The Voice That Makes All Things Clear
Sermon preached on February 14, 2010
Our scripture tonight is called the Transfiguration. It recounts the day Jesus was changed, transformed before the disciples. The traditional location for this is Mt. Tabor, between Nazareth and Galilee in northern Israel. The mountain rises about 2000 feet above sea level. Mt Tabor is the same today as it was in the time of Jesus – except for the parking lot, the rest rooms, the gift shop and the tour buses. Lots of tourists want to stand in the place where Jesus was transfigured.
Jesus often took time to get away, for prayer, renewal and communion with God. On a mountain or in the wilderness. This time he takes Peter, James and John with him. He wants to model for them the importance of prayer and spiritual contact with God. After a while, though, they just fall asleep. They can’t pray as long as Jesus. We can imagine them lying on their cloaks on the ground under a tree as he prays on.
When they wake, they notice immediately the scene is different. Jesus is no longer alone, and his appearance has changed. He shines like a great searchlight. The disciples don’t know how they knew, but they realize he is talking with Moses and Elijah, two figures from Israel’s history. Moses the lawgiver, and Elijah on of Israel’s great prophets. The disciples are stunned at first, and they listen to the three having their conversation. As Moses and Elijah move away to leave, Peter can’t resist the urge to speak, to say something. “Master,” he says. “It’s good that we disciples are here. We can build three shelters, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Luke the writer adds a little editorial comment: Peter didn’t know what he was saying.
Neither do we. Some think he was suggesting building shelters to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. Our children built one of those shelters in the Memoral garden last year. Others think Peter was just offering to put Moses and Elijah up for the night, like we might set someone up in the guest house out back. But Moses and Elijah are beyond the need for shelters anymore. What Peter says sounds silly, really. It was a gaffe. I imagine he regretted it the moment the words came out of his mouth. Maybe Moses and Elijah smiled at his innocence. Maybe the other disciples rolled their eyes. It won’t be the last time Peter says the wrong thing. But he’s confused. With the Transfiguration, his life has suddenly gotten more complicated.
Ash Wednesday is this week. It marks the beginning of Lent, a time of preparation for Easter. At the Ash Wednesday service in the evening, the Wesley Bell Choir will be performing a piece called “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” They’ve been working on it for weeks.
There are new ringers in the bell choir, and it’s interesting to see bell ringing through their eyes. Watching them, you realize how complicated it is. Having the right bells, and playing them at the right time. And there the music itself, little ink blots on a piece of paper. What do all these symbols mean? To someone new to bell ringing, it’s a complicated thing. At measure 40 of When I Survey there is an important key change. If you miss it, you will be playing a flat when you should have a natural. Music is complicated, any music.
I think that’s what happened to Peter on Mt. Tabor. Suddenly there was this enormous key change, and Peter found himself holding the wrong bell. He played the wrong note, and everyone knew it. I can’t really blame him, though. Any of us would have done the same.
So how is the music in your life lately? Is the music life is giving you simple or complicated to play? Is your music the same or different as it used to be? As I watch people in this congregation, they seem to be playing more complicated music than ever. In their work, in their family life, in their health, or all of the above. I see people struggling with difficult music – with sharps and flats and changes in rhythm and unexpected dissonances. It’s tough to keep up. The notes just come and come. It’s inevitable you will play the wrong note – say or do the wrong thing. And once the wrong sound is out there, you feel like everyone has heard your mistake, and you just want to hide.
Sometimes we do more than play the wrong note. Sometimes we flat fall down. Paul Wylie is an Olympic figure skater. At the 1988 winter games in Calgary he went out on the ice to do his long program. On is first jump, he realized something was wrong immediately. Then he felt his hand touch the ice, and his blade begin to slip. He realized, “I’m falling.” As he collapsed to the ice, he heard what sounded like a million voices groaning. He got up on his skates again and hustled on to the next move. But in his head the conversation was underway. “I still have four minutes to go. I can’t erase a fall. This is live… and I’ve blown it.”
And we blow it too. Whether we are beginners or advanced, young or old. We fall flat down. We feel exposed, like everyone is watching our mistake.
Peter must have felt everyone watching him after his faux pas about the shelters. But fortunately something happened to take the attention off him. A cloud enveloped the mountain. In the Bible a cloud is a symbol of God. The cloud was frightening to the disciples. Then a voice frightened them even more. “This is my chosen Son. Listen to him,” said the voice. We don’t know whether the voice was calm or frustrated. Then the cloud went away. Elijah and Moses were gone too. The disciples were left alone with Jesus. I think the voice came to help Peter and the other two disciples. Their life had suddenly grown more complicated. The voice helped to simplify things. They didn’t need at this point to say or do anything (like build shelters). They only need to listen to Jesus. That was their task right then. There would be time for doing and saying later. Right now, they only needed to listen.
So with us. When our life has grown too complicated, when we have hit the wrong notes, when we have fallen down, the one thing we can count on in those times is the voice of Jesus. At the end of the scripture, Jesus is still with the disciples. Jesus is still with us, and we can learn to listen for his voice too.
After Paul Wylie got up from his fall, he continued on with his program. But in his mind he was struggling. Why even go on? The negative thoughts multiplied. Then a scripture came into his mind. Psalm 37.24. “Though he stumble, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” This verse steadied his mind. He began to think about the matter from God’s perspective. He realized God could use success or failure to teach him. He said to himself as he skated, “I am imperfect, but I will skate for God’s glory, not my own score.” Paul Wylie came in 10th in those Olympics. In the ’92 games, he won a silver medal.
I believe the voice that came into Paul Wylie’s mind as he skated after his fall was the voice of Jesus. Scripture is one way the voice of Jesus can speak to us. This makes it all the more important that we know scripture, intimately, have it written on our hearts so it can help us in our time of need. It’s one way Jesus speaks to us.
A second way Jesus speaks to us is through spiritual mentors, people around us who have wisdom. Their wisdom on our life can become the voice of Jesus speaking to us. Jesus needed Moses and Elijah as his mentors, so we can seek out spiritual advisers in our own life. Jesus will speak through them to us.
A third way Jesus speaks to us is through our own emotions. In his writing on prayer and discernment, Gordon Smith says Jesus speaks to us through consolation, not desolation. If you have two choices before you, and one of them makes you feel desolate, but the other makes you feel hopeful, then that emotion is Jesus speaking to you. The voice of Jesus leads us to consolation, toward hope.
These are three ways the voice of Jesus speaks to me: scripture, mentors, emotions. However we hear the voice of Jesus, the effect on us is similar. The voice simplifies our complexities, it calms our troubled spirits, and it helps us chart a way forward. It is the voice that makes all things clear.