Listen to Him!

March 3, 2018 Transfiguration Sunday

Luke 9:28-43a

I have a confession to make, I am an introvert!

When I am with my peers, I quite often will sit back and listen to everything that is going on and the conversations that are occurring. Now, I am not saying this to lift myself up, because I could still do a better job at listening; just ask my wife!

When I get frustrated, and I am sure you could all agree, is when people do not listen to what I am saying. So, we can all relate to this, yet when it comes to listening, we quite often fall short of truly pausing to listen to what is being said. Listening is just one of our five senses, yet it is a very important sense. For those that are hearing impaired, they learn to listen through their other senses by what they see and even feel.

We can listen with not only our ears, but also with our eyes and hands. Of course, to use the other senses takes practice and the majority of us will never come to a full ability of using all of our senses to listen.

I believe that one of the important things that Luke shares with us in our gospel is when the disciples are called to Listen to Jesus. In the call to listen to Jesus, we are changed. That change welcomes us into the wonderful mystery of God.

Did you know that the average person can speak 150 words per minute? However, the average person can listen to 1000 words per minute. So, what do you do with that extra time that you have while listening to people? Are you gazing off into the distance wondering what is on your schedule next? I will admit that I catch myself doing this when I have a lot going on and I must intentionally pull myself back into a conversation at times. To intentionally focus on a conversation takes practice. With that in mind, I want to try something. I would like you to all take a moment to relax and prepare to really listen, more intently then you are right now. I am going to read you a paragraph and I would like you to listen and take notes if you would like.

You are a bus driver. At your first stop, you pick up 29 people. On your second stop, 18 of those 29 people get off, and at the same time 10 new passengers arrive. At your next stop, 3 of those 10 passengers get off, and 13 new passengers come on. On your fourth stop 4 of the remaining 10 passengers get off, 6 of those new 13 passengers get off as well, then 17 new passengers get on. What is the age of the bus driver?

To truly listen, we must block all distractions and focus on the thing right in front of us. We can listen with our ears, but we can also listen with our eyes through watching body language and movement. Perhaps we can even feel the vibrations of what is happening around us. Today we get in trouble when we allow ourselves to become distracted with our phones, the task that we are in the middle of trying to accomplish, or the thoughts of what needs to be done next.

The disciples were nearly caught in their sleep, yet they stayed awake to see what was about to happen on that mountain top. They are amazed by everything that takes place. The sights and sounds that they see and hear are so overwhelming that they kept silent when they came down from the mountain. The appearance of Moses and Elijah had to be overwhelming, and then Jesus’ appearance transformed right in front of them. They are overwhelmed by the mystery that they are welcomed into. Not, only that, they hear a voice from the heavens, “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!”

Peter had been so impressed, he wanted to stay there forever. Yet, they follow Jesus back down the mountainside. The call to listen to Jesus comes as a challenge. Nearly everything that Jesus preaches and every healing that he does, appears to bring out trouble for him and the disciples. His words and actions are resistance to what is currently being practiced by the leaders in the temple. Where they have become accustom to complacency and not disrupting the good thing they have going, Jesus begins to change all of that with every word he speaks and every step he takes.

The story of the transfiguration comes to us every Sunday before the beginning of Lent. It is a sign for the disciples that points to the glory of Jesus. It prepares them for the rest of Jesus’ ministry and as Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, it is a sign for Jesus’ own exodus, when he will leave this earthly life through crucifixion. It is on the cross that Jesus will encounter release from this world and realize the freedom that comes in faith. It is a sign of God’s promise for us.

The words that are spoken to the disciples on the mountain are similar to the words that Jesus hears when he is baptized. The difference on the mountain top, is that the words are for all to hear. Those words are not just for the disciples. Those words come to us today in scripture and we are called to listen as well.

The listening is not a one-time thing. We do not just listen to God once and discern what we are to do with our lives or careers. To listen to Jesus Christ, is always to listen to what may be happening in and around us.  It is a two-way conversation. As we pray and listen for His response, something begins to happen within our very own beings. We too are transformed. We are transformed in our listening to Jesus and in that we are called to go out and share that same message of love, grace, and freedom that is shared with us when we find ourselves in Christ.

Let us pray. God of change, may we be transformed in your love as we listen to your calling in our life. Amen.

