Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Get Off the Mountain

If you have ever been hiking (living in New Hampshire we certainly have the opportunity to hike) you will know that it makes sense that we can experience God on Mountains.
In fact we call experiences of encountering God mountain top experiences.
Mountain top experiences are those moments when you are suddenly in the presence of something magical and mystical.
I am not much of a hiker, but the times in my life when I have hiked I certainly can tell you that you feel closer to God when you are just below the clouds looking out over the majesty of God’s creation.
Today the Peter, James, and John have an incredible mountain top experience.
They come in the company of great religious figures like Moses and Elijah.
They see the inner part of Jesus shine through, and get a glimpse of the glory that is to come.
And yet they don’t seem to understand.
They don’t know what to say, or how to explain what they just saw.
What they do know is that something extraordinary has happened, something has been revealed to them that has not been revealed to the others.
Why they misunderstand is that living an ordinary life filled with service is also extraordinary.

I think our reaction to these mountain top experiences is the same as Peter’s.
We want to capture it, memorialize it, and then relive it as much as possible.
Peter wants to build a dwelling place for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.
Perhaps this could be were pilgrims will come to worship and celebrate this moment.
They could sell little religious trinkets to tourist and remember this time of great revelation.
But Jesus has other plans.
It is time to get off the mountain and go back into the world.
It is time to get back to the job at hand.
It is time to set his face towards Jerusalem and his death and resurrection.
And so God commands the disciples to “listen to him”.
It is much easier to worship Jesus than it is to listen to him.

Listening to Jesus means putting away our idea of glory for God’s.
It means sacrifice and pain, over glory and victory.
I would much rather build the booths than do what Jesus says must be done.
Just a few verses before the transfiguration Jesus tells his disciples that he must go to the cross, die, and be resurrected on the third day.
We would much rather live on the mountain that have to walk back down into the humdrums of ordinary life.

I have had many mountain top experiences in my life.
Times when I have been grateful for the God’s presence in my life, times when I felt like God was breaking through.
I can tell you that not one of them stayed forever.
I always had to go back into the world; I always had to live my life.
One of them happened to me when I was on internership in Philadelphia.
I was in my car driving home for dinner.
The sun was setting just over the buildings.
I had this moment of clarification about my life.
I had a feeling of gratitude came over me that I can not to this day fully explain.
But I knew that all was right in the world.

Have you had that moment?
The thing is it was only a moment.
I had to go home to my wife who was upset that I was late for dinner.
I had to go back to the church that night and participate in a council meeting were people where upset because the church was not meeting their every need.
I had to go back to a neighborhood with shootings and drug deals.
I had to go back to the homeless people who asked me for money than stole the television from the church building.

The mountain leads us back into real life.
The story of Jesus is that he exists and operates on both planes.
Jesus is transcending of this world and the cares of this world.
There is a glory that shines from Jesus that no one can stamp out.
And Jesus is fully enmeshed in a world of sin.
Jesus does not stay in that transcending state removed from our ordinary complicated lives.
Jesus returns to work casting out demons, hanging around prostitutes, sinners, the poor, and the outcast.
Jesus is there in the middle of everyday life and death.
When I walked around the neighborhood in North Philly I often imagined that Jesus was right there with me.
What I realized is that these were just people trying to get by, living lives of extraordinary faith despite circumstances.

Perhaps that is what Jesus teaches us more than anything else that we must engage in the world because it is there that we experience the wonderful grace of God.
Sure it is nice to have the mountain top, but it is in the trenches that God is most active.

Most of us spend our lives searching for that mountaintop experience trying to find happiness.
And the truth is that it almost always eludes us.
We go to work at a job that is maybe not what we thought we would be doing, with people who annoy us.
We come home from work and we find dishes that need to clean, kids who need to be disciplined, spouses also unsatisfied with their lives.
We wonder where is the magic and majesty of life?
I believe it is right there in your life.
Not every day is lived on the mountain, sometimes it is in the valley below, it is on the long walk to the cross.

I knew this man named George he was 45 when I knew him.
He had it all.
He had a good job, a loving family, a nice house, two cars, and white picket fence.
And yet he was not happy with his life.
It was not what he thought it would be.
He thought there was something more out there, something better more glamorous.
He searched for it in all kinds of ways went on elaborate vacations, spent money on fancy things, tried to find it in hobbies.
None of these things are bad, but they kept him from seeing what God had given.
It kept him from seeing the true beauty and wonder of simply being a good husband, father, and co-worker.

In comparison, I did a funeral for a parishioner’s husband once.
Before the funeral his wife told me, “He wasn’t anything extraordinary. He just was a good husband, a good father, went to work, and loved to drink Dunkin Doughnuts.”
I disagree, doing these seemingly mundane tasks are extraordinary.
Working hard for your family, loving your wife and kids, helping out friends, giving to others are all things that we should uphold as really wonderful gifts.
Unfortunately, we don’t.
We want the mountain.
We want the extraordinary to be about amazing stories of white lights flashing and important religious figures showing up out of nowhere.

Today I am telling you to get off the mountain and come back into the valley.
It will be here that you will find Jesus toiling among ordinary people living extraordinary lives.
It is here you will see Jesus sharing a meal with the despised tax collectors, touching women with blood diseases, and drinking wine at weddings.

Because the ultimate mountain top experience for Jesus will be at Golgotha on a cross alone and deserted.
It will be there that he will show us true sacrifice and obedience.
It will be there that all of us will be invited to experience true forgiveness and healing.
It will be there that we will be challenged to truly practice discipleship which is about seeing beyond our own happiness to the good of all.
As St.Paul wrote, “We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.”

As we walk through the valleys, may we all be able to live ordinary lives and experience in them the extraordinary grace of God in Jesus Christ.

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