And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
Where are you most likely to get important news and information that you rely on each day? From a print newspaper? From an app on your phone? From social media? From a cable channel? What about from a man or woman standing in the middle of your neighborhood and shouting out the latest headlines? Not likely.
If you lived about 60 years ago in Wales, you would have gotten the latest news and headlines from a town crier. The job of town crier began officially in the year 1066. What happened in 1066? William of Pontypool and his army invaded England. Consequently, men were hired by the government to travel from town to town to publicly remind the citizens of King William the Second’s authority. They did this by reading public proclamations from the king.
Since few people knew how to read in those days, and there was no simple way to spread news among towns, as time went on, town criers became the source for official news throughout Wales.
The town criers’ proclamations almost always followed the same pattern. The crier would choose a central place in town where he would be highly visible, such as the town square or a local pub. Next, he captured everyone’s attention by calling out “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez,” which means, “Listen, Listen, Listen!” Then he read the proclamation from the king. Afterwards, he would nail the proclamation to the doorpost of a nearby inn.
Of course, the job of Town Crier today has gone the way of the Pony Express. Such conveyers of information have no place in today’s world. However, there is a website for what is known as the “Loyal Company of Town Criers.” Its purpose is to keep alive the tradition of the Crier. For example, this website informs us that the use of the term “Post” as in “Post Office,” or “posting a notice,” or the naming of newspapers such as “The Herald and Post,” or even the idea of “posting a message on the Internet,” all derive their existence thanks to the Town Crier. Their position became so important that harming a Town Crier was turned into a treasonable offence, and even in the 21st century, these ancient laws are supposed to guard them against heckling or harm.
You won’t see many job ads for town criers anymore, but the Loyal Company of Town Criers in London still holds an annual competition where they judge both men and women criers on how loud and clear they are, how accurate their announcement is, and how well they can engage the audience with their presentation. According to competition rules, all announcements must begin with “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!” and must end with the words, “God Save the Queen!”
According to Carole Davey, who has served as the official town crier for the small town of Pontypool, “Town criers love the aura of an audience. They love the excitement, anything to get the adrenaline going. But you also have to get your message across in a flowing, rhythmic way. If your audience is asleep (like this message) before you’ve got to the end of the first sentence, then you’ve lost.”
And that made me think about today’s Bible reading. Because sometimes God has to wake us up before we can experience God’s power. I think that’s true for most of us. We need something important to break the cycle of busyness in our lives. We need something awe-inspiring to break the grip of self-centeredness. That’s why Jesus spent regular time on His own in prayer. That’s why He took Peter, John and James with Him that day He went to a nearby mountain to pray.
The disciples needed to be awakened to Jesus’ true identity. They needed to see just a glimpse of His majesty so that when questions and doubts nagged at them, when following His lead became difficult for them, they would remember this moment of awakening and they would find hope and courage for the road ahead.
Have you ever had an awakening experience? When was a time when God broke through your everyday life and became real to you? Was it a conversation with a friend? A verse from the Bible? A sleepless night? A painful disruption in your life? A moment of pure joy? Or maybe you are still waiting for that experience. Maybe you still aren’t sure that you’ve ever experienced God in a moving and convicting way. That’s okay. I’m glad you’re here and online today, and I hope you have an experience in which God speaks to you or strengthens you or becomes real to you in such a way that it changes your life.
And that brings us to the second thing we learn from this passage: prayer prepares us to experience God. Prayer opens our mind to God’s presence and God’s will for us.
Jesus took Peter, John and James with Him up to a mountain to pray. This was Jesus’ regular practice: to go away, often up in the mountains, to pray and spend time with God. As He was praying, Peter, John and James got sleepy. This passage makes me cringe sometimes. Jesus was enjoying the presence of God. Jesus was aligning His mind and His will with His Heavenly Father. Jesus was preparing Himself to do the world-changing work of God, while His friends were slipping into nap mode. How many opportunities have I missed to hear God’s voice, or to do the good works God set in front of me because I was too lazy to pray? There’s a question that’ll make us all squirm.
In a kindergarten class, there was a boy in the class who just wasn’t listening to his teacher. The teacher got fed up and said, since you don’t want to listen, you go sit at that table by yourself. A few minutes passed, and a little girl raised her hand and said, I don’t want to listen either. Can I sit with him?
