Mark 9:2-9

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, 

and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 

3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 

4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 

5 then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, 

one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 6 He did not know what to say, 

for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud 

there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ 

8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one 

about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

 

Over the past six weeks, we have engaged in a worship series on the psalms – A Time for Prayer.

 We have explored Seeking the Lord’s Voice, Understanding the Lord’s Knowledge, 

 Waiting for the Lord’s Deliverance, Considering the Lord’s Works, 

  and Singing the Lord’s Praises. 

Today’s theme, on this Transfiguration Sunday, the Sunday before the beginning of Lent,

    we explore “Listening to God’s Son”.

 

In the Revised Common Lectionary, which offers suggested readings for each Sunday,   

  the Transfiguration narrative from the gospel of Mark is paired with Psalm 50.

Psalm 50 proclaims that there is a God who speaks to and summons the earth.  

There is a Holy One who does not keep silent,

   but gathers the faithful ones for a word of judgment, a word of correction. 

Not for their worship rituals does the Lord testify against the people, but for their moral laxity. 

 The God of Psalm 50 claims that there are those among the people who hate discipline. 

  There are those who ignore God’s Word and make friends with thieves, 

   who keep company with adulterers, who give their mouths free reign to speak evil. 

    Their tongues are constantly framing deceit and slander. 

 

The psalmist encourages the people not to try to appease God with burnt offerings,

  but to turn to God in gratitude and thanksgiving, 

     to call on God in the day of trouble and to expect deliverance.  

  The psalmist claims that those walk in the right way and who bring thanksgiving before God

          will honor God and will receive God’s blessing.  

   Those who forget God will eventually end up with a different result. 

 

Dare we not forget that the God of blessing is also the God of judgment,

  that God judges in order to redeem, to make whole. 

   And dare we not forget that this is not simply individual blessing and judgment,

     but blessing and judgment doled out upon a people, upon a nation. 

Both the Old and New Testaments are interested in the salvation of the people, 

  of the nations of the world, and not simply individuals. 

 North American Christianity has perhaps over-emphasized individual salvation, 

   a “me and Jesus” theology, if you will, and sometimes lost sight of God’s interest 

      in the salvation, the redemption, of the people as a whole. 

 

Hear the Word of God: Psalm 50 

1 The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth 

from the rising of the sun to its setting. 2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.

3 Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, 

and a mighty tempest all around him. 4 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, 

that he may judge his people: 5 ‘Gather to me my faithful ones, 

who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!’

6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge.        Selah

7 ‘Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.

8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt-offerings are continually before me.

9 I will not accept a bull from your house, or goats from your folds.

10 For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.

11 I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine.

12 ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine.

13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.

15 Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.’

16 But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes,

 or take my covenant on your lips? 17 For you hate discipline,

 and you cast my words behind you. 18 You make friends with a thief when you see one,

 and you keep company with adulterers. 19 ‘You give your mouth free rein for evil,

 and your tongue frames deceit. 20 You sit and speak against your kin;

you slander your own mother’s child. 21 These things you have done and I have been silent;

   you thought that I was one just like yourself.

But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you. 

22 ‘Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, 

and there will be no one to deliver. 23 Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; 

to those who go the right way I will show the salvation of God.’ 

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

 

One of my favorite lines in this psalm is from verse 21: 

  You thought that I was just like yourself. 

What we think about God has everything to do with how we act in this world. 

 If we think that God does not care or does not exist, or if we think that God cares 

   but is like a kindly old grandpa who only wants to pat us on the head, 

    then we will act however we like.  We will decide for ourselves what is acceptable behavior. 

If we think that God is like us – like the gods of Greek mythology – 

   who are greedy and selfish and power-hungry, then we will act according to those beliefs. 

When we are reminded in Holy Scripture that God is not like us, 

  that God is not greedy or self-serving, but self-sacrificing, 

   that God is not power hungry, but concerned with the least, the lost, and the lowest, 

     then our understanding of ourselves and our purpose in this world begins to shift. 

How we use power and how we relate to those with power begins to shift. 

 

This Psalm about God gathering the faithful in order to speak to them and redirect their course 

   is paired with that uncommon event that transpired on the mountaintop 

    with Jesus and three of his disciples 

  The event on the mountaintop has traditionally been called the “transfiguration.”  

