Mountain Top ExperiencePosted: February 10, 2013
SLIDE 3: TRANSFIGURATION
Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany. In this story Jesus is revealed as a spiritual being meeting with both Moses and Elijah. The story is not without precedent as a story about a Holy Person: Mohammed’s night journey, the awakening of the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree, the revelation of Zoroaster, Rama Krishna under the Banyan Tree. Jesus transcends the limitations of flesh on the mountain top and becomes a being of light. He then returns to his fleshly body to continue his ministry and begins preparing for his passion in Jerusalem.
SLIDE 4: VIEW FROM MT. TABOR
When Beth and I visited Israel in 1998, we rented a car and drove to the top of Mt. Tabor, one of two possible sites for the Mount of Transfiguration. This Monte Sano size mountain sits in the middle of the Jezreel Valley with a view of many of the important places in Israelite history. To the East there is the Jordan River life blood of Israel. To the Southeast is Mt. Gilboa, the place where Saul and Jonathan were killed by the Philistines. To the South is Megiddo one of Solomon’s chariot cities and the place where King Josiah died in his battle with the Egyptians. To the West is Mt. Carmel site of the contest between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal. To the North is the mountain where Jesus’ home village of Nazareth was located. And Mt. Tabor was itself the site of the battle, where the prophetess Deborah led the Israelites in defeating the Canaanites.
SLIDE 5: SACRED PLACE
The air was clear, the sun was bright, and the impression I had was Mt. Tabor was an historical even a sacred place. The chanting of the monks in the monastery lent an otherworldly flavor to the mountain top experience.
SLIDE 6: TRANSITION TO DIFFERENT LEVEL OF EXISTENCE
Jesus didn’t take all of the disciples to the mountain top, just Peter, James and John. While Jesus was praying his appearance was altered. “Dazzling white” apparel in the scriptures is usually associated with angels. It would seem that Jesus in those instants made a transition to a different level of consciousness, a different level of existence. He became in those moments perhaps a spirit being. The two men who talked with Jesus “appeared in glory,” the same kind of dazzling white apparel and visage. The disciples were described as “heavy with sleep.” Perhaps Jesus had been long in prayer into the night, when the disciples awoke to his transfiguration. Another possibility is “heavy with sleep” is intended to communicate a state of altered consciousness.
SLIDE 7: THE SPIRIT BLOWS WHERE IT WILLS
As the two visiting luminescent figures were preparing to leave, Peter offered to construct three booths, like the structures made of branches used during the Feast of the Tabernacles. Peter wanted to try to preserve the moment, capture the sacred. But sacred moments cannot be captured. The spirit blows where it wills, and we cannot seize it or hold on to it. We cannot live on the mountain top. At best we can hoist a sail, and hope that we can catch enough of the wind of the spirit to propel us where God wants us to go.
SLIDE 8: SHEKINAH – THIS IS MY CHOSEN
As Peter cried out, a cloud overshadowed them, and the disciples were afraid. Then a voice spoke from out of the cloud saying: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” This voice from the cloud made almost the same statement as the voice at Jesus’ Baptism. Unlike the Baptism of Jesus, the voice on the mountain top was definitely heard by and seems to have been intended for the three disciples. The cloud was the Shekinah, the Hebrew symbol of the Holy Spirit.
SLIDE 9: MOUNTAIN TOP EXPERIENCES
Human beings have come to refer to important spiritual events in our lives as “mountain top experiences.” The view from the top of the mountain literally lifts our horizons. We feel above it all and that sense of enlarged vision can be inspiring. Temples and religious shrines historically have been located on the “high places,” that change our perspective.
SLIDE 10: MADE OF STAR DUST WE ARE
Something extraordinary happened that day as Jesus was revealed in his glory, and perhaps spiritual glory was revealed to Jesus in preparation for the terrible suffering he would face in Jerusalem. This revelation may have inspired him to press on despite the horrible suffering that awaited him. He became for a few minutes a being of light and energy. After all we are all made of star dust. Not only can this story prompt us to reflect on this special experience of Jesus, but we might all ask ourselves what “mountain top” experiences have we had, and how God might have been at work in our lives through those spiritual encounters?
