Today we celebrate the Transfiguration, which is listed as a Holy day in the Episcopal church. Each year it is celebrated on the last Sunday of Epiphany
The incident we just heard Fr. Harvey read, takes place up a mountain and the cloud symbolizes the presence of God.
Moses and Elijah appear and stand beside Jesus. They symbolize that Jesus is their successor and has fulfilled both.
He is now bringing a new covenant from God for all people.
After discerning this reading, I thought we could focus on something different - the disciple Peter.
Who was one of the three that was present.
I find him interesting because he was not perfect despite becoming the first “pope,” the leader of Christianity.
He was far from perfect. One of his issues was that he spoke first and listened later.
In the Gospels, he is overconfident, loud-mouthed, and he cannot contain himself, his ego needs an audience for his unsolicited opinions.
It has been said Peter suffered from foot-in-mouth syndrome. He was not perfect, and his mouth got him in some trouble occasionally, that is why I like Peter.
I can relate to Peter and I can think of a lot of times in my life that I have spoken, rather than listen to others and to God.
To refresh your memory, here are a few Peter antidotes
Peter was the follower who lost his faith and sank while walking on water towards Jesus
Then there was Jesus who said, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
Shortly after – Peter denied Jesus three times
Then shortly after the death of Jesus, Peter became filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in front of a large crowd in Jerusalem about how Jesus is the Messiah.
So – there was the bold Peter and then there was the coward, Peter.
I so much can relate.
Peter was executed by the Roman emperor Nero for his faith. He was crucified upside down, at his own request, because he did not feel worthy to die the same death as Jesus.
Again, I can relate a lot to Peter! Speak first – Listen Second
Let me give you a couple of Terry – Speak first – Listen second examples
There was this time when I was walking into a convenience store and as I walked in there was this tiny dog barking at me like he was going to rip my face off. When I went into the store, got what I needed, I knew the store clerk and began to rag on that little loud mouthed dog. I said, look at that dog out the window, barking it’s head off at everyone, its little, it’s ugly, the whole bit. The clerk was gesturing with his eyes, but I was so caught up in my opinion when I was tapped on the shoulder by a little elderly lady who said
“Excuse me, but that’s my dog”!
Well, I apologized and felt terrible, as my mouth did it again.
Then there was the time when Lainey and I were traveling. We were in Boston at the airport and I was anxious as it was crowded. I had my usual judgmental mind going on. Well, as we were walking along in the crowd, some guy ran past me, bushed my arm and I yelled at him, (I forgot what I said)".
My wife looked at me and scolded me. She said, why did you act that way? I said, “did you see that guy running past me, he bumped into my arm and was screaming like a maniac. She said, yes I saw and heard him. Did you? I said “ya” I did. She said “then why were you acting that way when the man was yelling “please excuse me, my wife is having a baby”!
I would like to blame it all on my hearing, and I guess I could, but the truth is, I often speak like Peter, before I listen.
He's real; he's authentic. Not only did he fail repeatedly, but he did it with such a splendid style, I'm genuinely impressed.
I, on the other hand do not often do it so splendidly.
Like it or not, few people hold credibility who haven’t suffered embracement and failure.
Peter is a man we can trust with our struggles because we know his. We walk with him as he walks with Jesus. We watch him rebuke Jesus and even deny that he knows him.
Peter wasn’t good at listening. His motto was “Talk first, listen and ask questions later” does not work!
And this Gospel reading shows Peter, yet again, on the wrong side of his eagerness to speak.
The story says Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a mountain to pray.
I think that’s symbolic of the journey of listening. It takes work; we have to climb and grow. If you have ever climbed a mountain trail, you know it is rough work.
No wonder when they got to the top their eye were heavy, and they surrendered to sleep. While they slept, the Gospel writer says that something wonderful occurred.
It was a defining moment; a moment where God the Father, grandly and mystically, appeared, in the form of a cloud, hearing his voice.
Think about that, God took Peter, James & John by complete surprise.
There’s no way they were ready for that, ready to hear God!
Are we prepared for God to take us by surprise when we least expect it?
Peter thought he had Jesus figured out, but he was wrong.
Peter could not help himself. It was in his DNA to speak first, then listen.
I will confess, I got lost looking in the wrong direction last week. I wanted to understand the transfiguration in the larger narrative of the bible; I was Peter and didn’t realize it.
So I went through my books, hit the internet, and checked out what the scholars on the Gospel of Luke had to say about the transfiguration.
I reached a conclusion… Peter and I are in good company because the scholars didn’t seem to know either.
Some say it served as proof that Jesus was God incarnate. Others say the writer of Luke made a point that Jesus superseded Moses and Elijah. So , Jesus was a fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies.
Both are correct. But the transfiguration still evades a perfect interpretation.
It's probably a call to spirituality instead of a proper understanding of the event.
Regardless, I understand why Peter wanted to put up tents. His heart is in the right place. It is important to remember our history. Marking our experiences of the divine is important.
He talks too much, his eyes are on the literal instead of the spiritual.
He wanted something he could touch. He tried to use his hands instead of his ears, instead of his heart, instead of his inner spirit.
Peter did not want to remember, he wanted to enshrine so he could return.
Sometimes, we get lost using our hands for God, getting so caught up in busy work, that we do not use our ears to hear God.
Peter needed stability. He left his wife and family behind to follow Jesus. He walked away from a business to be a disciple, and he left home to travel a dusty road.
Peter needed stability, a tent, a shrine. He wanted something to occupy his hands, so he didn’t have to use his ears.
We're familiar with that idea. It is easy to say, "We should build dynamic programs, and we should raise money."
What if we said, "We will demand less of ourselves and sit quietly to see if God will speak to us."
When my hands get busy for God, I rarely hear God.
But, when we listen for God, truly listen, when we hear God’s voice through scripture, through others, through our many Blessings, and yes, through prayer, we will know how he wants us to respond in this world.
Take some time each day, listen for God’s voice in each part of your day, listen – he is still speaking, just like he spoke to Peter, James, John and all the others we read about, Jesus is not dead, he is alive and speaks to us, but we must listen.
Sit on your hands, quiet your mind, shut off your I-Phone. Listen for God, he is speaking to you!
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan