The last couple of weeks I have been taking our daughter Catherine out to learn how to drive. In our trips the three words that keep coming out of my mouth are "STOP" "LOOK" and "LISTEN." "Stop" "look" and "listen" are important words to keep in mind especially at intersections both in driving and in life. Perhaps these three words are also important words to ponder in connection with our gospel for this day. STOP LOOK AND LISTEN.
After a hectic pace of preaching, teaching, feeding and healing, Jesus takes his closest companions away with him. They STOP all that they are doing, even though their work seems all very important and take time away. Really away-the climb up the mountain was not a quick trip but a process of moving farther and farther away from the daily grind to a different place. Away from all the distractions. They are there to pray, but the disciples fall into what we often do when there is "down time." They sleep. But Jesus prays.
Particularly in the Gospel of Luke, prayer has a main role in Jesus' ministry. Before, during and after major events, and beyond routine prayer, Jesus is seen in deep prayer. When Jesus is baptized it is while he is praying that the Spirit descends. Before selecting the twelve disciples, Jesus prays. Prayer sustained Jesus in the temptations of the wilderness, and the constant demands upon him and it will sustain him as he comes off of the mountain and "turns his face to Jerusalem" and the cross. In all of these moments, Jesus STOPS to commune in prayer. Here on the mountain when God is revealed, it is while Jesus is praying
The disciples have been sleepy, but what happens compels not only Peter and James and John to LOOK, but us as well. Until now they have seen the gradual unfolding of Jesus' birth into humanity and the fulfilling of prophecy. And just before this, when Jesus asks "who do you say I am?" Peter has blurted out a truth he cannot comprehend that Jesus is the Christ of God- one who is divine and is deliverer. Now on the mountain we look at this vision, the revelation of this truth.
In overwhelming glory, the brilliance of the light radiating from within Jesus and the forces of nature collaborating must have exceeded comprehension. The disciples, barely awake, see one who looks like the Jesus they have known, but yet is not just the Jesus they knew. Until now they have seen Jesus as teacher- one who gives answers; as leader- one who can control things; as friend. He may be better at these things but there is still a perception that with effort one could be his equal.
Now they catch a glimpse of divinity, of the cosmic and they begin to grasp an inequality they can never bridge. They see their own frailty and dependence. They do things we do in such times-they try to manage or quantify the situation. But revelation and prophecy are dancing before them. NOW WHAT? WHAT DOES IT MEAN? WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
And then the cloud rolls in and the voice of God booms out-LISTEN!!
What happens on the mountain demonstrates God's power and might. Demonstrates God having entered humanity. But is also demonstrates humanity experiencing the presence and communion with God. A God who seeks not monologue but conversation, but in so doing reminds us of how real conversation works- which leads me back to prayer.
Phillip Yancey suggests that "prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet." Yancey notes that, "In theory prayer is an essential human act and a priceless point of contact with the God of the universe." In theory we treat prayer as essential and priceless. And in theory in our lives we are all good at conversation. But in reality, there are factors that get in the way.
We are skeptics. In days of old people lifted their heads to the heavens to pray for more rain or protection from the storm. With our recent weather we know a thing or two about that place. But now, we study low pressure fronts, monitor weather in 15 minute increments, rush to stay in touch with friends, and curse the science when it fails us.
We are strapped for time. Our communication with others is getting shorter and more cryptic with texting, email, instant messaging, camera phones. There is less and less actual conversation. And just less conversation at all. Because there isn't enough time. Think of all the things we need to schedule. Where does God fit in when our lives already seem so far behind?
We become reduced to "drop and run" prayer to God not experiencing God in prayer. There is a difference- prayer is a relationship. Our relationship with God. And like all good relationships it has its ups and downs and a learning process. There are moments of great excitement and the mundane. Times of keen focus and constant distraction. Experiences of joy and of irritation. Prayer has features in common with all relationships that matter. Prayer is the key to THE relationship that matters.
