The Disciples have had a hard time listening to Jesus throughout the time they have been together. Jesus has spoken about his death. They deny it. He has spoken about inclusion. They still try to send the children away. He has spoken about love and giving and servant-hood, and they still don’t let him wash their feet, and they still want Jesus to be honored, revered in a way that he doesn’t seek or think is appropriate to who he really is. He has spoken about healing, and they are still unable to heal on their own. He has spoken about faith and they still stumble on the water. He has spoken about many things and the disciples remain confused, unclear, clue-less even at times. This is proven once again by their speech on the mountain. They don’t get it. They want to stay on the mountain. They want to build shrines and bask in the glory. They want to continue the mountain top experience, rather than carrying it down with them to the people, as a source of strength to do their ministry, to do their service, to live the lives Christ calls them to lead. They don’t get it.
In light of that we have God’s words “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” God has three things to say. This is my son. I love him. And listen to him.
When you listen to Jesus, what do you hear? I would like to invite you to take a moment and really think about that. When you listen to Jesus, what do you hear?
Do you always like what you hear? Or are there times when the words are hard to hear, not what we want, but still what we hear?
In my lectionary group each week we read the lectionary assigned scripture passages for the following week. We often read from different translations of the Bible. And because of that, we often find that the different translations are translated differently. For example, a couple weeks back we were reading a scripture in which a man says to Jesus, ‘Jesus if you want, you can heal me”. The passage continued in one translation, “Jesus was incensed”. In another translation it read, “Jesus looked on the man with compassion.” Those are two very different translations. And the reason is that when we look at the old manuscripts of these texts, they don’t always agree with one another. There are many old manuscripts and scrolls of these Biblical passages, not one. And they don’t agree with each other. It is not always clear which one was written earlier, which one was the “original” or which one is closest to what Jesus actually said. Therefore, different translators have to pick which text they believe to make the most sense, to be the most accurate, to be the most original. And different translators often pick different original texts from which to translate specific passages. As we sat with the difference between Jesus being incensed and Jesus having compassion, Ogie made the comment that because translators are also, in their picking and choosing, interpreters at some level, they want the passage to make sense and to match with their own theology. Therefore, the translation that is least comfortable is actually often the one that is the most accurate. We try to block out things that make us uneasy, things that don’t make sense to us, and even these translators are not immune to that. So they pick the texts that make most sense to them and translate them according to those texts. They don’t always pick the ones that really are the oldest, or the most original, or the closest to what Jesus probably really did or said.
The same is true of us. If nothing in the Bible has ever disturbed us, then we haven’t read it closely enough. Or rather, we haven’t listened well enough. If nothing in Jesus’ words has disturbed us, then we haven’t listened well enough. Because Jesus said disturbing things. Jesus challenged us. He challenged us with passages such as Matthew 25: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. (for) I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’” He challenged us with words such as “I came not to bring peace but a sword” And “Anyone who does not hate their mother and father, brother and sister, wife and children- yes, and even his own life - cannot be my disciple.” He challenged us with parables which are hard to understand such as the story of the wheat and tares. He challenged us by breaking biblical rules such as the Sabbath law, curing and picking grain on the Sabbath. He challenged us by telling us we are to do what he did and follow in his footsteps. That should make us uncomfortable. And when it doesn’t, it is because we are not really listening.
There was a wonderful article in Sojourner’s a few weeks ago entitled, “Five Ways I’m the Worst at Following Jesus” by Christian Piatt (http://sojo.net/blogs/2014/12/29/5-ways-im-worst-following-jesus). He said, “My biggest concern at the moment is that though a lot of us claim to “be Christians,” or even to follow Jesus, a lot of us don’t spend much intentional time trying to figure out what that means and what it looks like in daily life. We try not to be too... (mean) to other people, try not to kill, steal, adulterate (is that even a word?) or worship graven images. We try to love, and to accept love — though we still hurt each other. A lot. The world is messed up and so far from realizing the fully kingdom-inspired image of wholeness and reconciliation to which God invites us. And at least in my theological world, that’s on us, not God. I believe, with all of my being, that the audacious vision of God’s kingdom, here and now, isn’t something we sit around and pray for God to make real for us. Like Jesus said, we can (and should) collectively do greater things than even he did. …So here I am, not so much trying to be Jesus, but trying to at least follow his life, teaching, and example better. And in taking my own personal inventory, I can see that I.. (am pretty bad at it). That doesn’t mean I’m giving up, but it’s clear I have plenty of work to do.”
Are we aware of the things we do that are failing to follow Jesus? And again, if we aren’t aware, it means we have not been listening.
But the good news in all of this is that despite our failure to listen, Jesus stays in relationship with us. God stays with us no matter how we fail to hear. Jesus brought Peter, James and John up to the mountain top and even though they didn’t get it, he let them see the transformation, hearing God’s voice directly and God’s instructions in a clear voice. Jesus explains his parables to them, even through his frustration with their lack of understanding. He repeats his message, repeats his descriptions of what is to come, repeats what they need to hear, despite their lack of deep listening. He loves them and models for them what that love looks like, despite their reluctance to embrace it, to follow him completely, to walk the path he walked in the way he walked it. And he does the same for us.
Still, God calls down, “This is my son whom I love. Listen to him.” Bonhoeffer said, "The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them." —(Life Together).
Peter, James and John wanted to stay on the mountain. They had been given a new glimpse of who Jesus was, one that filled them with joy, with hope, with life. They had seen the transfiguration, they had a real and deep glimpse of who Jesus really was. And it filled them with a joy that they did not want to give up. That is understandable. That is absolutely understandable. To be given that mountain top experience of seeing God and seeing Jesus as God’s son – what an incredible gift. To see Moses and Elijah next to him. To experience these people of God in this way. It was an amazing gift. It was a gift that was not withheld simply because they failed to listen and understand. It was still given. And the opportunity to listen to Jesus was also given again, with the instructions, direct from God, TO listen. We, too, make mistakes. But we, too, are not deprived the good gifts of God. And we, too, no matter what we do or fail to do, are invited every time we hear the scriptures: “This is my son whom I love. Listen to him.” Amen.