|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on February 26, 2012 at 10:30 AM|
Mark 9: 2-9
February 19, 2012
So, how many of you have had mountaintop experiences with God? You know, those moments where you get a vision of God you didn’t have before. Those experiences that you can’t fully explain, but you somehow know were God. I want you to take a moment to remember that experience, to remember when it happened and what it felt like. Remember what God revealed to you. Remember how it changed you.
I know my own story about how God spoke to me when I was grieving and confused. Out of the blue one day, my college roommate suggested the thing which I hadn’t dared speak and she had no way of knowing I was thinking- that perhaps I was supposed to be a pastor. It was a moment that was like a big flash of light, even though no one else noticed it.
And because I ask people about stuff like this, I’ve had the privilege of hearing about some of your mountaintop experiences and those of other students and youth I’ve worked with. They are stories about how God appeared to them at retreats or while they were alone in nature or spoke through a friend or stranger that suddenly showed up at the right moment. These are all moments that change us- where we know for sure there is something beyond us and that it is God. Mountaintop experiences aren’t things you forget and they tend to be things you return to and tell others over and over.
All these moments are times when God was shining so brightly that they were burned into our memories. They were moments where we heard God’s voice so clearly that we couldn’t imagine that others didn’t hear it, too. They are shining moments so different from the rest of our lives. They are moments of glory and brilliance in a world where things pretty much go on as we expect. And we need those moments to point to the glory beyond what we can see at the moment.
We need them, and yet we don’t talk a lot about glory or awe-inspiring moments in the Lutheran church. We are down-to-earth people that tend to focus on what’s in front of us and what God gave us to do in the world. We may talk about the joy and comfort God brings us or the blessings that come as we follow Jesus, but we don’t talk much about glory. Because Glory is a whole other thing. It’s something a little too big for this world. Glory is stuff like the lessons we hear tonight- Elijah getting taken up into heaven or Jesus shining on a mountaintop. And that’s stuff that’s hard to believe and hard to know what to do with. And it’s stuff that looks really strange to the outside world. So sometimes we don’t talk about it too much. But if we are people who have had mountaintop experiences that have changed us, we know how much we need those moments of glory in our lives.
Just like Peter, James and John did. They needed the moment that we hear about this evening. It was a regular day and they went up a mountain with Jesus. They were expecting a nice hike, maybe a little teaching time and deep conversation and time to enjoy the view. But instead, they get to the top and see Jesus’ face shining like the sun and his clothes turned dazzling white. And then Moses and Elijah, two giants of the faith, were suddenly there talking with Jesus. And, if that weren’t enough, they hear that wilderness-shaking, cedar-breaking voice of God. They came up the mountain with their earthly teacher Jesus and without warning they’re in the presence of the shining, powerful, Son of God. It’s no wonder that they all fell down on the ground, terrified of what was happening!
And it’s not until later, after Jesus tells them not to be afraid, then they realize what happened on that mountain. God spoke to them. God met them there and gave them a vision of Jesus in all his glory. They got a glimpse of God that no one else did. One that would be burned into their memory and one that they could come back to over and over. Because Jesus being transfigured into this glowing, shining being on the mountain actually gave the disciples a glimpse of the future glory- for Jesus and for themselves.
At UMBC a few weeks back, we discussed the question, “”Does love really win?” In a messy world, it’s sometimes hard to believe it does, even if we want to believe it and even if we know it in our hearts. And I was particularly struck by one of our students who commented that love does win, it just matters where you end the story. It just matters how long you keep reading. Like if you end with the cross, there’s not a lot of hope. But if you read through to the resurrection, you see love winning and God winning and life winning for Jesus and for all of us.
And that is exactly the gift of the transfiguration. It gives us a glimpse of the end of God’s story. It announces, “This is where everything leads- to the shining glory of God. Love does win. God does win. Death and suffering and pain will not be the last word. For there is a glory and joy too brilliant to look at planned for this Jesus and for all those that love and follow him.”
And sometimes that glimpse is all we need. There have been many times in my life that were painful and I often said, “if I just had some assurance that things would turn out ok, then I could relax and get through it.” Whether you are hoping to get into grad school, or going through a break-up, or wanting to know what to do with your life or getting through an illness, we all want some assurance that it will be ok. We want a little peak at the last page of the story we’re living to see how things turn out. We don’t need to know how we will get there, but simply knowing that things will some how work out is enough. And then, we can hold on, we can have some patience, and we can deal with the struggle knowing that the story ends in love and in God.
So the transfiguration is that glimpse of the glory that will be Jesus’ and will be ours someday. It’s a glimpse that Peter, James and John desperately need to get through the days ahead. You see, before they went up the mountain, Jesus had announced to them that he would be crucified. And after he left that mountain, he would begin walking toward the cross. The disciples may not have fully understood it at the time, but soon they would understand what this meant for Jesus and for them as followers. Jesus would suffer betrayal and pain and death. And his disciples would have to face the world without him beside them in the flesh.
There would be pain and suffering in the days ahead. The road they would walk with Jesus would be terrible and painful. And eventually they would also be called on to suffer for the sake of Jesus and for the sake of the kingdom he came to bring. If Peter, James and John thought that this pain was all there was, that is was pointless, it would be hard to keep following on that walk to the cross. But now they knew the end of the story.
So when the disciples came back down the mountain, they got to take this glimpse of the future with them. They could now walk those days leading to the cross with a glimpse of what was to come. They would go forward knowing how the story ended- with Jesus in glory and them there with him. The story would end with that same joy and peace they felt on that mountain.
The transfiguration, and all those mountaintop moments for us- allow us to see our lives and the world in light of what they will be in the end. They give us hope in the future. They don’t take us out of the world and it’s mess, but they allow us to see all that we face as simply part of the journey to the glory that God has planned for the world. And we need those moments.
So I challenge you this week to remember your mountaintop experience each morning or remember the transfiguration if you don’t have a story of your own just yet. Write something down or draw something that reminds you of it and put it on your alarm clock so it’s what you wake up to. Instead of waking up with the stress of the world, instead of waking up dreading what is to come or barely dragging out of bed, wake up remembering the glory of your God and the glimpse of God’s future. I have no idea how this will change your week, but I know that Jesus took his disciples up that mountain for a reason. He knew they needed that glorious moment to give them strength and hope. They needed it for reassurance when they weren’t sure it was worth it to follow Jesus. They needed it to know that the story ended with love and with life and that’s where their following would eventually lead them.
And we need that glimpse, too- as we enter these days of Lent and as we walk through whatever we’re facing in life right now. Trust those mountaintop experiences. Trust that glory of God that meets you. Trust is as the end of God’s big story and the story for each one of us. Trust it enough to let it give you hope and strength for the days ahead.