Which leads to another factor even greater than skepticism or feeling overwhelmed. We need to take time away from these, but also to take time away from our own perception of the universe. So often we rely upon our own prosperity or talent, our resources, our command of things as the primary source of security and well-being. We practice methods of self-satisfaction and proclaim that we have found the center of the universe and it is US.
This is behind the scores of self help books, even those about faith and religion. A few years ago now one of the more famous books was Pastor Rick Warren's "40 Days to A Purpose Driven Life." A well-intentioned effort to draw people toward a relationship with God. But instead people who proclaimed to be "God people" focused upon the concept of their purpose.
I need to find MY purpose
I need a purpose
When I find MY purpose, I will have success for ME
Then I can do things for YOU who have no purpose out of MY goodness
And I can feel good about MY purpose.
WHERE IS GOD IN THIS EQUATION?
WHAT IF I CAN"T FIND MY PURPOSE OR MAKE IT HAPPEN? This is in fact the point of a recent book by Mark Ellingsen, entitled Sin Bravely. He notes that the perhaps unintended consequence of Warren's work is that even in trying to re-orient our lives we still focus on OUR talent and skill. And this is what we look for. We see the good in our lives as natural not supernatural. We listen to our voice that says we can do without God. And we never stop.
And this is the heart of sin. Here we find ourselves on the mountain with Peter thinking we can build things to improve upon this mountain experience- as if we could! We imagine hearing how people will gush over our efforts. And the cloud rolls in and the voice of God thunders, "This is my Son, listen to HIM!" Stop talking, stop asking, stop doing and LISTEN first!
Some of you have shared that during this most recent storm you found you had more time for listening to God. As you looked about the raging snow and wind, you stopped and listened. As we again prepare to enter the season of Lent, God's word this day calls us to Stop, Look and Listen.
I encourage you to contemplate what it would mean to have a healthier conversation and relationship with God. Mother Teresa's approach to prayer that mirrors what happened on the mountain in the Gospel. Four parts:
We talk, God listens
God talks, WE LISTEN
Though we often cut out of the last part, let's not short-circuit our relationship. Because when we live into the rhythm of what happens on the mountain in our prayer relationship we stop focusing on doing and focus first on Being. God's being and our being. There is discipline involved, but when we follow in this path, we are transformed. Instead of only hearing where we can keep or discard as we wish, we begin to listen. When we listen what takes place changes us. Instead of seeing and moving on, we really look at the world differently. Our being is shaped and re-shaped by God each time we are together.
Maybe instead of just praying for God to soothe our hurts when we have been wronged, we will contemplate forgiveness. We'll look at others and really see them and realize that we too need forgiveness-for our inability to forgive. Instead of just praying for our wants, we begin to listen to the cry of others without. Instead of demanding immediate answers and whining about time, we stop and appreciate the gift of a day and of God's possibilities.
Perhaps you will consider how to experience Lent as 40 Days of a God Purpose, in one of the many opportunities for walking with God's word and for times of prayer. Perhaps you will consider how your relationship with God might be deepened by engaging in one of these disciplines not as a new thing to do, but as a door to deeper revelation. A revelation that opens up to us that the words "disciple" and "discipline" have something in common- there is much we must be taught about how to live and have our being in communion with more than our own limited vision, but with God's greater truth. This greater truth speaks not only of glory more magnificent than we can imagine but of the cross and a depth too great for us to fathom. We should contemplate this. Then we TOO will be speechless.
And in our speechlessness, in the stillness, stand in awe that the God of the universe seeks us- in love and faithfulness. Face the truth that we need God, but our God meets our ongoing frailty and faults with patience and grace.There in the glimpse of that moment we realize that nothing we can say or do is greater. We do not have all the answers. We need to keep listening, to be shaped by God before we act. And then to follow. And there in the silence, we find ourselves waking up to God.