Dave Dodson, Houston, TX

Warm-up Question

Do you ever engage in discussions or debates on social media? Do you think that social media is useful to debate important topics?

Listen Up

In the last couple of months, it seems like there has been even more political news in front of us than usual.  A presidential impeachment, Brexit in Europe, a cabinet shakeup in Russia – all of these events stacking on top of one another.  Thanks to social media, we see much of these events as they happen.  However, as technology improves, brand new problems are cropping up which we have to anticipate and deal with.

Boston University professor, Danielle Citron, is tackling one of these problems: the rise of “deepfake” video clips.  Deepfake fraudsters will soon be able to create phony video clips using cutting edge audio and video technology to make it appear as if a leader or public figure said or did something horrifying, when in reality, the whole video is simply computer-generated imagery.  These videos will be posted onto social media, and then be shared again and again by angry individuals who think the video is real.

To combat this, Citron has developed an Eight-Point Plan to combat the spread of deepfakes.  She is confident that we will be able to use technology to detect deepfakes, which can then be targeted and taken down by social media platforms.  But will this be enough?

Unfortunately, human nature might not make it this easy.  Human beings are hampered by a psychological tendency called “confirmation bias”.  To put it simply, we tend to dismiss information or sources which challenge our existing ideas.  At the same time, we automatically believe anything that helps confirm what we already believe.  We’re not very good at listening with an open mind.  Instead, we often seem to just want to be proven right.

Discussion Questions

  • When is it important to listen with an open mind?
  • What could make it hard for us to listen to other people and perspectives?

Transfiguration of Our Lord

Exodus 24:12-18

2 Peter 1:16-21

Matthew 17:1-9

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

In high school, one of my teachers gave us an important rule for our class debates: No one was allowed to raise their hand while another person was speaking.  It was a wonderful rule, and the reason was simple.  As our teacher pointed out, when you raise your hand, you have stopped listening.  From that moment on, you are thinking about what you are going to say, not listening to the current speaker.  In our Gospel lesson today, Peter has let his enthusiasm run away with him, and he has metaphorically raised his hand.

Our story takes place at the top of a mountain.  Stories in the Bible that take place on top of mountains are momentous, holy experiences.  For instance, God revealed himself to Moses and handed down the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.  Today’s story mirrors that experience.

In this story, Jesus and three of his closest disciples – Peter, James, and John – have gone off together to a “high mountain”.  As they reach the top, an amazing transfiguration takes place.  Jesus becomes radiant and shines with the glory of God.  As this happens, two of the most important figures in the Hebrew scriptures appear.  Moses represents the law and commandments, while Elijah represents the greatest of the prophets.  In these two figures, the whole of the Old Testament is symbolized.  In this vision, we see Jesus as the law and prophecies fulfilled.

It isn’t surprising, then, that Peter gets excited! He blurts out his idea to build special places for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah right then and there.  You can imagine his surprise, then, to hear the voice of God booming down, telling him to be quiet and listen.

What did Peter do wrong?  Aren’t we supposed to get excited and want to work for God?

The problem isn’t Peter’s enthusiasm.  Instead, it’s the fact that Peter’s eagerness to do something was stopping him from experiencing what the moment truly was.  Peter was so busy with planning his next moves that he failed to truly experience the magnificence of Jesus’ transfiguration.  The voice of God had to remind him to be quiet, be still, and truly listen so that he could grow.

It is certainly possible that we do this today, even when we’re trying hard to be great followers of God.  Do we get caught up in planning church events, youth gatherings, and even outreach programs?  Do we work so hard on building our church that we sometimes forget to be still and listen?  It is easy to get caught up in our excitement to serve God.  Sometimes, like Peter, we need to be reminded to be quiet, be still, and bask in the presence of God’s love.

Discussion Questions

  • Does your church have members who run systems like audio and visual technology during the service? Do you think that it’s challenging to do those things and still be in a worshipful frame of mind?
  • Why do you think so many religions throughout the world, including ours, promote meditation and quiet reflection as an important spiritual practice?

Activity Suggestions

One of the finest meditative practices in Christianity is the walking of the Labyrinth.  Consider projecting a labyrinth onto a paved space, and then tracing it with sidewalk chalk.  Walk the labyrinth as a group, and invite your congregation to use it as well! For a guide on walking the labyrinth, check out this fantastic source from Saint Mark’s Lutheran Church in Salem, Oregon: http://stmarksalem.org/about/labyrinth/

Closing Praye

Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for the love and excitement you inspire in us.  We want so much to serve you and to work for the coming of your kingdom.  We ask that you help us remember to stop and listen.  Grant us the peace and patience to seek your voice in the stillness of our hearts.  In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.