A mountaintop experience. We all know what that means. An experience that is almost unbelievable.
My mountaintop experiences would be holding my children and grandchildren for the first time. And singing with two of my children at Carnegie Hall. What about you? What are your mountaintop experiences?
In the Gospels, especially Matthew, things that happen to Jesus and the disciples on a high place – like a mountaintop – are considered to be very important. It’s almost like the writer is saying – pay very close attention now, you don’t want to miss this.
For the writers of Scripture, mountains were the place where you encounter God. Moses and Elijah were two of the greatest figures in Israel’s history and they had their encounters with God on a mountaintop.
And Jesus brings three of his disciples up a mountain for a truly unbelievable experience. They went up to be apart from the others and to pray – but a bit more than that happened. As they prayed, Jesus’ clothing turned shockingly white. So bright it was almost blinding. And then he appeared to be talking with two men who hadn’t come up the mountain with them, who hadn’t talked to anyone in a very long time – Moses and Elijah – two of the most significant figures in their history.
And as a response, Peter the impulsive, says, “Master, it is good for us to be here, let us build three shelters, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!”
Now, if I had just seen what Peter saw and heard – a voice from heaven telling me to listen to Jesus – I think I would be sitting there dumbfounded. But for Peter, it was all bout doing something. And in none of the Gospels does Peter explain why he wants to do this. Was it to prolong the experience, or contribute to it? To honor Jesus and Moses and Elijah? Or because Peter, like some people, need to respond to things with action?
We’ll never know because, right then, the cloud descends from heaven and surrounds them all. They hear a voice from the cloud saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!”
Now, this isn’t the first time clouds are a part of the Israelites’ story.
- In Exodus, the cloud on Mt. Sinai was the indicator of the presence of God. The cloud led the Israelites’ by day as they were escaping Egypt.
- Now a cloud descends over Jesus and the disciples as he is transfigured.
- And a cloud will take him from their site when he ascends to heaven after the resurrection.
So not only were the figures with Jesus important, the presence of the cloud told the disciples that God was present as well.
And they knew this, they knew their history and they were fearful of being in God’s presence.
This was indeed a mountaintop experience for them. But of all that they had seen the most important thing was that voice, telling them, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!”
Listen to Him.
Don’t listen to what the world is telling you to think or want, or be or aspire to. Listen to Jesus. Have faith in what He tells you.
The day after this incredible experience (back down off the mountain) they discover what the voice meant.
A man brings his son to Jesus, the son is convulsing and sick and he begs Jesus for help. The man had gone to the disciples but they weren’t able to help. Jesus’ reply is one of frustration in the disciples lack of faith in him (and in themselves, since he gave them the power to cast out demons).
But the man brings his son who falls down at Jesus’ feet in convulsions. Jesus rebukes the demons and they leave the boy. And the crowd was astonished at God’s majesty.
God’s majesty. Not ours. This was not done of human endeavor, but God-power.
And that God-power rested in Jesus. As he continued his ministry – as he traveled and taught and healed and made whole – it was the people who listened to him who benefited. Whose lives were changed forever by coming to listen and be healed. Made whole.
This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.
This is God’s command to us as well. To listen to what his son, Jesus calls us to know about ourselves, and what we are called to do.
Jesus wants to tell us that we are unconditionally loved by God.
That God will never leave or forsake us.
That there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less.
That we are precious and beloved, just as we are, just as we were made, and that God calls us to be exactly the person we were fashioned to be, not someone else’s idea of what we should be.
It is so easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others, I’m too short, tall, thin, heavy, poor, ugly, dumb, old, young, weird, …when we compare our insides to everyone else’s outsides, we don’t feel “good enough.”
But listen to Jesus: God loves you just as you are.
You are beautiful and valuable in God’s sight. Even when you feel like our sin gets in the way, God says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far will your sin be from me.”
When we turn to God in humility, seeking mercy and grace for our mess ups and screw ups, God had promised us mercy and grace. It is there for the seeking. And in this state of grace we find our own transfiguration.
And in that transfiguration we are called to listen to what Jesus calls us to do: to be his hands and feet and heart and face in this world, a world that may have no idea who Jesus is or why knowing Him is of any value.
Whenever Jesus had contact with someone it changed their lives forever. They were transfigured, too. They became more than they had been, they were free and whole and ready to live the lives God had called THEM to live.
We have that ability too. To reach out and touch another life so that it may become what God intended it to be.
To show someone their deep worth and value to God and to the rest of the world. To show someone that they are needed and loved beyond all understanding. That they have a place in this world and in God’s heart that no one else could ever fill, not from the past or from the future. It is their place alone, and God loves them right where they are, as they are.
We don’t need to be on a mountaintop to have a mountaintop experience. We simply need to listen to Jesus and be willing to answer his call to serve, to heal, to love. There is a whole world waiting to be healed, to be transfigured.
And the only way that will happen is with God’s love. God’s love shared and shown with no expectation of return. Simply love. Love transfigured us. It will change the world as well, if we put in the work.
March 3, 2019
Luke 9: 28-43a