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Our psalm for today speaks of who God is.
The Holy God, who rules over all peoples and nations, is a great and active King,
This God loves justice and establishes equity.
This highly exalted God hears the cries of those in need
and responds in justice and righteousness.
This God forgives iniquity, yet allows some consequences to remain,
and yes, at times even exerts some measure of punishment.
The psalmist encourages us to worship this God,
to exalt this Lord and offer worship in God’s sanctuary.
Because of who God is and what God does, we are urged to orient our ears and our eyes,
and truly, the whole of our lives, to the Holy God of all.
1The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble!
The Lord sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
2The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.
3Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is the Lord!
4Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity;
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
5Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is the Lord!
6Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
They cried to the LORD, and the Lord answered them.
7The Lord spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.
8 O LORD our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
9Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain;
for the LORD our God is holy.
When Eugene Peterson translated this psalm for The Message version of the Bible,
he wrote – “Take notice! Be on your toes!”
The Transcendent, Holy God, is wholly other than us, and above all peoples and nations.
Listen to this God who hears and responds to the people.
Just as God spoke with Moses and Aaron, Elijah and Samuel,
God still engages in communication with God’s people.
In our lectionary, the suggested readings for each Sunday,
Psalm 99 is paired with the Transfiguration narrative from the gospel of Matthew.
The uncommon event that transpired on the mountaintop with Jesus and three of his disciples
has traditionally been called the “transfiguration.”
“Transfigure” simply means “to change”.
Matthew reports from later conversations with Peter, James, and John
that, on the mountaintop, the appearance of Jesus’ face changed,
and Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white.
This seems to have been one of those awe-inspiring “time-stands-still experiences”
that happens only occasionally in life.
Scholars have agreed that this event does not fit neatly into logical categories.
At first glance, it may seem beyond the limits of senses, or even beyond the limits of reason.
Matthew called it “a vision”.
Luke clarified that it had to do with the presence of God.
Mark, in typical brevity, gave us a chronological account.
Hearkening back to the ancient stories of Moses on Sinai and Elijah on Horeb,
Jesus and the three disciples had an awe-inspiring mountaintop experience
that few persons this side of glory will ever have the privilege to witness.
What that experience meant to those three fishermen from the Sea of Galilee,
first, was the confirmation of the legitimacy of Jesus.
and, second, the confirmation that they were to listen to Jesus.
They were to listen to him, even when what he said was difficult to hear,
even when what he said seemed to go against their commonly held assumptions.
Jesus had recently been predicting his suffering and death,
and the disciples, especially Peter, were struggling with those words.
Notice that Moses, who received the decalogue on Mt. Sinai, represents the Law,
and Elijah, who heard the still, small, voice on Mt. Horeb, represents the prophets.
This vision of Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah
revealed that Jesus was not against the Law and the Prophets, but their fulfillment.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John
and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.
2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun,
and his clothes became dazzling white.
3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish,
I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them,
and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved;
with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.
7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them,
“Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
During my first pilgrimage to Israel, a group of pastors and I spent a few hours
on top of Mount Tabor. Like a composite of Stone Mountain and Kennesaw Mountain,
the solitary upside-down-bowl-shaped mountain stands on a plain by itself.
Deceiving from below how high and large the mountain is,
a steep climb is required from every side. The road to the top includes numerous switchbacks.
The top of the mountain, surprisingly, is relatively flat.
The Franciscans maintain a beautiful little church there
and verdant gardens grace the mountaintop.
A blooming bougainvillea along a stone wall caught my attention;
so striking that I took several photographs.
The temperature on the mountain is always a few degrees cooler than the warm plain below,
and one can easily imagine a cloud rolling in and covering the entire area.
The day that we were there, the air was misty and the wind slight.
We gathered in a circle to read the text from Matthew
and tried to imagine what had happened so many years before…
Peter, James, and John did not have the benefit of an air-conditioned bus
making its way up a well-paved road of switchbacks.
The disciples, along with Jesus, walked up the steep mountain, sweaty and tired.
I wonder how long they were there before their extraordinary vision.
There are so many questions that arise from this vision of Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus,
so many aspects to this story, that I had forgotten that an interesting point.
God interrupted Peter!!
“While Peter was still speaking…suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them,”
and a voice emerged from the cloud.
This interruption reminds me of the Mary and Martha story.
Peter, like Martha, wants to attend to the important Middle Eastern habits of hospitality.
