Love lifts us up where we belong.
Where the eagles cry,
On a mountain high.
Love lifts us up where we belong.
Far from the world we know,
Where the clear winds blow.
That is the chorus to the theme song from the movie An Officer and a Gentleman.
Mountains and mountain top experiences are a central theme in this week in our readings. I have never climbed a mountain. I have climbed a few not very high hills. But I have had what I believe are mountain top experiences. As I am sure we all have.
What did going up the mountain signify to the Hebrew people? Was God more present there because it was a place where they did not normally go? Or did they not normally go there because God was present there? An interesting paradox.
In the reading from Exodus we hear the Lord telling Moses that when he comes up the mountain he will receive all the instructions and laws that are necessary to be God’s people. Remember that to the Hebrew people the Law was not confining or constricting, but a covenant with the Lord, a sign that they were favored. Moses stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights, days when the people whom he had led out of the slavery of Egypt may have thought that he had disappeared forever. If we read further on in Exodus we find that the people grew impatient waiting for Moses to return.
We are not very different than those people, when something is going on we want to see results. We want to see the changes, see the differences, see the transformation and we want to see it in our time, not necessarily in God’s time. God, however does not work to our time table. Moses said to the leaders, “Wait here in the camp until we come back.”
Waiting is often the hardest thing to do. But often real change and real transformation only take place after a period of waiting. A period when it may seem that nothing is happening. We in North America have been taught to rely on what we can see, hear, and touch. And often our perception is that if we can’t quantify it, then it must not be happening. Yet our faith compels us to believe in something that is not readily apparent and cannot usually measured.
In our reading from the Gospel of Matthew we hear of Jesus leading Peter, James and John up a mountain so they could be alone. While they were there they saw a change come over Jesus, his face was shining like the sun and his clothes were dazzling white. They saw Moses and Elijah and heard the voice of God and became afraid.
In the past when I have read this passage I could never understand why they were afraid of God. After all we are taught that God is love. But I had an experience a few years ago that has made this passage come alive for me and understand in a small way why the disciples were afraid.
Has anyone been to the Atlantic Christian Training Centre at Tatamagouche? For those of you who haven’t, it is a beautiful spot on the north shore. Behind the buildings is an abandoned rail line that had been turned into a walking trail and the old trestle still stands across the water.
My sister and I were walking along the path, with only the sounds of nature around us, talking about how easy it would be to imagine that we were in another time. The barriers between this world and the next seemed to be very thin. It seemed like there was nothing to stop us from taking one more step into a world that was not our own. The feeling became stronger and stronger as we approached the trestle. It became so strong that I became convinced that if we crossed the trestle, we would step out of the world we knew into another. And I was afraid. So much so that we stopped and didn’t cross. My sister and I have only spoken about this in passing.
It was almost like the instructions that Jesus gave to Peter and James and John. “Don’t tell anyone about this.” Because we couldn’t explain it. Perhaps Jesus knew that there would be no way to explain the experience and the disciples needed time to understand and process their feelings.
There are places that the veil between heaven and earth, or God and us seems especially thin. Up on the mountains are places where the air itself is very thin. We need the mountain top experience. The experience where we touch holiness. But we can’t stay on the mountain. Just as Jesus and the disciples came down from the mountain into everyday reality. We need to come down to the everyday. We need to change the everyday.
The disciples had witnessed the transfiguration and I believe that they were transformed. The word transfigure means to change the appearance of. While word transform means to change the substance of. We need the mountain top experiences. We need the transforming experiences. We need to come down, transformed in some way. Perhaps we have to have time to process the experience before we tell the world. Perhaps we have to wait until the time is right to tell.
Sometimes it is the time of the listener. Sometimes it is the time of the speaker. When the two coincide there is the transformation. What are the transformative experiences of this faith community? Where do we find God? We need private experiences and we need community experiences. A place where the ordinary does not exist. A retreat. A special place. A special time. A time out of ordinary.
Are there places in your life when you have felt the presence of God most keenly. Times when you felt the power of God’s love very active in your life? We cannot have transformative experience often or I think it loses some of the awesome power in it. It would be like it being Christmas every day. But that does not mean that we cannot grow and change and be more aware of God in our lives.
In Jesus we experience the transforming love that God had for us. In Jesus we are invited to follow him down the mountain and into the world.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.
Exodus 24: 12-18
Matthew 17: 1-9
February 19, 2023 – SJUC