Be attentive to this lamp for a lifetime

Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Exodus 24:12-18,2 Peter 1:16-21,Matthew 17:1-9

Scenes from the Life of Christ on Italo-Byzantine Ivory Plaque (Middle Left), from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. Vanderbilt Image Link [retrieved February 23, 2017]. Original source: Image courtesy of Patout Burns, Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Jesus asks the disciples,“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” From Matthew 16, “And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’[Maybe Moses?] He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’” This question and answer comes just a few verses before today’s reading. Peter is extolled for giving this right answer. Then Jesus tells the disciples of his impending death and resurrection. In this exchange, Peter rebukes Jesus and Jesus calls Peter Satan. Being the Messiah and being called to an early death does not make sense. It is hard to put this idea together, that the Messiah needs to die. Even with all this discussion, it must be hard for the disciples to understand that this act of death leads to the glory of his father.

There is a difference between listening and hearing. We hear all kinds of things throughout the day or even from moment to moment; the sound of a mower, the birds chirping, a clock chiming the quarter hour. For those of us who have a chiming clock in the house, we get used to this sound, it’s kind of like our heartbeat, it is always there but we are not listening for it. But we miss it when it’s gone. We notice something is wrong when the clock starts to slow down. Oh, it needs winding.

My mantel clock at home needs a certain amount of attention. Each week it needs to be wound or the chimes start to slow down and by the tenth day, it is no longer running. I love its presence in the house though most of the time I am not aware of its chiming or ticking. Once we had a house guest. We stayed up late, talking and enjoying each other's company. The next morning I awoke and noticed that the sound of the clock was gone. I intentionally listened and not only was the sound gone but when I looked at the mantle, the clock was missing. I soon discovered that my house guest wrapped it in a throw, put in the bottom of the coat closet, and buried it under pillows from the couch and chairs. I thought she had gone mad, but for her the sound was overwhelming. It’s interesting that the same sound that she found overwhelming I had to focus on in order to hear.

Most of the time, to truly listen, we have to pay attention to the sound entering our body, entering our mind. This is especially true when the sound is common in our lives, such as the people we interact with. People can be talking away and we are not focused on what they are saying, or we do not understand what they are truly trying to communicate to us, much like the clock slowing down telling me it is past time to wind it. I wonder if this is where we find the disciples today on the mountain top. They have already been told that Jesus has to die but have they truly listened. Peter has said that Jesus is the Son of Man but has he truly taken this meaning to heart? Do any of them, do any of us, understand what this really means?

On the mountain, Jesus’ face shines like the sun. This could only elicit the thought of Moses coming down the mountain because his face was shining brightly. At that moment, I wonder if they think Jesus is actually Moses, one of the possible answers to the earlier question. Suddenly Moses and Elijah are found taking to him. He is not talking to himself so he is not one of these prophets. Who is he? Peter even wants to build three shelters, but God has another plan. In a cloud that is also reminiscent of Moses’ adventure on the mountain, a voice says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.” But the voice doesn’t stop here it continues and says, “Listen to him!”

The brightness of Jesus and the sound of God’s voice display the beauty and majesty of God, of Christ. In this experience, the disciples “fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” Jesus speaks; they listen, they look, and, in their attention to Jesus, they seem to no longer be afraid.

Events in life can create fear in us. Sometimes fear creeps in when we have experiences that are hard to deal with; the death of a loved one, an illness of a friend, a great tragedy in the world. Yet even in these tough times, we are called to listen to Jesus to be attentive. In second Peter, Peter is being accused of creating tall tales. Instead of giving into fear Peter turns to Christ and retells his eyewitness account of this transfiguration story. Peter doesn’t dwell on the unexplainable but taps into the glorious light that shines from Christ. He says that we need to be attentive to this light as we attend to a lamp shining in dark places.

It could be hard for us to understand what Peter is trying to tell us. He says that we should be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns. Tending to a lamp was not turning on a light switch or making sure that the lamp didn’t get tipped over by the cat or dog. Tending a lamp till morning would mean that you would make sure the wick was kept trimmed, and the oil didn’t run out. It may not take constant vigilance but you could not afford to fall asleep. After all, they didn’t have matches and lighters to so easily reignite the flame. We are not just attending to this lamp until day dawns. Peter says that we are attending to it until the morning star rises in our hearts. We are called to be attentive to this lamp for a lifetime.

The people I know with seemingly great faith attend to this “lamp” more than others. In part I think for them it is no chore to trim the wick or fill the oil; to be attentive to Christ in their lives. They find great pleasure in tending this Light. They have found a way to make attentiveness a routine, much as I try to wind my clock each and every Sunday. But sometimes when things are new to us they can be overwhelming. It can take much effort and time to allow a foreign sound, or idea, or even a spiritual practice to become comfortable, let alone enjoyable. If I were to ask us to be silent, just for a moment, many of you will become aware of things you were previously not attuned to. Maybe you are now able to hear for feel your heartbeat pulsating through your body. (… a moment of silence…) I doubt any of you were aware of your heart beat just moments earlier. You were hearing it but you were not listening to it.

When we are constantly exposed to things we can forget they even exist. The love of Christ is always with us. When we make space and listen we will find that He is near. Take time to be attentive and listen to Christ. For God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

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