A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Getting Our Attention: Sermon on Transfiguration Sunday, Epiphany 6B February 12, 2021

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 14, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

2Kings 2: 1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4: 3-6
Mark 9: 2-9

I will admit to you that my planner is my life. Many of you have heard me say: If it doesn’t get into my planner, it doesn’t exist. Each day, I look at my calendar to see what should get my attention. Is it emails? Pastoral care calls? Holy Week planning? Sermon prep? Paying bills? House maintenance? Or the now complex task of procuring groceries without contracting a disease? And then there’s the stuff that creeps up that I DON’T plan for: the so-called “emergencies” that suddenly grab my full and complete attention, whether they should or not. And if I’m honest, then there are the things that grab my attention because they are simply distractions from what I should really be doing.  TV programs, my phone, social media, and more can get my attention. I am self-aware enough to know that what gets my attention is not always what SHOULD get my attention. I also know that left to my own devices, I will give my attention to situations and distractions that aren’t life-giving, or feed my ego, or keep me from what truly matters. For this reason, I bought a different kind of planner for this year. It’s a liturgical year calendar, which is church geek speak for it starts at Advent and ends at Christ the King Sunday. Each day there is a one sentence prayer, the daily office scriptures, and a reminder to keep the main thing the main thing. I wanted a planner to remind me that it is God who should get my attention each day. I would love to tell you that it’s working beautifully and each day I give my full attention to God and listen for God’s word in everything I do. But if I said that, I would be lying. Even with this planner, what tends to get my attention is whoever is the most demanding in my email, texts or ear, or the outrageous Twitter thread, or our national drama, or whatever is shinier, easier, and self-gratifying in my day, or whatever Amazon’s deal of the day might be. (But have you seen some of those deals?)

I can convince myself that I am giving my attention to God through my to-do lists, as giving those distractions my full attention seems far safer than truly giving God my full attention. I know that giving God my full attention, would mean a focus not on myself and what I want or what I think is important. And yet, there have been times that God has commanded my full attention. Usually, it’s when I’m at my most confused, exhausted, fearful or angry. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the truth. And even then, my ego works overtime to put the attention back where I think it belongs, on me. But God doesn’t give up and is ok even with the negative attention I offer. God knows that as a human, I’m a hard sell on giving my full attention to anyone but myself, so God goes to great lengths to lure me into God’s love and care.

Evidence of God’s desire to get our full attention is in the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus, God with us, is God’s ultimate attention grabber and yet, as we read in the gospels, humanity, even or especially the disciples, still miss it. Healings, casting out of demons, inclusion of the outcasts, all are easily dismissed, and people focus not on the care and mercy offered, but the rules broken, the human hierarchy dismantled and the need to control what they can’t understand. This story that we call the Transfiguration of Jesus is no exception. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain, a place in Jewish cosmology where one experiences the divine. He glows, like he swallowed radium and even his clothing was bright enough to get the attention of someone miles away. And if that wasn’t enough, Elijah and Moses appeared, both of whom were servants for God, but God had to work really hard to even get their attention from time to time. God grabbed Moses’ attention by manifesting as a talking burning bush that wasn’t consumed and had to get Elijah’s attention that God could be in the sheer silence, not only in big grand theophanies of wind, fire and earthquakes. Moses and Elijah constantly had their attention pulled away from what really mattered.

But dear Peter’s attention couldn’t be so easily persuaded away from himself. “It’s good we’re here! Let me build something!” I would love to criticize this, but I recognize myself in this reaction, so I’m going to give Peter a pass. But God, God tries again. This time a cloud overshadows them, and God speaks through the cloud “Hey, this is Jesus my son, could you do me a solid and please pay attention! Listen to him!” For me, the most poignant part of this story is verse 8, “Suddenly, when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.” Everything that could have taken their attention elsewhere, was gone. Their attention had be on Jesus, because at the end of it all, Jesus was the only one there, and nothing else mattered. Only Jesus.

This is what God wants for us, for our attention to be so focused on Jesus that Jesus, is all that we see. It’s Jesus’ love, care and mercy that get my attention each day. I have to admit that God sometimes has to work hard to get my attention as I don’t always want to notice. I have to listen to God’s voice as it whispers in the tears and heartbreak of my neighbor; as God’s voice thunders through the chants of my neighbor demanding justice and dignity; as God’s voice crackles in storms, wildfires and destruction of ecosystems; as God’s voice sings out the love that longs to be free in all people of every gender and orientation; as God’s voice heralds’ true life, life that is attentive to God’s love for us all through Jesus.

God’s attentive and loving gaze on us and creation craves to be seen, heard and noticed, not for God’s sake but for our own sake, and for our and creation’s healing and wholeness. But giving God our full attention brings risk, for then we will see ourselves and each human being we encounter in light and truth, through the gaze of Jesus. It means that we can’t look away from the suffering, pain and fear, for our own safety and comfort, but like Jesus, we will fully give our attention to the people and places in our community who need to know that they are worthy of God’s and our, full attention. We will give our attention to the full inclusion of each person in God’s promises. Giving God our full attention will mean less attention on ourselves, and that is part of our journey in Lent where we admit this truth of self-absorption and ask for God’s grace and help in returning God’s attentive gaze of love. When we return God’s loving gaze, we see Jesus Christ and see the life Jesus promised us all and that will hold our attention. Thanks be to God.