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Changed for the Better

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February 26, 2017

Matthew 17:1-9

While I was in seminary, every January we would be required to take a J-Term course. These courses varied from Biblical Hebrew, to ministering in the inner city, to trips to the Holy Land or Haiti. In my second year of seminary I found myself at The Abbey of Gethsemani for an entire week on silent retreat. It was part of a two-week course on monasticism and exploring different forms of contemplation and prayer. The Abbey of Gethsemani is a Trappist monastery in Kentucky, surrounded by beautiful rolling hills.

I chose this specific J-Term course because I had always been intrigued by the monastic life and this was an opportunity to learn and experience more. At this time, I was also questioning whether I wanted to continue on in my seminary studies, which I believe is a part of many seminary student’s journey, where we question our call to serve the church. My week at Gethsemani was a turning point and the beginning of a transformation. Jesus calls us to change as we are transformed through God’s Word and in prayer.

This week I have had the opportunity to experience all of the facets of Christian life. Having the opportunity to baptize an adult, as Katelyne will be in a little bit, reminds me of the power of community as we worship together proclaiming the good news and leading people to the baptismal waters. On Thursday the life of Bob Wetzel was celebrated as he lived to 98 before entering into eternal life. While baptism and death are the bookends of our earthly Christian lives, something mysterious happens in the time in between.

Baptism is not the pinnacle of our Christian life, it is only the beginning. As we enter into community with others and worship and pray together, the mystery of God works in and among us. Drawing us together in ways that we could never fathom. And the thing is, we more often than not, get in the way of God’s work. We put up our own personal roadblocks. We stop short, thinking that we could not go any farther, or we are just satisfied with mediocre. Sometimes we even stop right in the midst of the transformation itself. Look at our gospel lesson. Peter would have been content if they were to stay up at the top of the mountain for the rest of their days. Jesus lets us know that there is work yet to be done. Jesus with Elijah and Moses on the mountain top was just a glimpse of the kingdom to come. Like Peter and the other disciples, we today still have to be God’s hands and feet in the world as we care for our neighbors and those that cannot care for themselves.

In the midst of proclaiming the good news through our words and actions, we are transformed and begin to experience God at an all new level. James Finley shares his thoughts on change in Richard Rohr’s daily devotional:

Imagine that you have a dream in which you are climbing a high mountain. The valley below is where you grew up, where you experienced pain and made many mistakes. You are trying to transcend and leave this place by reaching the summit, on which you will be sublimely holy and one with God.

As the summit comes into view, the wind rising from the valley brings with it the sound of a child crying out in distress. You realize that there is no real choice but to go down the mountain to find and help the hurting child. Turning back, you descend into the valley. Following the child’s cries, you arrive at the very home you tried to leave behind.

You gently open the door and look inside. Sitting in the corner on the floor is your own wounded child-self, that part of you that holds feelings of powerlessness and shame. You sit down next to the child on the floor. For a long time you say nothing. Then a most amazing thing happens. As you are putting your arms around this child, you suddenly realize you are on the lofty summit of union with God!

To be transformed in compassionate love does not mean that you do not have to continue struggling and working through your shortcomings and difficulties. It means learning to join God who loves you through and through in the midst of all your shortcomings. As you continue to be transformed in this way, you come to realize that right here, right now, just the way you are, you are one with love that loves you and takes you to itself just the way you are. [1]

We find ourselves on the doorsteps of Lent this morning. This coming Wednesday, we will join together to be reminded of our own personal need for repentance and for God’s mercy. We exit the season of Light that we know of as Epiphany and turn towards a self-examination that happens during Lent, only to encounter Jesus’ death on the cross and Resurrection to life everlasting.

Lent is a time to be transformed as we repent of those things known and unknown that steer us away from the knowledge and love of God. May Jesus’ own transfiguration on the mountain top awaken a transformation within you. While change can be difficult and uncomfortable, it is in our own transformation that we experience change. Changed for the better. Changed for the life to come.

[1] Finley, James. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, February 24, 2017

Transfiguration as Epiphany

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Luke 9:28-43

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and Lord, Jesus Christ.

There are times in our travels when we just put on the cruise control and let the road take care of itself. Or at least that is what we hope will happen. Sometimes it does not go quite that way though, does it? I recall a scene from National Lampoons Vacation where Clark Griswold is driving along the highway at night and the next thing you know he has his head laid back and is sleeping as the car takes the next exit. Surely, he is going to kill someone or is entire family. Miraculously the Griswold family ends up right in a motel parking lot after driving through neighborhoods and nearly causing a few accidents.

