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February 6, 2005 (Last Epiphany: Transfiguration)

Intern Pastor Katy Grindberg

Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9

Brothers and sisters, grace and peace to you from God our loving creator and from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.
 

We heard this morning of two "mountain top experiences." A phrase that is often used to denote those times when we feel particularly close to God, whether it is actually on the top of a mountain, or not. I've been lucky enough to have several mountain-top experiences in my life. A particularly memorable one happened on a mountain in Colorado. About eight years ago I was part of a youth group trip to the Rocky Mountains. One day we took an all-day hike. There were several stopping points along this hike and at one point there were several teens who didn't want to continue, but preferred to wait for the rest of the group to finish the summit, so I stayed behind with them in a grassy area, overlooking a valley far below. It was quiet, as there were no other hikers around and the teens that I was with were quietly talking and sleeping in the shade. I wandered our to the overlook alone and stood looking at the beauty before me. In that moment, I felt the presence of God very clearly, and it was it if I could touch the hand of God, if only I could stretch my arm out far enough.

I imagine that many of you have had mountain-top experiences. Times when you felt like you were in the presence of the holy, and the light of Christ seemed especially bright, and all seemed peaceful and right with the world.

The song, "The Mountain" by Stephen Curtis Chapman and Geoff Moore speaks to this phenomenon. The song talks about being on a mountain where all seems peaceful and right. The lyrics to the bridge are:

"You bring me up here on the mountain; For me to rest and learn and grow; I see the truth up on the mountain; and I carry it to the world far below."

And that's the hard part, isn't it? Remembering and recapturing the emotional and spiritual high from the mountain-top experience when you back in the valley of your life. It is easy to see the light when you are above the tree-line and there is no smog and no one is asking for your attention and it is peaceful and quiet. When you're back closer to sea level, life gets messier and it can be harder to see the light. Because, after all, you've got bills to pay and kids to raise and a job to go to and school to worry about and people demanding your attention. The sermon here is that life can't be lived on the mountain, you have to come back down to live out your life. And that is a typical Transfiguration sermon.

My classmates from seminary and I have an on-line group where we check in with each other during the week, and share our experiences. On Friday, when I checked in with the group, there was a message from Philadelphia, with the subject line "Help!!!" When I opened the message it said, "I'm preaching this weekend and I have no idea what to say." Suggestions came in from around the country and we were reminded by a classmate in Oregon that mountaintop experiences are bookended by walks through the forest. The implication is that the forest or the woods are a dark place and entail a long, hard hike. And we are getting ready to enter the long trek of Lent. In this scheme, Transfiguration Sunday can be seen as a booster shot of "what will be" before entering the long haul of Lent.

I wonder thought if maybe, Transfiguration is not more a reminder of what is. I imagine that most of you have walked in the woods or a forest of some kind.

And you know that the woods are not completely dark. They may not have the brilliance of light of the mountain top, but the light still shines through. Sometimes as it is filtered through the canopy of leaves far above, the light isn't as bright or clear, but it is there.

A light in my life this past summer, as I was doing my chaplaincy work in the hospital in Kansas City was Linda. I met her on my unit as I was making rounds one day. She was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, for no apparent reason. The first day that I called on here we had a great conversation. She was not a particularly religious woman, but she was seeking to discern where God was in her life. Every visit with her would always begin by her asking me how I was--how was my day, what was happening with me; and then she would say, "We're going to pray now." And I would say "OK," and we would pray. Then we would talk about her, and when it was time for me to leave, she would ask for prayer again, and I would pray one more time. Even when Linda's illness made her weaker and more tired, our conversation always included what was happening with me, and prayer. On the day that Linda died, her family called me to her room to pray. We gathered around her bed--and as I prayed I saw the light of Christ in her family, in the people who loved her, in the doctors and nurses and aids who took care of her, in my heart because of what she brought to me. And I touched the hand of God that day, as I held the hands of her husband and her daughter. Now this was not what most people would consider a "mountaintop experience." But, for me it certainly was. It was a place where the light of Christ abounded and God was truly present.

I have a friend who calls those experiences, "God moments." And those "God Moments" that I have had--alone or through other people - are times that I celebrate and want to commemorate. I usually do so by telling stories and sharing those times and people with others. You may do that, or keep and show photo albums, throw parties, have worship services. Not all of the moments that we commemorate are those high, mountain top experiences, some are the result of tragedy--and it is human nature to build a monument to commemorate important events. In our own country, look at Washington DC and Atlanta and Oklahoma City and New York City -we want to mark those occasions so others know that something significant happened.

So I can completely understand Peter's desire to build a monument to mark the occasion of Jesus'- to build something that will mark this event as something special. Peter once again, doesn't quite "get it." In this occasion he announces his intention to build a monument to Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The word translated "dwelling" can also mean a temporary worship space or a tabernacle. Peter just witnessed an amazing and awesome event and he wants to note that for all who follow.

And then the voice comes from the heavens and Peter realizes that once again, he didn't quite get it, and he falls to the ground. God says, "This is my son, the beloved in whom I am well pleased." The same words that were spoken at Jesus' baptism. God then tells Peter James and John, and us, to listen to Jesus. The first thing that Jesus says, it "Do not be afraid." That is advice that we all can take to heart, but what else had Jesus been telling the disciples, what did he continue to tell them in words and in action--to love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. Love God, love yourself and love the person who needs help. It's not always about the big mountain top experiences, although they are important and exhilarating--it is more often about what happens on the hike through the woods. It is not the big gesture, building the big monument--although that is also very important--it is about to being there in the nitty-gritty of daily life.

We come together, over in the seemingly small and insignificant elements of water and bread and wine. Through these ordinary things, we are met in a real way by God, through Christ. We are nourished and energized to go back into the world, where are called to be Christ one to the other.

It's not at all complicated. It really is about visiting the sick and the sad, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, welcoming the rejected--that is what happens on the hike through the forest. That is where our boots get dirty and sometimes we stumble over a root or get turned around. And we depend on our companions on the journey to help us find our way. But the journey through the forest is also where the light shines, on us and through us. Where we see the light of Christ in others, and where others meet Christ through us.

May the light of the world himself, Jesus Christ, bring you light today and every day. Amen.


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