Listen to Him!, Mark 9:2-9
Plymouth First United Methodist Church; February 14, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer
There’s the temptation to just stay there…
Maybe it’s a particular place where you’ve visited…where the weather is fair, where they don’t “do” snow-shovels, where you can hear seagulls and waves crashing. You could get used to that.
Or maybe it’s not a particular place, but it’s that warm and comfortable feeling when the family is all together in one place. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? But when you can listen to the chatter and laughter, it’s just good.
Or maybe you remember a time at church camp, or when you were a part of a work team, or when you participated in a women’s retreat, or listened to that sport’s figure at the men’s rally who shared his faith. You experienced a resurgence in your heart and soul. Your faith was strong. You felt committed. You felt as though you could not only survive the circumstances you were dealing with in your life, but you were in a better place spiritually than you had ever been before. Better than you had imagined possible.
It was a mountaintop experience.
You wished it would never end.
But then it did.
You knew it would.
That’s life. And life has this way of re-introducing itself.
You return home from visiting that ideal place and there’s a stack of mail piled on your desk, including the bills and the full calendar of activities and projects you should have dealt with yesterday.
You dig out the snow shovel, or fire up the snowblower, because there aren’t any sea gulls or ocean breezes making their way over the skies of Plymouth anytime soon.
The retreat ends, the sports figure moves onto other things, and life at home and at the church seem to be pretty much like they’ve always been. You try to describe the experience you had with your spouse or with a friend, and you realize the inadequacy of your words. You can’t do it.
It seems there is no choice but to come down from the mountaintop. To come back down to life in the ordinary here and now.
We read today’s text of Jesus being transfigured: his clothing becomes a dazzling white. We read this and we accept it as part of the story, but let’s try putting ourselves in the sandals of the disciples for a bit. Let’s say we’ve gone up to the mountaintop with Jesus, looking forward to a brief time away. We’re feeling kind of special because he’s asked us to accompany him, and we’re looking forward to being in his company without the others, and without all the people needing him like they always do. We anticipate taking a deep breath…having time to pray…having time to just be together.
But then something happens. To Jesus. It happens so quickly that it startles us, it frightens us, and for just a moment, our knowledge of scripture takes us to the time when the face of Moses shone—everyone could see it, but he didn’t know it was happening. Whenever Moses spoke to God his face would shine. As that story comes to mind, suddenly, Moses appears to us. And Elijah! Jesus and Moses and Elijah are talking to each other. Really. On top of the mountain. We’re with Jesus and two of our friends, and now Moses and Elijah are with us, too.
We’re surprised, we’re in awe—we’re terrified—scripture says. How do you process something like this? Our friend Peter is always the one who steps out first. His words aren’t always well-measured, but I think they’re well-meaning. I think he’s trying to be helpful. He interrupts this divine conversation, saying “This is good! I know this is good! Can we maybe put up some tents, a place where you can rest if you want to? You can talk, you can rest, you can talk some more! Can we do something to help you?”
No sooner than his words come bumbling out of his mouth, something else happens. Suddenly there’s a cloud on top of this mountain. This mountain where we had hoped to get away from it all—this mountain where we had wanted to take a breath—this mountain where all we wanted to do was spend time with Jesus and one another—is covered with a cloud!! We can’t see anything! We were already frightened—and this isn’t helping!!
Then we hear a voice come out of the cloud. We know it’s God’s voice. “This is my Son, the Beloved,” God says to us. “Listen to him.”
In 2016 I walked the Camino de Santiago with a friend. We walked 520 miles in about 35 days in northern Spain. The first day’s walk was something over 20 miles, and it seemed to go straight up. The whole journey it seemed like we were walking up mountains, even to the day we arrived in Santiago. But it wasn’t the kind of climbing that requires special equipment, except for good walking shoes.
On that first day, we could see a cloud ahead of us up on the mountain, and eventually we walked into it. I remember how thick it was, and how it dampened our skin and even our clothing, just a bit. We couldn’t see in front of us very far, or off to our right or left. We could see the path we were walking, and we could hear the sounds of animals. We learned there were horses to the right, and cattle to the left. We could hear the cow bells. At one point a horse ran right in front of us, across the path. Just all the sudden, there he was.
The sounds were muffled, we couldn’t see a lot…our skin was moist…and eventually we walked out of the cloud.
