Listen to Him!

             “Listen to Him!”       February 19, 2023      Matt. 18:1-9 & Exodus 24:12-18
         No one in our Exodus passage was transfigured in the same way Jesus was, but there are many similarities between the two stories. They are both about climbing up mountains and seeing God’s glory, about hearing God’s voice and obeying it. It took prayer, listening to God, to lead Moses to start the journey. Simply climbing the mountain was an act of obedience and a matter of putting one foot in front of the other in the effort required to climb something so steep. Moses, like the disciples after him, trusted God and saw God’s glory. God first invited him to come up and worship, then gave him the law. Moses learned what a mere human can about God, then learned how God expects us to act. That revelation eventually led to the coming of Christ.
          In Moses’ times, mountains were considered a bridge between the earth and heaven. To receive the law, he had to be sanctified, set apart. That’s why he went alone. Then, God was with him in the cloud, and later God was with the people in the tabernacle. Now, God has expanded God’s presence and is everywhere with us through the Holy Spirit. We’re about to go through the forty days of Lent, like the forty days Moses spent on the mountain and the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness. Mountaintop visions like these fortify us for the journeys ahead.
          There are few experiences in life as clearly mystical as these, but there are many that are glimpses into the majesty of God. Seeing the stars on a clear night is one. Studying the beauty of nature and finding God’s handiwork is another. Feeling God touch us through another person is one of the best. When we’re open to them, God’s small miracles are visible. God’s voice can still be heard.
          Jesus led a few of his disciples up a mountain. They had no idea what to expect, but they trusted him enough to follow. The original wording of the story uses “suddenly” three times, and the surprising, startling elements of what happened made the disciples more frightened than they had ever felt in their lives. A thunderstorm while you’re fishing is scary, but familiar. They knew how to react to a storm with courage. Having God speak to them from a cloud, telling them that Jesus is the Son and to listen to Him, then having Jesus’ whole body shine like a beacon, it was just too much. They fell to the ground in awe and terror. God has more power and majesty than any of us can imagine without experiencing it. Even so, God was kind enough to have restraint so that they wouldn’t be hurt. God told them what they had suspected but not fully believed until that moment. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.”
          Jesus came over, touched them and said, “Get up and don’t be afraid.” The vision that had frightened them so badly was gone. God gave them mercy by drawing back and allowing them to recover with Jesus to help them. God was still there, still with them as the Holy Spirit is with us.
          When we recognize that Jesus is beside us, fear is a choice, not an emotion that has us by the throat. When Jesus tells us to get up and keep following Him, we need to remember that God said to listen to Him, not just during a mountain-top experience, but all the time. When Jesus says not to be afraid, his touch is all we need to put our fears aside and do His will. We have to do our part and obey His instructions.
          Here’s a story by Charles Allen from Victory in the Valleys. Five-year old Johnny was in the kitchen as his mother made supper. She asked him to go into the pantry and get her a can of tomato soup, but he didn't want to go in alone. "It's dark in there, and I'm scared." She asked again, and he persisted. Finally she said, "It's OK--Jesus will be in there with you." Johnny walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. He peeked inside, saw it was dark, and started to leave when all at once an idea came, and he said: "Jesus, if you're in there, would you hand me that can of tomato soup?"
          Jesus is powerful, fully man and fully God, but he wants us to be part of doing the work of the kingdom, not assume that He’s going to hand us the tomato soup. He’s not going to miraculously do all the work for us. He wants us to be partners with Him.
          When I asked for volunteers to start a prayer group, both in worship and in the newsletter, there was absolutely no response. I’ve asked you to invite your friends to worship, to talk about your faith and what this community means to you. We rarely see new visitors in the pews, and despite your friendliness during church, the ones who do come usually don’t return.
          When we look for new people to be elders, to lead the church, it’s the same small group of folks who have the courage and willingness to volunteer, people like Pat Vestal and Gayleen Williams, who will be installed today, and Claudette Hamilton, who just returned to Session. Elders get tired. They work on Session for three or six years at a time, then take a break. I appreciate them more than I can say, and I hope you’ll take a moment to thank them for their willingness to serve.
When we did the brainstorming Think Tank in July of last year, many good ideas were put forward. The movie nights were just one of them, and I appreciate that Vickie Thomas and Deb Gile are making them work. There were many more ideas suggested that we could try but haven’t, at least not yet. Last week’s sermon was about choosing life. Are we doing that?
          Let me be blunt. I want to be optimistic about the future of St. Andrew, but the Session and I can’t change the direction of this big boat without help, especially since I work part-time. For some, it’s easier to attend church once a week and then go back to daily life than it is to volunteer to help, to pick up an oar and row. Some of you are caregivers or work long hours and have no extra time or energy. I get it. For those who do have the time, we need as many people as we can to row together as a team, to even out the load and increase the net gain for the kingdom. Just as communion brings us together with the one Body of Christ in every time and place, our work for Jesus in this time and place is the source of our unity as a congregation.
I think the fear of losing this fellowship is sending some of you into denial. “Oh, we’ll be fine.” “We’ll keep going.” “Nothing bad will happen.” “Jesus will save us.”
          There’s an old story about a man who was forced onto his roof during a flash flood. As he was sitting there, a man came by in a rowboat and offered him a ride to safety. “No, thanks,” the man on the roof replied. “I’ve been praying, and God is going to save me.” The man in the boat shrugged and rowed away. When the water reached his feet, a woman in a powerboat came by, and he made the same response. As the water was almost up to his waist, a helicopter flew up and lowered a rope to him, but he refused to grab it. “God will save me,” he said. Finally, he drowned. When he reached heaven, he asked God, “Why didn’t you help me?” God replied, “Who do you think sent the rowboat, the motorboat, and the helicopter?”
Jesus told his disciples to get up. He didn’t put His hands under their arms and lift them each into a standing position. He urged them to use their own muscles and energy to get up and to decide not to be afraid because He was with them. He said the same thing to the people he healed. Get up, and get on with living for the God who heals and rescues and redeems. Jesus also said that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can do miracles like He did. God will help us, but we have to get up.
This church was founded by people of faith, people who had a dream of following Jesus in this place. I’m sure they felt called and instructed by Jesus to get it going. That initial energy seems to be dissipating. Maybe we have it too easy, living in a country where we’re not persecuted for our faith like the disciples were. We need to get back to the belief in our calling and to the teamwork that makes God’s vision a reality.
What about life is getting in the way of us reaching out to the community in new ways? What is the mountain God is asking us to climb, putting one foot in front of the other? What time-consuming but less important activities are keeping us preoccupied? What risks are scaring us out of doing God’s will? Jesus is with us. He is telling us to get up, ready to take away our fear and help us. God is still saying, “Listen to Him!”

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