FAITH AND VALUES: Stop, look, listen
Jesus has had a very popular and successful ministry in Galilee. He has been healing people, helping people, inspiring people, and comforting people, and great crowds are coming out to see him, hear him, and touch him. Everything's going great in Galilee, but not so in Jerusalem. Jesus knows how people are being abused, mistreated, and exploited by the Temple authorities down in Jerusalem.
The authorities are getting rich at the expense of the common folk. Jesus sees how wrong this is. His heart goes out to the people as he sees how they are being tricked and cheated in the name of religion. The Temple of God has become a den of robbers. Instead of praying to God, the authorities are now preying on the people.
Jesus can't stand this, and he is determined to go down there and “strike a blow for justice.” He is determined to go to Jerusalem and “lay his life on the line” for the people. But before he does that, before he makes that journey, before he steps out into that busy street, before he crosses that crucial intersection, he goes up on the mountain to stop, look, and listen!
Jesus had already made the decision to go, but there on the Mount of Transfiguration, his decision was confirmed dramatically. He went up on the mountain to stop, look, and listen-and then he came down and “set his face toward Jerusalem!”
That's what a spiritual experience does for us. We go up to the mountaintop; we stop, we look, we listen; we experience the presence of God and the witness of those who have gone before us – and empowered by that, we go down into the valley to serve.
First, we stop. It is so important to stop every now and then-to slow up, center down, and focus in. Have you ever noticed in a football game-as active and as hectic as that is-even in a football game, they stop after every play! They huddle, they rest, they refresh. They think about where they are, where they want to go, what they need to do, and what play they need to call before going back to the line of scrimmage.
Now, for the football purists, let me hurry to say that I know about the hurry-up offense and the no-huddle offense. But, even when they don't huddle, still-even then-they stop, and the quarterback gives the offense instructions as they wait and catch their breath and get ready to run the next play.
The point is clear: Every now and then in the game of life we need to stop and refocus; we need to stop and smell the roses; we need to stop and celebrate the presence of God.
The Bible makes it clear that there is a rhythm to life-a rhythm of work and worship, labor and rest. An old Greek proverb puts it like this: “The bow that is always bent will finally cease to shoot at all.”
In Thornton Wilder's great play Our Town, Emily, the young woman who has died, is permitted to return to her home in Grover's Corners to relive one day with her family. She chooses the day of her twelfth birthday, but she is very disappointed by the whole experience. Everyone is just too busy. Everyone is too preoccupied.
She pleads with her brothers and sisters and her father and mother to stop, to stop and touch one another, to stop and experience one another, to stop and celebrate one another and hug one another-but nobody stops.
They are too caught up in the busyness of life. Emily realizes how harried, how harassed, how anxious, and how empty they all are. And finally, Emily cries out in despair: “Take me away! Take me away!” And as the Stage Manager leads her back toward heaven, Emily says this, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”
You know what Emily was saying? She was saying, Why don't people stop anymore? Why don't people stop and celebrate life and experience one another? Why don't people stop and feel the warm presence of God?
Let me ask you something: How are you doing with this? Are you stopping every now and then to let your soul catch up with your body? This is the first safety rule for the soul. Every now and then, we need to stop and spend some quiet time with God. First we stop.
Second, we look. Safety rule number two: We look. We open our eyes and really see what's happening around us. Peter, James, and John opened their eyes on the Mount of Transfiguration, and they saw incredible things all about them; they saw the miracles of God.
One morning, some years ago, an artist was walking along a beautiful seashore with a group of friends. The artist was pointing out to the group the different things she was seeing-on the horizon, in the breaking of the waves on the shoreline, in the cloud formations in the sky-things she was seeing in the water and on the sand and in the textures and shadings of light.
A little girl playing in the sand nearby heard the artist's fascinating descriptions of what she was seeing; and the little girl stopped what she was doing, ran over to the artist, and said, “Wait a minute! Please wait. Don't say another word. Let me go and get my mother so she can see this too. I won't be long, we just live right there.”
The artist said, “Oh, I'm sure your mother has seen all of this many, many times before.”
“But she's never seen it like this,” said the little girl. “I want her to see it all through your eyes.”
Wouldn't it be something if you and I could learn how to see life through the eyes of Christ. How perceptive he was! He could walk through a field and see wheat and flowers, seeds and sunsets, birds and lambs and children, and all of them would speak to him of God. Or he would walk into the crowded streets of Jericho and see Zacchaeus up in that sycamore tree, or see an outcast who no one else seemed to notice. When we see things through the eyes of Jesus Christ, we can see people to help, problems to solve, blessings to count. It's a valuable safety rule for our souls. First, we stop. Second, we look.
Third, we listen. A mother and her small daughter were looking at dolls in a department store one day. “What does it do?” the child would ask about each doll.
The mother would answer, “It walks” or “it talks” or “it sleeps” or “this one sings” and “this one cries.”
The dolls were rather expensive, so the mother tried to direct her little girl's interest toward an ordinary doll that was more reasonably priced.
“But does it do anything?” the child asked.
“Oh, yes,” the mother replied, “it does one of the best things of all – it listens!” The little girl eagerly reached for that doll.
We like someone who listens. And so does God! Why is that so hard? Why is it so difficult for us to settle down, to tune in, and to listen?
Wouldn't it be something if we could tune in to listen and to hear the voice of God with the same intensity and sensitivity that a good mother has for hearing her baby? These are essential safety rules for the soul-to stop, to look, and to listen.
When you come to an intersection, you stop, you look, you listen, and when you've done these three things, then what do you do? You go! You step out into the streets of life. You go into the world to serve and help and heal. That is precisely what Jesus did in Mark 9:2-8, 14-29. He went up on the mountain, and then, empowered by that spiritual experience, he immediately went down into the valley and healed a little boy who was very sick.
You remember the old story of the man who comes to church late one Sunday morning? He rushes into the outer foyer, and he sees the head usher there, and he says to him, “Is the service over?” And the usher answers wisely, “Well, the worship is over, but the service has just begun!”
Precisely so! We stop, we look, we listen – and then, empowered by that mountaintop experience, we go down into the valley to be God's servants, to be the instruments of God's healing power.
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken's First Baptist Church.