The Rev’d Ann J. Broomell
February 7, 2016
Last Sunday of Epiphany
I wonder if you’ve seen the clip on YouTube of Jimmy Kimmel on his late night television show noting that we’re hearing a lot about Jesus in the race for the Presidency, we might listen to Jesus saying some of what we’re hearing in the campaign. He shows Jesus standing behind a podium with the American and other flags behind him, repeating comments about walls, and refugees, and use of guns that we have heard. As we listen, the contrast is profound between the figure and the sentences he repeats.
Today we come to a reading in the Gospel of Luke that advocates listening to Jesus. The listening is of a sort that is radically different and far more hopeful. In this morning’s Gospel reading we discover a stunning visual picture of Jesus as he truly was, Light that had come into the world, standing on a mountaintop. Moses and Elijah, prophets of the history of the Hebrew people, stand on his right and his left. He has brought with him Peter, James and John, the inner circle of his disciples, those who would wait with him on the night of betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane.
They are amazed at all they see, and want to make the experience last eternally. Yet, their amazement turns to terror as they are enveloped by a dark cloud. Out of the cloud the voice of God says the words heard by Jesus at his Baptism: “This is my son the beloved.” To which are added “Listen to him”. This is the message given by God to those who would go into the world in his name.
Much like the birth of Jesus, today’s Gospel is another story that pulls us up short. Like the nativity, it is a story of great visual beauty. A set of images linking Jesus to the great prophets of the past and to his place in the future. A lesson that holds layer after layer of meaning. Yet, much like the narrative of Jesus’ birth, this is an incident which most modern Biblical scholars believe probably never happened.
They see it as a combination of stories of Jesus appearing to his disciples after his resurrection, placed here in the Gospel of Luke to highlight the importance of those disciples who had become foundational to the Christian movement. Disciples who may well have become leaders in the church because they had experiences of a luminous risen Christ. You and I can find meaning in the transfiguration of Jesus as well as we seek to know Jesus as present and powerful in our lives, that we might be transformed as well.
As they put together the story of his ministry and its impact on their lives, those who followed Jesus reflected the glory they knew in him, and the light that he truly was. His followers reflected the place Jesus held in their hearts as he stood first beside Moses and Elijah, and then stood alone. It is then that God identified him has his Son, the Beloved, and instructed the disciples to ”(l)isten to him.”
They are of course words for us as well. We can read about Jesus, we can read about prayer, we can pray with all our being. In our busy world those actions fit well with our approach to life and the world. They are very important.
Listening to Jesus is different. As you know, this kind of listening takes us to a totally different realm from the places in which we listen and learn today. We hunger for God. Our hunger will not be filled through our intelligence or our accomplishments. God is not found in our intellects. God is not found in our heads. God rests, awaiting our discovery, in our hearts.
There is the story of a Midwesterner who’d grown up on a farm visiting his college roommate in NYC. Walking near Times Square one day, the visitor suddenly remarked, “I hear a cricket.” “You’re crazy,” his friend. “It’s rush hour and in all of this traffic noise you hear a cricket? C’mon.”
“No, I did hear a cricket.” his friend replied. He walked to the corner crossed the busy Avenue and looked around. Finally he put his hand under a shrub in a large cement planter and pulled out a cricket. His friend couldn’t believe what he’d seen. His friend said, “My hearing isn’t so amazing, it simply depends on what you’re listening for. Here, let me show you.”
Then he pulled some change out of his pocket and dropped the coins on the sidewalk. Every head around them turned. “See what I mean?” the visitor asked, beginning to pick up what was left of his coins. “It all depends what you’re listening for.” (1)
God/Jesus speaks to each one of us. How do you listen for God’s words to you? Where do you find the sheer silence in which you hear God speak?
God is found when we empty our minds of thoughts and distractions, move beyond our thinking and rest in silence in our hearts. One of the ways to hear God is through repetitive prayer—the repeating over again and again of a phrase or a word until we find ourselves deeply connected to God and then letting go in silence. Then, when our mind wanders, without reproach gently taking up the phrase again. Through the rosary, the repetition of phrases in song as in Taize music, through the Jesus prayer of Russian Orthodoxy, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” we seek to occupy our minds, so that we can be present in our hearts and find God.
Through watching a butterfly float from flower to flower to flower. Watching our hands as we weed or dust or peel potatoes. Focusing on the rhythm of our feet as we run we enter this place of silence. We let the place in our mind where our worries and thoughts cycle through be pushed aside by the repetition. We occupy our minds so that we can know God’s presence, so that we can listen with our hearts.
Those of us whose lives have been rooted in learning must work to allow ourselves to seek God in this way. While we may see as an approach that is light-weight and over-simplified and watered down, we must give ourselves the opportunity to discover that it is in these places of simplicity, of stillness, that we can move into the presence of God.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta found the energy and focus of her life in silence.
She described her experience in this way:
We need to find God and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. …Is not our mission to give God to the poor in the slums? Not a dead God, but a living, loving God. The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life.
We need silence to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and through us. All our words will be useless unless they come from within—words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness. (2)
In today’s world, the Episcopal Church is particularly relevant. The Anglican approach to worship and to God was to look back to the first century and let the life of the early Christian church form our worship and our understanding of God and community. In chaos of fall of Roman Empire, Jesus offered hope. Jesus continues to offer you and me hope today as we discover God within and among us, as we seek the mysterious reality of God’s presence in our lives. Rather than moving to something new, we are regaining our base and rooting ourselves in the knowledge of Jesus Christ that energized early Christianity. The knowledge of Jesus that grounds and energizes our lives as well.
Let me conclude with A Listener’s Prayer by Sir Paul Reeves
Grant me to be
Silent before you –
That I may hear you;
at rest in you –
that you may work in me;
open to you –
that you may enter;
empty before you-
that you may fill me.
Let me be still
and know you are my God.
(1) As told by Donald Selby. http://www.homileticsonline.com
(2) Teresa, Mother, of Calcutta. A Gift for God. New York, HarperCollins, 2003, p. 68-69.
(3) Reeves, Sir Paul: World Council of Churches’ 7th Assembly, Canberra, Australia, 1991.