TITLE: Listen to him! SCRIPTURE: Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)
WHO IS THIS?
Earlier in this chapter, Herod, hearing of the great works that Jesus was doing, "was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. Herod said, 'John I beheaded; but WHO IS THIS about whom I hear such things?' And he tried to see him" (vv. 7-9).
This question, "Who is this?" is central to this Gospel in general and to chapter 9 in particular. Jesus asked the disciples, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They answered, "John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen." Jesus asked, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The Messiah of God" (vv. 18-20).
Then Jesus told the disciples what Peter's answer implied. "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" (vv. 21-22). This answers the question, "Who is this?" -- not by giving Jesus a title but by describing the process by which he will accomplish his work.
Now, in today's Gospel lesson, we have the most authoritative answer to the question, "Who is this?"
Today, our Gospel lesson is the story of the Transfiguration. The facts of the story are simple enough:
They "went up on the mountain to pray," and great things happened. "To have 'mountaintop experiences' it is not enough to go up on a mountain; you must go up on a 'mountain to pray' " There is a sermon in this brief quotation.
-- Jesus takes three disciples to a mountain, where he is suddenly transformed -- or transfigured -- that's where the word Transfiguration comes from. His face changes and his clothes become dazzling white.
-- Then Moses and Elijah -- both long dead -- appear with Jesus and talk with him.
-- Peter, one of the three disciples, advocates building three booths -- one each for Jesus, Moses and Elijah -- but a voice from heaven interrupts, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
Why does the Bible include this odd story? It must mean something! What could it be? Does it have anything to do with us today?
Let me assure you that this story has a good deal of meaning -- far more than we can unpack in one sermon.
And let me assure you that it has something to do with us today.
This story addresses two questions: One -- Who is Jesus? Two – How should we respond to him?
First -- Who is Jesus?
-- Earlier in this chapter, King Herod heard stories about Jesus working miracles? Herod asked, "WHO IS THIS about whom I hear such things?"
-- And then we have Jesus asking the disciples, "Who do THE CROWDS say that I am?"
-- And then he asks, "Who do YOU say that I am?"
Peter, who so often got things wrong, answered correctly. He said, "(You are) the Messiah of God."
Good answer, Peter!
"WHO is THIS?" "Who do THE CROWDS say that I am?" Who do YOU say that I
am?" Who is JESUS? That is the first great question that this story addresses -- and God finally answers it. God says:
"This is my SON, my chosen."
Keep in mind that Peter has just said that Jesus is the Messiah of God. When God says, "This is my Son," he simply confirms what Peter already knows in his heart.
And then God addresses the second question -- How should we respond to Jesus? Should we run away? Should we kneel? Should we offer sacrifices? If Jesus is the Son of God, how should we respond to him?
God answers that question too. First he says, "This is my Son" – and then he says,
"Listen to him."
"Listen to him." My Son will tell you what you need to know. He will not lead you astray. "Listen to him." Hang on every word! Don't miss anything! Take notes! "Listen to him."
That was good advice for those early disciples -- and it is good advice for us as well. God says,
"This is my Son....Listen to him!"
Why would God tell these three men to listen to Jesus? Weren't they already Jesus' disciples? Weren't they already listening?
"Listen to him!" "This command is a preface to all Jesus' teaching of the disciples on his journey to Jerusalem, teaching designed to prepare them for their tasks when he is no longer with them" However, the disciples will neither listen well nor carry out their tasks faithfully -- until after the resurrection.
-- They will fail to heal a boy with a demon (9:37-43).
-- They will fail to understand Jesus' warning about his betrayal (9:43-45).
-- They will argue about which one of them is the greatest (9:46-48).
-- They will not understand Jesus prediction of his death and resurrection (18:31-34).
-- Peter will deny Jesus (22:54-62).
-- They will stand at a distance while Jesus was crucified (23:49).
The answer is both Yes and No. These disciples were happy to listen to Jesus when he told them what they wanted to hear. They were happy to listen when Jesus said things that rang true -- that reinforced what they already believed.
But sometimes Jesus told them things they didn't want to hear – things that didn't ring true -- things that seemed backwards.
For instance, just prior to the Transfiguration, Jesus told them that HE would have to suffer and die. They didn't want to hear that, so they ignored it. They just quit listening.
And then Jesus told them that THEY would suffer and die too. They didn't want to hear that either, so they ignored it. They just quit listening.
That is what we do when people tell us something that we don't want to hear, isn't it! We just quit listening.
But God said, "This is my Son.... LISTEN to him!"
We, too, are tempted to stop listening to Jesus, because he tells us things that we don't want to hear. Jesus tells us things that don't pass the "common sense" rule -- that don't jibe with our experience.
There is a reason for that. We are accustomed to living in this world. We know the rules of this world. "Look out for Number One," the world tells us. "Don't trust anyone." "Grab all the gusto you can get!" Those are "This World" rules. "This World" rules tend to be self-centered -- selfish.
We live in a small community. We have problems that need fixing -- problems that affect all of us, some more than others. When we attended a meeting where we propose spending money to fix the problems, someone objects, asking a "This World" question. "What's in it for me?" Often we are able to explain to our neighbors how they would benefit personally -- and we were able to approve the project.
But it is not a good question. "What's in it for me?" That question ignores the fact that we are in the same boat. If we refuse to repair the hole at the other end of the boat, sooner or later we all sink -- we all go down together. "What's in it for me?" is the kind of "This World" question that seems to make sense -- but threatens to un-do us.
Jesus came to teach us "Kingdom of God" questions. The difference between a "This World" question and a "Kingdom of God" question is simple, but profound. This world teaches us to ask, "What's in it for ME?" Jesus teaches us to ask, "What's in it for US?"
And then he teaches us to define US very broadly. "Who is my neighbor?" they asked, and Jesus said, "The Samaritans!" "Oh, no," they said, "not the Samaritans!" but Jesus said, "Oh, yes, the Samaritans!"
"Who is my neighbor?" we ask, and Jesus says, "Your enemy!" "Oh, no," we say, "not my enemy!" Jesus says, "Oh, yes, your enemy! Pray for your enemy!"
So we plug up our ears and walk away! How can we pray for our enemy?
But God says, "This is my SON! LISTEN to him! He won't lead you astray! Do what he says!"
Jesus calls us to do lots of hard things. Loving our enemies is just one of them.
And God says, "This is my SON! LISTEN to him! He will not lead you astray! Do what he says!"
Some years ago, when the Southern Baptists were quarreling over the inerrancy of the Scriptures, Tony Campolo gave a speech at their convention. He said:
"I don't know why you're worrying so much about the inerrancy of the Scripture;
after you prove that it's inerrant, you're not going to do what it says anyway."
Later, commenting on that speech, he said:
"It's true! If you're supposed to be a pacifist, if you're supposed to give your money to the poor -- you're not going to do all this stuff. Wouldn't it be better if you agreed that the Bible didn't speak the truth all the time, and then maybe you could get out of some of these obligations."
Those of us who are not Baptists are tempted to take too much pleasure at Campolo's remarks, imagining that they apply only to Baptists. The truth is that, when it comes to listening to Jesus, it really doesn't matter whether we are Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Catholics, Methodists, or whatever. We all find it easy to profess faith -- and difficult to live it.
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