So where have we been? We began with: out of a place of brokenness we love greatly. And we love both God and the world greatly. The two are connected. But, we must not get ahead of ourselves thinking to big, because when we do, we ignore what is happening right around us.
I happen to believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone else is to listen to them. I don’t know if you got a chance to see the the Bachelor this past week. It was the scandalous Fantasy Sweet episode. Andi, just tears Juan Pablo apart because, the entire night he simply talked about himself and would not listen to her.
Well, my wife will tell you, I am not the best listener. My phone is one of the things that gets me in a lot of trouble. I start looking at it, and will often times completely zone out from what she is saying. Which causes her to say? “Joel, Joel, are you listening to me?” I quickly pretend as though I was.
Our first year of marriage we moved into a small apartment in Kent, Washington, and we didn't have a lot to hang on the walls. Now we have plenty of pictures. Well, my wife is an artist, and so she decided that she was going to paint a nice landscape picture for the empty space over the fireplace. We went to the store, bought a nice big canvas, and then returned home. Once we got home, she got out her paints, and sat at the table, slowly thinking through in her head what this painting might look like. Then she did something that blew me away. She invited me to paint the picture with her. As soon as she asked, actually it was probably even before she asked, my head started spinning of what this picture would look like. I quickly had an image in my head of what this thing should look like, and I knew exactly how I was going to get there. So, I jumped up, grabbed a brush and some paint, and started going for it. Kristi, tried to slow me down saying, “Let me tell you what I am thinking.” But I was in a zone. I had watched PLENTY of Bob Ross as a kid, and knew exactly what needed be done. Nice sweeping hills, beautiful blue sky, a nice little tree…I had this thing figured out. I just kept going, and unbeknownst to me, Kristi eventually got up and left the room.. I just kept painting until I eventually realized she wasn't there any more. So, I went back to our bedroom and she was in tears. And I am like what it in the world? “I thought we were painting this thing together? “Why are you crying?” Needless to say, that was one of our first real “disagreements,” where I eventually realized how stupid I was. And it all stemmed from me not being patient enough to listen.
Tonight we are going to explore a text that I hope will challenge us enough to be a community of people who slow down enough to listen.
Text: Matthew 17:1-8
Closer Look at the Text:
The narrative we are looking at tonight is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Synoptic Gospels). So we know from this fact, that this account was an extremely important one in the view of Jesus’ earliest followers. It is also worth noting that in all three accounts, this story is preceded by Jesus talking about people loosing their life in order to actually find their life. Matthew 16:25.
So Jesus takes his closest followers up onto a high mountain. And something unlike anything else in all the gospels happens to Jesus. He begins to shine and glow. We are told he was transformed before their eyes. The disciples get a glimpse of Jesus in all his glory. The deity piece of Jesus is put on display in spectacular fashion for his followers to see.
Then we are told that two people from the Old Testament appear with Jesus and begin having a conversation with him. Who? Moses and Elijah, who represent what? The law and the prophets. So what are they talking about. Well, although Matthew doesn't tell us, Luke does. Here is what Moses and Elijah were speaking about with Jesus: his “departure that he would achieve in Jerusalem.” Which refers to what? His death, where he would enter into the pain and hurt of this world in the most profound way possible. This is what the law and the prophets had pointed to all along: a messiah who would suffer and die for the sake of the world. So Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking about it. Jesus would lose his life so that all might have life. This moment up on the mountain was simply preparation for what was to come.
As you can imagine, the disciples were overwhelmed by what they saw and we are told they got a little carried away. Mark tells us they literally did not know what they were talking about. So in the midst of the conversation that Jesus is having with Moses and Elijah, Peter interrupts. Have you ever been interrupted? I don't like to be interrupted. So Peter blurts out, “This is just great! I love this! It is so good that we are all hear together. I have a brilliant idea. Lets build three little structures for each of you up here on this mountain.” Interesting right? Why do you think Peter wanted to build these three little structures?
Most of the historical interpretations of this text believe that the reason that Peter wanted to build these structures, was to keep Jesus up on this hill. To keep him from going to the cross. Remember what was said in chapter 16? Jesus tells Peter that he is going to suffer and eventually die and what does Peter say? “Hell no! This won’t happen to you!” Then Jesus interestingly talks about this concept of those who truly want to find Jesus must carry their cross, all those who want life must lose their lives. And now Jesus begins talking about losing his life again and Peter interrupts.
