“Ears, Not Eyes”
February 27, 2022
Mark 8:30-36 and Mark 9:2-10
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.
[But] Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, [Jesus] rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Suddenly, when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
So – have you ever been up a mountain…a really high mountain? The endless switchbacks of the trail, the thinning air and the burning lungs, the aching muscles, the blistered feet?
One summer Meg and I went to Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming. I had the totally brilliant idea that we could do a 19.2 mile loop in a single day…so we woke up at 4:45 in the morning, hit the trail
by 6:00. At first it was easy enough – we had a nice long break by this beautiful, blue, high elevation lake. Then came the real ascent.
From here on out we started to call this excursion the death march. What made it particularly challenging is that we couldn’t see the top of the mountain – it was obscured by a thick platter of clouds.
Finally – after what seemed like an eternity – we broke through the shroud and there above the cloud cover we had a beautiful view of snow-capped Grand Teton – steely gray against the bluest of skies. It felt like heaven – it was so beautiful.
Sometimes, you go up the mountain and the climb is hard, but once you get to the top, the view alone is worth every moment of struggle. Sometimes, it can be so glorious, you just want to stay forever.
Other times, you get to the mountain top, and it’s, well, less than ideal.
Spending a summer in Maine, one weekend I decided to hike up Mt. Katadin. As the northern terminus of the Appalachain Trail, Katadin is something of a high, holy mountain.
But unlike Grand Teton that boasts a 14,000 foot elevation…Katadin is a measly 5,000 feet above sea level, but I can say, without any exaggeration, that climbing Katadin was by far the most difficult hike I’ve ever done. Each step of “the trail,” if you could call it a trail, forced you to throw a leg up and over rocks the size of this pulpit.
I made it to the top and, I admit, the view was something else. The rock slide gave way to a carpet of evergreens, the slanting late afternoon
sunlight glinted off the lake below where a Bull Moose was cooling himself in the water…it was stunning. I sat down to enjoy the view…and that’s when the mosquitoes made their presence known.
Now, understand…the mosquito is the state bird of Maine – they were huge – and they were all over me…arms, legs, flying around my ear and making that horrible buzzing sound that tickles your eardrum.
Things went from bad to worse when I swatted at one of those ear-buzzing mosquitoes and, well, it got stuck…in my ear…way down in there…still alive…still buzzing its wings with all its might – right against my inner ear.
My friends, never before and never since have I posed such a threat to my own well-being as when I had that mosquito stuck in my ear. I tried to get him out with my finger…but he was too far down in there. I started frantically looking for something longer and skinnier to jam in my ear…I patted my pockets and felt my car keys.
Y’all, I actually stuck a Honda key in my ear to get this mosquito out. Pause – Did it work? Bzzzzzzzzzz!
I threw my backpack on the rocks and unzipped it – my gaze fell upon a can of Off Deep Woods Formula insect repellant…I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and aimed that baby right in my ear and I sprayed and sprayed until I had Deet dripping down my neck.
Pause – Did it work? Bzzzzzzzzzz!
So after hopping around like a mad man and clawing at my ear, I had another idea – cup my water bottle over my ear and turn my head sideways and drown that little guy…and THAT finally worked… but for all I know I still have some mosquito carcass cozied up next to my ear drum.
Sometimes, you get to the top of that mountain, and it is glorious, but it’s just not what you thought it would be. Sometimes, you barely get a chance to enjoy the view before something sends you right back down that mountain.
Peter, James and John went up the mountain all right, and they got more than a nice view of the valley below…they saw Jesus transformed right before their eyes – he was positively glowing. Not to mention the fact that he was standing and speaking with Moses and Elijah.
Moses brought their people out of slavery in Egypt and gave them the Ten Commandments.
The prophet Elijah confronted the King of Israel when he turned away from the Lord and worshiped other gods.
This is some seriously elite company. All signs point to it: Jesus is the culmination of the Law – Moses – and the Prophets – Elijah.
