Archive for February, 2008

Living Between the Mountaintop Experiences

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

  Transfiguration Sunday; Epiphany; Sanctification; Exodus 24:8-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Transfiguration of our Lord-February 3, 2008
Vicar Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church
Clifk here to download audio for this message.

“Rise, and have no fear.”


You may be familiar with the movie Forrest Gump, but what you may not know is that the movie was really a parody on the adventures of Peter Jenkins, the author of the best-seller “Walk Across America.” In the 1970’s, Peter decided to walk across the U.S. to find out what life was all about.  
     Something great happened to him during his travels, something he never anticipated, he was given faith!  While traveling through Alabama he came across a huge revival. He decided to attend, and at some point, God’s Word grabbed him. When the invitation was given to become a Christian, Jenkins walked down the aisle.
    He heard a lot of people trying to explain to him what just happened.   He heard words like: “Born again…,” “Saved…,” “The Lord led you here tonight…,” “Praise the Lord…,” “Ain’t God good?”  

    Mary, the woman who first spoke to him, said “Peter, this great elation that you’re feeling now – You are feeling great elation, aren’t you?” “Yes,” Peter replied.  (Well), “at this moment it may seem like these great feelings are going to last forever, but they won’t,” she told him. “Being a Christian is not based on feelings. You’re on a mountain top now, but someday, sooner or later, you’ll be far away from these great feelings. You may even wonder if all this ever happened.
    “Your Christian walk is based on faith, not feelings,” Mary explained. Peter had never thought about that. As he put it, “I was so thrilled that there could be good feelings mixed in with faith that I really didn’t care about her opinions.”
    More than twenty years have passed since that revival. “I was on a mountain top that night,” Peter reflected. “The feelings lasted a long time, but that mountain top hasn’t lasted all these years. Maybe I’ve been on more mountain tops than some, but I’ve also climbed, sometimes crawled, out of some awfully steep valleys, too.”

Most of us have had mountaintop experiences, perhaps not just like Peter Jenkins, but similar in that we were invigorated by an encounter with something historic that clearly demonstrated God’s presence working in our world. Let’s try a few historical mountain top experiences, that some of us were around for: I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” (MLKJ)   “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.”  (JFK) “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Neil Armstrong); “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” (Ronald Regan) Can you remember these great moments in history?  It’s possible, you even remember them vividly.  Are you the very same person, today, as the person who witnessed these moments in history?  I don’t think so; you see in addition to these great mountaintop experiences you have also spent some low times in the valley.  As our friends in the south might say, “You’ve been rode hard and put away wet a time or two.” 

Today, two of our scripture readings are centered upon wonderfully spiritual mountaintop experiences that were nothing short of miraculous.  In our Exodus reading, Moses, and a select few were allowed to climb the mountain of God and they saw God, and had a party that included food and drink!  In our gospel reading, we meet up with six men on a mountaintop, two of them long since dead, one who was revealed to be the Son of God and three others who were scared out of their wits!

Before Peter, John and James ascended to the mountaintop with Jesus, they heard some very alarming news from Him.  He had just told them for the first time that in the not too distant future his fate included being rejected, beaten, and killed in the very city that they were slowly making their way towards, Jerusalem.  Now this terrified and confused them.  What kind of Messiah would be beaten and put to death by the very people He came to save?  How can Jesus save us if He is dead?  God knew the confusion and fear that was in their hearts, and as a loving Father He sought to give them peace and confidence in His Son, who was in fact their long awaited Savior.  So Jesus led Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain to pray and find clarity, peace and strength for what lay ahead of them.  There on that mountain, God allowed them to see two important figures of Biblical history meeting and talking with Jesus. 

There was Moses who represented God’s Holy Law, and Elijah, who represented all of the prophets that God had ever used to foretell the coming of the Messiah.  Even though the apostles couldn’t hear what was being discussed, this meeting confirmed everything that Jesus had been telling them, mainly that He had come to fulfill the demands of the Law and bring the promise of God’s forgiveness, mercy and peace for the world.  From all around them, God’s glory beamed, making the words of the discussion unimportant.  But what if this mountaintop experience was nothing more than a passing dream, a wisp of smoke that would soon vanish, as the emotion faded?  Well God provided for that contingency as well, when He said, “This is my Son, my chosen one; listen to Him.”  Here in these 10 words, we along with the apostles are ensured that Jesus ministry to seek and save the lost was not just the mission of a well-intentioned man, but the mission of the God the Son, a mission that is empowered by God’s Spirit, and finds its source from the very heart of God the Father.

