In pm's words
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February 8, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where we come down from the mountain...


Sermon from February 7, 2016

Text: Luke 9: 28-43a

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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!

At first glance, the two stories that we hear in our Gospel reading from Luke this morning don’t seem like they go together. The first story we hear – that of the Transfiguration – the changing – of Jesus – is one that we are all, mostly, familiar with.

Jesus goes up on a mountain with three of his disciples and something pretty crazy happens. Moses and Elijah were there. Jesus’ face or clothes shine brightly. A cloud enveloped them all and a voice cried out from it, “This is my son! Listen to him!”

The next story is one that isn’t so familiar. It is another healing miracle. Where a young boy, convulsing and foaming at the mouth, is healed by Jesus through his words. They are sent on their way to rejoice with those around them.

All through both of these stories the disciples – especially Peter, James, and John – are at a loss of what to do and how to react. They know they are experiencing something bigger than themselves, but they don’t know how to respond. In the second part of our story this morning, the disciples left at the bottom of the mountain aren’t able to heal this young boy.

In both halves of this story, Jesus is needed.

Peter, James and John have what we like to call a mountain-top experience. They don’t know how or why – it is difficult for them to fully comprehend what is happening to them and to Jesus – but, they know that something great with God is taking place. The Spirit is moving in, through, and around them.

Their response is one that I think many of us like to hold on to as well.

Let’s stay here. This is good. Let’s ride this wonderful feeling for as long as we can.

We’ve all had that experience haven’t we? Whether it is an incredibly spiritual moment or any other really wonderful moment in our lives.

For me – that moment – that mountain top experience – was literally on the top of a mountain in Western North Carolina when I was a camp counselor at Lutheridge in Arden, NC. That first summer in 2002 was amazing. It is where I truly felt God first calling me to ordained ministry. I met Erin. I developed lasting and strong relationships with numerous friends (many who are pastors now as well). I also had a ton of fun. It was an amazing experience.

When the summer came to a close there was a very real sense of not wanting to walk down that mountain. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want it to end. It felt like I was Peter or James or John speaking to Jesus and saying, “Look – I can put my sleeping bag right over there. I can stay here with you forever in this place. You just say yes, and I’m there.”

Of course, that didn’t happen. I and the rest of my fellow counselors had to come down from that mountain. Just as the disciples were rebuked about staying up on the summit with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

There is a very real sense that many think that God – that Jesus – is the prototypical wise-old man at the top of the mountain. The one you traverse up to get your little nugget of wisdom and grace. That only in that place – in that environment – far removed from the distractions of the world can you experience the Holy. That you have to attain this certain ‘thing’ in order to experience God in your life. And that once you ‘get it’ you latch on to it and never let it go. Stringing out those feelings – those emotions – that spiritual high for as long as you can.

But, I don’ think that is how God works at all. In fact, it’s a disservice to us in the ‘every day’ if we think that God only appears and Jesus is only at work in those mountain-top experiences.

The disciples didn’t know it then, but they had to come down from the mountain, just as we have to come down from our mountains and spiritual ‘highs.’ Why?

Why on earth would we want or need to come down from the mountain? Well, Jesus has work to do and for us to do in and through him. When Jesus comes down the mountain the next day, he is greeted by a large crowd and a man in desperate need of healing for his son.

Jesus comes down from the mountain and heals. Jesus works. Jesus’ ministry continues. Jesus’ ministry doesn’t happen on the mountain. The ministry – the work and life – of Jesus happens in the valley.

When I worked at Lutheridge I wanted to stay there forever. I love the mountains. I loved that experience. I didn’t want to leave. But, as the Bebo Norman song of that summer told us – We walk down that mountain with our heart held high. That we follow in the footsteps of our maker – the one who goes to where the masses are.

On this Transfiguration Sunday we again are encountered with an experience of Christ that we cannot fully explain. This story is so ‘out of this world’ that we just have to sit back and say, “Wow. God is present there.” It’s the same that we experience when we have those mountain-top spiritual moments in our lives. And they don’t always have to be on mountains.

I remember one Christmas in Michigan where I went with the youth to sing carols at a local retirement community. While there we came into the room of a woman who was in the last hours of her life. She was surrounded by her family and we stepped into that holy moment and we sang Silent Night – the woman’s favorite hymn. We sang Silent Night and could feel the presence of God around us. We had tears streaming down our faces as we finished that song. God was indeed present in that moment and we enjoyed the presence of the Spirit with us in that space in which we gathered.

I talked with the youth after that about how they felt. They too couldn’t explain what happened, but they knew something happened. Something important. Something bigger than themselves took place. They had a ‘mountain-top’ experience that day. Yet, they couldn’t stay in that moment – as much as we even wanted to – ministry was to be done. More individuals to sing to. More people to spread the word of God and the Gospel to and with. There was work to be done.

Transfiguration Sunday reminds us that in the presence of God – things change. We are changed. We may not literally shine bright nor our clothes become dazzling light as Jesus’ did. But, that brightly shining light of Jesus does indeed shine in and through us for others to see.

But, we don’t stay on that mountain – we don’t stay in those moments – as much as we’d like as sort of a lighthouse that calls people into that same moment with us. We are not the ‘moths’ of creation that are drawn to the light of Christ. That light that stays in a single spot for people to ‘find.’

No. The light comes down from the mountain. The light that shines in each one of us is taken down the mountain and into the valleys of life – the valleys of our life. We are reminded again and again that the light of Christ – the presence of Christ – the ministry of our Lord is done in the valley of our life and the life of the world.

Jesus comes down to be with us. To work, to proclaim, to serve, to heal. Jesus comes down from the mountain and we follow in the footsteps of our maker. The very face of God who walks down into the distance – walks down to where the masses are.

Yes, we can experience the presence of God, the holiness of Christ, the movement of the Spirit in those mountaintop experiences of our lives. But, we don’t stay there. We are called to follow Christ who walks down that mountain to be in, with, and for ministry for those around him. You can’t do ministry for others alone up on that mountain. Come down – heart held high – and let the light of Christ shine in and through you as you are in service and ministry with all our neighbors. Amen!

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