What’s more is that they are also catching Jesus in the company of those who may never have tasted death. According to Scripture, Elijah was swept up into heaven in a fiery chariot, and while I would say the Bible is pretty clear about Moses dying, there were oral traditions circulating that Moses didn’t so much die as he was taken by God.
Why might this be important? Because death and dying is precisely what Peter and Jesus had argued about six day earlier.
I imagine that it’s right about here when Peter starts to think that he was right to rebuke Jesus…that Jesus would in fact never die. That Jesus had it all wrong with his talk of carrying crosses and losing his life. The Messiah would live forever.
Face to face with this glorious spectacle…we can identify with Peter who wants to capitalize on this moment and make it permanent. Why not build some booths – some living quarters – for Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Why not stay up there on the mountaintop forever? Why not preserve this amazing attraction?
Of course, it’s difficult not to detect a bit of self-interest in Peter’s motives. Who wouldn’t want to be the guy in charge of admission to this incredible spectacle?
BUT THEN – God shows up.
Scripture says: “a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!’
Of all the things that God might say right now, I find that a very curious choice. Pay attention to which of the five senses God invokes. After they see Jesus transformed into pure light, after they see Moses and Elijah talking with him, God doesn’t even mention the sense of sight. It’s not “Hey look – it’s Moses and Elijah” or “Look at what my boy can do.”
Instead it’s ‘Listen to him.’ Just listen.
Forget about what your eyes are telling you.
Clean out your ears and listen to the words he speaks…
“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Put aside your plans, Peter.
Set your agenda on the shelf.
Retire your ambitions and go back down the mountain, back to the place where I am asking you to go – even if it’s the last place you want to go.
Thursday we all woke up to the difficult news that Russia had in fact invaded Ukraine. The threats have been building for weeks, and really for years, but on Thursday it all became real. The explosions and gunfire and loss of so much life – both soldiers and civilians.
It’s yet another sad reminder of just how low humans can go; how much life we will sacrifice in service to our grand ambitions; how many innocent lives must pay the price for our pride.
Let me say this plainly: this kind of empire-building is NOT the way of Jesus. It’s not consistent with “take up your cross and follow me.”
While we may feel powerless in the face of the suffering on display this week, the very least we can do is examine our own agendas and honestly ask if we are listening to the voice of God who says to us “go back down. Surrender yourself to my will and my way and go back.”
Peter’s not so different from the rest of us. Who wouldn’t prefer the path of least resistance? Who wouldn’t choose the path that promises personal glory? Who in their right mind takes the path that is overgrown with crosses and sacrifice? But the voice of God is insistent: “You can’t stay here. Go back down. Lose your life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel.”
We may not be able to change what us happening in the Ukraine right now but we can ask ourselves questions like:
Are we hard at work chasing short-term gains, securing the future of our own tribe at the expense of others or are we working to make our community a place where people very different from us can thrive?
Are we content with the caste systems of race and poverty or will we commit ourselves to repairing the mistakes of our past?
Are we consuming the earth’s resources how we want and when we want them, or are we making a more sustainable future for our children’s children?
If I understand this text at all, those are just a few questions that I am left with as I ponder this peculiar story that pits our eyes against our ears and challenges us to truly listen to the voice of God.
That voice…it gets stuck way down in your ear, and it buzzes so constantly that you may want to get rid of it anyway you can.
But that voice is faithful and it isn’t going anywhere. You can try to dig it out and spray it out and drown it out all you want, but so long as we follow Jesus, it’ll be there. Way deep down in our ears, reminding us that there’s only one way to get to the very best mountain tops: Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow me…
Presumably we all came together to hear a word from God; to read and reflect on Scripture and discern the call it places on our lives.
Now comes the difficult part – listening and obeying that Words and living that call out there in the waiting world.
May the Lord bless us with courage to deny our own dreams and agendas and instead take up the cause of Christ in the thousand different way that might take shape. Amen.