Ears to Listen
Sermon by Rev. Kristen L. Brown
Preached on 7 February 2016 at St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church in Jerusalem and St. Andrew’s Galilee Church in Tiberias
Scripture passages of the day: Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36; Psalm 99
Many mornings during the winter months, I drive through fog on my way to the office at Tantur. I live up the hill from Bethlehem, at the very top of Beit Jala, one of the highest points in the greater Jerusalem area. On clear days, I am blessed with amazing views of Bethlehem, Jerusalem or even the Judean hills to Jordan, depending upon the direction I look, however in the winter some mornings are very foggy, and vision is limited.
As I drive to Tantur Ecumenical Center where our offices are located, very close to the Bethlehem Check Point 300, on foggy mornings, by the time I have driven through two tunnels and on over to Tantur, the fog has cleared, or I have driven out of the fog!
What might it have been like for the disciples of Jesus to hike up one of the mountains in the Galilee area? (When preaching in Tiberias, I was able to motion to the area, not that far from the Sea of Galilee!!)
So, what we know from reading the Luke passage is that Jesus invited three of the disciples to join him, in order to pray on top of a mountain in the Galilee area. Having been in that area, I know it was not an easy walk, more of a substantial hike.
On some occasions when the disciples prayed with Jesus, they fell asleep. When the three disciples woke up, they discovered some strange things! Jesus’ face appeared to change, his clothes became dazzling white, and they saw Moses and Elijah!! (Any of these things would be shocking enough on their own!) They respond in a very human way… “Let’s build three dwellings… and stay here!” And then, (as if things could not become stranger!) the mountain top was covered by a cloud or a fog and they heard the voice of God, for the second time, (the first being at the baptism of Jesus), “This is my Son, my chosen, listen to Him!”
We were reminded in the Exodus passage that after Moses encountered God, he went back down the mountain to the people, and his face was veiled because it shown brightly.
In this encounter on the mountain top with Jesus, seeing Moses and Elijah and hearing God’s voice, a veil is not mentioned; however the cloud or fog may have acted like a veil.
Prior to going up the mountain with Jesus, according to Luke chapter 9, the disciples had participated in a short mission in the region, they experienced the feeding of the five thousand people and had been asked by Jesus, “who do people say that I am?” After they replied that some say “John the Baptist, or Elijah” Jesus asked, “and who do you say that I am?” It was Peter who replied, “You are the Messiah!” They passed the test! (But, I wonder if they truly knew what that fully meant?” Following the questions, Jesus told them about the events which would take place soon in Jerusalem, his upcoming death and eventual resurrection.
I can imagine the minds of all of the disciples were on overdrive when Jesus asked three of them to go with him to pray.
The mountain top experience ends with words stating that they told nothing to anyone. The other Gospel writes express that they were told not to say anything to anyone.
Some biblical scholars explain the reason the disciples do not share about this experience is because they are afraid. Fair enough, however, what if it is more than that? What if they chose instead to be obedient: to be silent in order to listen?
In our world today, there are so many voices and too much noise and chaos. Words and rhetoric are shouted with impunity stirring up fear and angst. How can we listen to the Lord with all the noise?
Are we able in our daily lives to find quiet places in order to listen? Are we able to listen in the midst of the chaos in order to discern God’s voice?
“Imagine for a moment, what the world might look like if we listened—not in preparation to respond, but in order to understand.
“What might (our world,) our politics look like if we listened more and argued less? What might our schools look like if we taught our children how to listen as intently and deliberately as we taught them how to speak and to write? And what might our churches look like if we listened intently for the voice of God from those who differ from us?”[i]
No matter where in the world we live, there are political challenges, human rights issues and challenges. Justice issues abound, do we take the time to truly learn in order to respond in a peaceful, justice filled manner?
One of my favorite Catholic priests and theologians is Henri J.M. Nouwen, in his book, “Bread for the Journey” he writes the following about listening.
“To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept… The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.”
As our Lenten journey draws near, and the chaos of the world presses in and challenges us with voices of despair, fear, and sometimes hate, clanging in our ears, may we remember how to truly listen. For it will be by listening that we might truly hear one another. Only by listening will we hope to hear the voice of God.
During Lent, many people give up certain things or take on special practices in the hopes of drawing closer to God.
What if this year, we do not tell people the thing we give up, or the practice we take on? What if instead, we also become more conscience about listening to God and listening to the world around us? What if we take action only after quality time in prayer by listening to God?
What if… What if the message of encountering transfiguration Sunday, we both as individual and as the church become more aware and intentional about prayer, listening and opening our eyes?
Perhaps when we see in the clouds, the fog – we can become intentional in our responses?
One of my favorite places to be in the world – no matter where I am, is in nature, on a mountain or by the sea shore with the opportunity to spend quality quiet time, listening! Only then will I be able to hear the still small voice, or more importantly, the sheer sound of silence.
May our eyes be opened and the veil lifted.
May our ears to open – that we might listen for the voice of God!
[i] From the notes of the Rev. Marshall A. Jolly in preparation for his sermon “Last Sunday of Epiphany.”
Pictures taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown, hills of the upper Galilee