Sunday, February 11, 2018

Listen to Him (Mark 9:2-9)

MaryAnn McKibben Dana tells of going to a conference once and seeing this statement written on the wall. The statement is; “when the system doesn't know what to do, it does what it knows when a system doesn't know what to do, it does what it knows.”  Now what this is talking about is a technical term for any group of people.  When a corporation doesn’t know what to do it will do what it knows…when a family doesn’t know what to do it will do what it knows and that can be whittled down to when a person doesn’t know what to do they will do what they know.

“when we don't know what to do. When we are faced with uncertainty, when we have a number of good options, but no clear way of deciding or when we are fearful about the future or about change, we will revert to what we know, what is comfortable and familiar. Sometimes that's a good thing to orient ourselves somewhere familiar, but we need to be aware that that's what we're doing because sometimes it's not a good thing to follow the old pattern.”[1]

It is hard to break old habits and or sometimes its just easier to do what we know as the saying goes why try to reinvent the wheel or if it isn’t broke don’t fix it.  We are creatures of habit.

“Mark's transfiguration story stands as a transition between the Sundays of Epiphany, with the progressive revelation of the power and presence of the good news of God's kingdom in this Jesus, and the season of Lent, with its progressive focus on the journey of Jesus to suffering and the cross. This is where this story will take us.”[2]

In today’s Gospel The disciples are led up to the mountain and then they experience something just beyond comprehension. This story is rich in imagery there is a high mountain there are clouds there is Moses and Elijah.  So much going on it is mind boggling. We hear this story every year on this day and yet, and yet no one seems to know what to do with it.

Commentators want to dive into the old testament symbolism, others want to point out that Peter is still a clumsy thick-headed man who just doesn’t get it and still more want to project some headier than conceivable mysticism on top of it all. Let me just say this…ugh it is exhausting.

So, let’s start simply, gently with the story.

Jesus took Peter, James and John they go to the mountain top.  Most likely Mount Hermon. Just six days before Jesus had spoken to them of his death and resurrection and now he takes these three up to the mountain where he is transfigured.

“Peter and the disciples have just witnessed something completely other worldly. It's so strange. This transfiguration business that even the explanations seemed downright bizarre. We have this comparison to laundry. Jesus has the whitest whites, what is the secret? Or we have descriptions that seem right out of the TV show glee, Jesus is dazzling.

Peter Surveys this scene, mouth agape and is terrified because he doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know what to do, but does that stop him from speaking? Certainly not. Let's build dwellings he blurts out because when a person doesn't know what to do, a person does what he knows and building dwellings. Pitching tents is part of Peter's vocabulary as a Jew. It was part of his story. Remember that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years pitching their tents as they went and the Ark of the Covenant which housed the Ten Commandments, was placed in a special tent called a tabernacle. In the time of Solomon that tent became a more grand and permanent structure. The festival of Sukkot is a Jewish holiday in which people build small dwellings for worship, even eating and sleeping in them. Sometimes when something amazing happens, when God makes an appearance, if you're a Jew currently, chances are you're going to want to build a tent.”[3]

With that in mind I cannot help but wonder what we would do.  Cynically we may question what was in the water we just drank?  What kind of Hallucination is this?  More likely we would be scared, awestruck, and beat a path down the mountain side as quickly as possible and choose not to discuss it or even admit that we saw anything.

“Sadly, Peter has been beaten up in sermons on this text for centuries. Clueless Peter, who wants to put God in a box, stupid peter who wants to stay up on the mountain forever where it doesn't say that he wants to stay up on the mountain forever. In fact, as anyone who's been on a mountain knows, you can't stay long. The weather changes fast and you are vulnerable up there. Peter isn’t saying, let's move in. Peter is responding liturgically, worshipfully out of the story that he knows best. His own story as a good an observant Jew. When we don't know what to do, we do what we know. But God is a god who disrupts what we know. As quickly as Jesus is transfigured before them, God drops in a cloud just as quickly and says, OK, never mind. Stop looking at the scene. This isn't about dazzling visions. What I want you to do is listen, listen to him. Don't build, don't talk, don't do anything. Just listen when you don't know what to do.”[4]

Just Listen.  OK. (Silence)…. Just as I was writing this at this very spot a thought came to me…We are Children of God, right? How many here have children, human or otherwise?  How well do they listen?  How well do they follow every instruction?

Just think on that for a moment we are children of God…How often has God told us to listen? “let he who has ears appears in the bible 7 times. How well do we listen?  Do we even know how to listen? Spiritual practices are the best way to listen to God and yet often we do not take the time or make the effort to engage in a spiritual life.  For many Sunday is enough

Marcus Borg, observes that there is a lack of spiritual practice. “The notion that God is a reality who can be known (and not simply believed in) has become quite foreign in the modern world and in much modern theology. Often there is even uncertainty about the reality of God. In skeptical form, it leads to a vison of Christianity as primarily “ethics.” In most generic form, the Christian way of life becomes “being Good,” “being Nice,” “loving people.” In the strong form, it can become a passion for justice. But whether in generic or strong form, living the Christian life is seen basically as being about behavior in the world. But Christian practice historically is about our relationship to both God and neighbor, about both Spirit and behavior, about both God and the world.”[5]

Now Borg does go on to point out that there is a renewal in north America to recover practice as the center of Christian life.   He explains what he means by practice

“By practice I mean all things that Christians do together and individually as a way of paying attention to God.  They include being part of a Christian community, as church, a taking part in its life together as a community. They include worship, Christian formation, collective deeds of hospitality and compassion, and being nourished by Christian community. They include devotional disciplines, especially prayer and spending time with the Bible. And they include loving what God loves through the practice of compassion and justice in the world.”[6]

As the united Church of Christ, we are really Good at the latter part I mean even denominationally our current campaign speaks to that.  # Great Loves a just world for all. This is the denomination’s opportunity to express how our Love of Neighbor, Love of Children and Love of Creation work together to address the inequities in our current world.

