Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mountain Top Experiences

When I lived in Los Angeles, my favorite place to relax and be with my thoughts was up in the Canyons above Pepperdine University. (The picture here is of one those winding paths.) In the clear air, looking out over the sparkling Pacific Ocean, the sun was close and God's presence felt even closer.

In the Bible, whenever someone heads up a mountain, God shows up. Mountains, in ancient times, were the geographical places where God descended to meet those who ascended. Climbing a mountain, like seeking the Lord, takes effort and willpower.

Elijiah fled up the mountain when life looked like failure after failure. He set out on a forty day journey up Mt Horeb (or Sinai) the same mountain where Moses received the 10 Commandments. On this tiresome journey, he ate the food God prepared (cakes, yum) and when he reached the place, God asked him "What are you doing here?" (That interrogation always puzzled me.) But anyway, on that mountain God spoke a sweet, still voice of encouragement and Elijiah was able to go back down the mountain and face his foes and failures. (1 Kings 19:1-12)

This week in our scripture reading, Jesus heads up a mountain with three of his disciples. (Mark 9: 2-10 ) and there a strange, dazzling change takes place in Jesus. He is transfigured, his clothes turn bright white and two strangers appear beside him. The Bible tells us it was Elijah and Moses, hanging out talking to Jesus. But I wonder how anyone knew it was Moses (did he look like Charlton Heston? Cause Moses to me will always be the Moses in Cecile DeMille's classic film) Somehow, the disciples knew who Jesus was with and they were terrified. Peter freaks out and blurts something out about how nice it would be to put a plaque here, or build a monument to remember this by. That's when God's voice resounds - and tells them to listen to Jesus, because he is the Son of God.

(Poor peter, he always is quick to act and then ends up getting shut down, put back in his place or even called Satan. )

They descend the mountain and Jesus tells them to be quiet about what they saw and heard.

Likewise, when we have up-close experiences of God - perhaps on a retreat, in our private devotion, or at an arena where thousands worship and the Holy Spirit is really kicking.. there is still a need for us to "come down" the mountain, not build a shrine, and maybe not even talk a lot about what we saw. Because we see in the Gospel, that the work of God was incomplete on that mountain. God's command is for the disciples to listen - and Jesus follows up with a reminder them that listening means keeping your mouth shut. (I think of school teachers that would say, keep your ears open and your mouths shut!)

Perhaps, like St. Francis of Assisi advised, we witness to God more loudly, when use less words. (He said Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.)

Have you ever loved something only to find that the effect was missing for those you sought to share it with? Maybe a book that “changed” your life? Or a movie? Or a favorite hiking spot? What about a revival or retreat?

I ask all of this aware that I am more like Peter, quick to do respond, start something whenever I have a glimpse of God’s glory.. and the scripture reminds me to value a silent witness.

For me a take-home truth is sometimes mountain top experiences call us to “be” – not “do”. Doing can cheapen the grace of the event, turn the experience into an idol, not drag others up our Great God Moment Mountain. but just let those moments resonate in our soul. In hiking the Malibu Canyon paths, I would try to convince others of it’s value.. but I found no one seemed to enjoy it the way I did. What was for me a profound God Moment was for them just another dusty trail through a canyon.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this mini mid-week
sermon. I needed it! Where in the Bible is this story? Love, Me

Rev Faith Lewis said...

Mark 9: 2-10 amd also in Luke 9:18-36.
Plus, Matthew Chapter 17.