The Mountaintop

Posted on 23 Feb 2020, Pastor: Adam Yates
  • Matthew 17:1-9

    Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

    As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

While I was in seminary, I once had a dream. It was a very vivid dream and it has stuck with me to this day. In one scene of the dream, I was standing in a very large marketplace, filled with people. As I stood there, I realized that the people were all looking at me, and not just looking at me, but calling out to me, and not just calling out to me, but reaching out to me and clamoring to get my attention.

It was a sea of grabbing hands and shouting voices calling my name. It was too much, I didn’t know where to begin, I didn’t know how to begin responding, I was completely overwhelmed. Just when I felt like I was going to be lost to the chaos and cacophony of the crowd, my dream shifted and I was taken out to a mountain top, and on that mountain, I was completely alone.

All was still. All was silent. Far below me was the valley, and there was nothing in it. All around me on this mountain was emptiness, stretching as far as my eyes could see. As I sat there taking it all in, I began to realize that the emptiness was something more, that the emptiness was filled with God, and not just filled with God, God was the emptiness.

“Transfiguration” – Lewis Bowman, 2011

I sat there on that mountain completely surrounded by the immensity of God’s presence, and it was indescribable. All that I can say is that if it were up to me, I could have stayed there in that place and in that moment for the rest of my life.

I find myself longing for that mountain top because there is so much that demands my attention, demands my energy, in this world that at times I don’t know where even to begin, I don’t even know how to begin. Perhaps you have felt the same way too.

And I’m not talking about the constant dings and beeps of our devices as they compete for our attention, although they certainly don’t help. No, the things that clamor for our time, for our mental and emotional energy, are much more profound. I’m talking about the demands of work, with families working two jobs no longer being a luxury but a necessity in a society where real wages have remained largely stagnant even as expenses grow. I’m talking about the demand of raising children, never an easy task, and now much harder as we try to support them in a highly competitive world where extra-curriculars are no longer optional, but necessary for college applications. I’m talking about the demands of our current political environment that wants us to be constantly outraged all the time.

Fundamentally, I’m talking about change. The world is changing around us, and it is hard to keep up. The climate is changing, as we are reminded by the incredibly mild winter we are having here in New England and the horrific wildfires in Australia alike, and we can feel powerless before the magnitude of the problem. The nature of our discourse is changing as the speed and anonymity with which we can communicate in the modern world simultaneously increases our connectedness with one another as well as our sense of isolation from one another.

We ourselves are changing. Each of us is getting older, our loved ones are getting older, and that makes new demands on each of us. Sometimes the change is because we find ourselves taking care of spouses, parents, or grandparents. Sometimes it is because we find ourselves as the ones who are in need of care.

The world is changing around us, our lives are changing around us, and they are changing faster than we can adapt or even make sense of. It is all so much. It is all too much. Awash is a sea of chaos and clamor, we feel overwhelmed. I find myself longing to sit on that mountain top again, resting in the presence of God. I wonder if you feel the same way too.

I don’t know for sure how Peter, James, and John felt as they climbed the mountain that day with Jesus, but I suspect that they were starting to feel a bit overwhelmed. They had all been on the road a lot, and Jesus’ confrontations with the religious leaders had been increasing lately. What’s more, Jesus had begun talking about how he was going to be betrayed and killed, and he had told his disciples that if they were going to follow him, they too would have to take up their own cross and lose their life. It was getting to be intense; it was a lot for them to take in.

I don’t know how they felt as they climbed the mountain, but I do know how they felt as they stood, bathed in the divine presence at its peak. “Lord, it is good that we are here!” Peter exclaimed. Indeed, it was good. They did not want to leave. They could have stayed there for the rest of their lives.

God meets us on our mountaintops in those times in our lives when we feel most vulnerable, most brittle, most ready to snap under the strain. God comes to us in those times to bring us healing and wholeness. When the changing, shifting sands of our lives threaten to shake us from our feet, God comes and invites us to reconnect to the unchanging foundation of creation itself.

But we are not meant to stay on that mountaintop. The disciples wanted to stay there, awash in God’s glory, but they still had work to do. Jesus was still walking on the way to the cross. And each of them still had their own path to the cross to walk as they proclaimed the Gospel in the time after the resurrection. They still had the work that God had given them to do, so up there on that mountaintop they received three commands. Listen. Get up. Don’t be afraid.

Listen. In the cacophony of voices competing for our attention, listen for the quiet, clear voice of Jesus calling us by name. If we are to be his disciples, it is the only voice that matters.

Get up. When we are crushed by the weight of the world, by the burdens of our life, and we feel unable to make the next move, much less begin tackling all that is before us, Jesus comes and pulls us back to our feet, and reminds us to center ourselves again on what matters.

Do not be afraid. Before the enormity of the change in our lives and our world, we can easily feel inadequate, even powerless to the work at hand. It is fear that immobilizes us; incapacitates us. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus instructs, because we do not do this alone, because God will complete what we cannot. Do not be afraid, because we rely on God, and God will not fail us.

When we have been brought low, when we are at our wit’s end, when we feel like we are about to break, God meets us on the mountaintop. God meets us there that we might find rest and strength. Then, with three words, God sends us out again, for we are not meant to remain in that holy place.

Listen. Get up. Do not be afraid. We are sent out, fed, to do the work that God has given us to do, loving and serving as faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Preached by Adam Yates