Deuteronomy 34:1-8, Matthew 17:1-9
February 3, 2008
“To the Mountaintop” Being ski season, this is the time of year when that has a whole different meaning for me! One great thing about living in Kansas all that time was that it was right next to Colorado! (Maybe you never realized that before!) Take my word for it. It is. And over those years, I got to see (and ski!) some incredible places! Yes, it was a bit of a drive – around 8 hours or so. But remember, that’s the “wide open plains” out there. (Where the deer and the antelope play!) And folks out there think nothing of driving that kind of distance.
It was a bit of a drive. But it was worth it, to get to some of the most beautiful places on the planet! By the way, something else you might not have known is that most of Colorado is as flat as Kansas. I know that may seem strange to you. But it is. It’s high plains in the eastern half of the state! But, then when you pass Lymon Colorado on I70, you can start to see Pikes Peak. And then, not long after that, you can see the front range of the Rocky Mountains. And that is an unbelievable sight!
I’ll never forget the first time I saw those mountains. It was 1971 and I was flying to California with my family. And after several hours, we approached the Rockies at thirty-some thousand feet, in absolutely crystal clear weather. And I’ll always remember how unbelievable it was that such mountains even existed!
I love that area, and I’ve been there many times! I love being up in the high country in places like Dillon, Frisco, Breckenridge, and Estes Park, places where the whole town is above 10,000 feet! I love that feeling of the thin air in the lungs, and a little bit of lightheadedness that reminds you where you are. (But I also like being down here in the “thick air!”)
Well, I want you to think today about this idea of going ”to the mountaintop.” Because there is something about mountains that inspires the spirit. Being in high and lofty places has ever been a metaphor for spiritual highs. The “Purple Mountains’” do give us a sense of “Majesty” don’t they? (Especially above the fruited plains!) Throughout history, many of the great inspirational moments in the lives of God’s people have taken place on mountaintops.
Think about it. Think of the stories of the landing of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat. Think of the meeting of the people on mountain of God. Think of the burning bush, the Ten Commandments, the sermon on the mount. And remember how Jesus himself would often go up on the mountains, when he needed to be alone and to rejuvenate his spirit. And we use that same metaphor of the “mountaintop experience” in our lives, don’t we?
I’ve chosen to read two different mountaintop stories today. Our Old Testament lesson was not one that came from the lectionary, but one I chose myself. Because this is the story of the last time Moses went to the mountaintop.
Remember, Moses had been to the mountaintop many times before. He had been to the holy mountain where he had spoken with God. And he had gone to the mountaintop to receive the tablets of the Law. (Twice!) Now he was on this mountain called Pisgah, and he was finally looking across the Jordan river into the promised land! And even though he wouldn’t be entering that land, I still have to think this was a huge spiritual high for him!
I know sometimes we see this scene as one of bitter disappointment. Moses almost made it! He led the people for 40 years. And he came so close! But he never made it into the promised land! But the more I think about it, the more I think that, for him, just seeing the promised land after all those years was the mountaintop experience! Remember how Martin Luther King referred to this scene in his famous speech. “I have been to the mountaintop!” he said. “I have seen the promised land!” (He never entered his promised land, either! Did he!)
In our New Testament Lesson, we read the story of the next time Moses was seen on the mountaintop. This story, of course, is the subject of this day. This was the Transfiguration. This is the story where Jesus took his closest disciples and went up on the mountaintop and there they had this vision. There they saw Moses again! And this became a very important event.
We should take note of the fact that this is a “four Gospel Story.” As I’ve said before, the Gospel writers included different stories of Jesus for various reasons. Sometimes they duplicated, sometimes they didn’t. But when a story is told in all four Gospels, we had better understand it as something very important! This is one of those. This is a “mountaintop experience” for both Jesus and his disciples, both of whom needed some extra inspiration for difficult times ahead.
As we think about this story today, I’d like you to think about and remember your own mountaintop experiences. In the days ahead, I’d like you to continue to think about them, and perhaps even talk about them. So far this year, I’ve asked you to remember the beginnings of your faith. I’ve asked you to consider your call. I’ve asked you to think about the “Foundations” of your faith. Now I’d like you to think about your faith journey. And I’d like you to think particularly about the “high points” – those times along the way when you’ve been “to the mountaintop.”
Take a moment to think about that now. Close your eyes, if you need to. Think about some of those times in your faith journey when you’ve been “to the mountaintop.” Perhaps it was on a retreat, or at Summer camp. Perhaps it was at Kirkwood! There have been many mountaintop experiences at that place over the years! I know. I’ve had a few of my own there!
Perhaps some of your mountaintop experiences were times when you heard God speaking directly to you, maybe through a certain speaker or preacher. Sometimes some of you come to me and you say, “Hey, I don’t know about the rest of the people, but I felt like you were speaking directly to me today. It was as though I were the only one here!” (How many have ever felt that way?) That’s a mountaintop experience in a way, isn’t it? And it’s one I’ve felt it myself on a number of occasions!
Some of the most memorable and powerful experiences for me were those times early on when I was considering the call of God to the ministry! I remember how God’s call on my life was confirmed in many ways, and how I often heard his voice directly through the voice of other people! So I learned in those days to consider that someone else’s voice may just contain a little of the divine!
Perhaps you’ve experienced the mountaintop at a time of great trial in your life. Maybe that was a time when you were going “through the valley,” and you realized the incredible power of God’s presence in dark times! I know there were some of those moments for me, too. Though I have to say they are a little harder to discern. But think of Old Elijah for a moment. He had a number of mountaintop experiences. And one of them took place in the midst of an earthquake, a mighty wind, and the blazing fire. And through all that tumult, he was able to hear the very voice of God in that still small voice! Maybe that’s been your experience.
I believe we all have mountaintop experiences. I believe we all need mountaintop experiences! And we need to look for them! And I believe God gives them to us intentionally. He gives us those times of special inspiration where we go beyond our ordinary patterns of simply “learning about him. And he gives us those times when he excites our minds, and stirs our hearts, and sometimes breaks us down to our knees.
And we’re not alone. In fact, most of the times in scripture, when the Lord calls someone, he gives them some kind of “spiritual vision.” – almost like a spiritual “shot in the arm.” Think about it. Think of the vision of Abraham. The burning bush of Moses. The vision of Isaiah in the temple. The blinding light of the Apostle Paul. And then think of this vision of Jesus Transfigured before Peter, James, and John.
They needed this. As bumbling and as inept as these disciples seemed, this was for them. They needed to know who this Jesus really was! They needed to know they were “backing the right horse.” They needed to know the vision and the scope of God’s kingdom – a vision greater than their own – so they could be greater than they were! These disciples, and of course all the disciples since then – including us – needed this vision of Jesus in his true divine form.
I have to think that in someway, Jesus needed this, too. In his “humanness” I’m sure he had times of doubt and uncertainty. And now he was about to take on the most difficult task of his ministry. And in ways we can’t begin to fathom, it was an important thing for him to talk to these two great men, Moses and Elijah. And in Luke’s Gospel, it even tells us what they were talking about. They were discussing the importance and the significance of his “departure in Jerusalem.”
Jesus went to the mountaintop – often. His disciples were taken to the mountaintop and shown his glory. I believe all of (us) his disciples need to go to the mountaintop. It is those experiences that give us inspiration and perspective on all things. We need to remember them. We need to seek them on a regular basis. We need to put ourselves in a position where God can give us those mountaintop experiences. So, remember your journey, and be determined to continue that journey, always seeking God, ever ready to go “to the mountaintop.”
Eternal God, we need the vision in our lives that only you can give. Help us to see beyond our world. Help us to see the larger world of your kingdom. Inspire our hearts to greater service to each other, and deeper devotion to you. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.