A man was telling his neighbor, “I just bought a new hearing aid. It cost me four thousand dollars, but it’s state of the art. It’s perfect.” “Really,” answered the neighbor. “What kind is it?” “Twelve thirty.”
Hearing well is important. Ask anyone who’s had hearing loss and tried to follow conversation in a loud restaurant. But lots of people aren’t all that interested in hearing or should I say listening. They’ve heard enough already. They’re heard it all already. Or it’s not as important as making sure others hear what they have to say or think.
Right now, some of you are thinking I’m going to say, “This is why we have two ears and one mouth.” Alright. We have two ears and only one mouth. We should listen more than we speak. Psalm 115:6 says, “They have ears, but they cannot hear.” It isn’t by chance that Christ is called the Word of God. Old Testament prophets are famous for saying “the word of the Lord came to me….”
Now you may not think listening well or not so well is a big deal, but scripture says otherwise. Proverbs 18: 2 tells us, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.” And 18:13 keeps the pressure on when it says, “If one give answer before hearing, it is folly and shame.” Don’t give an answer before you’ve heard everything. Resist feeling defensive. Listen with the ears of God so you can then speak the word of God.
James 1:19 tells it simply. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” It’s simple enough in principle, and nearly impossible to live. Too often we are slow to hear, quick to speak, and fast to anger.
There are at least two kinds of listening. The first is when we listen to reply. We listen just enough so that when it’s our turn, which must come soon enough, we will speak our truth well enough indeed. We will tell our side of the story, express my way of seeing things, present my winning argument. This will be at least an equal exchange, if not slightly tilted in my favor as far as time, interest, and result.
This is listening with just of half an ear because we believe we already know what the person is saying. We’re impatient (for our turn) and inattentive (since what we’re about to say is more important). When we listen like this we’re only pausing before we speak.
We’re quite adept at this form of hearing. But is this really hearing? I mean as Jesus meant it when he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Listening well is very important. It’s a practice that includes listening to ourselves. A young man told a story about how his dad was patient enough and cared enough to listen to himself. It made all the difference.
“When I was a baby, the smoke alarm went off in my house when everyone but my dad was asleep. He thought it was just the battery, since there was obviously no fire, so he replaced the battery and headed to bed.
However, it went off again. So, thinking it was a malfunction, he just took it apart and was going to deal with it in the morning. He went to lie down and go to sleep, but there was a nagging voice in the back of his head telling him not to ignore the alarm. So, he begrudgingly got up and called the fire department asking them just to send a car to come check it out; there was no need for fire engines or anything.
Being a small town with a big fire department and a large budget, they sent three engines. It turns out there was a carbon monoxide leak, and if my dad had fallen back to sleep, it is likely we all would have died of carbon monoxide poisoning. That little voice in his head, intuition or whatever it was, saved our lives.”
Too many people would have stopped listening, even to him or herself. What a tragedy that would have been.
We’re not very good at listening to ourselves. If there is any such thing as a case of already having heard it all, it’s the case of ourselves. Talk about nothing new under the sun. We keep telling ourselves the same old stories, giving ourselves the same old lines, tweeting ourselves the same 280 characters, “I’ve got the right. It’s their fault. I can’t do that. I’m just fine. There’s nothing wrong here. What can I do about it? I don’t need to do anything differently. Who do they think they are?”
We’ve already heard it all. But this isn’t true. Don’t limit the power of God’s word. Keep your ears open to what you should be hearing. Stop assuming what was must be what is. Listen for something better. Listen to yourself. Turn your ear to the Lord. Tune out noise and tune your ear to what matters.
You want to hear something crazy? Yeah? OK but only if you promise you will listen to what I’m saying. Here it is: Listen, the word listen, contains the exact same letters as silent. Just arranged in a different order.
It may take silence to hear what you need to listen to.
There is another way to listen. We listen to learn, or to understand. Instead of trying to figure how best I can reply to what the other person is saying, I permit the words, their meaning, the emotion, the hope, the need, the fears, the love to come all the way to me, along with the words themselves. I think not of me, and what I may lose, how perhaps I’m being misunderstood, or cheated, or hurt, or maligned.
Rather I’m willing to listen with a humble heart that counts others as more significant than myself. When we’re good listeners we look after the interests of others, focusing on what we can do that is good for them. Listening like this is the opposite of playing king of the hill.
This would be very helpful.
I recently ran across a self-assessment for spouses to evaluate their listening skills. You had to rate yourself from 1 to 5 on how often you do these things: I make assumptions about my partner’s feelings or thoughts. I interrupt my partner’s conversation. I use sarcasm or jokes to respond when my partner talks. I see only my point of view. I respond to my partner with phrases like, “That’s ridiculous.”
