Mountains, Valleys, & Level Places
Epiphany 7: 22 February 2004
"Mountains, Valleys, & Level Places"
Rev. Philip R. Taylor
Exodus 25:29-35; Psalm 99; 1 Corinthians 12:27 -13:13;
Luke 9:28-36 : 28Now about eight days after this had been said, he took with him Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray. 29And it happened that, as he was praying, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became sparkling white. 30And suddenly there were two men talking to him; they were Moses and Elijah 31appearing in glory, and they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. 32Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep, but they woke up and saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33As these were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, 'Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.' He did not know what he was saying. 34As he was saying this, a cloud came and covered them with shadow; and when they went into the cloud the disciples were afraid. 35And a voice came from the cloud saying, 'This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.' 36And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen.
The Gospel reading for today begins, "…after this had been said." After what had been said? Looking back a few verses, Jesus had told his disciples that there was a terrible price to be paid for being Messiah. He then told them that self and ego must be discarded if they wanted to follow Him. Finally, He told them that the Kingdom of God of which He had spoken so frequently would become visible very soon.
Our Gospel lesson begins as Jesus takes three of the twelve, Peter, John, and James, up the mountain to pray. It is important that they went up the maintain to pray, not to relax, or even to hear more wisdom from their Rabbi, but to pray. Luke is unique in this recollection of why they went up the mountain. Perhaps Luke thought that prayer was the catalyst or prerequisite to what would happen on the mountain.
Like most folks who have been in and around the faith for many years, I have had a 'mountaintop' experience or two. My recollection is that those experiences were universally associated with intense and prolonged prayer by not only me, but by many others who were praying that God's Spirit might move in and among us.
Oh, those mountaintops, how wonderful they are! Peter echoes our desire to stay in that ecstasy. However, neither God who speaks from the cloud, nor God in the form of the Son will allow us to stay on the mountaintop. God from the cloud has something to say, "This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him." Jesus, the Son, has work to do in the valley.
In the verses immediately following our lesson, Jesus in confronted with a father who begs help for his sick child even as they are coming down the mountain. Yes, we are back in the valley, where life is lived, where pain and sorrow abound, and where Jerusalem and the cross await us.
This valley is however, as Psalm 23 says, something that we 'pass through'. It is indeed not the mountaintop, nor is the valley an end of the line. It is how we get to the cross and it is how we get to the empty tomb. I am indebted to my friend, Pastor Ray Wells, for this insight. Ray is pastor of an Original Free Will Baptist Church in NC and often helps our clergy support group connect Old Testament thoughts with New Testament scenes. Thank you, Ray.
Jesus tells us plainly prior to our mountaintop experience that 'passion' awaits us, that our most precious cargo, our self, must be discarded, but that if we will journey with Him, then the Kingdom of God will be visible. The Kingdom of God is not a mountaintop, it is not a valley, it is 'a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples, with a great crowd of people from all parts of Judaea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon' as we heard from last week's lesson. It is a place where the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, and the scorned are blessed! The Kingdom of God is neither high nor low but level and certainly upside down.
God, from the cloud, commands Peter, John, James, and us to, "Listen to him." I believe we are to listen to his life as well as listen to his words. His words speak of the kingdom, His life speaks of love and shows us what the kingdom can be and will be.
May the God of Glory transform and transfigure each of us and give us the courage and wisdom to come down the mountain, discard our ego and self, and journey with Jesus to make the Kingdom of God real and visible to the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, and the scorned. Amen. Alleluia.
P.S. Anglicans around the world will 'bury' alleluia in our liturgy from Ash Wednesday until Easter. My hope is that we will not forget where we buried it.