    “Transfigure” simply means “to change”.

This seems to have been one of those awe-inspiring “time-stands-still experiences” 

   that happens only occasionally in life.

Matthew called it “a vision”.  Luke clarified that it had to do with the presence of God.  

Mark, in typical brevity, gave us a chronological account.  

  Jesus and the three disciples had some sort of awe-inspiring mountaintop experience 

    that few persons this side of glory will ever have the privilege to witness. 

 

What that experience meant to those three fishermen from the Sea of Galilee, 

   was that Jesus’ ministry would be intimately connected to the Law and the prophets. 

Notice who was with Jesus on the mountain – 

 Moses, who had received the decalogue, the 10 Commandments, on Mt. Sinai, 

    represents the Law. 

 Elijah, who heard the still, small voice on Mt. Horeb, and returned to face the evil Jezebel, 

   represents the prophets.   

This vision of Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah revealed that Jesus was not against 

  the Law and the Prophets, not separate from the Law and Prophets, but was their fulfillment.

 

Second, what that experience meant to those fishermen turned disciples 

   was that they realized, like never before, that they were to listen to Jesus. 

 They were to listen to him, even when what he said was difficult to hear, 

    even when what he said seemed to go against all of their commonly held assumptions.

Part of the backstory was that Jesus had been predicting his suffering and death, 

  and the disciples, especially Peter, were struggling with those words. 

 

In all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the voice from above proclaims: 

    “Listen to him!”  

Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, are to be revered and remembered, 

    but now is the time to listen to Jesus.

  Even when he tells you that he must suffer and die,

   even when he tells you that you must take up a cross in order to follow him, 

    still you must listen.

 

Our psalm for today and the gospel story of transfiguration both beg the question – 

    to whom are we listening?

To whom will we listen in this coming season of Lent?

 

We may not talk about it often enough, but it is important that we remember

   that everything we ingest through our ears and our eyes affects us. 

 Just as every bite of food we intake has some impact on our bodies, for good or ill,

   every word we ingest into our ears affects us as well. 

What we consume through our ears and our eyes impacts our life, touches our soul. 

 Just as the amount and quality of food we ingest on a daily basis are not neutral,

    neither are the words, the music, and the images we consume. 

 

To whom are we listening on a daily basis? 

  What are we viewing on our screens, both large or small? What are we reading?

    What is filling our heads and ultimately our hearts?

  Are we listening to what is good and righteous? 

   Are we consuming what Is hopeful and truthful?

    Are these things we consume encouraging us to be thankful, to live with gratitude?

      Are they helping us walk in a way that is good and pleasing to God?

 

The season of Lent begins this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday.

 Lent is our season of preparation for Holy Week and Easter,

   traditionally a season for more intentional listening for the voice of God. 

God’s voice beckons to us as it did to those first disciples:  

   This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.

In these coming weeks of Lent, listen. 

  Listen to Jesus by reading your Bible, through dwelling upon Holy Scripture.

  Listen to Jesus by taking time for silent and meditative prayer, 

    removing as much noise and distraction as possible. 

 Listen to Jesus by hearing the cries of those in need, those same cries that he hears. 

 

In this coming season of Lent, let us listen, even when it is difficult or uncomfortable to do so.  

 Let us listen, even when what we may hear is a word of judgment. 

  Let us listen, even when we are being called to follow a different path. 

   Let us listen, even if we have to stop listening to other voices, 

        even if we have to stop consuming that which is not of God. 

  

Most of our time in this life will not be spent on the mountaintops, 

    where perhaps it is easier to hear God’s voice. 

Most of our days will be spent in the valleys, in the marketplaces, in day-to-day activities,

    among the crowds, where God’s voice can be difficult to hear.

The least we can do each day is to carve out time with the television off,

    with the cell phone on mute and in another room, 

      with no tunes playing on the car radio or on the earbuds, in order to listen. 

The least we can do each day is to spend some measure of time listening for the voice of God,

    listening for that word of correction as well as those words of blessing.

 

We have been repeating over the last six weeks that this year, in particular,

  with all that has been going on in the world, seems to be an urgent Time for Prayer. 

 Let us remember that the most important form of prayer is not speaking, but listening. 

  Friends, the voice from above is beckoning us once again:  

              This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!  

Amen. 

 

 Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur, Georgia