Seeking the Mountaintop

Almighty and gracious God, as we hear the story of the transfiguration of Jesus, we ask that your Word might be a transforming power in our lives. Open our hearts to your words today and help us to see the visions that will transform us as your children in Christ. Amen

Two of our lessons today speak of wonderful mountaintop experiences, places where people were touched by God, where God's holiest people were transformed or given the rules or the gifts of God for the people of God. We heard the story of Moses traveling up to the top of Mount Sinai, and he went up into what looked like a cloud of smoke devouring the mountaintop. He said that the people saw it, that God's presence up there in that cloud looked like a fire devouring the mountain. But Moses obediently goes after hearing God say, "Come to the mountaintop.' He goes and receives the stone tablets that we know as the Ten Commandments. I'm sure it was an amazing experience for Moses. Not his first because, as we remember, Moses had witnessed the burning bush that wasn't consumed. So Moses went obediently up onto the mountain of the Lord to receive what God had called him to receive.

In the New Testament, in the Gospel lesson, Jesus himself, maybe inside of himself understanding God is calling him to a mountaintop, takes three of his disciples with him. And when Jesus gets to the top of this mountain, again familiarly they're in a cloud. And in this cloud it becomes bright white and Jesus' face becomes dazzling, the clothing he is wearing, all of him becomes transfigured or transformed right in the eyes of the disciples. And that's not all. Then God calls out, again, hearkening us back to when God claims Jesus at his baptism: "This is my Son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased." Then the additional words at his transfiguration, "Listen to him."

We know that it was actually supposed to happen that the disciples were there; otherwise, why would God have said, "Listen to him"? It wouldn't have been for the benefit of Moses and Elijah reappearing there who were part of God's realm at that time. No, it would have been for the disciples. It was intentional for them to witness this, to be reaffirmed in their minds what Jesus had already heard proclaimed at his baptism and for them to understand that it is for them to obediently listen to Jesus. And so we stop at that mountaintop experience because as they're going down, Jesus instructs those disciples not to tell anyone until the day that the Son of Man has been raised.

In Matthew, it's not clear that the disciples fully understand what Jesus is talking about at that time. We know, as we head into the season of Lent, what is coming for Jesus. And when I read all the scholars interpreting the different things that these particular passages can mean, they spoke about Moses and Elijah representing aspects of God: Elijah, the prophet who calls out that there is someone coming, and then John is supposed to be the fulfillment. At this point in Matthew's Gospel, John has already been killed so John is not there, but Elijah represents that prophet. And then the most faithful prophet of God, Moses, is there. And one suggestion is that Jesus is connected to Moses, except that Jesus is proclaimed as God's Son, but that Jesus, even being transfigured and being completely obedient to God, as Moses was, must also be the suffering servant. And earlier in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus starts to talk about how the Son of Man must be killed and raised up. And the disciples do not understand this is another step in helping the disciples to understand when he says, "Don't tell anyone until the Son of Man has been raised."

So the scholars argue back and forth as to what all the true meanings are about this particular passage. But certainly in Matthew's Gospel, it's no accident that it pairs very nicely with our lesson from Exodus about Moses. And then Moses actually being there links the two, that this is a serious mountaintop event and that this is one of the mountaintop events in Jesus' ministry.

You might imagine that it would have been great to be there as one of the disciples. We probably would have been just as scared as they were and said something simply like they did, "It's great that we're here. Can we build some tents for you guys and we'll just kind of live in this experience?" looking for something a little bit more permanent than boom, and the cloud is gone, and so were Elijah and Moses, and they're back to reality. But their minds were so much more focused on human things instead of the godly thing that was happening right before them. They shift into the human mode, "We have to offer hospitality; let's build tents and let's make a place where we can all take up residence."

Imagine for a moment how much we enjoy mountaintop experiences. We've had them in our lives. At least I hope most of you have...not physically going to the top of a mountain and looking out, although that's a wonderful thing; I've had that experience and it's a breathtaking and marvelous experience...but the mountaintop experiences I'm talking about are those moments in our lives where we want to stop time essentially, sometime when we are so touched by the Spirit or so filled with joy that we want to freeze everything, build a tent over it and just live in that moment. We like mountaintop experiences. One might even say we live for the mountaintop experience, although they could be so removed from us by now that we might have forgotten what that might be like to have had a mountaintop experience.

But the mountaintop experiences that are in our Scripture today began with obedience to God. And for us, it is my belief too that that is how our mountaintop experiences begin to our obedience to God in Christ, by continuing to follow him, by continuing to listen to him and what he has to say to us, what he has to show us through his ministry, his life, his death, and his resurrection. That journey through faith, through the season of Lent, takes us down into the valley and up onto the mountaintop on Easter Sunday when we hear those words and proclaim and sing those words, that Christ is risen.

We don't easily get to the mountaintop, but we could. We could just be here today, miss Ash Wednesday, and come on Easter and just try to start at the mountaintop. But the mountaintop experience is not the same without the lows that come with it. Perhaps that's why, in our lives, we have mountaintop experiences and they are pinnacles in our lives, and then life returns to normal, sometimes down into a valley and things seem pretty low. But then, when we have the mountaintop experience again, we know we're there.

The life of faith is similar to that. Not every moment in your faith journey will be a mountaintop experience. There will be times when you're walking on the plain, and times of traversing through the valleys, but it makes those mountaintop experiences that much more to savor. So we shouldn't get discouraged if we find ourselves in the valley or on a level plain for twenty or thirty years of our lives. What we should do is remember to listen and to be obedient to what God has called us to do in Christ and obedient to what the Holy Spirit is moving us to do. The more we listen, and the more we act upon what we have listened to, the more those mountaintop experiences will move closer to us and the more of them we can experience.

So I invite you to attend the Ash Wednesday service and then to continue on the Wednesday evenings of Lent as we enjoy a simple meal followed by a short worship service with Communion. In the meantime, remember the mountaintop experiences that you've had in your life of faith. There are more to come. So do not be afraid if you're in the valley. Do not get too discouraged if you're walking on that plain in the wilderness. The mountaintop experience will come, and God's glory will show before us.

Let us pray.

Almighty and merciful God, we thank you for your Word in Christ. We thank you for the ways that you touch us. We thank you that you call us to obedience, O God, and to be in a right faith and relationship with you. We ask that you would be in our hearts and help us to find ways, O God, to be those obedient children you call us to be. Bless us with the love of Christ, that we may share that with one another and that we may all one day join together on your holy mountaintop and celebrate your glory revealed to us in Christ, our Lord.


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