I remember a time when I went to school one morning, I believe this was after I was able to drive and I notice the passenger sideview mirror had been knocked off my father’s truck. He worked the third shift for the most part while I was growing up and apparently he dosed off and it took him hitting a mailbox to wake him up.

We cannot evade sleep when our body truly needs it. Just a couple of years ago, Kiefer and I were driving back to Michigan from a trip we made to Kansas City and I had been awake for nearly 24 hours when all of a sudden I notice some very bright lights flashing behind me. Now, The Illinois State Trooper that pulled us over was pretty nice; especially to startle me back to reality and ensure that my senses were heightened the rest of the trip.

Sometimes we slumber when it is not necessarily the best time. We end up running into mailboxes or startled back to reality by state troopers. Do you think the disciples of Jesus were any different? This morning we are pulled into a great sense of mystery. Peter, John, and James went along with Jesus as he hiked to the top of the mountain. After the efforts that they had to exert, the disciples were weighed down with sleep, yet they did not fall into a deep sleep, like they would later as Jesus was praying at the Mount of Olives before his arrest. I assume they were in a similar state as I was when I was pulled over by the state trooper. I was tired, and perhaps sleep deprived, but not really sleeping.

Peter, and his companions, were certainly tired, but fought the urge to let their eyes fall shut. It is a good thing that they did not. Much like the bright lights of a state trooper car, the disciples were caught in a dazzling array of light that emanated from their leader that they had been following around in ministry. What they were now experiencing could be seen as the Epiphany of Epiphanies! They were shocked and in awe of what they were witnessing, sleep would have to wait! The Transfiguration that we experience today is the revelation of Jesus’ divinity. Yes, Jesus is fully human with us in flesh and blood, and he is also God incarnate born fully of the Holy Spirit.

We have been journeying these past five weeks with Jesus in the season after Epiphany, yet being witness to the little epiphanies that take place all around Jesus and his disciples. It is in the cradle that we find the newborn Jesus, born incarnate of God, bringing a hope and promise to all that have been waiting. Even for three magicians from the East that felt called to follow a star.

It continues in the waters of baptism as Jesus wades into the water seeking his own baptism from John the Baptist. It is here that we hear the voice from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus’ ministry continues from baptism to the wedding at Cana where he performs the miracle of turning 6 large vessels of water into wine. An epiphany after epiphany. Just last week we heard how he returned to his hometown of Nazareth and announced the mission that he was called to and managed to ruffle some feathers of those in charge, but others were elated at the news which he had to share.

Jesus’ story is one of proclaiming life for the world, being rejected, and in the process inviting disciples to join in his mission. Luke shares his gospel exactly for this purpose. Luke writes for people who have heard the faith and come to believe but want, yearn and hunger to understand more deeply. He opens up his gospel with an address to Theophilus, “so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”

In a way, is this not what all of our journey in this life is all about. We want, yearn, and hunger for even more as we seek to become more knowledgable in our Christian faith and get to know Jesus on a deeper level.

This morning is a perfect example as we officially welcome new members into the community of Trinity Lutheran Church. These brothers and sisters have had their own epiphanies along the way and are seeking to continue to be in relationship with a caring community proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. We have those that are inquiring what it means to walk along in the faith and are seeking your support and guidance as they walk towards baptism. We have a child, not quite a year old yet, which will be baptized with parents and sponsors whom will promise to raise her in a life of faith. We have an entire family baptized less than a year ago who is still hungry to learn more and willing to profess their faith in Christ and commit to being in community with all of us here. We also have three families who have walked along in the faith from the time they were young and have been welcomed into this loving and caring community over the past year.

Each one of these sisters and brothers have had their own epiphanies along the way which has led them here today. All of us most likely have fell asleep or into a deep slumber along the way, but Jesus is still with us. Jesus comes down the mountain to be with us in our own challenges and struggles, just as he is present with the boy with an unclean spirit.

It is in our baptism that we get a glimpse of the Transfiguration as Jesus comes to us in the cleansing water. It is our Epiphany to be transformed into a life of love and be surrounded by a community that cares for us. May you use the epiphanies that appear to you along this journey of life to keep you awake and open to the presence of God.