Yet without Spiritual practices, without a way to listen to God, with out a way to just Listen we would never know that this is what we are called to address.  We would never have the energy to address it.  With out spiritual practice and prayerful listening this …this service would never come together.

So how do we listen to Jesus today?  How do we listen to God? We hear and see examples of how to be in the world through the Gospels.  We know of ways to communicate and listen to God through praying the psalms.  We have seen examples of monks and nuns who through their daily practice, the everyday and the mundane can be lifted into and become a spiritual practice. There is lectio Divina a practice of reading and listening to the scripture contemplatively. Of course, there is the contemplative practice itself.

Thomas Merton believes that “Contemplation is the highest expression of man's intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason and

beyond simple faith. For contemplation is a kind of spiritual vision to which both reason and faith aspire,

by their very nature, because without it they must always remain incomplete. Yet contemplation is not vision because it sees "without seeing" and knows "without knowing." It is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words, or even in clear concepts. It can be suggested by words, by symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what it knows the contemplative mind takes back what it has said and denies what it has affirmed. For in contemplation we know by "unknowing." Or, better, we know beyond all knowing or "unknowing."[7]

Oops just got all spiritual and out there but really if we take thomas Merton’s words and put in God it may be a bit clearer … “Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of [God]. It knows [God], obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason…”

I think that is what happened to Peter James and John.  The realty of Jesus’ absolute divinity is seen, and the voice of God is heard. They experienced this reality of God in the world in a brief and most sacred moment.  No wonder Peter was flustered.

C. Clifton Black professor of biblical theology at Princeton observes

“For the first and only time in Mark, the voice from heaven orders Jesus’ disciples. This command recollects Moses’ directive: Israel should heed a prophet whom the LORD God would raise up (Deuteronomy 18:15). In Jesus, God has done this; Israel’s successors should respond appropriately. To what should Jesus’ disciples pay attention? Presumably, everything in Mark that Jesus says and does. Immediately it refers to God’s design for the Son of Man’s suffering and vindication (Mark 8:31), the adoption of cross-bearing discipleship (8:34-35), keeping mum about what has been seen until after the resurrection (9:9), and assurance that all proceeds according to the divine plan (9:11-13). These are the very things that his disciples find so hard to understand, to accept, and to obey (9:31-34; 10:32-37; 14:26-31, 50, 66-72; 16:1-8). As suddenly as it struck, the mountaintop vision fades: a handful of disciples are alone with Jesus (9:8).”[8]

What should we contemplate to start?  What should we pay attention to how about “everything in Mark that Jesus says and does.”  For the Lenten season what if one just took on mark as a contemplative practice.  Lectio Divina, it is a good way to start a contemplative practice.  It is a good way to listen to God through Christ and see what is just being said to you.

“Lectio Divina (Latin for "Divine Reading") is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God's Word. It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied, but as the Living Word.

Traditionally, Lectio Divina has four separate steps: read; meditate; pray; contemplate. First a passage of Scripture is read, then its meaning is reflected upon. This is followed by prayer and contemplation on the Word of God.

The focus of Lectio Divina is not a theological analysis of biblical passages but viewing them with Christ as the key to their meaning. For example, given Jesus' statement in John 14:27: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you", an analytical approach would focus on the reason for the statement during the Last Supper, the biblical context, etc. In Lectio Divina, however, the practitioner "enters" and shares the peace of Christ rather than "dissecting" it. In some Christian teachings, this form of meditative prayer leads to an increased knowledge of Christ.”[9]

In Lectio Divina many people believe the first step is to read the scripture but actually the first step is to still oneself.  A group I use to go to always started with be still and know that I am God.  Lighting a candle, one begins “be still and know that I am God” and then there is stillness. Be still and know that I am. And there is stillness…Be still and know…and there is still ness be still and there is stillness…be… (offer quiet time)   after the time of silence the passage is read and we listen but not with our ears but with our hearts. There are moments of silence as it is read about three times often by a different reader every time and perhaps a different translation every time so one can hear it the way each one needs too. This becomes less a practice of reading and more of listening to the inner message of the Scripture delivered through the Holy Spirit.

In between each reading is the time when one meditates or ponders the scripture. The scripture is held lightly and gently considered from various angles. Again, the emphasis is not on analysis of the passage but to keep the mind open and allow the Holy Spirit to inspire a meaning for it.

Another part or the 3rd movement of lectio is prayer. “In the Christian tradition, prayer is understood as dialogue with God, that is, as loving conversation with God who has invited us into an embrace. The constitution Dei verbum which endorsed Lectio Divina for the general public, as well as in monastic settings, quoted Saint Ambrose on the importance of prayer in conjunction with Scripture reading and stated: And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for "we speak to God when we pray; we hear God when we read the divine saying.”[10]

The fourth movement is the contemplation or holding silence and experience God’s love I always say it is like lowering your spirit into a warm quite bath of God’s spirit.

With Ash Wednesday we enter the season of lent it is a good time to seek out and develop some spiritual practices.  Also, if you do not have one you may want to seek out and try a spiritual director at this time a spiritual companion to walk with you on this spiritual journey. All this so that we may Listen to Jesus and prepare to meet the resurrected Christ in all his radiant Glory.

[5] The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg page 188
[6] Borg 189
[7] Thomas Merton  The new seeds of contemplation, pages 1-2

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