Sep 01

The Mountaintop Experience

One thing we don’t much of in Indiana is mountains. When I came to Culver for my interview at the Academies, I remarked how very flat things were. I mean we had plenty of cows and fields of beans in Tennessee, but the hills were rolling and those fields of beans did not seem so big.

I went to college at Sewanee, and the place is called “the mountain” by alums. It was for me a mountaintop experience in many ways. Monteagle Mountain itself is pretty modest. It is about 1900 feet in elevation at the top, so we are not talking Mt Everest or anything, but it is the same sort of idea just on a smaller scale.

I suspect that all of us can relate to the mountaintop experience even if we don’t live in the Rockies. There are times in our lives when things seem to come together. Just for a minute we understand things and all the pieces of the puzzle fit. If you are like me you get a glimpse of it and then it is gone. That glimpse can give you hope though, and the disciples in today’s Gospel have a mountaintop experience with Jesus.

In his famous speech at Mason Temple in Memphis, the day before his death, Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about being on a mountaintop.

In that speech, King talked about taking bus rides to protest segregation in the South. He talked about the birth of the Civil Rights Bill. He talked about Selma.

In this speech, King talked about the mountaintop experience:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now.
We’ve got some difficult days ahead.
But it really doesn’t matter with me now,
because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
And I don’t mind.

In the reading from Exodus today, Moses has had a mountaintop experience. He has been in the physical presence of God. God has given him the ten commandments, and we are told that the skin of his face was shining. The glow of this moment is obvious to others.

Think for a moment about mountaintop experiences in your life. We will look at the Transfiguration narrative and think about the experience of the disciples.

So the disciples here are Peter, James and John. This is the short staff or the Executive Committee for the disciples. It is the inner circle. These are the disciples closest to Jesus.

These disciples witnessed Jesus transformed. His clothes became dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appeared with him. This must have been a remarkable experience. They saw Jesus in his glory. For just a moment they had arrived.

The nature of mountaintop experiences is that reality sets in. In the case of my mountaintop experience at Sewanee, I earned a diploma and started teaching in Louisiana. Martin Luther King delivered the “mountaintop” speech the day before he was assassinated. Moses had the tablets of the covenant in his hands, and he returned to the day to day management of a people wandering in the wilderness.

Reality sets in for us. The moment of greatness can seem a little fleeting. In the Gospel reading today we hear that “a cloud came and overshadowed them.”

So you have this moment of greatness and clarity. All those ducks really do seem to be in a row. Then suddenly it is not so clear. The fog rolls in.

What is the lesson for us in the mountaintop experience? I see a couple of good point for us here.

First we see that the disciples don’t really understand what is going on. Peter suggests building booths, and the Gospel tells us he says that “not knowing what he said.” It is obviously not the response Jesus had in mind.

We are reminded here that it is OK if we don’t completely “get it” sometimes. The inner core of the disciples can miss something obvious and get it wrong. They recover gracefully and go on to live saintly lives.

I know that sometimes I don’t “get it” either. I can drop the ball. I can miss the point. I can recover too. I don’t have to be a genius or a spiritual giant to do God’s will. I can recover gracefully myself and go on to do the work the Lord has given me to do. This is a message of hope for all of us. We don’t have to be perfect. We can make mistakes.

The cloud overshadows the disciples, and I think we can relate. We know this experience, and so often it seems to come after the mountaintop experience. Suddenly we don’t see things so clearly. The details of life obscure things. We are told they were terrified as they entered the cloud.

In those moments when we find ourselves in the cloud and terrified, we have the second major lesson for us in this reading. God tells them “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

These are words for us as well. We live as disciples and need to listen to Jesus. We especially need to do that when things seem dark or cloudy. It is all the more important when things are not clear and we can’t see what to do.

Listening to Jesus isn’t all that hard. Jesus came to live among us and to teach us how to live. We can read his teachings in the Gospels. As we grow in the faith we come to better understand those teachings. It is nuanced and complex as teachings often are. I am going to leave you with the short version though. We are called to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus told us this time and time again. God is telling us to listen.

My takeaways for you today are these.

We all have moments of greatness. We have mountaintop experience that give us hope and remind us of God’s greatness. We can remember these moments and savor them.

Experience tells us that these moments might be a little fleeting. The details of life can obscure that moment. The fog rolls in, and things are not so clear. This when we need to remember to listen to Jesus.

If we remember nothing else of the teachings of Jesus we need to remember to love God and love our neighbor.

I have said these words in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sermon preached by Fr. Tom at St. Thomas, Plymouth

August 6, 2017:  Transfiguration Sunday

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