By far, this story from the Gospel of Matthew that I just read is one of my favorites in all of scripture, for more reasons that I could possibly share in one sermon. It is rich in imagery, and has this other-worldly, mysterious nature to it, just to name a few of the reasons why I love this story. But maybe most of all, it’s relatable. Now I don’t mean the vision of white light or the ghostly image of Moses and Elijah. I have not had an experience like that and I’m assuming most of you have not either. Although my wife did have a vision of Jesus in the hospital one time but that also involved a healthy dose of morphine so I’m not entirely sure that counts! I’ll let her tell that story to you sometime, she’s a much better story teller than I am anyway.
But I find this story of Jesus’ transfiguration to be relatable in many other ways, two of which I’ll share with you today. The first is this, the mountain top experience. I think most of us can share a story that we would describe as a mountain top experience. Those times in our lives when we may think that life just doesn’t get any better than this, or a moment that has left a deep, lasting, positive effect on you. Maybe it was at the birth of a child, a baptism, your first kiss, the day you were married, maybe it was the day the adoption was finalized, or maybe the divorce, or the day you went into remission, or day one of sobriety. There are so many different ways we can have a mountain top experience.
In our Gospel story for today, Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to go up with him to the mountain top to have an experience they would never forget. In our reading from 2 Peter we heard Peter still thinking about this experience, many years after the fact. And I love Peter’s reaction when they got to the top, and had their mountain top experience with Jesus, witnessing his transfiguration, the white light, Moses and Elijah.
Peter says, “It is good for us to be here.” Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that each and every Sunday we all will have a mountain top experience here at church, though I often say that as part of my usual Sunday morning greeting. But I do believe that we come here to have an experience with the divine, that at some point of our worship we will encounter God. And even if we don’t, we can rest in the promise that God did indeed show up, once again, whether or not we recognize it.
Even more important than Peter’s declaration of how good it was to be there on that mountain top with Jesus, is what he said next, “I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” In other words, how about we just stay right here. What a natural human response. Maybe in Peter’s mind he was thinking, well this is it. We made it! The end is here. What could Jesus possibly follow this with? Our work is done. As you think about those mountain top experiences from your own life, wouldn’t it be great if we could just stay there at some of those, stay in that state of exhilaration? Or at the very least, turn it on like a switch on those days when you really need it? Which brings me to the other way that I find this story so relatable.
At the end of the story, probably to the dismay of Peter, James, and John, they have to go back down the mountain. They cannot not stay there. There is more work to be done. And isn’t that always the way? No matter how many times we have a mountain top experience, each and every time, we have to come back down the mountain. That is where we spend most of our existence—in the foothills and valleys of our lives. That may sound a bit depressing but here’s the good news. At the end of the story, Jesus touches them, tells them to get up and not be afraid, and then goes down the mountain with them. And isn’t that always the way? Christ comes down each and every mountain with us, to walk with us, to be present with us, to remain with us.
Again, our challenge is to open our eyes and see who else is here at the bottom of the mountain, and more importantly, who may need our help. For instance, our Jewish brothers and sisters aren’t feeling very safe these days. There have been numerous bomb threats around the country on Jewish community centers as well as a Jewish cemetery being desecrated last weekend in St. Louis. For our Jewish brothers and sisters, the valley is quite dark, the foothill terrain is quite rough. Could they use a companion? Could they use a helping hand? Could that be us?
Likewise, people of color in our great nation are experiencing levels of fear that have not been experienced in many decades—whether we’re talking about racial discrimination, immigration, refugees—for our brothers and sisters of color, the valley is quite dark, the foothill terrain is quite rough. Could they use a companion? Could they use a helping hand? Could that be us? Likewise, our military veterans—whether we’re talking about those suffering from PTSD or other health issues, housing, employment, or other needs—for our brothers and sisters who’ve come home from military service, the valley may be quite dark, the foothill terrain quite rough. Could they use a companion? Could they use a helping hand? Could that be us?
Those are just a few examples of people here at the bottom of the mountain that may need a companion, that may need a helping hand. Our job is to open our eyes, open our ears, to look and listen for who that may be. And then ask ourselves, are we the ones being called to be that companion, to be that helping hand? Because when one group of people’s valley becomes dark, doesn’t the entire valley become dark, even ours? When one group of people’s foothill become too rough, don’t the entire foothills become rough, even ours? The answer to that is yes. So, between our mountain top experiences, we have work to do, with Christ, so that everyone can say at all times and in all places, “It is good for us to be here!” Even in the valleys and foothills of life. Thanks be to God. Amen.