Don’t just do something; stand there . . . and listen! Transfiguration Sunday
Mark 9: 2-9 2/11/2016
“Don’t just stand there! Do something!” You and I have probably heard that instruction many times, and we may have also given that instruction on a few occasions.
- You spill something or break something
- Or an appliance in the home starts leaking or overflowing
- Or you get stuck in snow or mud with the car somewhere
- “Don’t just stand there!” we say to someone. “Do something!”
In today’s gospel the voice of God from heaven completely reverses that instruction “This is my Son, the Beloved,” God says. “Listen to him!” Instead of saying, “Don’t just stand there; do something,” God says, “Don’t just do something; stand there . . . and listen!” There is a time to speak and a time to be silent & listen.
Today’s gospel does not mean we should never do anything or say anything. All it means is that it is important for us to know when to stand and listen, and when to act and speak.
On this day, according to the story from Mark’s gospel, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, his inner circle of disciples, up a high mountain. There Jesus is transfigured before them. The clothes of Jesus become dazzling white, and Elijah and Moses; two very important O.T. characters appear, talking with Jesus.
Elijah, one of the great prophets from Jewish history, represents the prophetic tradition, and Moses, who we equate with the 10 commandments, represents the tradition of the law. The greatness of the past appears in the present as a vision of what is to come.
Peter then says to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter’s first sentence is right on target. It is good for them to be here. But in the second sentence Peter goes too far. Peter wants to build three little dwellings or shrines that are also known as booths, so the memory of Jesus, Elijah, and Moses can be preserved.
Peter is not content just to stand there and soak in the vision. He wants to do something. But Peter is so rushed to capture what is happening around him that he doesn’t understand what is going on. He actually is missing the moment.
The same can be said of us today. Armed with the latest in video recording with smart phones, iPhones, iPads we dutifully document all the usual life-changing moments of our children and grandchildren. Those life-changing transitions: from fetus to newborn, from crawler to walker, from preschooler to kindergartner, etc.
But because videoing technology is so much easier today, or because we are more self-absorbed than ever, we also feel a need to capture those Not-so-special moments: little Amber or Johnny eating cake, sitting in the wagon, banging on the piano, digging in the dirt, rolling in the leaves, playing with the telephone, wearing a hat, smelling a flower, holding a book, singing a song, throwing a ball, kicking a ball, sitting on a ball, dropping a ball . . . well, you get the picture.
Just like Peter we want to preserve a very special moment. And yet, armed with the latest and easiest media making technology aren’t we in danger of missing something even more monumental – something of great importance – such as the God-given moment itself?
Peter, of course, had no means to capture this extraordinary moment he witnessed along with James and John. It was literally a mountaintop experience; a once-in-a-lifetime experience for three ordinary guys who, as disciples, were still searching for an understanding of who Jesus was and what this whole event on the mountaintop was about even though Jesus had already begun to try to explain everything about himself and what was going to happen.
Peter, understandably, was absolutely awestruck. And who wouldn’t be?
Being up on this mountain was to have been a quiet retreat, a time apart from the crowds, but an extraordinary event was unfolding, a moment in history so sacred that Peter, as Vice-President in Charge of Doing Something, had to do something.
Being without modern day electrical devices Peter proposed building a small dwelling or shrine, whatever he could, to preserve the moment. We’re not told how he was going to do this, whether he had a hammer and a saw at the ready, or a few fisherman’s tools in his belt. Your options are limited when all you’ve got is a sewing needle for mending nets. But then Peter was never one to let details get in the way of a dream.
Before he can call his first building committee meeting, Peter and the other disciples are overshadowed by a cloud. And from the cloud comes the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
And as suddenly as the cloud appears, the vision disappears, the experience comes to an abrupt end, and everyone turns to descend from the mountain. Now God didn’t say: “I want you to get a shot of the three of them over by that cedar tree.” God didn’t say to “Be sure to capture the moment!” God just said, “Listen to him. Listen to my son.”
In the Greek text the word that is translated “listen” is in the present imperative, which implies continuing action. What it really means is, “Keep on listening to him,” or “Continue to listen to him.” It doesn’t mean that having listened one time, you can then run off and do your own thing. Rather, it means to listen today and tomorrow and for the rest of your life, no matter where you are or what you are doing.
The disciples’ continuing words and deeds in the future are to be balanced with continued listening. For without listening, the words and deeds will soon become empty, because they will have been separated from their mission and purpose.
Peter wants to do something. God wants him to be still.
Peter wants to build shrines. God wants him to listen.
Don’t just do something, stand there . . . and listen.
What exactly does God want Peter to hear?
- God wants Peter to hear with his eyes as well as his ears the simple but overwhelming fact that all the Law and the Prophets are now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
- God wants Peter to hear that the Law, represented by Moses, which begins as a wonderful guide to righteous living but quickly becomes a club of condemnation when we sin–that Law is now restored as a gift to us because our sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ.
- God wants Peter to hear that the Prophets, represented by Elijah, who begin as wonderful evaluators of righteous behavior, but quickly become judges who sentence us to death because of our sin–those Prophets are restored as a gift to us because God’s forgiveness toward us in Jesus Christ builds a sturdy bridge of grace across the chasm of our sin.
- In other words, God wants Peter to listen to the Gospel, which declares that no utterance on our part, no good works, no building projects, & no programs of any kind can overcome our sinful separation from God nor put us right with God.
Only in Jesus Christ is our relationship with God restored. Only when we listen to this and hear it deep within our soul over & over again & again are we ready to move forward in word and deed.
In his sermon You Are Accepted Theologian Paul Tillich describes grace as that Word which comes from God and declares to us unconditional love and acceptance. That grace strikes us, and when it strikes us, we are to do exactly what God told Peter to do in today’s gospel: namely, Stand there and listen!
Here is how Tillich put it: “Sometimes a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.’
“Listen!” God tells Peter, James and John, “and keep listening.” That instruction has been given to all of Jesus’ disciples throughout the ages. That same instruction is given to us today. If we are to know or do or say anything at all as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, we begin by listening and we keep on listening to the Word which Jesus embodies.
That is why all of you, regardless of who you are; regardless of where you are in life; regardless of what vocation you pursue or have pursued in the world, are to gather regularly for worship and listen over and over again to the basic word of God’s acceptance of you and all the world in his Son Jesus Christ over and over again.
Like tourists who see Paris only through their viewfinders, Peter, who wanted to keep the moment from passing, was in danger of missing the moment. Let’s face it: We too are in danger of missing the moment.
We, too, are easily distracted. Our lives are noisy. Our lives are busy. Modern technology fills our daily lives with nonstop sound & distractions. With all of our scurrying about, it is hard to hear the voice of God these days.
What will it profit us to preserve our life’s history, if we forget the fundamental reason for remembering? Home videos & family selfies may jog our memories of birthday parties and graduations and weddings and so forth, but here’s the danger: focusing on the image, we forget about its meaning.
We are losing the sense of the sacred in the mundane. In our rushing around we have removed awe & silent reverence from our lives.
We don’t take the time to truly listen. More weddings are ruined by overzealous photographers than by spending more time enjoying the wedding banquet & mingling with the wedding guests.
So make sacred the mundane. Live the moment. Listen for the voice of God.
We look but don’t see; we hear but we don’t truly listen.
God’s advice is to listen – to truly listen.
Listen to the children & the grandchildren, listen to life, listen for the sacred, & listen to God.
So, don’t just do something, stand there . . . and listen.
@Rev. Tim Wolbrecht, February, 2018
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 2-11-18” name of the sermon.