Suzanne G. Roberts
Sermon for Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A, February 26, 2017
Exodus 24:12-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9; Psalm 2 or 99
What is it that is making you lie awake at night lately? What is it that is buzzing through your brain as you lie in the dark, frustrated and exhausted, preventing you from sleeping? We all have nighttime ruminations: sometimes they are worries, regrets, or fears, but sometimes they are happier expectations, hopes, and dreams. Sometimes our nighttime thoughts are close to home, concerning our selves or our loved ones; sometimes they are much more wide ranging—concerning our nation or our planet.
Although the concerns that keep each of us awake at night are as different and individual as each one of us, at their very core most of our nighttime worries have a common theme: change. Most of what keeps us awake at night can be attributed to something that all humans share: a discomfort with change. We lie awake at night thinking about ourselves or our child or our parent and know that something has got to change, but we are at a loss as to how to figure out the “what” and the “how”.
We lie awake at night not knowing whether to be excited or terrified about the changes that are happening in our country; knowing in our hearts that change is necessary and inevitable, but frightened by how quickly it is all happening and how little control we have over any of it. We know change is healthy, but we are comfortable in our dysfunction; it’s familiar because we constructed it, and who really knows what might happen when we introduce change?
Change involves venturing out into the unknown, you can think of it as stepping into the cloud like Moses and Jesus in today’s lessons, and wouldn’t we all rather just stay put where we are right now—on the mountaintop?
Today we heard two well-known stories of transformation: part of the powerful story from the Book of Exodus of Moses’ encounter with God on Mt Sinai and Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration of Jesus. We heard how Moses met God and emerged a changed man, and how Jesus took Peter, James and John to a different mountaintop and was changed in front of their eyes into his divine form—giving them a foretaste of the knowledge that he, Jesus, is the physical proof of God’s presence with us. Jesus gave Peter, James and John a glimpse of the divine, perhaps to give them hope for the difficult journey that lay ahead, the journey to Jerusalem and to the cross. Today is Transfiguration Sunday, and it is also the last Sunday before Lent.
Today we are poised on the threshold of change; between the past and the future, between what was and what is to come, between what we think we know and what God asks us to dare to believe.
Change is uncomfortable, change is unpredictable, and change is coming, whether we are ready or not—but God doesn’t expect us to confront it without guidance, guidance that we can find in the lessons. It is always helpful to go back to the Gospel and pay special attention to the words that are actually spoken by God and Jesus, and today we heard three instructions: “Listen to him!” spoken by God and referring to Jesus, and “Get up and do not be afraid” spoken by Jesus. “Listen to him, get up, and do not be afraid.”
These instructions were given to the disciples of course, but they are also directed at us today. This is how God wants us to cope with our fear of change and the unknown. Listen to Jesus, get up, and do not be afraid. These are actually pretty straightforward instructions, but don’t be fooled. Although they are fairly easy to understand, they may not be easy to obey. Let’s spend some time thinking about the one that I suspect most of us have the most difficulty with: listen to him.
Let me start off by saying that you cannot skip the first instruction, “listen to Jesus”, and proceed directly to “get up”—no matter how strongly you believe that you already know what God is telling you to do. If you feel that God is asking you to become involved in change in the public sector don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you know better than people with different opinions what God is saying. You have to understand that God is speaking and working through ALL people of faith (including people of different religions), and that if we all take the time to listen to Jesus and to study and imitate his actions then we will eventually come together to do his will.
Skipping the listening step has brought us exactly to where we are today, and we can all see how poorly that is working. On the other hand, if you feel that God is calling you to change some aspect of your personal life, then the listening step is just as crucial; for we all know how clever we can be at lying to ourselves.
Moses showed us how to prepare ourselves to listen, for if you are not prepared to listen then you will not be able to hear what God has to say. Think back to Moses’ actions in today’s first lesson. Like Moses, in order to prepare yourself to listen you might need to climb a mountain—you might be asked to sweat a bit, to expend some effort, perhaps even to suffer.
Like Moses, you might need to wait 6 days. Most of us find waiting to be very difficult because it requires patience, and it requires that you confront your fear of wondering if the whole listening ordeal is futile, and to confront your fears that you have been forgotten by God. Like Moses, you might need to stand in front of the “glory of the LORD which appears” not like a benevolent parent, but more “like a consuming fire”.
At these times you must be prepared to accept that God sometimes is asking you to listen to something that you do not want to hear, or to confront some truth that you find frightening or difficult or shameful. And, you might need to step into the cloud like Moses.
If you truly listen you might find that God is asking you to step forward in faith, not knowing your way exactly, not able to fully see the path through the mist, but trusting that God is guiding your feet. Change is coming; Lent is nearly here. Listen to him! THEN get up, and do not be afraid. AMEN