This sermon, offered on February 7, 2016 at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church by the Very Rev. Andy Jones, is built around the readings for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.
My brother-in-law Scott, my sister Julie’s husband, is one of those lucky people who managed to turn his hobby, his avocation, into a job or a vocation. Scott writes reviews of high-end stereo equipment for an audiophile magazine, and companies all over the world send him this incredibly expensive equipment to test, to try out, to review, and to write about. Sometimes those companies want that equipment back and sometimes they don’t. So the last time I was at his house, and I was looking at this rack of stereo equipment that was just unbelievable, I started to lament the fact that when I was younger the first thing I did any time I moved was to set up my stereo. Great big speakers, a turntable, a tape deck, a receiver, an amplifier… all that equipment got put together before I even unpacked my bed. It was so important to me to have that stuff put together. And now when I want to listen to music I grab my iPhone in my little Bluetooth speaker that I carry around the house and I listen to music from little box that’s about that big…
Scott looked at me and said, “Well, lets talk about that for a minute. Andy when was the last time you sat down to listen to music?” I’m a musician. I listen to music all the time. He said “No, no. I don’t mean having music playing in the background while you’re making dinner, or folding the laundry, or doing something else. I’m talking about sitting down with no other intention than to listen to music.” I thought about that for a minute and it was true. When I had all of that stereo equipment I had a chair that was placed in just the right spot so I got the full stereo effect from my speakers and I would sit there for hours sometimes… just listening, just listening. The more I thought about that the more I recognize I was missing something.
When I was an undergraduate music student at Juniata College I took classes that taught me how to listen; that taught me what to listen for, how to appreciate what I was hearing, ways to anticipate, to remember, ways to incorporate what I was hearing into a larger pattern and scheme so did it all made sense. And the more I thought about it the more I realized that listening is an art in and of itself. And it’s something that we can be taught. It is a skill that we can acquire.
Now if you’re wondering if that’s really true, is listening an art, I invite you to think for a minute about the last time you were with someone who had the gift of listening. People like that help us to understand or to know that we have their full attention, that they’re anxious to hear what we have to say, that they believe we have something to contribute to their understanding of the world, and they’re curious about who we are and what we think, believe, and feel. People with the gift of listening are a gift in and of themselves.
Think for a minute about the other side of that equation; people who step on you before you finish saying something; who can’t wait to hear what you’ve got to say because they’ve already figured it out, or they’ve anticipated what you’re going to say and so the jump in and respond before you’re done. Or maybe people who are so anxious to prove how bright they are in how much they know about the subject that they don’t let you finish what you’re saying before they start adding their brilliant and highly erudite points to the conversation. And then, there’s the even worse case, people who clearly either don’t care don’t want to hear what you have to say. So they step on you. When you’re with people like that you sometimes just want to shake them and say “Listen to me! Listen!
“Listen,” that’s the rebuke that Peter got this morning in our Gospel reading. Jesus has just been transformed into his glory here on the mountain with Moses and Elijah their clothes transformed to dazzling white and before Moses and Elijah had even left… Peter has jumped in and said “Lord is good that we’re here! Let us build three booths, one for each of you, and we can just stay right here on this mountaintop.”
Peter thinks he knows what Jesus is about to say. He thinks he knows how this is supposed to play out. He’s got it all figured out so he’s not even going to let Jesus start to debrief this experience, or explain what happened, he’s just going to jump right in there with his in plan.
Peter, just a few verses ago, was the one who finally said to Jesus you are the Messiah of God. Jesus asked,
“‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God’” (Luke 9:18-20).
Peter was the star pupil! Jumped right to the head of the class. Maybe Peter has stepped on Jesus, not allowing him to speak because he assumes that his vision of the “Messiah of God” is right on track. Or maybe he’s not giving Jesus a chance to speak here because he wants to maintain that star status. He’s jumping in with what he is sure is the right answer so Jesus knows just how smart he is.
Or maybe… maybe Peter doesn’t really want to hear what Jesus has to say because just after Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah of God Jesus told them that
‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).
So maybe Peter doesn’t want to hear any more conversation about
“…his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).
Anyway, no matter what the reason, Peter has failed to listen. He’s interjected himself into a moment where he might have learned something and been transformed and changed by Jesus’s half of the conversation. And so he draws that rebuke.
“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)
If my brother-in-law Scott, a trained and gifted listener, who by the way this past September entered seminary, and the question that he asked me two years ago “When he was the last time you down to listen to music?” comes back to my mind here in this moment. I think that if he were here this morning listening to all this, because I’ve now led him right to this spot (right?), might ask a different question… “When was the last time you sat down to listen to God? When was the last time you sent down to listen to Jesus; not just as part of the background noise, not just to keep your head from wandering into dark places while you’re washing the dishes or making dinner… but sat down intentionally to listen; in the chair that’s in exactly the right spot to get the sound from both speakers so that when God’s speaks you get the full color, texture, and tone of what it is that God is saying?”
Listening is an art. It’s a skill that we can acquire. It’s something that we can train ourselves to do. So here are a couple of things that might help, things that we’ve explored a little bit already.
Sitting down in that chair ready to listen to God don’t imagine that you already know what God is going to say. Don’t jump in to finish God’s sentences. When God starts to speak sit and listen. Know that God has something to add that’s more valuable than what you’re ready to interject in that moment.
Don’t when you sit down in that chair, carefully positioned so that you can hear what God is saying, don’t try to be the star pupil. Don’t jump in and start to explain to God how good you are, or how well you’ve done, or how much you know from all of the theological texts you’ve read, or about your study of the scripture that week. Sit quietly and let God speak first.
And then third, make sure that you really do want to hear what it is that God has to say. God doesn’t always say things that are easy to hear. God doesn’t always say things that we necessarily want to hear. But when God speaks there is the the possibility that we will be transformed, just as Jesus was there on that mountain top, so that we can show forth God’s glory and light and love in the world.
We’re about to enter the season of Lent and on Wednesday, on Ash Wednesday, we will be invited into the observance of a holy land we’ll be invited to self reflection, and prayer; to fasting, to the reading of Scripture. I think if I had the chance to edit that paragraph in the prayer book I would add one thing, to listen, to enter the season of Lent to seek that holiness by quieting the voices, by quieting the noise, by suppressing our own expectations and assumptions, and by leaving ourselves wide open to just listen. A minute a day, two, five will make a difference. start small and gradually build yourself to the point then your in a dialog and conversation listening, listening, to him.