Friday, March 04, 2011
Transfiguration of Our Lord Sunday
When I was a teen a visitor came to our youth group meeting one night. The visitor came to sell us on the idea of going to Pinecrest, a Lutheran camp held each summer at Camp Beisler in the mountains of New Jersey. The idea of going to church camp didn’t appeal to most of the group, actually to none of the group at first. Not a single one. At 16, our lives were busy with much more important and interesting things than spending a week doing churchy stuff, even in the mountains.
Then the guest told us that were three girls for every guy and I know that you would all be surprised to hear that after he said that, that he had some eager takers. It’s a wonder that they didn’t put that statistic in the brochure.
And so a few months later, while my friends hit the beach, I was off to the mountains, a bit naive about church camp, but with a very open mind.
Truly, the camp was in the mountains and they were breathtaking. And there in the mountains I experienced a different kind of mountain top experience than I was expecting. Yes, there were three girls to every guy. And yes we square danced with them and sat with them around the fire and probably fell in love every night. But believe it or not, this teen encountered Jesus there in a way that I had never before. Surrounded by a hundred other teens singing and shouting and weeping praises, sitting in small group Bible study among adults who cared more about our faith formation than it seemed like anything else in the world; there on the mountain walking alone and experiencing the presence of God in the early morning song of birds and the breaking dawn; discussing matters of faith well into the night with new and already dear friends - it was powerful, prayerful, holy. We wanted to capture that moment, to freeze our life right there, to preserve that joy so that it would hold us forever in its embrace. We never wanted to leave the mountain.
Perhaps you have had an experience like that – an experience where Jesus broke into your life and touched your heart and your spirit so deeply and so passionately that you prayed that the very moment would never end.
Such moments can happen at any stage of our life, in any place and at any time.
One moment our life is as it always has been and the next moment we find ourselves swept away to the top of the mountain. And we believe, sometimes, that that is what our faith is supposed to be – a moment of dazzling mountaintop faith frozen in time forever.
Jesus took James and John and Peter up the mountain, all the way to the top. And there Jesus was transfigured, changed before their eyes. And they saw Jesus like no one else on earth had seen him. His clothes were whiter than white, bathed in a pure and brilliant light. And Elijah and Moses were there too!
Much more awesome than Old Timer’s Day at the ballpark, let me tell you! The experience was so wondrous, so awe-inspiring that Peter could only ramble on about wanting to build shelters for them. Maybe, if he built dwellings they would stay! Wouldn't that be cool Peter and James and John could just stay there on the mountaintop with Jesus shining brighter than the brightest thing on earth and Moses and Elijah telling their stories of the good old days! It was the stuff of dreams, but they weren’t dreaming. I bet they pinched each other a dozen times, don’t you? “Pinch me, I think I’m dreaming - there’s Elijah and Moses” “No, you pinch me – I think I’M dreaming – Jesus is shining brighter than the sun, itself!” And so on.
And before Peter can gather even a few twigs to put his master plan for preserving his mountaintop joy forever, God speaks from a cloud: "This is my Son, my beloved, and with him I am well-pleased."
And somewhere in the back of our minds – an alarm goes off – “Hey, we’ve heard those words before! God said those words at Jesus’ Baptism!” And then we just can’t help ourselves – it is like the Fourth of July in our minds – Fireworks! - connections just start to form - We began to understand who Jesus is and who we are: we, the baptized, who rise with Christ to new life. We began to consider that we, too, are the beloved of God. That we, too, are dear to God's heart. Now at the end of Epiphany, with Lent just a few days away, God speaks again: "This is my Son, my beloved, and with him I am well-please. Listen to him!" And we, my friends, are all ears.
And the first thing that we hear is the sound of the disciples faces hitting the turf, they doing what everyone seems to do in the presence of God, they fall to their faces and tremble.
When they finally lift up their eyes, Moses and Elijah are gone and things seem to be returning to normal. Peter, his hands we imagine still clutching a few precious sticks, lets them drop slowly to the ground. It is time to head down the mountain.
The last day of Lutheran camp there we were around the flag pole – arm in arm, singing one last song together, tears pouring down our cheeks, and wondering if we could even live down below the mountain having been bathed in the powerful mountain top presence of God for six straight days.
It sure seems that Peter loved the mountaintop, too.
But Peter and James and John were led by Jesus down the mountain to the valley road which will end on another hill much less scenic. If we listen to Jesus, as God’s voice from the cloud commands us to, then we will follow Jesus. To listen is to follow and Jesus is heading to a garbage dump on a hillside outside of Jerusalem. A place called Golgotha.
Are you ready to climb another hill? Are you ready to stay with Jesus, sitting in the shadow of the cross, again with two guests at Jesus' side? Instead of Moses and Elijah, we will have two criminals in our midst. Can you and I look upon the cross and the man hanging there on our behalf? What will we see reflected as we gaze upon the dying eyes of Jesus? Do we shout like the others walking by – “Comedown from the cross if you are the Son of God!” Not to mock, but so Jesus can lead us back to another mountain, to another time and place where all was perfect and beautiful and we were at peace in our faith.
On which mountain do we want to dwell?
It is not a rhetorical question.
Peter, James, John, they wanted that mountain of Transfiguration. Wanted it bad. Moses and Elijah and the brilliant shining light of the heavens upon Jesus’ face.
What does it say to us – what does it say about the nature of the Christian faith – our faith - that Jesus points them and us to another mountain top where the shadow of the cross is already lengthening?
We step off from this Sunday into our journey of Lent, God’s gift for us to consider the question of the two mountains and why when all is said and done, neither is our final home.