Saturday, August 5, 2023

Coming down the Mountain

 Luke 9.28-36 - The Mount of Transfiguration


Have you ever had a mountaintop experience?  You know, one of those experiences that blows your mind - something you'll always remember?  I've had a few.  I've been at fantastic worship events, where emotion has overwhelmed me.  I've been at family celebrations, which I will always remember.  And I've had literal mountain-top experiences - breathing in the cool air and amazing views at the top of various hills and peaks.  I’ve had some strange experiences too – like the time I climbed Glastonbury Tor to find a bunch of naked hippies dancing in a circle!  That made quite an impression on the 10 year old me!

Weddings are mountain-top experiences.  For weeks, months, or even years (sometimes) people look forward to their wedding day.  Everything has to be perfect...the music, the dress, the cake, the's all vitally important.  And then, at the wedding I well find yourself caught up into one of those mountaintop experiences.  Your senses are in over-drive - sound, sight, smell, hearing, touch...all are at peak efficiency.  You become determined to drink in every moment.

But you have to come down the mountain again. The next day, there are bills to be paid, journeys to be made.  New wives discover that their new husbands have smelly feet!  And new husbands discover that their beautiful new wife now wants to stop them drinking and introduce them to couscous!  Reality comes flooding in, and life has to be faced again.

Our Gospel story today is of just one such mountain-top experience.  The disciples find themselves caught up in an event which underscores the whole ministry of Jesus.  There is a view back through history - as Jesus meets with people who have been part of the story of the past...Moses and Elijah, and is affirmed by them.  And then there's a peering into the future, as God's voice from heaven confirms again who Jesus is, and the importance of his mission. "This is my son, the Chosen One...listen to him!"

The disciples who have accompanied Jesus to the mountain-top are having the time of their lives. They don't want to leave...and they even suggest building shelters for Jesus, Elijah and Moses.  They seem to want to capture the moment, and stay in it forever.  But the thing about mountain-top experiences is - you have to come down from them again.  Discipleship involves following, and going on.

Today, we have heard Luke’s account of the ‘Transfiguration’.  Scholars believe that it is based on Mark’s account - because they are remarkably similar, and Mark is believed to be the earliest gospel.  Mark places this story in a pivotal is dead centre at the middle of his 16 chapters.  Before the Transfiguration, Mark deals with Jesus’ ministry around Galilee - his teachings and his miracles.  Then comes the Transfiguration - Elijah, Moses and even the voice of God meeting with Jesus - strengthening him for what is to come.  Then, in Mark’s narrative, Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem...towards challenge, torture and death.

Mountain-top experiences are part of life - and they are often part of the life of faith.  Some people spend their whole lives trying to regain such experiences.  When I was about 14, I had a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit during a time of worship at a mission in Torquay.  Now, I tend to see that experience as a powerful emotional reaction to the event itself: the music, the excited people and the powerful preaching.  But for years afterwards, I tried to re-capture that moment – drifting from church to church in search of the same feeling I had experienced that one time. 

But faithfulness, I learned, is not achieved by freezing a moment of time...and trying to live in it forever – the way Peter tried to do by offering to build shelters. Faithfulness, and true discipleship, is achieved by following-on in confidence that God is leading...and that what lies ahead is even greater than what we have already experienced.  You have to come down the mountain again...and take what has been seen, learned and experienced on with you...on into the journey.

My hope is that our Sunday services are mini-mountain-top experiences.  They are a moment in the week when we experience God together, and through each other.  They are a couple hours in the week when we climb the mountain, and look beyond ourselves, beyond our day-to-day lives, and briefly touch the face of God.

But we have to come down the mountain.  We have to keep following on...following God into our every-day lives...taking what we have said, done and experienced with us.  We allow our worship, the words we say, the actions we do, to permeate our daily lives...colouring them, perfuming them.  Because of our mini-mountaintop experience we somehow live lives that are more infused with meaning, more alert to what God is doing in our lives, and through us in the lives of others.

The mountain-top of religious experiences is not where the Kingdom is found.  It is spoken of there, it is preached about there.  It is encouraged and prayed for there.  But it is found when you come down the mountain.  It’s not about the Sunday’s about the daily service...the giving of service to our families, our co-workers, our friends and our neighbours.  Inspired at the mountain-top, we go back into the valley to bring the light of Christ to everyone we meet.  Just as Jesus left the mountain and then set his face towards Jerusalem, healing and teaching along the way, so we too are called from this mountain top out into the world.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been exploring some of the metaphors of the Kingdom, in Jesus’ parable. Jesus compares the Kingdom to small things:  a mustard seed, a grain of wheat, a pinch of salt.  Jesus encourages us to look for the Kingdom in the small things we do in his name.  The Kingdom is found in the kind word, or the genuine smile of greeting.  It is found in the gift to a refugee, or the honest completion of a tax return.  It is found in the committed and regular giving to God’s work through the church.  It is found in the act of turning up, week by week, to encourage one another with our singing and our prayers.  It is found in the forgiveness offered to those who have wronged us.  It is found in the lifting of a burden from another’s shoulders.

At the very end of this service I will use these words: “Go, in peace to love and serve the Lord”.  When you hear those words, take a moment.  As the procession exits the church, marking the end of our worship, and while Peter plays a voluntary, take that moment to ask yourself this question:  “Jesus left the mountaintop to sacrifice himself for the World.  As I leave this mini-mountaintop today, what sacrifice can I offer, what service can I render, how can I play my part in bringing the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven?”  Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment