From time to time Julie and I get to help get grandkids where they have to be and pick them up from events and bring them home. I'm reminded today of a Monday some 6 or 7 years ago. Ariel and Viola had dance lessons in Hutch and Julie and I took all the kids along and spent a couple of hours down there including supper at McDonald's. We came back to Litch and brought them all to their house. Rebekah, about 4 at the time, refused to get out of the van. She didn't want to go home, she was with Grandma and so wanted to go to Grandma's house.
I'm reminded of this story as I consider Peter's reaction on the mountaintop with Jesus and Moses and Elijah. He didn't want to go home, he wanted to stay on the mountain. Jesus was revealed in all his glory; the great lawgiver and prophet were there. Like Rebekah, home just didn't seem as appealing considering the alternative.
So just what did happen on that mountain? A technical term we could use is that there was a “theophany”, the sudden and real appearance by God to a person or people. Now this obviously wasn't the first appearance of Jesus to Peter and James and John. But they had only seen his incarnational form. On that mountaintop, Jesus revealed his true being; his glory, the glory of God, the great I AM.
Mountaintop experiences are often understood as times of special connection with God. Moses had mountaintop experience when God appeared in the burning bush and later when he received the Ten Commandments. The prophet Elijah had his mountaintop experience when God came, not in fire or wind or earthquake but in the small, still voice. I had a mountaintop experience in Colorado on a college trip. But mountaintop experiences don't just happen on mountaintops. For us as Christians, any time we can have a special, personal, relational moment with God, that is a mountaintop experience. It can happen on a Sunday morning as you listen to the gospel or the sermon. It can be a hymn that brings you into the presence of God. It can be in your living room as you read the bible or say your morning prayers. It can be looking out your picture window and seeing a cardinal that reminds you of God with you. And these moments can be special and holy and we may, like Peter, want to stay in that moment. But God doesn't call us away from the world--God calls us into the world as servants and messengers of grace. The mountaintop experiences serve to bring us encouragement and strength to enter the world as ambassadors for Jesus Christ.
After Peter spoke up, a cloud overshadowed them and they heard the voice of God the Father, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” As we consider God's words here, we may be reminded of the baptism of Jesus. At that time a voice also came from heaven, from chapter 1 of Mark, “And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This voice acknowledged the divinity of Jesus. These two scenes are similar and yet there is one important difference. At the baptism, the voice came to encourage Jesus. Here, the voice is directed to the disciples and the encouragement is for them as they leave the mountain and go back to their world.
Peter wanted to freeze this moment in time. Despite the fear the disciples felt, they understood that this was a holy moment. Six days before this was when Peter announced on behalf of the disciples that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. And now their eyes witnessed his glory. A wonderful, powerful gift. But not a gift to be contained and preserved, but one to be used as they move down into the community once more. And not just into the community of the followers of Jesus but into the world with its discord and disagreements and politics and selfishness. They needed to be prepared. As should we. We gather here with like minds when it comes to worship of God. But we go into a world with divided minds. Even in our coffee hour, political talk can show that we are not all of one mind on all things even as we meet as the body of Christ. Because of our individual bents, even the church plays lives with a lack of agreement on so much political and social and even moral points. But then Christianity is was not a faith born of rules and pre-programmed thinking. As we are each unique individuals, so too we each have a unique relationship with God through Jesus. We are not mindless robots following orders but we are called to listen to Jesus. The bible is our most direct connection to Jesus, to God; and yet it seems that so many Christians are not making use of this connection. Jesus is not going to appear in your living room shining dazzling white. But he is in your home in the word of scripture.
You may have read my article in the Independent Review this week making note of the importance of scripture to those who do not have easy access to it. But it is to be important for us as well, for that is how we listen to Jesus. And while the answers we get may not be identical, God does work through our hands as we commit to following.
Nanette Sawyer wrote of this in Christian Century. “Each of us lives in a kind of holy solitude, a place in which our soul is alone with God. And yet the fact that we each have this private, intimate, one-to-one relationship with God is a sign of our shared humanity. We’re not alone in having this experience; we all have it. We’re all in this boat together, and alone.” Our unity comes as we build our faith on Jesus Christ. And yet our solitude is real. We are each responsible for how we live out this shared faith. The church tries to offer opportunities to serve; food drives, missions, food deliveries, pen pals, etc. But we also understand that we are not of one mind or have the same experiences. We are in the same boat and yet we are not. Our life experiences are so varied and so we act and think about life in different ways. And yet the boat which we share has the same destination; some day we will each stand before the throne of God. And how will we face God? Will we found righteous? Only as we build our faith and hope on Jesus Christ.
The disciples were witness to the glory of Jesus Christ when they saw him transfigured on that mountaintop. We can witness the glory of Jesus in our community worship but also in our time alone with the Word. Build your faith on Jesus and learn of his grace, mercy and love and then go forth to love and serve others. Faith is built and shared in this sanctuary. But we can't stay here. Our faith is lived out as we leave this sanctuary and live as ambassadors for Jesus. It took Peter and James and John a long time to figure out the mission and ministry of Jesus. But once they did, the church grew and changed the world. Go forth from this sanctuary and change the world... at least your corner of the world... in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Hymn: Called as Partners in God's Service