SLIDE 11: TURNING POINTS
Like the “turning points” of our lives we talked about three weeks ago, what have been the mountain top experiences that have changed our perspective on our lives? Inspiration and hope are common themes of mountain top experiences. Emotional inspiration can keep us going, when we confront life’s difficulties. Moses brought the tablets of stone down from Mount Sinai, he also brought with him a vision that sustained him for 40 years leading a complaining recalcitrant people in the wilderness, and that’s hard.
SLIDE 12: CLIMBING MOUNT SINAI
I remember when I climbed Mt Sinai. We had to get up at 2 a.m., and we started out in the darkness. I had envisioned a small group of spiritual pilgrims setting out for the summit of the sacred mountain. Instead, we had an intimate group of about 2,000 tourists climbing up the mountain that morning.
SLIDE 13: THE CAMELS KNEW WHERE THEY WERE GOING
Our guide had arranged for us to ride camels half way up to the summit. That’s as far as camels can take you. The camels knew where they were going, and they were anxious to get there, because then they could get these stupid humans off of their backs and get something to eat and rest. There were a number of Europeans climbing the mountain that day. The Germans especially liked to walk four a breast across the trail somehow figuring they had the right of way. The camels had other ideas. We had no control over the animals, and like I said, they knew where they wanted to go, and they weren’t about to let anything or anybody stop them.
I tried yelling a warning, “camel, camel get out of the way.” But like I said, the Germans insisted they had the right of way, right up until the camel would run over them or push them aside. It was embarrassing, having angry Germans scream obscenities at my back, but we had no control over the animals. They knew where they were going and they were determined to get there.
SLIDE 14: WAITING FOR THE DAWN AT THE SUMMIT
When we finally reached the summit, we almost froze to death waiting for the dawn. The night sky began to lighten, and finally the sun came over the horizon, and I was struck by the absolute desolation of the desert all about.
SLIDE 15: ATTUNED TO LISTEN
God speaks in the wilderness because only out of that profound quiet can we be attuned to listen.
SLIDE 16: I’VE BEEN TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP
Another prophet almost 50 years ago spoke of a mountain top experience that like Jesus gave him the courage to continue leading even in the face of threats of martyrdom:
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
SLIDE 17: THE HORIZON OF HOPE
A lot of people can climb to the top of a mountain, but the mountain top experiences that give us courage, faith and hope to continue on in the face of life’s difficulties and challenges, those are the spiritual experiences that really count. When we can rise above the everydayness of life just enough to get a glimpse of the horizon of hope.
SLIDE 18: OUR ONLY HOPE RESTS IN GOD
But from where does our hope come? Is our hope in progress? Is our hope in the stuff we accumulate? Is our hope in ourselves? NO! One of the great psychological and spiritual crisis’s of our time is narcissism, our persistent and obsessive focus on our selves. We are not the answer. We aren’t even the question. We are not the source of hope. To paraphrase Paul, if for this life we have hoped in ourselves, we are truly to be pitied. Truth is all of us are going to die. Of our own effort we have no hope. A good cure for narcissism is to take a lawn chair and go sit in a cemetery until we learn we are not the center of the universe.
God’s love for us is our only hope. And it is not God’s will that any of us should be lost, no matter how hard we may try. The ancient Psalmist speaks the truth in poetry:
SLIDE 19: PSALM 139
Psalm 139: 7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
SLIDE 20: DEATH IS NOT THE FINAL ANSWER
God has made us from star dust, and God gives us imagination to aspire to become beings of light and energy. On that mountain top in Galilee, three disciples witnessed the transformation of Jesus into light and energy, and that is our hope. We will die, just as Jesus surely died. But death is not the final answer. For nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord