ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
FEBRUARY 15, 2015
2 Corinthians 4: 3 – 6; Mark 9: 2 – 9
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
If you were to come up with a simile for life what would it be? Fill in the blank: Life is like…? What? A roller coaster with ups and downs, highs and lows, twists and turns, it’s exciting and terrifying and over much too soon? Or is life is like a pendulum swinging from one high point to the next with deep dips in between? Or maybe it’s like a plateau, we go along smoothly and when we least expect it, we go plummeting off the edge. Or is life like being at the bottom of a chasm staring up the rock face with no way to climb out? I think of life as a spinning wheel lifting us to the top and plunging us to the bottom in a recurring cycle. We all prefer the highs.
In the Scripture, people meet God in a number of places but mountain tops are often places where people encounter God in personal and exhilarating ways. Where did Moses meet God in a burning bush or receive the 10 commandments? On the top of Mount Sinai it was also on Mount Sinai where Elijah stood at the mouth of a cave where he encountered God in “the sound of sheer silence”. After these encounters Moses face shone so brilliantly with the glory of God he had to cover it and Elijah had to wrap his face in his cloak as God as God passed by. Moses was the great liberator of the Israelites and Elijah was the prophet who would pave the way for the Messiah. Today we read of an occasion when Jesus took 3 of his disciples up a mountain where he was “transfigured” before them which is a fancy way of saying he changed. Before their eyes Jesus was transformed – his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white. As Jesus stood on the mountain top he was joined by Moses and Elijah. However, unlike Moses who reflected God’s light and unlike Elijah who hid, the light of God shone from within Jesus revealing his divine nature.
We can imagine how exhilarating it was for Peter, James and John to be in the presence of the greatest men in Jewish history. Any doubts they had vanished; Jesus was clearly “the Holy One of God’, the Messiah. The disciples were awe-struck; filled with reverence; overwhelmed by wonder. Their bodies tingled with excitement. Their spirits soared in worship. They were breathless. If only this moment would last forever! So Peter made a suggestion, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (vs. 4). Peter wanted them to stay. This could be the new reality. Practically speaking, if they had somewhere to call home, then they wouldn’t need to leave. Psychologically speaking, he may have been hoping to “contain” the moment by building containers. Peter’s eagerness to make little earthly dwellings for these three spiritual giants was so absurd Mark explained it by saying, “He (Peter) did not know what to say…” (vs. 6) and he was terrified.
Have you ever had a spiritual mountain top experience where you knew Christ was right there? Sometimes they happen in very normal circumstances. Maybe when you held your first grandchild? Or when you stood on an actual mountain scanning God’s incredible creation. Or even on a quiet afternoon by a sunny window. Other mountain top experiences are more mystical in nature. The Holy Spirit whispers to you during a sermon or while you’re praying. Or you sense God’s presence while singing a hymn or taking communion. The Spirit can be so present in a baptism he causes parents to well up with tears. These are mountain top experiences and we all want to hang on to them.
Like Peter, we might think that shouldn’t be too hard to do. After being blessed with a spiritual high what could possibly bring us down? Hey, we’ll never see a valley again. If God loves us so much as to reveal himself to us in a personal way, can anything negative can touch us? Won’t we just float above the hardships of life like eagles soaring high above the canyon floor? We all agree that would be great, but it’s not the way life works. Let me give a couple banal examples. How many of you saw the ½ time show at the Superbowl? Katy Perry strutting her stuff with back up dancers, costume changes and fireworks. Flashy stuff – but the Superbowl is the annual exception – real life is a voice on the radio. Another example: on rare occasions my grandfather got tickets to “the game” at Maple Leaf Gardens to watch the Leafs win; it was a big deal. Normally, because my grandparents owned only 1 TV, my grandfather would go into his room and “watch” the hockey game on the radio with Foster Hewitt yelling, “He shoots, he scores!” Real life is more like the radio. All of us have known the zeniths of life – the ½ time show and the live game – and none have escaped the pits – we now watch the Leafs on TV and cheer them when they lose. More of life happens in the valleys than on the mountaintops.
For this reason, we often look to our mountain top experiences as touch stones; the experiences we can go back to in order to gain strength or peace when the tough times hit or when life becomes too routine. The question is: does this work? Does trying to recapture the spiritual highs get us through the lows? Does remembering the mountain top make us content with the valleys? And if not, where do we draw our spiritual strength and endurance?
Listen to the words of God we read in the record of the transfiguration, “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (vs. 7) God didn’t tell the disciples to go stay on the mountain or to whip up dormant feelings or to get busy serving him or even to remember the transfiguration. He told them, Listen to my beloved son, Jesus. We get through the valleys of life by listening to Jesus. When we hit rock bottom, we’re not to go back up the mountain, we are to listen to Jesus.
We listen to Jesus through scripture. We listen to Jesus as he heals. We listen to Jesus as he forgives. We listen to Jesus as he expresses love. We listen to Jesus as he cries out from the cross for a world in which the valleys are deep and dark and lonely. We listen to the resurrected Jesus as he tells us he will meet us in the mundane places of life, like Galilee. As you read the scripture what do you hear Jesus saying? Prayer is another way we listen. Often when we think prayer is telling God things – how good he is; how bad we are; what we are grateful for and especially in difficult times what we need from him – what we want him to do to change the situation or alleviate our pain. If prayer is conversing with God, then approximately half of any conversation is listening and since it’s with God perhaps we should up that to about 90%. We need to listen to the whisper of the Spirit within our own souls as we come to God through prayer. We also listen to Jesus through the words of other Christians. As you listen to sermons week after week do you hear what Jesus is saying to you? Do you turn to Christian friends to hear the voice of Jesus – his words of encouragement, support and love? Do you hear him through their reflections, through what they are learning or through their questions? Questions often lead us to wider paths of discerning not only what we might do, but discerning where Jesus is present with us now. Hearing is only a part of listening, truly listening to Jesus is to respond – with words or love or actions or obedience or humility or repentance.
When his congregational members came back from conferences or workshops on a spiritual high, a clergy friend of mine would feel despair. Week after week he faithfully preached the gospel to help them to listen to Jesus but his people barely registered a response. Then they’d have these mountain top experiences and they’d come home all excited having met Jesus through the key note speaker. One day a colleague asked him, “What did you eat last year for Christmas?” My friend described a huge turkey feast. Then his colleague asked, “What did you eat on the 16th of May? The 12th of August? The 3rd of November?” My friend didn’t have a clue. “You see,” said his colleague, “It’s not the great experiences that ultimately feed you and build you up and sustain your life, it’s the day to day meals that you don’t even remember.” Our spiritual mountain top experiences are great blessings, but what sustains our faith and our spirit is our day to day listening to Jesus.
When the disciples came down from the mountain back into the mundane terrain of everyday life or the valleys of injustice, suffering and woe, they did not come down alone – Jesus came with them. Although we may not see Jesus in his fullness and we may not be filled with the same awe, he is with us wherever we go. His voice, his word, will get us through whatever life throws our way, all we have to do is
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