"Glory Be!"

LUKE 9: 28-36

JANUARY 12, 2014

 

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            One of the things that happened at church work day awhile back was the discovery of all sorts of artwork, stored in closets, that once adorned the inside of our church building.  So nice was much of the artwork, that one of resident artists and elders, Jeff Yoachim, decided to start rotating them throughout our sanctuary.  He told me, rather conspiratorially last Sunday, that this Sunday he would remove all the artwork to build anticipation, and then return pieces of art one by one or maybe in Noah's Ark fashion, two by two.  Our walls look pretty bare this week, but beginning next week art worked that adorned our walls in the past, will once again appear.  Maybe we will appreciate the artwork even more, when we don't take the pieces for granted.

            I mention all this because of passage for today could be a series of five paintings.  In the first, we see Jesus and his inner circle of disciples, Peter, James and John, and Jesus is praying.  Verse 28 ...

 

            Now about eight days after these sayings ... that is after Jesus informed them that Son of man must suffer and die and be raised again ... Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.   

 

            Luke has Jesus praying at certain hinge points in his life.  He prays just before his baptism.  He prays just before choosing The Twelve.  Now he prays, in preparation for heading to Jerusalem.  As for the mountain, scholars are divided between Mount Tabor near Nazareth and Mount Hermon up by Caesarea Philippi.

            In the second painting, we see the result of Jesus' prayer.  Verse 29 ...

 

            And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.  They appeared in glory and speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 

 

            By the way, Luke is the only one of the gospel writers to include what Moses, Elijah (two Old Testament superstars) and Jesus actually talked about.  The other gospel writers simply say the three of them conversed, but they did not include the topic of the conversation.  Luke tells us they talked about what would happen to Jesus in Jerusalem, specifically his ascension after his death and resurrection.

            The third painting is somewhat humorous ... not quite a velvet picture of Dogs Playing Cards humorous, but humorous nonetheless.  It's the painting of the three disciples while all of this is unfolding.  Verse 32 ...

 

            Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.  Just as they were leaving, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" ... and I love what Luke interjects here ... not knowing what he said.

 

            Well, what Peter said was rather sophomoric.  When you don't know what to say, it's best to keep quiet and even Luke has difficulty explaining what just came out of Peter's mouth. 

            The fourth painting is ethereal.  It's somewhat other worldly.  A cloud has appeared and enveloped the six men.  Verse 34 ...

 

            While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.  Then from the could came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"

 

            We've seen and heard something like this before.  God led the people of Israel through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud by day.  A cloud often symbolized God's presence.  Then, at Jesus' baptism, just before he was to begin his public ministry, a voice from above said, "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased."  We get something similar here as Jesus begins to head to Jerusalem and his death.  "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"  That is to say, pay attention to what he just told you about his suffering and death.

            The final painting features Jesus.  The voice is silent, the cloud is gone and so are Moses and Elijah, and Jesus stands alone.  Verse 36 ...

 

            When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.  And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

 

            Peter, James and John, would connect the dots later ... after Jesus death and resurrection ... and they would share this event at that time, but not now.  They did not tell anyone about this until after Jesus' ascension.

            I want to focus our attention on the last painting, on the words, "and they kept silent."  There are occasions that demand silence.  We are not always comfortable with silence.  Like Peter, when things get quiet we blurt out something just to break the silence, but silence at times is appropriate and appreciated.  Let's ponder three of those times.?

            First, silence is appropriate in the presence of a mystery beyond our understanding.

            Did you know Martin Luther refused to preach on this passage of scripture?  Why?  Because he didn't think he could do it justice.  Think about it.    What in our lives is a suitable parallel?  When is the last time your appearance changed like this and God's voice from heaven thundered, "this is my son, my daughter.  Listen to him.  Listen to her."   Oh sure, you have no doubt heard a sermon on this story about going back into the valley, back to everyday life after having a mountain top experience of God, but this is not the mountain top experience of God of which people tell.  This not an experience of sunrises and soft breezes and warm friends, and quiet time.  No, on this mountain the subject is death, Jesus death and resurrection, and the cloudy presence of God reduces the disciples to silence.  In Martin Luther's opinion a passage like this is good to read and study in order to sit simply in awe and wonder.  In Luther's eyes applications and exhortations would trivialize the story.