But I was thinking of that this morning. Thinking how the disciples experienced the cloud that descended upon them. How it was frightening to them, because they didn’t see it coming. How it must have moistened their skin and muffled sounds…how they couldn’t see much around them.
And then everything goes back to normal. It’s all over, just like that. Imagining we’re the disciples again, we look around us. The cloud is gone. Moses and Elijah are gone. It’s just Jesus and you and your two friends. The mountain experience is over and done with.
The story doesn’t tell us how the disciples process this event with Jesus. We don’t know if Jesus asks them, “Wasn’t it something to see Moses and Elijah? What did you hear God say? What did you learn from this experience?”
What we do know is that they all go back down the mountain, back to the other disciples, back to the streets where people are hurting and in need, back to those who longed to hear a word of hope, to those who needed to hear a message from God. They went back down the mountain to the nay-sayers, to the religious elite, to the politicians and the Roman occupation, and back to the place—wherever it is—where God is leading them/where Jesus is taking them. At this point they don’t realize that the place they’re headed is a cross.
They can’t understand this. They can’t process it. It hasn’t come together for them yet.
You’ll remember our story begins today with these words: “Six days later…” Six days ago, Jesus had told the disciples he would “suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31f). Peter wasn’t pleased with Jesus and told him so, but Jesus scolded him, saying, “Get behind me, Satan. You’re not thinking about God’s ways, you’re thinking about the world’s ways!”
Jesus had then turned and began teaching the crowds, while the disciples stood there listening, trying to take it all in. Jesus told them that his followers were to deny themselves, that they should plan to pick up a cross, and that whoever wanted to save their life would lose it, that whoever lost their life for him, and for the sake of the gospel, would save it.
Honestly, how can we expect the disciples to understand what Jesus is talking about? We have the benefit of history, of knowing what’s ahead, of knowing (at least to some extent) how the pieces fit together, and we still have questions…we still can’t understand it all.
But our task, I think—the one given to us today, is to listen. To listen for God’s word and to respond to it.
We can give thanks for those mountaintop experiences, wherever and whatever they might be. The mountaintop experiences restore us, revive us, and renew our hearts and souls and minds. Then, we can be ready to come back into the world—into the valleys where we live every day—to do the work we’ve been called to do, whatever that might be.
Mountaintop experiences will be different for all of us, but they encourage us to carry on.
I’ve shared on Facebook that I’ve just bought a guitar and began taking guitar lessons. My assignment after the first lesson was to learn 4 cords and the 12 notes (?) on the first 3 strings of my guitar—and, to learn to play Yankee Doodle with those notes.
I have found my practice in this new venture in learning to be a lesson in humility. I’ve been playing Yankee Doodle over and over, and I think you can almost recognize the tune now, if you’re listening closely. But somewhere in the midst of my picking through the notes of that tune, I realized that there was a rhyme and reason to the placement of the various notes I was playing. It all seemed pretty random to me before then, and just something I had to memorize. But in that moment, I understood how the notes fit together from one string to the next, and that I was pulling out whole notes from in-between the sharps—and I realized—okay, I can do this. It does make sense…
It was a little musical mountain-top experience that provided me with the encouragement I need to continue on. It reassured me that I can do this.
In a bigger way, God encourages us with mountaintop kinds of experiences to carry on in doing the work God calls us to do. I think it’s significant that as soon as Jesus and the others descend the mountain, Jesus heals a little boy who is suffering from epilepsy that no one else has been able to heal. In the same way, there are people and situations and jobs out in the valleys of our lives that only you can do. If you wait for someone else to do them, they won’t get done.
There are people who are hungry—for food, for companionship, for a word of hope, a word of love. They know you. They trust you. Only you can feed them.
There are people who are homeless—who don’t have a church home, who don’t have a place or people who welcome them: They know you. They trust you. You see them. Only you can give them shelter.
There are people who are cold: you see them, know them, you make eye contact with them when so few even try…only you can warm them.
There are people who are lonely: who are too proud to say so, but you realize they’re all alone. You’re the one who can call, them, to say hello…
There are people who are suffering; perhaps you’re the one who can help them.
There are people who are grieving. You know grief. Only you can comfort them.
God calls us to the mountaintop and then leads us back down and into the valley. That’s where we live. That’s where we serve. That’s where we can make a difference.
Listen to him. Listen for his voice. God is calling…you.