Oh, there are a lot more ways than just these to knock someone off the hill and assume the summit. We each have our favorite methods. But listen, they’re not doing you any favors any longer. After all, what goes up must come down. You’re either going to have to stay up on the mountaintop, lose your position to someone else, or come back down any way. Put down your climbing pick, take off your hiking shoes. The peak is cold, short on oxygen, and not habitable.
Find a way to do better. Listen to your heart that seeks peace. Stop hearing how you’ve got to defend yourself at all costs. Be more patient. Rest in the Lord’s peace.
I know that most people when they encounter this morning’s passage view it as the Transfiguration of Jesus. It is. We see it, and I do mean the word see here, as a scripture that is very visual. Moses and Elijah and Jesus together, on a mountain top. Jesus appearance changes, shines, and illuminates, and transfigures. The whiteness of his person and his clothes glows beyond that of the strongest bleach.
Someone said that the season of Epiphany both begins and ends with a shining star. The star over Jesus’ cradle is now the bright light of Christ himself.
And then there’s also the fact that Moses and Elijah, the giver of the Law and one of the great prophets, are standing at his side. The visual scene, and the characters involved are overwhelming. It’s a bit like Superman and Batman hanging out together. Those two are the top two superheroes of the Hebrew people.
Moses was more the old-fashioned hero, rivers of blood, fire from heaven, darkness at noon, killing all the bad guys’ firstborn, water from rocks, and a crevasse opening in the desert to swallow the recalcitrants.
And Elijah, well, he was no weakling either. He wagered with 900 pagan priests, sacrificing bulls on mountains, fire from heaven burning up his offering, killing the losers with his own sword, trash talking, cake that never runs out, fire from heaven burning up squads of enemy troops. And there was no dying with Elijah, just a fiery chariot to take him straight to heaven when he’s done.
This is what those disciples really were into.
And then there’s Jesus. He was a nice guy. He cared about people, a lot. He always looked after those who were hungry, or sick, or blind, or lame. He even saved a child who had died. But he didn’t seem invincible. He had more than an Achilles heel, it felt like.
The disciples wanted Jesus to be more awesome, powerful, unstoppable, undefeatable. In the pantheon of Jewish superheroes, Old Testament greats, while special, Jesus was in over his head. He’s a third wheel at this gathering for two. Or is he?
The light that surrounds him and comes from him is blinding. It’s the light of God’s glory that bathed Moses’ face on Mt. Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments. So brilliant was it that Moses had to keep his face veiled for awhile after. But this light seems to be coming from Jesus and not shining on him.
And this is like the light that erupted from the fiery chariot that took Elijah away to heaven, to be seen no more. However, Christ isn’t riding on it but containing it.
It’s all so amazing, brilliant, spectacular! But now what? What does it mean?
And then there’s Peter. He thinks this is it. He’s into the visuals. He’s into how things appear. He says, “It is good Lord, that we are here. Let’s make three tents, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He understands it all. Nothing needs to be said. He has a plan. They could stay
here for as long they can, maybe let Moses and Elijah give Jesus some lessons on being a little tougher, a little stronger, and then go down there and kick some serious fanny.
Who is this guy, anyway? Seriously, I know he’s trying to be helpful, but you’re in the company of Moses, Elijah, and a transfigured Jesus and you’ve got something to say? You’re the one doing the talking? Please.
Now I’m sure we wouldn’t do the same thing at that time. Peter’s a bit too much. We’d have better manners, presumably, at least. Then again perhaps a little blathering might come from us as well.
But his moment in the light is about to come to an end. While he’s talking like a fool, a bright cloud overshadows them, and from the cloud a voice speaks, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!” In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. That last sentence, the command to listen, ends with an exclamation point! Emphasis intended.
The visuals, the spectaculars, the fireworks are over. They were prelude. They were preamble to the real show, to what really mattered. It’s time to listen.
The voice commanded us to LISTEN, as in, “Listen would you, for Pete’s sake, stop, be silent, pull out your two ears, and listen.” It commanded us also to listen to whom? to JESUS. You’re hearing a lot of things and from a lot of sources but none of them are Christ. Listen to Jesus.
We can make Christ out to be the most amazing Savior, Lord, God’s Son, Messiah, Holy One we want. He can shine like 10,000 suns but if we’re not listening, then we’re just enjoying the show. We’re awestruck by how beautiful and transfigured Jesus but we’re missing the point. God’s Word needs to be heard and listened to.
Can the church say Amen?