Listening Every Step of the Way

February 23, 2020

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC

Last Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 17:1-9

Listen here (transcript below):


Transcript of sermon:

Today is the last Sunday after Epiphany, which makes it the last Sunday before Lent, Each year on this particular Sunday we hear the story of the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop. Now, just to be clear, this isn’t the Feast Day of the Transfiguration, that happens in August. So it begs the question, why do we hear this story of the transfiguration each year at this time?

Perhaps it’s a final Epiphany moment where we’re seeing Jesus on the mountaintop alongside Moses and Elijah, fully illumined – literally and symbolically – as the Messiah. Or perhaps it’s in order to provide that last instruction that’s needed beyond the revelation.

You see, on the first Sunday after Epiphany, we hear the story of the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. As he’s coming out from the waters, a cloud descends and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And so too, on this last Sunday after Epiphany, we hear those same words. “This is my son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased,” but it takes it one step further and says, “listen to him!” Exclamation point.

In Matthew’s telling, it’s only after this proclamation the disciples are struck with fear and fall to the ground. In the other tellings this happens at the appearance of Moses and Elijah, but there is no fear of the disciples in Matthew’s telling until the voice comes out and says, “Listen to him!”

Now, if I were Peter, I’d be pretty frustrated by that. You see, Peter is right there, and he’s being told to listen. But Peter’s been listening all along. Time after time from as early as the first encounter that Peter had with Jesus.

  • Peter and his brother Andrew are casting their nets into the sea, and Jesus says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” And Peter listened and Peter followed.
  • Then in chapter 10 when Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore, ask the Lord to send out the laborers into the harvest.” Peter listened and was named as the first of the twelve disciples.
  • And in chapter 14 when the twelve disciples in the boat see Jesus approaching, walking on the water, it was Peter who said, “All you have to do is command me to come out and I will join you.” And Jesus said, “Come.” And Peter stepped out of the boat and began walking on the water. Peter was listening to Jesus each step of the way. And although fear caught him as the wind blew, Jesus reached out his hand, not rejecting Peter for his fear, but affirming him for his willingness to try.
  • Later as Jesus was teaching in parables on his way to Jerusalem, it was Peter’s voice, after hearing these complicated lessons, who asked Jesus to explain what they meant. Jesus taught and Peter listened every step of the way.
  • And just before the passage that we heard today before this mountaintop event, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others, Elijah and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” And Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And it was Simon Peter who answered that question saying, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven.” Peter was not only listening to Jesus, but listening for the revelation from God about who Jesus was. And as a reward, Peter was the one on whom the church would be built, not one who didn’t make any mistakes, but one who listened, and one who kept trying even when it didn’t always work out right.

Jesus entrusted things to Peter. And after having entrusted those things to Peter, he started telling the others about his journey to Jerusalem and the fact that he would have to suffer and he would be killed and that he would be resurrected. And perhaps with Peter’s new found confidence, upon hearing this, he pulls Jesus to the side and rebukes him and says, “Oh no, no, that can’t happen.” And Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan, you are a stumbling block to me, for you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”

So even with these missteps, Jesus stuck with Peter.

Jesus took Peter to the mountaintop and Peter kept on trying, seeing Moses and Elijah with Jesus. He said, “Hey, it’s a good thing we’re here. Let me build some huts for you guys so we can hang out for a while.” He was trying, he was listening.

At the last supper when Jesus warns that Peter will deny him, Peter says, “I will not.” Well, we all know how that story ends. Even so, Jesus never rejects Peter. And Peter kept listening. Peter kept showing up and Peter kept trying.

He didn’t get discouraged by his own inadequacies or failures. He kept showing up. He was one among the eleven disciples who saw the resurrected Christ, and who were commissioned to go and spread God’s love to other people.

So perhaps this transfiguration story is told on the last Sunday after Epiphany each year to remind us as we approach Lent, as we approach a time of prayer and listening and maybe trying some new things, that we may not always get it right. Peter certainly didn’t. The church certainly hasn’t.

But in the same way that Jesus responded to those fearful disciples on the mountaintop, we can hear his voice saying, “Get up. Do not be afraid. Just keep listening and just keep trying.”

That’s what being a follower of Jesus calls us to and requires from us. Amen.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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