak today?  The question is – are we listening?  It’s a good question to ponder anytime, especially in this time as we prepare for our journey through the season of Lent.   Amen!

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