Don't Just Do Something; Stand There! Matthew 17:1-9
You have heard people say, "Don't just stand there; do something!" That saying testifies to our faith in action -- in doing -- in pitching in and getting it done!
There is much to commend that attitude. "Passive" is a bad word in our culture -- rhymes with "apathetic" -- smacks of do-nothing! We have all known people who passively let things happen-- who sit back and hope a good job will land in their lap -- who wait for their ship to come in -- who tolerate abuse without complaint -- who let their house go to rack-and-ruin -- who let the other guy or gal do it. We don't like that. We like people who live active, vital lives. "Live in the active voice!" someone said.
I must confess that I am in the "Live in the active voice!" camp. Here at the church, we depend on people who pitch in and do their part. Most of our work gets done by people who have other things to do -- other ways to spend their day.
"If you want something done," we say, "ask someone who is busy!" That reflects our experience that people who aren't doing anything probably aren't going to do anything. If we want something done, we have to get a do-er to do it.
But somewhere along the line I heard a wise man say, "Every strength carried to excess becomes a weakness!" What he meant was this: It is possible to get too much of a good thing. We can spend too much time playing, but we can also spend too much time working. We can spend too much time sitting, but we can also spend too much time doing. This wise man advised trying to achieve balance in our lives.
In our Gospel lesson today, we have the story of a man who was too active -- who tended to leap before he looked. That man's name was Peter.
In this instance, Jesus had chosen his three closest disciples for a signal honor. He took them up on a high mountain -- into the very presence of God.
While they were on that mountain, two great men -- long dead -- suddenly appeared to them. One was Moses, who had stood up to Pharaoh and led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. The other was Elijah, who had stood up to the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. They were two of the greatest people in Israel's history. To see them in the flesh was like having George Washington and Abraham Lincoln sudden come to life in your presence.
And then Jesus' face began to shine -- bright as the sun -- and his clothes became dazzling white. It was obvious that God was in their midst.
Peter could have responded in many ways. He could have knelt down and said, "This is holy ground." He could have said, "Thank you, Jesus, for bringing me to this place." Or he could have kept his mouth shut and enjoyed the moment.
But Peter wasn't very good at keeping his mouth shut. Whatever happened, you could pretty well count on Peter saying something and doing something. Peter was a little bit like the Energizer Bunny -- always in motion.
What Peter had to say in this moment was this:
"Lord, it is good for us to be here;
if you wish, I will make three dwellings here,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
"Lord, it is good for us to be here" -- "us" meaning the three disciples, Peter, James, and John. Why was it good for them to be there? As nearly as we can tell, Peter was saying, "Jesus, this great occasion demands a response. You're in luck, Jesus! We'll take care of it for you." And then Peter proposed making three booths or dwellings -- one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus.
But then a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said:
"This is my Son, the Beloved;
with him I am well pleased;
listen to him!"
That was a truly graceful moment. God could have said, "Shut up, Peter, you talk too much!" Jesus could have said, "That's a really stupid idea, Peter." But nobody said an unkind word. God simply said:
"This is my Son, the Beloved;
with him I am well pleased;
listen to him!"
That is a really good idea, isn't it? Listen to Jesus! Close your mouth and open your ears. Quit talking and start listening. Peter wouldn't really do that until after the resurrection. Before the resurrection, he often acts impetuously. He jumps out of a perfectly good boat to try to walk to Jesus over the water -- and then loses faith and begins to sink. He will cut off the ear of the high priest's servant in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter was a real Type-A man -- the kind of man who needed to slow down and quiet down.
I have already acknowledged that I like do-ers -- people who get things done. Most of us do. But we need also to acknowledge that our busyness can get in the way of lots of things -- our spiritual lives -- our families -- the things that count most in life. Eugene Peterson put it this way. He said:
Busyness is the enemy of spirituality....
It is filling our time with our own actions
instead of paying attention to God's actions.
It is taking charge.
We like to take charge, don't we! We like to be in control. But if there is any one clear message in the Bible, it is this: We aren't in charge -- God is! God seldom chose the brightest and best to do his work. Moses stuttered -- and didn't want the job. David was just a shepherd boy. God told Gideon to send most of his army home so that he would attack with a force of only 300 men. The list goes on and on.
The message for us is this: If we will listen -- if we will seek to know and to do God's will -- God will bless us. If, instead, we chose to chart our own course -- to be the captain of our own ship -- to take charge instead of seeking God's help -- we will lose the blessing. The message is this: We will go a lot further and travel much happier with God than on our own.
Sometimes we pay a real price for taking off on our own -- for rushing around and acting hastily -- for not taking time to listen -- for not getting God's direction for our lives.
Christmas wasn't very long ago. Perhaps you can remember the Christmas rush and appreciate this story -- a true story as far as I know. I heard about a woman caught up in the Christmas rush who hastily grabbed a box of Christmas cards -- quickly addressed most of them -- and put them in the mail. Later, she happened to notice one of the leftovers. Her heart sank when she read the inscription inside. It said:
"This card is just to say
a little gift is on the way."
Oh, my! What a bad surprise!
What is it that the railroad signs say? "Stop! Look! Listen!" What great advice! While I was preparing this sermon, I Googled "Stop! Look! Listen!" to see what I would find. I found a site by Dan and Crishell, a Christian couple in the Philippines. Dan talked about having lived near a railroad track and hearing of accidents where a train hit a car. He noted that the railroad posts "Stop! Look! Listen!" signs to warn people of impending danger. Then he said:
"The word of God is our STOP, LOOK & LISTEN warning sign.
The word of God is full of instruction, guidance, and leading
so that we can cross this life with victory."
Well said, Dan! We would be so much better off if we would stop before we act -- if we would look for God's direction -- listen for God's voice -- and go in the direction God calls us to go.
Dr. Mordecai Kaplan, in a book about Sabbath-keeping, put it this way. He said:
An artist cannot be continually wielding his brush.
He must stop at times in his painting
to freshen his vision of the object,
the meaning of which he wishes to express on his canvas.
Living is also an art.
We dare not become absorbed in its technical processes
and lose our consciousness of its general plan.
The Sabbath represents those moments
when we pause in our brushwork
to renew our vision of this object.
Having done so
we take ourselves to our painting
with clarified vision and renewed energy.
Stop! Look! Listen!
Let me close with this story. A father brought home a bulging briefcase every night, and spent every evening working through its contents. His daughter, a first grader, asked him why he did that. The father explained that he had so much work to do that he couldn't finish it during the day. So the little girl asked, "Well, then, why don't they put you in a slower group?"
If you are rushing through life headlong -- having no time to smell the flowers -- having no time for your family -- having no time for God -- maybe it's time to Stop! Look! Listen! Maybe it's time to move to a slower group!
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