Sermon by Pastor Christopher Nelson
Here’s a story about my daughter, Alison, which she has given me permission to share. The night before we took Alison out to college, she was late- very late- actually, in coming home. I waited up for her, as I always did, and started the conversation we had had before- about honoring curfews, being responsible, blah, blah, blah… and expected to hear, “yes, dad, I’m sorry, blah, blah, blah…” But this time, she reacted very differently!
Her eyes’ blazing, she went on the attack- “it’s my last night out with my friends from high school, things are going to be different from now on, we’ll never be as close, why can’t you understand that, and as of next week, you won’t be able to run my life anymore!”
What followed can only be described as a “God Moment…” Instead of being angry and defensive myself- the usual reaction at that time of night- or should I say morning, I waited to hear her out.
And, actually, as I listened, I had to agree with most of what she said- we could have negotiated a later time to return for her last night home- neither one of us had thought to do it before hand…
So I apologized for not listening, for not understanding as well as I might have, instead of stalking off and going to bed, because listening is absolutely crucial in building relationships- especially relationships with the people closest to you…
How can you grow together if you’re not willing to learn, to hear, to listen to what the other has to say? How can there be trust, closeness when there is no communication?
That’s true for every relationship- whether with your children, if you have them, your spouse, parents, teachers- for everyone, and it’s absolutely a part of your relationship with God, too!
We’re coming to the end of our sermon series this morning, “All In.” For the last six weeks, we have celebrated the incredible gift of God’s willingness to go “All In” with us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and explored what it means for us to go “All in” in response to that amazing love- to live lives of love and service to our Lord, and to the people around us- the people God loves as much as God loves you and me.
We have it straight from God as God tells Peter, James and John, and so each of us, exactly who Jesus is, and how we are to respond: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Fascinating story, but context is vital- important- so let’s back up to before the first part of the reading- where we hear what we call the Confession of St. Peter.
“Who do people say that I am?” asked Jesus. The disciples reply, “John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the other prophets…” Jesus presses them: “But who do YOU say that I am?” is Jesus response.
And Peter replies, “You are the Messiah!” God’s King! God’s Chosen One! Good! Peter knows! God has shared; Peter has listened!
Jesus continues with what it means to be Messiah- to go to Jerusalem, undergo great suffering at the hands of the religious rulers, be killed and on the third day rise…
And here, Peter balks- he argues. He was sure that the Messiah would rule in glory; that the Messiah couldn’t die, and so he commits a common communication error: He assumes he knows what Jesus is saying.
The first goal of listening is to hear and understand; it’s not to change the mind of one speaking, or to challenge the. In fact, your preconceptions can make it impossible for you to hear what is being said.
Jesus rebukes Peter, “Get behind me, Satan,” and continues with what being a disciple means, in our first reading: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me…” To be “All in!” is to be ready to give anything and everything, including your life, in response to Jesus and his love!
Six days later, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on the mountain, and he is transfigured before them. (There’s a churchy, Bible word if ever there was one! What does that mean? We present it as assumed! Bad communication, again!) It means, literally, “to be revealed…”
On the mountain, Jesus is revealed in all his heavenly glory. The disciples see Jesus as the Son of God- the fulfillment of the Law- of God’s presence! And with him are the two major characters of the Hebrew Scriptures:
Moses- the Giver of the Law; the one who brought Israel out of Egypt…
And Elijah: the Protector of God’s Law, prophet at a time of enormous unfaithfulness; calling the people to remember their relationship with God…
It’s an immensely powerful moment, one of awe and transcendence- and Peter returns to the role of the poster child for bad communication: he babbles, “Lord, it’s good to be here; let’s make some dwellings for the three of you, won’t that be nice…”
I’m reminded by his behavior of Mark Twain’s excellent advice: “I’d rather be silent and thought a fool than to open my mouth and remove all doubt…”
There are times when silence is exactly the right response: volumes can be said or learned without one word being exchanged- moments of great love and joy; moments of great tragedy and sorrow (you can’t fix it; just be there!); and moments like this- of great power and majesty… Be still, God says in Psalm 46, and know that I am God…
And then, the most important line in the story: God does, in fact, speak, and speak clearly: THIS IS MY SON, THE BELOVED; LISTEN TO HIM…
And then it’s done; they’re alone with Jesus…
The first part of “listening to Jesus” is leaving the mountain…
The moments of transcendence and awe are wonderful, and an important part of our relationship with Jesus, but Jesus’ ministry- your ministry in Jesus’ Name- takes place in the world, where you spend the vast majority of your time.
Let me put it this way: Jesus knew exactly what he was to do; he said it in detail, the week before going up the mountain, and had he stayed on the mountaintop, there would have been no continuing ministry, no trip to Jerusalem, no death on the cross, no resurrection and no relationship with God for you and me!
For us to “listen to Jesus” is to go out of this beautiful room with the powerful music and do what Jesus did! We are to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only,” as James said. You and I are to feed the hungry, comfort the poor and outcast, minister to the sick, and to share God’s love with the people who need that love!” And that can’t happen if we stay here!
The second part of “listening to Jesus” is to work on our relationship- our communication with our savior, and it is not automatic!
In his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has promised you his presence in every part of your lives. His love is there for you, no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done or not done. You can’t make God love you more than God already does!
But as you respond to that love, as you work on your relationship with Jesus (as you would work on any relationship that is important), as you work on your communication skills with God, you will find yourself loving God more- being more aware of Jesus’ presence, and Jesus’ desire for your life.
And as that happens, you will find that his love flowing through you and to all of the people around you! Your life will be changed!
Let me suggest three ways for you to follow God’s Word to “Listen to Jesus…” and grow in your walk of being “All in…”
First- exactly what you’re doing now: worshipping. Hear God’s Word proclaimed in the reading of Scripture, in the sermon and music. Share in Jesus’ love in the sacrament of Holy Communion we’re about to receive. Know Jesus’ love in the community here, in the brothers and sisters you have in this place.
Second, pray. Take the time to talk to Jesus in prayer. (Our second graders and their families have been working on this; they have written the prayers for this service!)
You don’t need flowery language. Simply share your thoughts, hopes and dreams with the Savior who loves you. Ask for his guidance… And take the time to listen! Prayer is a two way conversation; you will learn his presence in silence!
Third, if you want to listen to Jesus, read your Bibles- listen to what Jesus says!
Take the time for reflection and prayer as you read. This will help you dwell in the Word. Spend time in the Bible, and it will make your time here in worship all the more valuable!
Regular practice of these will help you enormously in your journey as a child of God- in the developing of your listening skills- in your maturity and faithfulness.
Allie and I talked long into that morning so long ago; she shared her worries about being successful at college, I shared my worries for her, as any dad or mom would do. But mostly, I listened to what my darling daughter had to say… We- or should I say I- grew in important ways thanks to the gift of that conversation- that time together.
It was time to let go; let her fly, and to trust that she was ready. She learned that even with that freedom, I would be there for her if she needed me…that I was one who would listen… Our relationship grew, too…
Communication takes constant attention and practice!
That’s also true for you and for me in our relationship with Jesus. Jesus’ love will always be there- and he has given us the tools- the means- of worship, prayer and scripture for growing in our relationship with the one who created us.
Join me in the continuing journey of discipleship- of drawing nearer to our Lord Jesus Christ- of being “All In!” with our Savior, the better to serve him in our world! In Jesus’ Name and for his sake, Amen.