In pm's words
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February 12, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about remembering those mountain moments...


Text from February 11, 2018
Transfiguration Sunday

Text: Mark 9:2-9

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, as I’ve said before, one of the most difficult, yet meaningful things I get to do as your pastor is to be with each of you in those moments that are tough or difficult. An illness, an impending death, the tragic loss of a family member, a broken relationship, depression, frustration, and more. It is a part of the job as a pastor to be with people in ‘low’ moments of their life.

Sometimes a question is either asked directly or implied that can freak me out because sometimes I don’t know the answer. That question? “Pastor – where is God in all this…?” My usual response has always been, “I’m not quite sure how or where God is present in this moment, but I know that God is here. Why? Because God has promised to be here among us – even in these difficult times and from what I can tell and have read, God is usually pretty good about holding to those promises and covenants.”

Many of you that I’ve been with in difficult times have heard me share those words, or something similar to them. As a pastor – a person who others look to for those ‘spiritual’ answers – it is difficult at times to respond with, “I don’t know…”

I was reminded of those moments as I prepared for this sermon today. I read a commentary where the writer – Rev. Anna Tew, a Lutheran pastor in Massachusetts – told a story about her time during a year-long ministry of chaplaincy in the hospital. As with all chaplains, she was tasked with coming alongside folks in some of their most vulnerable moments. Always sought after to bring a word of hope and promise during times that seem and are ‘hopeless.’

One story stood out for her. A man – a very sick man – was remarking that he felt God had abandoned him. He asked her if God had left him?

She replied, “Of course not!” Then she was bold to ask a question I’ve never thought to ask before – “Can you tell me about the times in the past that you’ve felt God’s presence before?”

Immediately the man recounted those moments – through tears – of God’s presence and goodness in his life. Telling of those moment where God felt so close to him. As she states it, he and many others whom she has had those conversations with described their own mountaintop experiences.

She then – even bolder now – asked this man, “Do you believe that same God is still around today?”

He responded with, “Of course! God is the same yesterday, and today, and forever!”

“Then I think that God is most certainly with you now as then.”

Y’all, that is an amazing story. And leads me into how we view the Transfiguration of our Lord that we celebrate today.

We read in our gospel this morning about an experience that some of the disciples had with Jesus. They walk up a mountain and at the top they have an incredible experience. They see the heroes of their faith – Moses and Elijah – sitting and interacting with Jesus as his clothes shine a dazzling brightness that no bleach could achieve. Unlike the Super Bowl advertisements last week – this isn’t a Tide commercial.

Upon seeing this amazing sight, Peter is a little bewildered and in fear he bellows out the first thought that comes to his mind – “Let’s build a place for you to be here forever!” It’ll be good for us to do this! We can make this moment last!

Of course, that isn’t what this moment is about. Perhaps, Peter – like most of us at times – saw this as the ‘ultimate’ moment of his faith. Perhaps, Jesus brought him and his friends up on this mountain so that they could see this. That this is the ultimate and final revelation of what it means to follow this messiah. Surely this is the ultimate image and presence of God in our life! Nothing could be better than this! We must stay in this moment!

Does that sound familiar – even a little bit when we have those mountaintop experiences of our own? That yearning to dwell; to reside in those moments forever. To never let go, so that we can always relish in that feeling always? Have y’all felt that way before?

I felt that way when I worked at Lutheridge as a counselor the summer after my freshman year at Newberry. It was an amazing time. I met the girl of my dreams, I felt the call to be a pastor, I formed deep friendships, I had amazing stories, plenty of laughs, and I truly felt closer to God in those days than in any of the days before or many since. I would’ve been happy to stay and hold on to those feelings for as long as I could. There were moments that I just wanted to pitch a tent right there and stay.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, and eventually we have to come down from those mountaintops – both the literal and the metaphorical – in our lives.

I wondered as I read this text again – with Rev. Tew’s wise words and story fresh in my mind – perhaps, we think of this Transfiguration as the ‘ultimate revelation’ of God’s presence in the world. Surely, it is a good story. Hits all the checkboxes of what could be the ‘ultimate’ end for anyone. If there was nothing after this particular moment in scripture, I think many would be able to accept that. It has all the trappings of an end of the movie climax and cliffhanger.

But, we know that in spite of the incredible experience that moment on the mountain was – it wasn’t the moment. It wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus himself sternly warns his disciples not to tell anyone about what they saw until after the Son of Man rises from the grave. He tells them not to speak of this because there is and there will be more to come.

We read this story and celebrate this moment as we transition from the season of Epiphany into the season of Lent. Throughout Epiphany we read and heard story after story of God being made known in Christ. Each story building upon the previous; a crescendo of moments of God being made known that leads to the Transfiguration. Where if the disciples – if we – hadn’t been able to see it before certainly, we’d take notice of the Lord glowing brightly and being flanked by the representations of the Law and Prophets, all the while hearing a voice thunder from the clouds, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!” If the disciples didn’t ‘get it’ before the mountain, surely they ‘get it’ now.

We move from the season of God being made known into the season of coming closer to God in our lives. Yet, it is during the long weeks of Lent – that time of personal reflection, denial of self, and more that we can feel distant from God. Where we might discover that we aren’t as faithful was we proclaim. We don’t do the things we wish. We skip past the devotions in order to get to what we think is the ‘good stuff’ of our lives. Where we journey through the proverbial wilderness and might experience moments of despair, loneliness, and isolation. As we walk that path of Lent once more, we again remember where that path leads. It leads to the cross, it leads to death, it leads to fear.

As we experience God in those high-top mountain moments, those moments full of joy, praise, exultation, and more, we sometimes forget that the disciples have to come down from the mountain. They don’t stay up there. They come down from the mountain because God doesn’t stay on the mountain. God is just as present in the valley as God is present on the mountain top. We worship and celebrate our God who has come down to be with us. To be with us in those moments of the mundane. Those moments of fear. Those moments of loneliness. God has come down to be with us through all of what life has to offer.

We get this story of an incredible moment on the mountain as perhaps a reminder for when times come that are difficult in numerous ways. Where we can look back and remember that the God who was present in that moment, is surely the same God who is present now. For just as that man that Rev. Tew spoke with, God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Maybe, on the night of Jesus’ resurrection as the disciples locked themselves in the room out of fear and confusion, whispers and stories began to be shared between Peter, James, and John, “Remember… remember that time on the mountain? Remember what we saw? What we felt? What we heard? Maybe this isn’t the end… maybe this isn’t over.”

The disciples received, and we too receive through the sharing of their story, certain proof that the guy they were following wasn’t just some really cool new rabbi. He wasn’t just some guy with good things to say, who happened to make people feel better occasionally. No, this guy – the one whose light literally shined through his very being – flanked by heroes of the faith – was and is the Son of God, the messiah we’ve longed for. He is Immanuel. God with us. Our hope.

We too remember our own mountaintop experiences. Not to dwell on those moments. Not to pine for days gone by. But, we look to our own moments on the mountain in our lives, to remember that the God who we felt was so close to us then, is still the same one who is present with us now. We remember that yes, surely, truly, certainly this is the Son of God, the messiah we’ve longed for. He is Immanuel. He is God with us. He is our Hope.

Remember. Believe. Know that God is with us. Always. Amen.

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