Peter notices that Jesus has unexpected guests on the mountain.
“We should do something to make them feel welcome; let us make three dwellings…”
Peter had probably been building tents in the wilderness his whole life.
Each year, the Jewish Festival of Booths celebrates the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness,
and people set up tents for an old fashioned seven day camp meeting
of food and singing and togetherness. Like the prolonged seven-day Festival,
Peter wanted to make this special mountaintop experience last.
Like Martha, when Jesus was in her home, always scurrying about,
taking care of food and preparations, and frustrated with her sister, Mary,
who just sat listening at Jesus’ feet,
Peter tries to figure out their next move. He wants to do something for Jesus.
But God interrupts Peter and basically says, “Chill out, Peter. Stop your striving…
This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!”
In all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the voice from above proclaims:
“Listen to him!”
Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, are to be revered and remembered,
but now is the time to listen to Jesus.
Even when he tells you that he must suffer and die,
even when he tells you that you must take up a cross in order to follow him,
still you must listen.
Do not miss the fear and trembling of the disciples.
As mentioned in the psalm – God’s power and presence is terribly beautiful.
Upon hearing the voice from the cloud,
Peter, James and John fall to the ground and are overcome by fear.
The human response throughout the Bible when realizing the presence of God is fear.
God’s presence is awesome!
But the divine response to human fear is always this – do not be afraid.
Jesus walks over to Peter, James, and John, touches them, and tells them:
“Get up now, and do not be afraid.”
It is natural to be fearful when considering the presence of God or listening to God’s voice.
If we listen to Jesus, we should be prepared to be afraid, especially if we are afraid of change.
As we listen to his voice, our carefully constructed lives get turned upside down,
and we have to face the inevitable challenge of change, of transfiguration, of transformation…
Many have shared lately that they are tired of listening to news reports,
tired of listening to rants on Facebook and other social media,
tired of the combativeness of conversations about politics and social issues.
Can I get an “amen”?
Perhaps there is no better time than this to turn off the TV for a while, turn off the car radio,
take out the ear buds, leave the cell phone at home, shut down the laptop…
and listen for the voice of God.
The season of Lent begins this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday.
Lent is the season of preparation for Holy Week and Easter,
traditionally a season for more intentional listening for the voice of God.
The voice beckons to us as it did to the disciples: Listen to my Son, my Beloved.
Listen to him.
When considering some item you want to purchase, large or small,
have you ever been afraid to listen to God?
What if you listen to God? Maybe you still make purchase?
Or maybe you reprioritize your finances, consume less, and give more?
When considering the purpose and goal of your career,
have you ever been afraid to listen to God?
What if you listen to God? Maybe you still seek the job with the higher salary?
Or maybe you hear another calling instead,
a call where your gifts and talents are used in a special way to build the common good?
When considering your relationship with someone who is difficult,
have you ever been afraid to listen to God?
What if you listen to God?
Maybe you still avoid that person or speak ill of that person?
Or maybe you feel called to forgive, to seek reconciliation, to walk a mile in their shoes?
I encourage you in these coming weeks of Lent to listen.
Listen to Jesus by reading your Bible, through dwelling upon Holy Scripture.
Listen to Jesus by taking time for silence and meditative prayer,
with as much noise and distraction removed as possible.
Listen to Jesus by hearing the cries of those in need,
for those are the same cries that he hears, that he intends for us to hear and respond to as well.
In this coming season of Lent, listen to Jesus,
even when it is difficult or uncomfortable to do so,
even when he calls you to follow a different path than you had expected to take,
even if the path calls for some measure of suffering or difficult service.
After the transfiguration, Peter, James, and John followed Jesus back down the mountain,
back to the streets and marketplaces, back to the crowds who demanded so much from them.
I am sure that it was difficult for them to listen, difficult to remember the mountaintop,
difficult some days even to believe.
But it was in the daily listening to Jesus, and waiting on his Spirit to provide them guidance,
that Peter, James, and John followed in the ways that he would have them go,
and built the foundations of the Church which today stands strong throughout the world.
Most of us will spend very little time on mountaintops.
Most of our days will be spent in valleys, in day-to-day activities,
in the streets and marketplaces, among the crowds,
where God’s voice can be difficult to hear.
It is in the midst of the busyness of your daily life, remember the urgent command:
Listen to Jesus, daily…Walk with him for a while…And do not be afraid.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
February 26, 2017
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 am and at 5 pm on the 1st Sunday.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God’s Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030