"This is my Son, the beloved; listen to him!"
If any of you out there are wondering what exactly is going on in our Gospel reading for today, hear that phrase spoken by more than any of the other words that you've heard this morning. This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him! That right there is what this strange story on a mountain, dazzling lights, famous forebears of the faith, and terrified disciples centers on more than anything else – that Jesus is God's beloved Son and that we should listen to him. This has importance because it has huge implications for what happens next. So listen up people! God is about to do something wonderful. The only problem is that we often have a terrible time with listening from time to time.
For example, my mother likes to tell this story about when she was in college. It was the end of her third year of college, and with the end of every semester comes all the final tests that one must take to pass the classes you enrolled in to eventually get your degree. In one of my mom's classes, the professor hated how no matter how much he emphasized reading all the directions before starting on the test, most of the students would rip right into the questions as fast as she or he could. Some would do it because taking a test is like a race where you feel better about yourself if you get done before others. Others would start answering questions as fast as possible because the logic goes "the sooner you get done with a test, the sooner you are done with class and can begin the year end parties that some (definitely not me...) looked forward to.
My mother got to this final, and she heard again the clear caution to read all the directions before you started to answer the questions. the only thing was there were four pages of solid text that were the directions. Most people got through maybe a half a page of these severely pedantic directions and decided to just get on with the very long test so that they could get done with the class. My mother and a few others decided to heed the professor's advice and read all four pages of directions which concluded with "Thank you for reading all of the directions. Write your name on the top, turn it in, and meet me at the bar downtown for a beer. You will receive an 'A.'" Not many that day read all the directions, and really that does not surprise me too much.
We all have times in our lives where we have trouble actually listening to what is being said to us, whether it be in a text or in a conversation. We would much rather hear what we want to hear rather than listen carefully to what's been said. In fact, I believe the greatest indicator of how healthy a relationship (friendship or marriage) is how well the two people actually engage in communication. That truly is one of the most important things two people can work on in their relationship, and at times it takes hard work to truly hear what the other is actually saying. Yet, we also see this in our news as well. How many of you have heard a report or a commentator misquote or misrepresent what a public figure had actually said?
Yes, it is true we sometimes have a hard time really listening to what is being told us, even when God personally tells people like us to listen to the Beloved Son. How do we truly hear what Jesus is telling us through his life? First of all, there are times when we need to get out of the way of God is up to. Peter, who often sticks his foot in his own mouth, would love to enshrine Jesus on the top of that mountain so that he and others could always come back to that place again and again and again. But this Good Thing that has come down to earth cannot be locked up on the top of a mountain. Jesus is a Good Thing that must be brought out to the whole world for it is Good for him fill to fill the whole of creation with God's light and love.
Second of all, there are times when we simply would rather that God would do things in a different way, a way which would perhaps not include the cross which Jesus has become resolved march towards in this Lenten journey. Again, it is Peter who begins to scold Jesus for saying that he must go and die on the cross. But the cross is the way. It is the only way. It is the way which shows each of us the incredible self-emptying love of the God who truly gives up what he deserves to give us what we need – to give us mercy. In fact, that phrase I quoted at the beginning of this sermon? There are two other places in Mark's Gospel where it occurs in much the same way: 1.) at Jesus' baptism where God declares "This is my Son, the Beloved. With Him I am well pleased." and 2.) When Jesus dies on the cross and the Roman centurion proclaims "Truly this was God's Son." In sense, we only truly believe, we only truly see, we only truly listen when we gaze upon the cross which is itself the revelation of God's love in the world.
So if we truly take the time to heed God's words "This is my Son, the Beloved; Listen to him!" we must see these words as words that take us away from ourselves and towards others in the world as we too bear that cross to the whole world in our words and deeds. If we heed these words, we need not bear how wonderful our lives are, but simply bear how wonderful God's love is. For that has been and always will be enough. Because on that cross, that cross that journey towards again as begin another season of Lent this Wednesday, God's love and mercy embraces the whole world, a Grace beyond any measure. And in that, we just might find that we too might begin to be able to better listen to the world around us and hopefully respond with grace-filled love that has been shown us.