            Some mysteries demand silence. The mystery of suffering is one of these.  In his book, The Light Within You, John Claypool relates the very painful story of the loss of their young daughter to leukemia.  Very quickly upon diagnosis of this dread disease, his daughter had been given a medicine that enabled her to go into a remission.  For some time she was almost perfectly normal.  Naturally, this created many hopes for her family.  Had the diagnosis been a mistaken one?  Had she experienced the miracle of divine healing for which her father and so many others had prayed?

            All of these hopes came to an abrupt end, ironically, on Easter Sunday morning, when the old pains reappeared and she went into a severe relapse that involved hospitalization for two weeks.  John Claypool reports that moving with her through those two weeks was an unspeakably draining experience, and his faith was challenged as never before.

            The worst moment of all, however, came one night when his daughter could get no relief, and she asked him, "When will this leukemia go away?"  

            He answered, "I don t know, darling, but we are doing everything in our power to find an answer to cure it."

            There was a long silence, and then she asked in the darkness, "Have you asked God when the leukemia will go away?"

            Her pastor/father hedged a bit and said, "You know, darling, how we have prayed again and again for God to help us."

            But she persisted: "Have you asked God when it will go away?  What did He say?"

            Claypool asks, "How do you respond to such childlike directness at a time when the heavens seem utterly silent...?"

            There are some questions without an answer.  Such times demand a measure of silence.  Here is another.

            Silence is also appropriate in the presence of something or someone greater that ourselves.   

            Can you see Peter, James, and John as they contemplated what it meant to be in the presence not only of Jesus but also Elijah and Moses ... the two superstars of the Old Testament ...  and then on top of all that, to hear the voice of God as well?  No wonder they kept silent.  Here was dust encountering divinity, the temporal in the presence of the eternal, the imperfect face to face with Holiness itself.  Such experiences demand silence, awe, wonder.

            We need silence from time to time to ponder a masterpiece or to sit at the feet of a legend.  At times like that we do not chatter on.  We sit quietly, expectantly, reverently with a longing to soak up as much of the greatness as we are able.

            Historians have written that, on the night before a great battle, Napoleon's commanders all went to their commander's tent one by one.  Reportedly, it was a strange procession, for no one said a word as they came into Napoleon's presence. Each man simply looked into his commander's eyes, shook his hand, then turned and walked out of the tent ready to lay down his life for his beloved general.

            Silence is appropriate in the presence of a mystery too great for our understanding.  Silence is appropriate in the presence of something or someone greater than we ourselves.  One thing more.

            Silence is often required if we want to hear the voice of God.  As a young man, Benjamin Franklin was somewhat arrogant in his opinions and wanted to do most of the talking in his conversations with his friends.  He was so quick to tell people where they were wrong that they began crossing to the other side of the street to avoid speaking to him.  A Quaker friend kindly informed Franklin of this fault, and convinced Ben by mentioning several instances in which he had rudely dismissed the opinions of others.  Ben Franklin was so stricken by this revelation that over half a century later, when he was seventy-nine years old, he wrote these words in his autobiography,

 

            Considering that in conversation knowledge was obtained rather by the use of the ears than of the tongue, I gave silence second place among the virtues I determined to cultivate.

 

            That was an excellent step on Franklin s part.

            Now, for just a moment try to put ourselves in God's place when it comes to prayer.  It must be frustrating for God when we come to Him in prayer, supposedly seeking His guidance, and then proceed to do all the talking.  Suppose we had a friend who always talked and never listened.   Wouldn't that be frustrating?  Yet so often we make our requests of God and then move on to other things without giving God a chance to say anything in return.

            "The voice of God is a gentle voice," Evelyn Underhill wrote, "and we can't hear it when it is in competition with other voices."

            There are times for silence.  There are times to ponder and not explain.  There are times to be lost in the mystery.  There are times to soak in the greatness.  There are times to stop talking and to listen.  Amen.