Peter wanted to keep them all there forever. Peter has an idea of what’s best, but is it the idea that Jesus has? No. Peter misses that. Maybe if he wouldn't have interrupted, it would have sunk in this time, maybe he would have heard what was being said again about Jesus and them having to go back down the mountain. But Peter wants to stay in this moment forever. How similar I think we often are to Peter. We want the dramatic and spiritual experience without having to go back down and enter into the pain and suffering.
Well then something quite humorous happens. Peter interrupts Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, and now he receives the ultimate interruption. From God. Notice what the text says, “While he was still speaking…” And God speaks and declares that this person that they are following is the actual breathing, walking, embodiment of God. As the writer of the gospel of John puts it, God with “flesh on” living among us. And God says, “Listen to him!” I wonder how Peter felt when he heard this, especially after having interrupted the conversation. Well, after hearing this the disciples fall on their faces and were filled with awe, or deeply frightened. Why do you think they were frightened?
I think it might have had to do with the “Listen to him” piece. What is he going to say us? He has been talking about death and losing our life in order to find it. What is it going to mean for us to go back down that mountain? What might happen? I think fear is what keeps us from stoping and listening. Because when we have to stop and listen, we are no longer in control. We can’t simply try to enact the vision that we have in our head which feels a whole lot safer. Peter didn't want to sit and listen to the conversation of where this whole thing was headed (to Jerusalem), because it frightened him. So he chose not to listen and instead go ahead with what he thought was best.
But then Jesus does something in the midst of their fear. He comes close to them, touches them, and what is the first thing they are to listen to him saying? “Don’t be afraid.” And when they lifted their heads up from the ground, all they saw was Jesus. Much like the encounter Jesus has just had with his Father before heading back down the mountain to enter the chaos that will lead to the cross, Jesus intentionally has an intimate encounter with the disciples before inviting them to head back down the mountain and be a part of something beautiful: bringing about life in places where it did not exist before.
So what is the first thing that happens to them when they head down the hill? Just like all three recordings of this account are preceded by the same narrative, they are are also followed by the same narrative. They head back down the mountain and encounter a boy who is demon possessed. How fitting that their dramatic and spiritual experience is proceeded by the idea of life coming out of places we don't usually associate with life, then followed by the opportunity to enter into the deep pain of the world around them in order to bring about life. I think a lot of times I want one without the other. I come here and worship, but I don't use it as an opportunity to listen. So I then leave this place with my own idea of what it means to be involved in Jesus’ mission and I either do nothing, or end up manufacturing my own mission which totally misses what God is doing.
What About Us?
With this painting, I was invited to be a part of something beautiful by my loving wife, but I got lost in painting a picture the way I wanted it to be done. Instead of listening, instead of it being a beautiful expression that flowed out of our love for one another, it simply became a poorly manufactured product that was not of much use.
One of the defining characteristics of this new community is mission. That we are not simply a group of people who come together to worship God once a week, but that we are actively involved in this community, meeting the needs of those who are broken and hurting. My natural tendency though, is to get ahead of myself. To force something. So we have been coming to this thing for the past 5 weeks, and my question is: where is the mission? Yes it’s happening in certain pockets, but my vision is it happening across the board. But what I think this text challenges us to do is to learn to be people who listen. To stop talking. Stop doing. To take some time to listen. Mission is not something that can be manufactured, otherwise we are simply learning to be good pharisees. Mission arises out of our love and excitement for Jesus and the love that he has for us. Out of our encounter with him. It is not something we can force.
Do you know what is one of the best signs of a really good listener? Someone who asks good questions. What I should have done with this painting fiasco 10 years ago, was ask good questions? “Kristi, what do you envision this painting looking like?” “How can I help you get there?” “Where can I fit into the vision that you have?” And then sit and wait for her to answer.
I think we need to learn to be a community of people who asks good questions. “Jesus what are you doing in my life?” “What are you doing out there in the neighborhoods and streets around me?” And then we sit, and listen, and wait. What is Jesus saying? To you? To me? To us collectively?
I believe when we genuinely experience the good news of Jesus, (The good news being that he meets us where we are at. That through his life, death, and resurrection, he has began a process of making us, and all things, new. That he has made possible, taught and showed us, and offered us, the fullest and most abundant life imaginable.) When we experience that, we will be compelled to mission. We wont be able to help our selves. It will not be something we manufacture, but rather mission will become a natural expression. Then the question will not be where should we serve, but what are we going to say no to? In other words, what is the one thing we are going to say yes to right now?
A major piece of following Jesus, discipleship, is learning to listen, and listen well! May we be people who slow down enough to set our own agenda’s aside and listen.