You may have figured out by now that I try to be as open and as honest with you as I possibly can be. I hope as we grow together in ministry we get to know one another better and better. I really feel part of who I am called to be is a person of honesty and integrity. You’ve heard me say once and I will say it again, I am a fellow sinner in need of healing and forgiveness. I want to share a brief bit of my call story; that is, how I think God has a sense of humor and I ended up answering a call to ministry.
It wasn’t an easy path. I started to really feel tugging about a year after Chris and I were married. But, I did my best to ignore it. I avoided thinking about it. I even avoided prayer a lot because I was afraid of what would happen if I let myself enter into conversation with God for even a brief moment. I kept busy and I filled my life with a lot of noise. I always had something going on that made noise (or at least it seemed that way). I even worked at a call center so I was paid to talk all day, you know, similar to what I do now. But, when I figured out God was going to be persistent, I wondered if I shouldn’t start listening.
Of course, I was going to be my normal hard headed self and only listen when I wanted to. I was only going to listen on my terms. I don’t think I have to tell you how well this went. People ask me a lot “when did you realize you were being called to be a pastor?” And my answer is always the same: “I realize God was calling me into a life of ministry when I shut up long enough to hear something other than my own voice.” I didn’t want to listen. But once I did, what an amazing adventure God had in store for me!
We’ve heard the voice of God come from clouds before, right? We hear the voice of God when Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan. “A voice from heaven said ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” And here, we hear the voice of God again saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Same sentence, same words, just three little words that make a fairly large difference: listen to him.
See, the Jesus we are introduced to in this reading is not the Jesus that we or the disciples have seen or known up to this point. Sure, the disciples had heard that this man, this teacher, this prophet was the son of God. After all, God spoke from the heavens saying as much. But, it was easy to ignore all of that or at least conveniently forget it. And now we get the story of the transfiguration, which can be confusing to understand. It’s good if we back up just a bit there is a reason why God is telling us to listen to what Jesus is telling us. Our text today starts with the phrase “six days later” and it would be good for us to know what happened the six days before.
Jesus began to show and tell his disciples what kind of death he would “undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:21b). Peter, not wanting his friend to go through this kind of suffering, didn’t believe Jesus. And in response, Jesus tells Peter “get behind me, Satan.” We really have no idea what happened in those six days leading up to this. My guess, and I emphasize that this is just a guess, is that Jesus continued to teach, heal, feed people, clothe people, all while continuing to foretell his death. And now we come to a literal mountain top experience. It’s a glorious place, we can’t blame Peter for wanting to stay there. It’s peaceful, all of his friends are there (even Moses and Elijah). It’s understandable why Peter doesn’t want to leave the mountaintop.
Jesus, however, has been transformed. He is now in dazzling white clothing and his face is as bright as the sun. This is the first step towards the cross. Thanks to his appearance alone, we know he is no longer just a prophet. And once again we hear the confirmation of this from the voice of God in the declaration of “This is my Son, the Beloved;with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” And while it would be logical to listen to Christ, in reality it is very difficult. God has told the disciples (and us) to listen to Christ because what he is saying about his death will ultimately turn out to be true. But the truth is this: when we listen to Christ, we never know what is going to happen and that is scary.
While it’s a mundane example, when I listened to Christ, I ended up in seminary and eventually became a pastor. I am going to ruin the ending for you here, friends. We don’t like listening to Christ and when it comes down to it, we often don’t do a great job of it. We let our own stubbornness and own sin get in the way. Now I’m sure you’re wondering how Christ speaks to us. I mean, if we’re supposed to listen (as God tells us to) then what in the world are we listening for? Are we listening for a voice (and will it be loud or soft, male or female, will I even recognize it?)? Are we waiting for a “sign” (and what in the world will that look like)? Or will it be something else that we need to be on the lookout for (maybe a text from Jesus, perhaps)? And here’s what I know, I don’t know what it’s going to be like for you. For me, Christ has spoken to me when I’m in a quiet, still place and Christ has spoken to me through those closest to me. And no, I didn’t always listen; and yes, there are still times that I don’t listen.
Listening is dangerous. Listening means we are no longer in control and that we may end up going places we’re not prepared to go. The disciples didn’t want to listen to Christ because they weren’t prepared to go to the cross with Christ. If we’re going to be honest here, brothers and sisters, I believe we often don’t listen to Christ because we’re not prepared to go to the cross either. The cross is where we should find ourselves more often than we do. Instead, the cross is where we find ourselves in a time of desperation; naked, pleading, and often the most vulnerable we can be. The cross is where we come face to face with all that makes us ugly: all our demons, all our sins, all our shortcomings, all our failures, all of our brokenness, and all of that is taken on by one man. Listening, brothers and sisters, ultimately leads to death. And here’s the strange thing, not listening, also leads to death. It’s up to you to choose which kind of death you want.
Allow me to explain. We are all busy. Society has somehow morphed into an attitude of “busier is better.” We wear our badges of multi-tasking with honor. We are sleeping less, working more, and spending less time attending to the things which are life giving. We may not be taking as many days off or vacations like we used to. We have talked ourselves into trying to be everything to everyone and in the end, we will end up being nothing. When we go-go-go at a breakneck speed, the time we have to stop and listen to Christ is barely existent. What comes of this is death. Death of friendships, death of relationships and bonding with your children (if you have any), death of your marriage or partnerships, and ultimately, your own death (literal or metaphorical). Christ is life giving. When we cannot and do not allow ourselves the time to stop and engage in self care to listen to him, we die.
However, if you listen to Christ, you will also have a death. But, this death will be a good death. If you are bold enough, brave enough, and still enough to listen to Christ, you may hear that there are things in your life that must die so that you may live a fuller life in Christ. You may hear the words “slow down” or “breathe” which means you must let die the idea that you have to be busy 24/7. You may hear the message “reach out” which means you must let die the idea that you can do all things alone and you need friends that support and surround you and so you have to nurture those relationships. You may hear Christ whisper “be loved” which means you must let die the idea that the relationships with your child or children and spouse is perfectly fine; when in reality, this too is a relationship that needs nurturing and a relationship given to you by Christ. You may hear Christ beg of you “be still” which means you need to let die the idea that you can move at 100 miles an hour and it have no consequences. But when you let these ideas die, friends, you will actually live a fuller life.
I know this isn’t easy. I’m horrible at all of these things. Hi Pot? I’m Kettle. I don’t take enough time to listen to the voice of God and I’m paying for it. I have seen my friendships start to suffer, I barely have time to even text my best friend. I have seen my relationship with Ellen suffer as I am always busy multitasking when I’m with her; checking email, reading something to prepare me for my next sermon, or just not paying attention to her because I’m too busy thinking about what I need to do during her next nap or after she goes down for the night. I have seen my marriage suffer in the fact that because I think I need to be busy all week long, I end up writing my sermons during the time that Chris and I could be doing things together. And it needs to stop. All of it. It just needs to stop right here, right now, for you and for me. As I said, listening to Christ ultimately leads to death: Christ’s death on the cross which gives life to you and to me. But not listening to Christ leads to our death: the death of relationships, friendships, and ultimately, our own death. The kind of death you have is up to you. Listening to Christ isn’t always easy but compared to the alternative, it seems like a cinch.