Friday, February 27, 2015

Jesus was Transfigured (Matthew 17:1-13) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Rev. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC writes:

“One day I came home late from work.  It was a nice day outside and I noticed that the door to our apartment's balcony was open. Just as I was taking off my coat, I heard a smashing noise coming from the balcony.  In another couple of seconds I heard another one. I hurried out on to the balcony and to my surprise saw my wife sitting on the floor. She had a hammer and next to her was a stack of our wedding china. On the ground were the shards of two smashed saucers.

"What are you doing?" I asked.  She looked up and said, "You aren't listening to me. You don't see how serious this is.  If you keep working these hours you are going to destroy this family.  Your children and I need you. This is what you are doing." And she brought the hammer down on the third saucer.

I sat down trembling. I thought she had snapped. "I'm listening. I'm listening."   She smiled and said: “Good, now I have your attention and we proceeded to have an honest conversation that we should have had a long time ago.”

So do most people need to improve their listening skills?  Do you?   Talking, verbal communication, is obviously essential.  We use verbal communication in everyday conversations, in our professions, in education, in crying out for help.

Talking is a basic form of human interaction.  We spend 1/5th of our lives talking.  We engage in an average of 30 conversations per day.  We speak some 20,000 to 30,000 words per day.   The Urban dictionary even has a definition of a talking head:  “A ‘Talking Head’ is someone who never stops talking. They will corner you by your car after a long day’s work to tell you gossip about the neighbors or to ask you about the details of your day, so they can distort it and spread it throughout the neighborhood.”   

In this light, we turn to our morning story about a unique event in the life of Jesus’ disciples.  It is the indescribable point in time of Jesus’ transfiguration.  Try to visualize this scene.  Jesus is on a high mountain with his three closest disciples, Peter, James and John.  Suddenly, Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white, his face shines like the sun and His presence is transfigured before them.  He undergoes a complete metamorphosis, an extraordinary phenomenon which none of the disciples had ever witnessed before.

And if that isn't enough, two Jewish superstars, Moses and Elijah appear.  For us it would be like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln or Katy Perry and Justin Bieber and they are talking with Jesus.  The significance of these Jewish figures is monumental.  Moses represents the tradition of Jewish law and Elijah represents the prophetic tradition.   Peter was totally enamored with this moment and says to Jesus: “Lord, it is good for us to be here, if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

And while Peter is still speaking, a bright cloud overshadows them and from the cloud the voice of God speaks.    Jesus' presence is transformed, long dead Jewish heroes mysteriously appear before him and Peter keeps talking and rattling on about building shelters.  He doesn't stop to take it all in, to appreciate what was happening, to perceive, to comprehend, to listen, to experience this special spiritual moment.   Are we sometimes like Peter?   We are so busy talking that we don't stop to listen, to look around, to be aware of what is happening around us, to learn from, to be moved by and inspired by what is going on? 

And then comes a word from on high:  God says, “This is my Son, whom I love.  With him, I am well pleased.  Listen to him.”  God was revealing to the disciples Jesus’ true identity.  God was saying this is no ordinary rabbi, this is no ordinary prophet, Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is Lord, pay attention, listen to him.  The presence of Moses and Elijah confirmed Jesus’ identity as the fulfillment of all God was doing and saying in the past in the law and the prophets of Israel

This mystifying story first conveys to us the critical importance of listening.  Communication is more than talking.  Listening requires energy, commitment and effort.   Comments like: “I don’t think you heard what I said “or “That's not what I said” or “You misunderstood me” or “Excuse me, please let me finish” to someone who constantly interrupts you, are all too common in everyday conversations.   Attentive listening is a gift to someone your speaking with.  Attentive listening is giving a person your full and undivided attention.  

Listening needs more than politeness, it requires interest and concentration and curiosity.  If you aren’t interested in the other person or in what this person is saying, you won’t be an effective listener.   Proverbs says, "He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame” and "Let the wise men listen and add to their learning.”   The book of James says, "Be quick to listen and slow to speak."  

A grandmother writes:  “One day my three-year-old granddaughter, Beverly, was playing with her toys.  Her mother, who was folding laundry across the room, noticed Beverly's shirt was dirty and needed to be changed. After calling her name two times with no response, her mother gave her the full three-name call: "Beverly Elizabeth Provost, did you hear me?" Beverly answered, "Yes, Mama. My ears did, but my legs didn't."

Listening can mean the difference between life and death.  In the fall of 2003 Nancy and I heard from friends and family about a string of wildfires in San Diego.  A police officer was quoted as saying: "We're begging people to leave, and they don't take us seriously. They want to pack some clothes, or fight it in the backyard with a garden hose. They don't seem to understand that this is unlike any fire we've seen.”  A man frantically warned his neighbors, only to have some disregard him.  He told of those who tried to save their televisions and computers before escaping. "They looked like they were packing for a trip. The ones who listened to me and left the area lived. The ones who didn’t died."

Listening also reveals one’s values.  Listening shows respect, it affirms the worth of people, it builds strong relationships, it accepts feedback and criticism, it allows one to learn, it shows humility, it generates ideas, and it builds loyalty. 

It’s been said: “Many people do not listen with an intent to understand, they listen with an intent to reply.”  People express a political opinion we disagree with and we immediately begin organizing our arguments for our retort.  People share a problem they are having and we are quick to tell them about a similar or more serious problem of our own.  Listening requires understanding and empathy and patience. 

Studies continually point out a steady decline in parent-child communication.  Parents complain that their children don't listen to them and children complain that their parents don't listen.  A key reason in the past 50 years has to do with the amount of time children and parents spend talking to each other.  Technology in the form of television, cell phones and video games has greatly decreased the time parents and children engage in meaningful conversation.

The story of the transfiguration further says that God speaks to us and wants us to listen.  “This is my Son, whom I dearly love, listen to Him.”    What is one way to describe a Christian?  A Christian is one who listens to the Lord.

One reason we don't listen is that we already have our minds made up.  We don't seriously seek God's will and word.  We don't pray to try to discern God's will before a decision that is facing us.  In the movie The Man with Two Brains, Steve Martin plays a brain surgeon.  He has fallen in love with a conniving temptress.  Standing before the portrait of his late wife, Martin asks for guidance: ”Just show me a sign. Should I marry her or not?”  Suddenly a cold wind begins to blow, sending an icy chill throughout the room, and a voice wails – Noo, nooo, don't do it.  The wall splits in two and the portrait spins errily on the wall saying Nooo, while the furnishings in the room crash around him.  Then everything is still and Martin says:  “Well, since you won't show me a sign, I guess it's okay to marry her.”

Recall the experiences of people in the Bible.  Like the apostle Paul who three times appealed to the Lord about an ailment, a thorn in the flesh and the Lord said: My grace is sufficient for you.”  Paul listened to the Lord.  Or the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus forgave.  He said to her: “Go and sin no more.”  This woman listened to the Lord.  Think of the prophet Elijah.  He had escaped to the wilderness and was hiding from the Jerusalem authorities in a cave.   The lord was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire.  But the Lord spoke in the silence.  Elijah listened to the Lord. 

I still clearly remember some years ago, when in the middle of the night, I awoke, half asleep and half awake, my stomach in knots about a problem I was worried about that was going on in the church.  Can you believe that, a minister waking up anxious about some problem in the church?  And suddenly I heard clearly and distinctly these words: “Be Not Anxious.”  At first, I was stunned.  Then I realized something.  The anxiety in the pit of my stomach was gone.  I was at peace.  God had spoken.  And thank God I had listened.

Finally, we are to listen because listening is a way of obeying Jesus’ Lordship over our lives.    Jan, a staffer with Athletes in Action, after attending a conference on evangelism, was relaxing in the hotel whirlpool. Two girls joined her in the tub. One of them, named Brittany, began telling her friend about an upcoming Wiccan gathering she was planning to attend. 

Jan says: “Normally I would have tried to argue with the girl about Jesus, but I decided to listen instead. I said something like: "Wow, you sound excited about this!"   This was all the encouragement she needed to launch into a five-minute explanation of why she was so attracted to neo-pagan rituals. The bottom line was that she'd had a traumatic time in high school and the Wiccas accepted her. She said, "I've gone through such pain just trying to make it through high school.” 

I said: "I’ll bet you would like to be free from all the pain you've gone through and what came next completely floored me. With tears streaming down, she said, "Sometimes I wish I could be born all over again. I'd really like to start over from scratch." After a pause, I asked if she would really like to be born again and then shared with her the gospel of God’s love in Jesus.”

Yes, we need to listen to God and to one another because the Lord speaks to us and through us.  Jesus was transfigured.  Hallelujah. Amen!

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