Listening in Lent

God said, 'this is my son, listen to him'.

Some of my favourite passages in the Bible are about the relationship Jesus has with his father, I am drawn to the intimate relationship that existed between them, and our passage from Mark today is another example. This is in fact the second such affirmation out three we find in Mark’s gospel, the first of course at Jesus’ baptism, the last at Jesus’ death and here on a mountain top with five others to witness a father’s love for his son.

In our season of Epiphany we have had revealed to us many sides of Jesus, at the beginning of a new liturgical year, after the birth of Jesus we are being re-introduced to him from the perspective of a the different gospel writers, this year it’s Mark’s turn, and through Mark’s telling of the story we have been introduced to Jesus the son of God, the caller of disciples, a teacher with authority, a healer, a traveller, the Holy One of God, and our introduction concludes just as it started – this is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and if he had a business card it would say, ‘intimately loved’. It’s interesting to note that it is God who makes the introduction, in the affirmation of his son at his baptism and on the mountainside – but God is doing more than just introducing his Son to us, God is giving a command, a really important one, and the only command that God gives in the gospels, and that is to ‘listen to him!’

We have learned over the years that Jesus never says anything for nothing, and it’s often in the little things that we skim over that we never notice that we have to go back and scrutinise, and we realise, oh my goodness, I have never heard that before, and these three little words are words that we can easily pass over because there is so much more to focus on: Elijah and Moses are here for goodness’ sake, Peter is making a fool of himself, and Jesus has changed before their very eyes! We could focus on all of these things, and maybe we will another time, because they are important, but as we stand on the edge of Lent, and as we as a church are seeking to listen to God about our future, these three little words are words we need to come back to time and time again…

Igor Stravinsky once said, “To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also.” I have longed believe there is a big difference between listening and hearing, and when we listen to Jesus, what is it that we hear? As we go through Mark’s gospel this year we will hear all these:

“Follow me” (Mark 1:17; 2:14). “Pay attention to what you hear” (4:24). “Do not be afraid, only believe” (5:36; 6:50). “You give them something to eat” (6:37). “It is what comes out of a person that defiles” (7:20). “Deny [yourself] and take up [your cross] and follow me” (8:34). “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (10:31). “Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (10:44). “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone” (11:25). That’s only from Mark; Matthew, Luke, and John offer more. I am staggered by those people who think being a Christian is easy…

So many things get in our way of listening to God, and our ability to hear him. Often when we hear God call, we want to rush into action, like Peter seeing this amazing sight he wanted to rush into a display of worship and start building churches, but God really needed him just to be quiet and pay attention — not to rely so much on his own efforts, just to stop doing, and simply be there with his son, Jesus.

Jesus has something important to say, and God doesn’t want us to miss it - but if we are rushing around like Martha’s sister Mary we are not allowing God the opportunity or the space to speak, and often He will have to go to extraordinary lengths to get our attention, and sometimes this is more painful. When Peter is an old man he remembers this experience and he warns the first Christians to ‘wait, listen and pay attention’. How do we listen to God? Do we let God speak? What is God saying to you?

It’s so important that we go to our own mountain whatever and wherever that is – it’s important because it’s there we are with God on our own and it’s the place where we can listen to the voice of the One who calls us his child and that we are loved. That same voice that spoke to Jesus is the same voice that is there for us. To pray is to let that voice speak to the centre of our being and answer that question we all want answering – who am I?

It goes without saying that this listening is not easy. God’s word is not always an insight that suddenly comes to us in our minds or that satisfies our hearts. That is where the discipline of prayer comes in. We are called to pray not because we feel like praying or because it gives us great insights but simply because we want to be obedient, to listen to the voice that calls us God’s child. We can so easily be like Peter, wanting to do rather than be and so when we do too much, we often miss the voice of God, calling us, affirming us.

We are about to enter into Lent, 40 days of fasting and preparation for the 50 days of feasting at Easter. We can choose to give up coffee, chocolate, shaving, computer games, moaning at your parents, or your partner…or we can choose to take up the opportunity to put down those things that take us away from being in the moment with God and rediscovering who we are to God.

The transfiguration of Jesus changed Jesus for a moment, but it would change how the disciples would have seen him forever. They learned a great lesson that night on that mountain in that they didn’t have to do anything except be there in the moment, and hear what God had to say. It wasn’t a view they weren’t expecting to see, but it would be one they would never forget, and this is exactly what our response should be, to be terrified and in awe of the God made us, our response should be to listen, and it will be in that listening that we will be transfigured before the world that does not know this voice, or the love of the Father, but we pray that they too will come to know Him as we know Him, as we witness to His unfailing love in our own lives. So, let us be still know that we are not God, but God is God and He is waiting to speak. \

What is he saying to you today?