Sermon, Year C, Epiphany 5 Transfiguration, February 7, 2016
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
©2016 Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)
Don’t just do something, stand there!
Stand there in quiet awe at the otherness of God. God who came as one of us in Jesus, but who also is also not one of us.
Peter feels that he must do something, anything. Anything other than nothing. He thinks, “Don’t just stand there, do something.” That sounds a lot like us, don’t you think? A lot like our culture, America in 2016? Do something! The Protestant Work Ethic, the fear of silence, fear of inactivity, rush rush rush, hurry hurry hurry, do do do, this should have been done yesterday, what are your action steps, what’s your agenda, what’s your plan, Idle Hands Do The Devil’s Work! some will say. But busy hands also have done a lot of the devil’s work.
Peter, in the presence here of this transformed Jesus, in the presence of God, has to do something. Feels a need to do something. Maybe driven by fear, or his work ethic, or just thinking he ought to respond, for some reason, because, wow, this is incredible and terrifying and uncomfortably real. I don’t know why he says what he says, but we can imagine why we might want to do something. He’s just seen his friend glowing, his clothes become shiny and dazzling. He’s seen Jesus turn into Moses and Elijah. Or maybe he didn’t turn into them, and instead they just appeared as if by magic, either way it’s got to be terrifying. It’s unusual. It’s not normal to have that kind of an experience. And as the three are talking, Jesus and Moses and Elijah, they are talking about Jesus’ departure which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Well, what does that mean? I can imagine Peter thinking, “What are they talking about? What is happening? I don’t know, and I’m afraid, I gotta do something - ‘Hey, Jesus, let’s make some houses. Let’s build some houses for you, Elijah, and Moses. That’s a lot more normal. If you are going to speak of strange things and speak of them with people who have been long dead, let’s at least do it in a house. A place that I am used to having conversations. Let’s at least pretend to some normalcy. Let’s make it more comfortable for me. Let’s build some houses.’”
But God will not be domesticated. There is no forcing God into the comfort of a home of our design. Peter says those words about building some houses, and then a fog rolls in and they are terrified.
And from the cloud, a voice saying, “Be quiet. Don’t speak. This is my Son, my chosen, right now you listen. Don’t just do something, stand here and listen to him.”
How often do we forgo the spiritual discipline of listening? Of being quiet in God’s presence? Of letting God speak? How often do we forgo that spiritual discipline of listening for the seemingly more productive act of speaking or doing something. Acting, which may be unfaithful because we have not listened first. Or less faithful than it could have been because we didn’t listen, didn’t just sit or stand in God’s presence and let God speak to us first.
Now, from Jesus, we are called into action. To do acts of love, to be alive and present in the world. But, how can we hear the still speaking God when we ourselves are speaking? Or when we’re making noise, or doing unneeded action? How can we hear our still-speaking God when we ourselves are too busy to listen, too busy that we fail to notice that God was speaking, and often speaking through those around us?
Be quiet, Peter!
How can we know how to act, how to live, if we don’t pause to listen to the words telling us how to live?
Be quiet, Peter!
“You will go down the mountain soon enough. You will have plenty of time to act. To do what I want you to do. But for now you are up here on the mountain, so let me be God. Don’t speak over me, don’t try to domesticate me, don’t try to reign me in, don’t try to turn this event into a memorial. Just stand there in awe, for you are in the presence of holiness! and listen! Your response is to be silent. Silent.”
In this story, God is the sole actor in this event. Other than Jesus and the disciples walking up the mountain and praying, God is the only one who acts in this story. This is God letting loose. I’ve said many times before that any time an angel or a divine presence appears in the Bible, it or something always says, “Be not afraid.” Well, that’s not entirely true. Because in this instance, as Jesus and his friends are on the mountaintop, there is no angel saying “Don’t be afraid.” No one is saying, “Don’t be afraid.” There is only the voice demanding that they be quiet. And they are terrified!
When God lets loose there really should be angels amassed before the divine glory saying, “Be not afraid! God is up to something, but don’t be afraid!” But not here, not on the mountain. They were terrified. They ow that they are on holy ground in a holy presence, and that ought to make one pause in awe and trembling, I would think. Because God is love we have nothing to fear from God; but God is also God: wild, free to do whatever God chooses, to make new things happen, to re-create the world, to re-create us, to transform lives. And God loves to break out of the boxes that we build in our vain attempts to force limits on God’s creative powers.
“Let me build you a house!” Maybe Peter thinks that if we build houses here for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, i we build a permanent place to live, God won’t ask us to go any higher up the mountain. Maybe we can stay safe at this point instead of moving farther up. But God says, “Be silent! Be silent, Peter!”
My friend Matt Schneider-Adams, who is the pastor over at our church in Prescott, wrote about this passage, what I think is a great line, “silence is a good strategy.” Silence is a good strategy. It’s good for us as a people who are entering Lent. To find moments of silence. To consider our faith journey. To listen for how God is speaking to us, for what God wants us to do, who God wants us to be. It’s also good for us as a church, as a congregation, to listen. What are the new things that God is doing in the world? What are the old things that ought to continue?
To listen, to hear God’s still-speaking voice about what God is doing, and where God asks us to follow along. There is no transformation without listening to God. I feel that in my own life. When I let my calendar rule my life, I get disconnected from God and find that I’m not being transformed, I’m just running around doing stuff. Stuff that needs to be done (maybe?), and good stuff, but without the listening it becomes something I do just to do it, and I lose the sense of why I am doing it, why it needs to be done. I forget that I do it because I am a disciple who wants to grow, and end up doing it because it’s on the calendar. That’s not a God-reason.
There is no transformation without listening to God first. And maybe there is no transformation without going up the mountain with fear and trembling to be on holy ground and be again grounded in holy ways. Silence is a good strategy. In the interim, which Matt also said. “Silence is (at least in the interim) a good strategy.” It is not the long term strategy, but in the interim, silence is a good strategy. Especially when in God’s presence, when on Holy Ground. Because Holy Ground is not safe ground. We are liable to be changed. we are liable to be transformed. Which is a wonderful thing, but it can be an unsafe feeling thing. Something that we long for, but which we also fear to go through. Holy Ground is not safe. It’s a place of mystery and power and otherness, and it’s a place where we are not in control. So don’t try to control it. Be silent. Don’t speak. Listen. Let God be God.
“This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to him!”