Peter, James and John needed to hear these words, not only to confirm that what they had just experienced was true, but also so that they could by faith, trust in Jesus leadership and follow Him where ever He led them.  We too need too need to hear these words.  We need to experience the realization that Jesus wasn’t just a cute baby born in Bethlehem destined for greatness, but rather He is the very essence of God who took on human flesh so that we could know Him as a brother and as a friend; so that we could know His Father as our Father.  We too need to experience the realization that God loves us enough to come to us; that He not only knows us as no other could, but that He calls us to His side by name. 

The apostles were amazed by what they had just experienced there on the mountaintop.  Who of us would not be?  Can you recall a time in your life when you felt that God’s presence was surrounding you?  Maybe you felt as Peter, James, and John must have felt, as if heaven had enveloped you. These experiences are what we might call the ultimate mountaintop experience.  Who would want something like that to end?!  Peter didn’t!  Always the fast talker, Peter blurted out, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah!”  Peter was trying to delay the inevitable; he did not want his out of this world experience to end.  Friends, we are not so different from him; we too love our “mountaintop experiences”.  We love to live in the moment where it seems heaven and earth meets, but eventually we must leave because…. 

There is little growth up on the mountaintop.  As beautiful and majestic as a mountain top vista can be, we are quickly reminded that the air gets thinner up there and the plants get scarcer.  On mountain tops, you find mostly rock and dirt. For growth, we have to come down the mountain and go into the valleys, where there is an abundance of water, which produces lush greenery and rich colors. But to do this we like Peter, James, and John must by faith respond to the command of God which orders us to trust, listen and follow Jesus.  We must follow Him where ever He leads us, even if we know where He leads will be painful and difficult.  Friends, the greatest growth in the apostle’s lives did not take place on the mountaintop, but instead it took place on the way to a garden and a rocky hill.  The vision of Moses and Elijah is not what shaped the three, but instead it was the three years they spent with Jesus listening to His Word; the very Word that would predict His own betrayal and death; it would lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested and then to Golgotha where they witnessed their Savior’s death upon a cross.  It was not Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration that impacted them eternally but instead, it was His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, which confirmed that “truly He was the Son of God” for them and for the world.  The day Jesus was crucified, that hill where they planted His cross became the highest mountain in the world, because it reached heaven for us.  Jesus did not go up that hill to pray, but he did pray, he prayed for you: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  You see friends; the experience at the Mt. of Transfiguration is inferior to the experience at Calvary’s holy hill, because it is only at Calvary where you receive forgiveness of sins.

Oh we love our mountain top experiences, where it seems life is good.  We like the days of peace and happiness to be strung together like a beautiful set pearls, but we know this too will pass.  We know that we can’t live in a moment, and we know that life, sometimes hard life is just around the corner; but our human nature fights to make those moments last.  But Christ taps us on the shoulder and says, “Rise and have no fear.”

Dear friends, when God’s Word call us to leave this place and go out into our communities, communities where there is often feelings of fear, anger, and worry, we must be confident that like the apostles, when we look up, we will see no one except Jesus leading us out and empowering us with His presence to demonstrate God’s love and forgiveness. (Mat. 17:7-8)  Yes dear saints, like the apostles, we too must go out into our communities because that is where Jesus leads us. 

When we go out from here, we must remember that Jesus is with us.  He is with us in His Word, a Word which promises that through Jesus, God is for us and not against us.  He is with us in the remembering of our Holy Baptism, the day He claimed us as His own; He is with us in His Holy Supper where He nourishes us with His own body and blood, promising nothing less than the completed forgiveness of sins.  At His table, we see the very veil separating heaven and earth part as we feast with all the company of heaven, eternally praising God and saying “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbath rest; heaven and earth are full of your glory!” And finally he is here with us through His Holy Spirit who continually carries our prayers, even the ones that we can’t seem to find words for, and when those prayers reaches the thrown of Heaven, God hears the voice of one who is perfectly pleasing to Him; one whom He has loved with an eternal and everlasting love; He hears you! 

Let’s pray…Heavenly Father, as we leave the season of Epiphany and begin our slow Lenten walk towards Jerusalem, waken us afresh to your goodness, to the reality of evil, the pain of suffering and the beauty of your creation.  Then may we serve you with urgency, knowing full well the necessity of your saving love working through us in this fallen world.  In Jesus name… AMEN!