Mountains and Valleys

Mountains and Valleys

Lectionary: Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99, 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2, Luke 9:28-43a

Let us pray: Lord God, be with us this morning. Speak to us. Give us a moment where we see your glory. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. In the name of Jesus Christ our redeemer we pray, Amen.

Mountains and Valleys

I wonder how many of us have had mountain top experiences. 

They don’t have to have happened on actual mountains, of course–I mean only moments where God feels present and real and vivid, the kind of moment that you remember all of your days. Moments like the disciples had with Jesus, where they were able to see Him more truly than ever, a moment where His divinity shone through. Moments like Moses had, going up on the mountain to receive the law, talking with God face to face as no one before him had.

I know I have. Like the summer I was newly returned to faith, working in Oregon on pollination research. I was analyzing data on my laptop, but I was doing it in a meadow, because I’d driven a fellow researcher to his research site and of course I wasn’t just going to sit in the car or at a picnic table when there was an entire forest out there. And so I was sitting there, surrounded by flowers dotting the meadow, and analyzing data on my computer, and when I stopped for lunch I pulled out my Bible and read a psalm, and surrounded by trees and flowers and mountains God felt so present: surrounded by God’s wonderful, intricate creation, with the words of a psalm on my lips, God’s power as creator and redeemer felt close enough to touch. 

Those moments are rare enough, of course. We don’t often live our lives feeling God’s glory seeping out of the edges of life, filling everything. Most of the time life is full instead of hospital visits and doing the dishes, getting stuck in traffic and unliked bosses, family get-togethers and going to bed too late. It’s easy to wonder what the one experience has to do with the other, where that incontrovertible sense of God’s presence went and how vacuuming could swallow it. 

After I spent the summer in Oregon, I went back to school, and life was full of doing readings and writing papers, being lonely, spending time with friends, and struggling to go to church. That mountain top moment didn’t linger. Instead I was still left with the same life, trying to figure out how to fit all the pieces together, how to live well in the midst of everything that needed to be done. 

We’re not alone in that. The disciples, too, were there when Jesus became more visibly who He was. They saw Moses and Elijah come and talk with Him. And then they went down from the mountain. They went back to their everyday lives of dusty roads and bickering with the other disciples, being confused by the weird stuff Jesus says and having their best try to do as He says not be enough. Normal life, then. They have been trying to heal a boy without success, and Jesus comes and heals him, after the first-century equivalent of, “Seriously, you guys still don’t understand?”. 

And so the reading ends with a healing. It ends with the people being amazed at God’s grace after God has come into their town and healed one of their people. That is: mountaintop experiences are important and vital, and they give us glimpses of God that are glorious and exciting and wonderful. But those experiences don’t stay on the mountaintop. They come down, into every day life, into the days that are full of failure and sickness, doubt and questions, chores and bickering. The truth of Jesus’ identity, that He was the son of God, come to heal the world and banish our sin, did not change when He came down from the mountaintop. Instead it spread, as Jesus healed the sick and taught the longing crowds and fed the hungry.

And this is true of our mountain top experiences too, wherever you’ve had one or not. God speaks to us, but the words are not meant for us alone but for the entire world. We are called to leave our mountaintops and reach out to others, to heal and preach and feed and be with others. The feel of God filling every speck of our world may fade, but it is still true. God is still with us, however far away our mountaintop experience feels. Our calling to love the world has not changed. For our mountaintop moments are important, but so are the every day moments of faith: getting up early to pray, showing up at your volunteer position every week, staying after church to tidy up, sending another check, helping unexpectedly, not snapping at someone even though it’s all you want to do. Mountaintop moments are wonderful and glorious, and they remind us of who God is, but they are not all there is. A faithful life is so much more. 

And so as we prepare to leave this morning, as we think about our own mountain top experiences–whether they are distant or near, feel important or impossible–may we know that God is with may. May we know that who God is calls us to love one another, not hold the truth for ourselves. And may we go forth and love.