Coming Down from the Mountain – May 21, 2023

Psalm 62:1-8, Acts 1:12-26
May 21, 2023

The disciples had been to the mountaintop with Jesus – for the last time!  Then, he was gone, and now they’ve come down from the mountain.  And I wonder if they were thinking, “What do we do now?”

A mountaintop has often been used as a metaphor for a great spiritual experience.  In some cases in the Bible, it literally was a mountaintop.  Moses went up to the mountaintop to meet with God.  Jesus took his disciples to the mountaintop where he was then “transfigured.”  Now they were on the mountaintop again.  This time it was the Mount of Olives, where they had just witnessed Jesus’ ascension, and yet another visitation of angels.  That was certainly a “mountaintop experience” literally on a mountain top!

Maybe you can think of the “mountaintops” in your own spiritual lives.  Maybe they were times at a place like Kirkwood.  There have been a lot of mountaintop experiences there!  I personally had a number of them there over the years!  In recent years, when I would speak to the campers on that first night of camp, I would always tell them that Kirkwood was “Holy Ground.”

The problem with such mountaintop experiences is that there’s always a “coming down from the mountain” experience.  When I was young, we used to call it the “post-retreat blues.”  I remember how we used to describe having that feeling of “What do we do now?”

Sometimes we can feel like our whole spiritual life is in that “coming down from the mountain” mode.  We can remember how we used to have times of “spiritual highs,” but they don’t seem to happen anymore.  And we’re wondering “what do we do now?”

Think about these disciples.  As I said, they were on the mountaintop with Jesus one last time, and now they were coming down from that spiritual experience, and I’m sure they had to be wondering what was next for them.  For one thing, they were told to wait.  Jesus said they were to wait in Jerusalem for the “Promise of the Father.”  And we understand that to be the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  But remember, they didn’t know what was going to happen!  We do, but they didn’t!

So they were to wait.  And today’s scripture lesson is about what they did while they were waiting.  And we see that they did a couple of things.  One thing they did well.  The other thing they did not-so-well – but with good intentions!  We’ll talk about that in a minute,

The first thing they did we find in verse 14.  “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer.”  That’s a good thing – obviously!  They prayed!  They stayed in touch with God.  That’s good because sometimes, after a mountaintop experience, we forget that.  We feel so close to God on the mountain, but when we come back down, we get back to the “regular things of life,” and we forget to stay close.  And then we wonder why we don’t feel close.  And remember that feelings sometimes betray us.  Just because we don’t feel close to God, does not always mean we aren’t close!

So, they devoted themselves to prayer.  The other thing they did, thing I think they did not-so-well, was they chose a disciple to replace Judas.  That seems odd to us, doesn’t it?  Maybe it wouldn’t seem so odd if we ever heard from this man Matthias again!  But we don’t.  So it seems like this was not God’s choice at all.  The other thing they did, which seems even more odd, is that they chose him by drawing lots.  That seems very odd to me!  But they meant well.  And I think we’re wrong if we think they were not being sincere in their spirituality at the time!

You see, we can mean well, and we can even feel very “spiritual” about something we’re doing, but we can still be “off track.”  Feelings can betray us that way, too.  We think, “If I’m feeling spiritual, whatever I’m doing must be right.”  But that’s not always the case, like it was with these disciples.

When we think about things like this we need to keep in mind the verse that I’ve talked about many times.  It’s a verse from I Corinthians 13.  There Paul wrote, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then, face to face.  Now we know in part.  Then, we shall understand fully, even as we have been fully understood .”  That’s so important!  Even when we feel very spiritual, we still see in that dim mirror! I’m sure that’s where we Presbyterians get our understanding of the principle that “People of good conscience can differ.”

That phrase, “We see in a mirror dimly,” comes in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, a letter in which he was trying to make sense – and order – about some very spiritual things that were happening in those days.  The very next chapter, chapter 14, was all about those “spiritual gifts” – things like “speaking in tongues” and prophesying.  Those things were causing chaos in the Corinthian church.  And that’s the chapter where we find what has become our Presbyterian motto, “that all things should be done ‘Decently and in order.’”  I think it’s interesting that he begins that chapter with the words, “Make love your aim, and seek the spiritual gifts.”  Those are appropriate words after all he had just written about love in chapter 13!

So those are good words for us, too.  We need to “Make love our aim, and seek the spiritual.”  I think that love grounds us!  Like Paul says, “If we speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, we are nothing!”  And in all things, we need to keep in mind our limited understanding.  “We see in a mirror dimly.”  Like those disciples, we don’t know what’s about to happen!  And we need to “check in with God” frequently!  Again, that’s the thing they did well while they were waiting.  “They devoted themselves to prayer.”

But they also acted.  They did things.  And we too need to “do things” in our spiritual lives.  You can’t steer a boat (or an airplane) until it’s moving!  We can’t just sit and wait for God to act.  These disciples didn’t!  And no, they didn’t seem to get this right, and neither will we always get things right.  And that’s ok.  But we need to act.  We need to step forward in our faith!

And then sometimes we need to go to the mountain.  We need to go to those places that inspire us, that remind us of the power and the goodness of our faith.  We need to do things that put us in a position were God can speak to us, and move us, and use us!  Sometimes if we move toward the mountaintop, God will take us there.  And sometimes if we climb the mountain, we will find him when we get there!

The last thought this morning is that, if you think about it, most of our lives are lived in those times between the mountaintops.  Isn’t that true?  And that’s ok.  As we think about that, we need to remember the last promise Jesus made.  He said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”  And I’m going to have that be a play on words today.  Maybe we can think of the “lo” as literally “low” – as in the low places between the mountaintops!  Jesus is with us there, too!

So think about these disciples.  Think about what was about to happen to them.  They were waiting on the Lord.  They were praying.  They were doing what they thought was right.  They were moving forward.  They were putting themselves in a place where God could speak to them, to empower them, and use them.  And so may we.

As we close, hear again these words from the end of Psalm 62.

“For God alone my soul waits in silence,
         For my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,
         My fortress. I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my deliverance and my honor,
         My mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people.
         Pour out your hearts before him.
         God is a refuge for us!”


Eternal God, help us to know that you are indeed with us always.  Help us to seek you with all our hearts.  Help us to have a sense of your presence, even in the time between the mountaintops.  Help us to know the Joy of being your people at all times of our lives.  For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.