The truth hurts. We don’t want to listen either, do we? Listening to God isn’t like listening to a friend or a colleague. Listening to God is an act of submission. When we listen to God, we’re laying aside our own agenda and priorities and needs and opening ourselves to the mind and the mission that God has mapped out for us.
The word translated ‘obey’ in the Old Testament means ‘to hear.’ In the New Testament several words describe obedience. One word means ‘to hear or to listen in a state of submission.’ Another word simply translates obey as ‘to trust.’ Our obedient response to God’s Word is a response of trust or faith. To really hear God’s Word is to obey God’s Word (cf. Exodus 19:5; Jeremiah 7:23 and Matthew I 1: 1 5).”
It’s easy to get stressed out or turned off by the subject of praying. Too many of us have grown up with the belief that there’s a “right way” and a “wrong way” to pray. We’ve been taught techniques and rules for praying. Would it change your practice of prayer if you thought of it as simply listening to God with an open heart and mind?
A well-known author who had written many books on prayer was giving a seminar. During the question-and-answer period, a man raised his hand and asked, doctor, how should I pray? The answer was, it’s very simple. Ask God. Instead of judging yourself for your attempts at prayer, just ask God to show you how to pray. It’s the simplest way of receiving God’s power.
One night, while arresting a serial killer, a police detective experienced an urgent need to re-connect with God. He says, I’ll never forget, I just prayed to the Lord, I emptied my heart to Him, that I needed help, I needed Him. And he showed up. So, in my worst rebellion, when I needed God, I asked for Him and He answered me. That prayer, and the experience of God’s help and presence, began the healing process in this police detective’s life.
Isn’t that a great description of prayer? “. . . I just prayed to the Lord, I emptied my heart to Him, that I needed help, I needed Him.” Is that the kind of prayer you would feel comfortable praying? More importantly, is that the kind of prayer God will listen to? Absolutely. So, what do you have to lose?
When you experience God, you are called to share that life-changing experience with others. Tag—you’re it! When you experience God, you now carry the life-changing opportunity and responsibility of sharing that experience with others.
On that mountain, Peter, John and James saw God’s plan for humanity come together. The great lawgiver, Moses, and the great prophet, Elijah, pointed the nation of Israel to God. But now in Jesus, God had come in human form to share His truth and salvation with all humanity.
And just to seal the deal, God spoke from heaven and said, “This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.” That’s important. “This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.” What did we learn a little earlier about the words used for “listening” in the Bible? That they also imply obedience. Once you hear, you go and do.
So why did Peter, John and James keep this wondrous experience to themselves? Because Jesus told them to keep it to themselves. Why? We don’t know, but obviously He had His reasons. And they were simply obeying the Master.
A few years ago, the British newspaper The Guardian carried a strange story. A police van had been stolen from an Irish police station, and the police were having no luck tracking it down. Their investigation was hampered by the fact that the van belonged to their Special Investigations unit that often engaged in undercover work. Therefore, they couldn’t release a description or photo of the van to the public because they didn’t want the general public to know what their undercover van looked like. Therefore, they couldn’t get the public’s help in tracking down the stolen van.
In Matthew 17, Jesus tells Peter, John and James to keep this moment on the mountain a secret until after Jesus has been raised from the dead. Well, guess what? Jesus has been raised from the dead. It’s “after” time! Which means it’s time to share the truth of who Jesus is with everyone we can. When you have an experience of God, it’s your opportunity and responsibility to share that life-changing experience with others, so that they can know the truth and the hope and the joy and the peace of God that is revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
We don’t get too many mountaintop experiences in life, do we? In my experience at least, we only get a few moments in life when we see or hear the presence and the glory of God right in front of us. It’s a life-changing experience. What are we supposed to do with an experience like that? Keep it to ourselves? No. We’re called take the hope, the joy, the truth of that moment and live it out in the world. Share it with our neighbors. Let it deepen our commitment to action and service in the name of Jesus Christ. Your mountaintop experience is your opportunity to share the life-changing power of Jesus with others, so they can see the view from the mountain and pass it on to others.