February 10, 2013
On the Mountaintop
Sermon: On the Mountaintop
Texts: Psalm 99, 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2, Luke 4: 21-30
Several years ago, when I picked up my daughter, Martha, from summer camp in Maine, we headed to the White Mountains in New Hampshire for a couple of days of hiking and fun together. We stopped to ponder a ride up Mount Washington, we greeted The Old Man of the Mountain at Cannon Mountain and we parked for ice cream at the Franconia Notch. At one of our stops, along the way, we decided to take a short hike.
The trail we chose seemed well marked in the beginning of our assent up the mountain. We anticipated reaching a pinnacle with a great view and place to rest and picnic. But as we climbed, our trail became more and more narrow. It became dangerous and, eventually, the marked hiking path disappeared altogether. There was no top to reach for a great view to welcome us. We climbed back down the mountain very carefully and were glad to be safe at the base of the trail. We were wishing we had had a guide to tell us where we went wrong.
As I read the story of Jesus climbing the mountain with his disciples for an experience with the Divine, it made me appreciate the fact that they had him as their guide, their teacher, pointing them in the right direction. Their guide said, come, listen and wait. Their rabbi, teacher said, “Beloved, become transformed.” He also said they should pay attention to the Law and Prophets and to the stories of their traditions and the visions that had come to each generation.
On this Sunday, we mark the transfiguration of Jesus so that we may grateful for Jesus as our guide to the mountain top. The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and marks a transition between Jesus’ public ministry and his passion. Jesus takes Peter, James and John and leads them up a mountain. There the presence of God suddenly shines through so clearly that the disciples are left dazzled and, in Peter’s case, babbling in nervousness. Soon God leaves no doubt as to what is happening when a voice proclaims, “This is my child, the Beloved, listen to him.”
Jesus knew who he was—the Beloved of God---and that essence shone through in the transfiguration. He wanted his disciples to know this experience of God calling them the “beloved” and allowing God’s essence to shine through them. Do we feel God shining through us? Do we hear God calling us to mountaintop experiences that may not only change us but change the world we live in?
I believe this was the intent of Jesus’ public ministry and his passion. He wanted us to listen, to be blessed with our traditions that have given us a solid foundation and teaching, to conquer our fears, and to be ready to carry on the ministry of compassion to the world. We are grateful this morning for high points in worship, for new discoveries about the meaning of faith, so we can journey down the mountain to continue the work of transformation. And, we will continue this work, won’t we?
In my experience, it is the coach, the mentor, the guide, who takes us to the mountaintop and tells us not to be afraid. As beloved children of God, we need a guide, a companion, a wise teacher to show us the way in this world. Sometimes, we, too, need Jesus to say, “Get up and do not be afraid.” We need each other to be those coaches, those mentors, those guides.
Every Sunday we gather, this is something we offer to each other. I’m so grateful for the church and what we continue to be to one another and to those we will meet. We do not know what our future may hold but we know we may need this glimpse of the Divine to sustain us, hold us and encourage us to be bold to speak and act for goodness and God’s peace.
Transfiguration, this beautiful, mysterious, mountaintop story, teaches us to let our faith sustain us and prepare us for actions we may want to take to change us or to change others in order to give the world new life.
But, one warning! We must remember that it was not on that mountaintop that the transformation occurred. That was only the beginning. The mountaintop was not the Promised Land. The mountaintop was the place to start the work of transformation.
Soon, this month, we come to the anniversary of the death of the Rev. Peter Gomes (2-28-2011) who was known for his words about the “good book,” the “good life,” and the goodness of God. Rev. Peter Gomes was Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Minister of Memorial Church of Harvard University. An African American man born and raised in Plymouth, MA, and known for his charismatic preaching, Rev. Gomes was mostly known for his writings about the goodness of the Good News.
If there’s anyone who, like Christ, showed us the way up the mountain where transformation happened, it was his life as a prominent spiritual voice against intolerance of any kind. On this Racial Justice Sunday we remember him and his story.
It was in 1991, that he appeared before an angry crowd of students, faculty members and administrators to protest homophobic articles in a conservative campus magazine whose distribution had led to a spate of harassment and slurs against gay men and lesbians on campus.
Mr. Gomes, putting his reputation and career on the line, announced that he was “a Christian who happens as well to be gay.” When the cheers faded, there were expressions of surprise from the Establishment, and a few calls for his resignation, which were ignored. The announcement, we are told was a major turning point for him professionally.
He said, “I now have an unambiguous vocation—a mission—to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia. I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the religious case against gays.”
And, we are told he was true to his word. Transfiguration is about what happens in the beginning of the climb and what happens on the way down. His last book was titled “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s so Good about the Good News.”
I think we know what is so good about this Good News. We know that whatever our calling in life and whatever our passion for living, that God, the Divine One, will be our leader, our guide, our mentor and friend. Let’s risk the test, let’s conquer our fears and be ready for the promised transformations along the way. And, may we be patient with the journey and give it time and give ourselves grace.
As one Chinese philosopher said, “The journey of the wise to virtue is a journey to a remote land, or the ascent of a high mountain. People who travel to a faraway place start with a single step, and those who climb a high mountain start from the bottom.” Those who climb the high mountain, the wise and the expectant, will want to know that God is the leader and guide on that journey, going up and coming down the mountain.
And, so we close, remembering words from Rev. Gomes about goodness: “Once again I suggest that the good life does not depend on good times. The test of the good life, as I have been speaking of it, is in its capacity to get us through and beyond the bad times, the times when things turn sour. The greatest challenge for faith is when things do not turn out as we expect.”
I know that I need this message for things have not always turned out in my life as I have expected. What about you? When we look at our lives, we know that there are many things that have not turned out as we expected. As we look at the history of our church, we know that things have not turned out as we hoped. So, what is our response?
From what I read in scripture, the response is what was critical to the well being and health of the community. It is what we do with the unexpected that is critical for the future. Jesus taught us to look to Almighty God for guidance and help. Do we?
How grateful we are for the goodness of the Good News which promises us that God’s presence will be with us to help us, guide us and remind us to “get up and not be afraid.” Thank you to Rev. Gomes for your inspiration to be transfigured!
As we prepare to enter the Season of Lent this week, beginning with our Ash Wednesday service, it is a good time to ask how God is our leader, our guide, our help along the way. We start with ourselves and pray that God will give us wisdom to value the opportunities we have for spiritual growth and insight. We value the call of our congregation to be a light in this community, speaking for justice and naming all as God’s beloved children. May it be so. Amen.
(In this sermon, I refer to books by Peter Gomes: The Good Book, The Good Life, Strength for the Journey)
Prayer to take with us into our Lenten Meditations…..
God of Life, prepare our hands for a touch, a new and different touch, a touch of encounter, a touch of awakening, a touch of hope and a touch of feeling. Many are the worn-out gestures, many are the movements frozen in time, and many are the useless excuses just to repeat attitudes. Give us daring to create new titles of community, new links of affection, breaking away from old ways of relating, encouraging true, meaningful ways to move into closeness.
(Ernesto Barros Cardoso, Brazil, Gifts of Many Cultures)