Listen, and then respond
Jonathan Rowe, 7 August 2022
Thank you for such a wonderful drama! I expect you noticed that drama involves people speaking with each other, communicating what they see, think and feel.
Speaking is what people do all the time. It’s a big part of how we relate to each other. And it’s what God does, too. God speaks to create the world. Remember the famous words from Genesis, ‘Then God said, “Let there be light”’.
Not only did God speak to create the world, he speaks in and through creation. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God,’ begins Psalm 19.
God also speaks to rescue. To Pharaoh he says, ‘Let my people go’. After the Exodus, God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, calling people to live with him: ‘Hear, O Israel’, start the Ten Commandments. When they choose to live another way, God speaks again, calling his people back through the words of the prophets, including the prophet Elijah.
‘God speaks’ is one of the Bible’s most important themes. In fact, the Bible is sometimes called ‘God’s word’.
But speaking is only one half of the equation of communication. Communication involves both speaking and listening, sending and receiving. It’s a two-way process. Sometimes it works straight away. At other times, we don’t hear or we misunderstand: we ‘get the wrong end of the stick’.
Luke’s gospel to this point has been a tale of how people have misunderstood Jesus. Luke has described healings and miracles, recounted Jesus’ parables and explained how people have left everything to follow him. But still the disciples don’t ‘get it’. The Transfiguration describes how God speaks to clarify who Jesus is and what we must do.
The Transfiguration describes how God speaks to clarify who Jesus is and what we must do.
Yet things don’t start well. Peter, John and James are rather sleepy, so it’s unsurprising they don’t quite realise what’s going on. But what is going on? Even to us it can seem a little strange. Why are Jesus and the disciples on a mountain? Who are Moses and Elijah? Why do Jesus’ clothes dazzle white? Who is speaking from the cloud? Find answers to these questions and we will begin to understand what’s going on.
So, why are Jesus and the disciples on a mountain? In the Bible, mountains are often places where God meets people. And that’s what happens at the Transfiguration.
Second, who are Moses and Elijah? Moses led the people of Israel from slavery to Egypt, through the Red Sea to safety, and received the Ten Commandments. It’s a story of exodus, of rescue. Elijah is an Old Testament prophet. The presence of Moses and Elijah highlights how Jesus’ ministry is a continuation of all that God has done before through the law and the prophets.
Jesus, Luke explains, will also rescue. But the way he would do that would be unexpected, even scandalous: he would die upon a cross. That’s why Jesus clothes dazzle white. As Jesus meets God in prayer, his true, glorious character is revealed. Jesus’ dazzling white clothes anticipate his final resurrection glory.
Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, though, will not be glorious, but shameful. And it’s because of this that the voice speaks from the cloud. A cloud is a fairly common way the Bible depicts God’s presence. It’s the same here: the cloud indicates that it’s God himself who clarifies the situation for the confused trio of disciples: ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him’.
Perhaps you are wondering, ‘How do we listen to God?’ Well, it’s a bit like a drama.
First, we listen by being silent. That’s more than not speaking over the other person, although that a very good start! It involves creating a space for the other person to speak. In the same way, the first step to listening to God is to quieten ourselves and focus on him.
Second, when we listen, we concentrate on his words. Jesus is sometimes called God’s Word. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection speak of God’s love for the world; we listen to God by paying attention to Jesus.
Third we respond. I think that listening to God always produces a reaction: sometimes emotional, at other times thoughtful. But listening to God does involve a response. For Jesus, that response was to continue his journey to Jerusalem. I wonder what it might be for us.
One final thought. In St Paul’s Church we have a marvellous reminder of the Transfiguration as the foretaste of Jesus’ heavenly, resurrected glory. The most prominent feature of our Resurrection Cross is the glistening of the gold. It shines, emphasising how Jesus shares God’s glory: as God speaks, so Jesus speaks. In other words, Jesus is the Word of God. And that’s why we should listen to him. Amen.