February 3, 2008

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.  Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.  Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

 It was probably the closest thing to a Superbowl Sunday feel you can have in the earthly life of Jesus. This transfiguration moment on the mountain. There on the mountain with Jesus are the hall of famers of the faith- Moses and Elijah. It’s sort of like having Walter Camp, the father of American Football and Vince Lombardi come back from the grave to visit the locker-room before the big game… Imagine if Bill Belichick or Tom Coughlin could have them come before the game today and speak to their team… What a moment that would be? This has that kind of Superbowl weekend feel to me as the first of Jesus’ disciples-those fisherman-Peter, James and John-follow him up that mountain to experience something truly remarkable. Before their eyes, Jesus is transformed-shining… radiant… talking to Moses and Elijah. And if that is not enough, they hear a voice from a cloud-God’s voice say:
This is my Son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.

If that is not a Superbowl like spiritual moment- I don’t know what is? It is one of those moments in your life that if you could, you would want to preserve it forever. You cannot blame Peter too much for offering to put up the tents so they can savor the moment. Who wants to come down from the mountaintop high experience to face the crowds, the routine… and the daily challenges you face in ordinary days ahead?

But what if… what if that mountain top experience was given them just for the purpose of helping them face what lies ahead in their lives. It’s about to get tough.

Jesus has begun to face opposition-first from people in his own hometown… then from the Jewish leaders and scholars – who keep saying this guy Jesus is dangerous… a heretic… what he is doing is violating the law of God. He’s not orthodox.

They are about to head to Jerusalem where Jesus will be swift boated by the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes…they will seek to undermine his authority and credibility. Questions will be raised about him, his character (he eats and drinks with sinners after all) and his teachings.

Perhaps, God is providing just this spiritual moment to prepare them for their journey ahead.

For in this moment, when you remove all the razzle dazzle of the shining face and the bright clothes… God has something important to say to them and to us. Don’t miss it or you may miss the point. God has gathered them all together with Jesus, Moses and Elijah and said in effect… I have sent Jesus to be with you-he is in the line of Moses and Elijah… and what I need you to do is to listen… I mean really listen to him.

Jesus is my Son, my beloved… he is the one I have sent to teach you about me and my ways…

So as you continue on your journey in your life… listen to him. Listen closely to him. He has the full backing of Moses, Elijah and God almighty. So listen!

Which is an important part of being a disciple of Jesus, don’t you think? To listen. We often miss it. I asked several people "What is a disciple?" Most said a follower. And that is true.

But how do you know what to do as a follower if you don’t listen? How do you learn as a student, if you don’t listen? If you want to be a faithful disciple, you begin by listening. Someone might say that this is why God gave us two ears and one mouth-so that we might listen better-especially listen to Jesus.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it. But you know and I know that this is easier said than done.

Oh, I want to listen to Jesus when he tells me that God loves me… and forgives me and cares for me and will welcome me to heaven to one day. And I need to hear that. I am all ready to for Jesus to be my personal savior- thank you very much.

But are you ready to call him your personal teacher-your life coach as they say today? Are you ready to put yourself in a position where you are the one who will listen and learn from him-especially when the teaching is tough? Are you going to leave his church when he doesn’t tell you what you want to hear? Find another Lord? Not everything Jesus says is easy to hear. It’s even harder to follow.

Have you really listened to what he is trying to teach us? Take some of those lessons from the famous Sermon on the Mount: What about "you’ve heard it was said, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" but I say to you "do not resist an evil doer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also… give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you." (Do you struggle with that when you see the guy holding the sign at the end of the interstate ramp asking for help?)

You have heard it said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
(Were your enemies on your prayer list today Anyone pray for Osama today?)

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume… but store up treasures in heaven… you cannot serve God and wealth..
(Anyone checking their heavenly or spiritual investments as much as their earthly one?)

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged…
(Try living that one for even part of a day)

Well…. Well… does anyone beside me have a hard time listening and learning those lessons?

Anyone besides me find it hard not to want to say "but Jesus, that’s so impractical… that’s so hard…" To which I imagine Jesus saying something like…. "And your point is?…. Who ever told you that following me was easy?

Listening is hard work… Jesus has some tough lessons to learn… but when we joined the church and made a profession of faith, we said that we wanted to be his faithful disciple, obeying his word and showing his love… we agreed to let him be our teacher… and we would learn from him about how to live our lives in a way that honors God. We said that we would learn from him the way that God intends for us to live together in this world.

According to Matthew… more than the chief priests, the Pharisees, scribes and others… Jesus is the one who has the authority to speak for God on these matters. So listen to him. If you want to be a disciple, start by listening. It could make a huge difference in your life.

I shared with the Session a book I’ve enjoyed reading called, "Christianity for the Rest of Us."  It is about spiritual seekers who are finding a home in mainline churches like ours. The author, Diana Butler Bass has surveyed growing congregations and interviewed people across the nation. She tells the story of a man named Bernard who was born into a Roman Catholic family but was essentially a nomad, a man wandering through life without any grounding at all in a faith community.

His family stopped attending church when he was in elementary school and he grew up with only a cursory knowledge of the Christian faith. He also confesses that, as a young adult, his way of life had been self indulgent. He was financially successful but was ashamed of his work that had negative impacts on the world. He felt trapped. When he and his girlfriend, Catherine, had a son, the child’s birth inspired him to seek a "meaningful positive life."  As a couple, they began looking for a church that might help them become better people and found their way to First Presbyterian, down the street from their house.

Bass says, "It is hard to imagine what most churches would make of this family, an unmarried couple with a baby, who benefited financially from an unsavory occupation. But the congregation, schooled in the deep practice of Christian hospitality, welcomed Bernard and his family into its midst. The church’s pastor, Mac Wilson, came to their home and did not "judge harshly" their lifestyle. Bernard says Mac’s warm encouragement to pursue being a Christian surprised him. The acceptance by congregation and minister, Bernard says thankfully, ‘laid the foundation of trust" that his family needed to take the steps of joining the church and having their son baptized.

Joining FPC was not easy, however. Unlike many mainline congregations, this one asks new members go to through an extended process of Christian formation in scripture study, prayer, discernment and reflection before they join. [In other words, they ask potential disciples to do some hard listening]. Although somewhat intimidated by these requirements, and still feeling shame, Bernard and Catherine committed themselves to the journey of faith offered at the church.

In the process, they became more than members. They became disciples. Their lives were transformed [as they listened to God] in authentic Christian community. Bernard says that he found "new perspectives, role models whose example of faith and Christian life" taught him that change was "indeed possible."  They experienced the love and mercy of God, learned the Bible and prayer, sang new songs of the faith, entered into the churches (worship) life, asked questions, and developed the ability to ‘bring religion out of Sunday morning and into everyday life."

In other words, they did some hard work of listening. And it was in the listening that their journey as disciples began. Eventually Bernard and Catherine married. As he pondered the state of his own soul, Bernard realized that "if we know God will forgive us, we can begin to forgive ourselves."

He also reflected on the Christian call to serve others, to ‘change and grow toward the potential that God sees in us.’ After spending months in community immersed in the practices of Christian faith (that helped him learn how to listen) Bernard eventually changed jobs that led him into a life he felt worthy of being a disciple.1

Bernard’s story reminds me that the first work of being a disciple is to listen to Jesus. That’s why God gave us two ears and one mouth. So that we might listen to the one who has much to teach us about life, about God’s ways, and about God’s dreams for each one of us and the world. Let those who have ears, then listen. Amen.

1. Christianity for the Rest of us, p 218ff

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