February 19, 2023, Mardi Gras Sanctuary Worship, "Lessons from a Mountaintop"
Feb 19th | The Reverend Anna von Winckler | 2 Peter 1:16-21
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This past week I was invited to spend time with a couple from the church. Over dessert, we talked about the many challenges facing not only the people of this country, but people all around the world - from the environmental challenges, economic challenges, to the hateful rhetoric that seems endless from the political world, both domestically and internationally. It is easy to see how our young people are developing anxiety and falling into depression. From the perspective of what we see and hear around us, it is easy to understand how mental illness is on the rise. We may also find ourselves anxious at times, also. The 24/7 barrage of news reports can be overwhelming. But as Christians, we are told to live in hope and this scripture from 2 Peter should give us that hope.
Peter, James, and John, as Jesus’ much loved disciples, saw Jesus do many things. They were there when Jesus turned water into wine. They saw Jesus reach out and touch a leper and, not only did he not get infected, he healed the man from the illness. They heard Jesus speak out a word and a Centurion’s paralyzed servant was healed. They were in the boat that was being tossed about in the wind, terrified as the waves brought water into the boat, and they saw how Jesus again, with just a word, was able to still the wind and the waves. They were there when Jesus fed the 5,000, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead. They had seen many miracles, but when Peter wants the people to know the truth of the Christian faith, he reminds them of the Transfiguration. For it is there, on that mountaintop, that Peter saw the power and the majesty of Jesus with his own eyes; and, he got to experience a foretaste of what was to come - the second coming of Christ and life everlasting. It was in the transfiguration that the manifestation of the deity of Jesus was seen, where Jesus’ divine nature, which he always had, shines through his human nature showing that He is God, the light of lights the very God of the very God. Peter wants the church he is writing to, to be reminded of the truth that it was God who came down from that mountaintop to die and rise again to save us from sin and that it was not a myth for he was there and witnessed it. And that is why the Transfiguration is important then and important to us today.
Peter had a mountaintop experience. A very profound one where he heard God speak of Jesus being the Son of God. Moses had a mountaintop experience where he talked with God. And more recently, Martin Luther King, Jr talked about his mountaintop experience, of seeing the promised land.
Mountaintop experiences. You’ve heard that expression before, I’m sure. And, I hope that you have had your own mountaintop experiences. While we may not meet God in the same way that Moses, Elijah and the Prophets, or Peter, James and John did, we too have mountaintop experiences, haven’t you? Mountaintop experiences give us a glimpse into the divine, a glimpse of what will be in God’s heavenly kingdom when Christ returns, much like Peter experienced on that mountain. We may not see Jesus in his glory accompanied by Moses and Elijah, but God gives us our own moments of foretaste of heaven, of that vision of God with us. God gives us a moment behind the veil to encourage us and give us hope.
The disciples were overcome by what they saw. We can just imagine the different feelings they must have had - fear, awe, wonder. It tells us in Matthew that Peter wanted to build tents to memorialize the moment, but Jesus tells him no. For what would the tents do? They would be meaningless to those who had not experienced it, and even for those three disciples, the feelings, the intense emotions they felt, would not last, but the knowledge would.
Those feelings that come with those mountaintop experiences are not meant to last, but to act as a way to encourage us along as we continue on our journey in this life. And those moments do last, but not the feelings. They last in the knowledge that what we experienced was true and real.
We know this to be so. None of the intense feelings we have ever had over the course of our lives stay with us in feeling. The first kiss of a beloved, which made our hearts soar, is a memory and not a feeling. The intense love and joy we felt the moment we held our babies is not with us on an every day basis, but we know that love within. It’s real and true. The same is true of our encounters with God. They are just as real and true, even if we don’t feel that high each and every moment.
And, I think there is another reason that we don’t carry those feelings of those mountaintop experiences with us every day. Growing up my pastor had certain sayings he would repeat from time to time and one of them was “Too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” You’ve probably heard that one before, but it can be so true. There are some Christian faith bodies that are so focused on what is to come that they neglect what they are supposed to be doing right here and now in helping usher in the kingdom of God on earth by showing concern and helping the poor and the disenfranchised, by working for peace and justice in society. And with that comes suffering, but it comes before glory. Jesus came down from the mountaintop to face temptation, to face the cruelty of the power structure in place, to face a torturous death; but then came the resurrection and the glory. It was the same for Peter, James, and John, as they faced many hardships as they shared the Good News. They faced persecution and death. But they then joined Jesus in glory.
That is the same for us. We have our mountaintop experiences. We get a foretaste of the resurrection life, but we have to come down from the mountain and face life. We suffer, just as the saints before us did, and just like Jesus did, but like them, we will follow Jesus into glory.
The second point that Peter makes is that the transfiguration shows us the glory of the Bible. For the bible shows us God’s great love for us. The shining face of Jesus points us to the shining light of the scriptures that shine in dark places. Our faith should be firmly rooted in the Word. The purpose of Moses and Elijah is that Jesus came to fulfill the law not to abolish it and that the words of the prophets foretold what was to come and then did come about through the life of Jesus. Peter wants them to remember scripture because of the problem of false prophets. They were very much around during the time that Jesus was on earth and when the disciples were establishing the church; but it is a problem that we have today, as well.
We see the false prophets at work in some of the televangelists, like Jim Bakker, and, even worse, cultists like Jim Jones. Peter wants the people to beware of the false prophets and to know that only the prophets of the Scriptures were of God. He reminds them that it is to the scripture that we find God’s word to us giving us hope and faith, to find the promises of God that encourages us in difficult times, that keep us on the right path to salvation.
And the scriptures shines a light in our lives in dark times. I grew up during the Vietnam war and one of the things that I found encouraging were the stories that came out about how the POWs encouraged one another through sharing scripture verses. They found strength to get through isolation, torture, starvation, by pondering upon the Word of God. What a testimony to both the power of the Word of God and to their faith to stand on the Word when things seemed most hopeless. We hear the same from Corrie ten Boom who endured the concentration camp and even held her sister as she died in that camp. Her faith endured through prayer and the Word of God. Peter reminds us that we need to turn to scripture to support us in all circumstances.
The transfiguration. The greatest mountaintop experience anyone could have. We may not have been there, but our faith should help us see that glory. We see it in the words from Peter who was there and from our own mountaintop experiences where God gives us a foretaste of what is to come. And let us always be grounded in the Word of God and let it be to us a lamp unto our feet, our light as we journey through darkness. Let us find hope in the promises of God as found in God’s holy word. Amen.
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