Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday Yr C, 22/02/2004
Based on Lk 9:28-36By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, & Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Listen To Jesus”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House, frequently complained, we’re told, that no one really paid any attention to what he said.
One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who came down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir."
It was not until the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Not quite knowing what to say, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, "I’m sure she had it coming."
Listening is such an integral part of the communication process you’d think that we’d get it. Apparently we don’t.
We don’t do it very well. The auditory apparatus is not at fault. We hear the sounds others make. Yet we often refuse to grant them meaning, or we ignore the meaning we receive. Parents, children, spouses, co-workers, employers, even preachers--all complain that no one listens to them. What’s going on?
Some specialists urge that we try to "listen between the lines," i.e. that we attempt to hear the sub-text, the intention behind the actual oral communication. This requires enormous discipline and if we’re not accustomed to active listening, or "deep listening" as some experts call it, we’re going to fail.
Good listeners, say those who study listening, respect others and value their opinions. They try to stay inquisitive about each other, remembering that we can usually learn from others, even if we don’t agree with what they are saying. Good listeners take it slow and easy; they don’t jump to conclusions or race ahead in the conversation. They stay in the moment and prepare to respond thoughtfully.
Conversation is vital in the human community. That’s why books have been written on the art of listening, why Oprah has experts on listening on her show, and why college classes in conflict resolution include sections on listening. It is the best way we stay linked to each other and how we learn about others as well as ourselves. Of course, it can get sloppy and chaotic at times. Conversation doesn’t just happen in nice, concentric, and logical circles of understanding. There’s often a lot of sorting out to do.
It is so amazing that when God takes a moment to legitimize the ministry of Jesus, of all the things God could’ve said, he mentions listening. "This is Jesus, my Son, Listen up!"
So what does deep listening to Jesus mean? What’s it all about? 1
In today’s gospel, Luke tells us that, "Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray." There were times in our Lord’s life-journey when he needed to retreat, to rest, to listen, to pray, to be filled again with new strength from God so he could continue his work and ministry. Prayer and listening for Jesus--and all the more for us!--is the indispensable means, which prevents light from growing dull or dying. If we are going to let the brightness of Christ’s light shine in and through our lives, then we, like Jesus, need to pray and listen. Prayer and listening or Listening Prayer involves, on our part, daily discipline and concentrated effort.
In his Table Talk, Martin Luther provides us with this example, emphasising concentration in the daily discipline of prayer.
When Luther’s puppy happened to be at the table, looked for a morsel from his master, and watched with open mouth and motionless eyes, he (Martin Luther) said, "Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. Otherwise he has no thought, wish, or hope." 2
I don’t know if you’re like me--but I find it very difficult to listen deeply if I am "multi-tasking," that is, trying to do or listen to too many things or people at the same time. A busy, noisy environment is often too distracting; it is much easier to concentrate and listen in a quiet, pleasant environment. That’s why Jesus chose the mountaintop to pray.
That’s also why we too need our quiet, holy places to pray, so that we do not become too distracted and can focus more single-mindedly on what we are doing.
When we pray, we need then to realize that prayer is as much a listening to God, as it is us speaking with God. Every good healthy relationship involves dialogue. If water is constantly taken out of a well without it receiving new water from some source, the well will certainly run dry. Prayer too is a receiving and a giving, a listening and a speaking. If we’re hogging the conversation, we are actually stifling ourselves, and failing to grow in faith by catering to our own agendas rather than knowing, accepting and doing God’s will.
Gladys Aylward, was once asked why she became a missionary. She said that she was "absolutely, positively sure" that it was what God wanted her to do. And she gave this advice: "Whatever you do in life, say your prayers. Don’t just talk to God. Be very still and quiet and give God a chance to talk to you--you’ll be surprised what God has to say." 3
Occasionally, when we engage in listening prayer, we too, like Jesus and his disciples, are given a mountaintop experience, a vision from God. Prayer, our mountaintop, enables us to see things, which we could never see in the valley or the plain. Vision is a necessary ingredient for us individually as well as for the whole church. Without vision we become stagnant, myopic and careless. We lose sight of the purpose and mission, which our Lord has called us to strive toward.
An old man asked his son to bring him an apple. He cut the apple, took out a seed, split it in half, and asked his son, “What so you see?” The boy saw only an apple seed and answered, “Nothing. I see nothing.” Said his father, “Son, where you see nothing there dwells a mighty tree.” 4
Listening prayer gives us a vision to see a mighty tree. Listening prayer gives us not merely a vision of ourselves, but also a vision of Grace Lutheran, our synod, our national church, and indeed, the whole Christian Church; of which we’re all members; each one of us having our special contribution to make and task to fulfill.
May the dazzling light of the transfigured Christ shine radiantly in our hearts and lives; that we may be enriched with a clearer vision of God’s will for us; and, with boldness and faith, strive to accomplish our LORD’s mission. So, listen to Jesus in the quiet of prayer and look for him to shed his radiant light on you—to make your life transfigured and more radiant and alive too. Amen.
1 Cited from: Timothy F. Merrill, Lectionary Tales for the Pulpit: Series IV, Cycle C (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2003), pp. 45-46. 2 Cited from: Luther’s Works: Volume 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), pp. 37-38. 3 Unfortunately I’ve lost the source of this illustration. 4 Cited from: Albert P. Stauderman, Let Me Illustrate (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), p. 171.