Ghost Ranch(Chimney rock is to the left) is one of the places where I go to commune with God. The marvolous mesa’s, the mountains, the rainstorms, the experience of being with people, who I can be with whether we are painting a sunset, writing a poem, worshiping God, or walking the labryth. Being in this place is always a mountain top experience for me.
Being in Massachusetts this past summer was a mountain top experience for me, as I co-officiated with my wife the wedding of my oldest neice. I was not literally on a mountain, but the high I felt in the fellowship of my family and their friends, made the moment a precious moment in time. Then to be able to go back a month later to Orange, where I was born, and co-officiate with the pastor of the Orange United Methodist Church the service I wrote for my parents 50th anniversary, this was too a mountain top experience. This was the church I was baptized it some 49 years ago, it was where my grandfather preached before I could really understand, where my grandmother and I preached together while I was on break from college, where I helped with the funeral services of my grandmothers and one grandfather. All of these are to remind us today, of those mountain top experiences of our lives, of the times we have had the experience of glory, of joy, of peace almost too hard to put in the words. I am aware that for some, our mountain top experiences are only hills compared to others experiences. I would not compare my awesome moments to someone like Tiger Woods, President Bush, or the New England Patriots, but that is not the point. It is important that we all celebrate, we all get high, not on drugs, or alcohol, but the experience of being human at its finest.
Today is the day of transfiguration, a theological term hard to define, and even harder to get our minds around. Jesus takes Peter James and John to the mountain top, and perhaps this is something we can get our mind around. Jesus you see had something to teach them there, he had to teach them that his purpose in life was about to undergo a radical transformation. He no longer was to be the teacher, rabbi, master they had come to love, although Jesus was all of these things. No, Jesus was about to be revealed as something quite different, something even more glorious than they could imagine.
In these past few weeks, we have gone from celebrating Jesus’ birth, to this moment in his life when he is all grown up, and now stands ready to reveal the deeper purpose, the one in which is boldly proclaimed in John: God So loved the world, God gave us his only begotton son....
Wow, now that is an experience these three would never forget, they went up to the mountain knowing Jesus one way, but came down knowing Jesus at even a deeper level than they could imagine.
Isn’t that true with our mountain top experiences? Isn’t part of what it means to have this kind of profound experience is to be changed, inspired, strengthened in some way that sheds a whole new light on our lives, on life in general?
We have been following the book, by Henry Nouwen about being the beloved. Discovering our status as God’s beloved is the truest form of a mountain top experience we can have. We discover in seeing ourselves as loved by God, as Nouwen says,
“We are God’s chosen ones and I mean that we have been seen by God from all eternity and seen as unique, special, precious beings”. ( p. 53)
But the mountain top experience is not just about me!
There is a second dynamic that plays out in those precious moments, we discover that we are not only chosen by God, but we are to be the bread for the world.
Yesterday, at the worship service I attended with several of our leaders from this church at the Covina UMC. Our district supertindent, Adiel DePano,issued this challenge, to step outside of our comfortable way of doing things, and bear fruit for the Kingdom in the community, get out from the four walls of our church and make disciples for Jesus Christ, for the transformation of the world! If this does not become our most sacred task, than we might as well be any other organization in the community. We however have seen Jesus on the mountain top, we have met him there, and he calls us to do the tasks of transforming the world.
Now I must say there is one part of the mountain top experience that is does not feel so good. I love ghost ranch, I love Massachusetts, I love my family, and yes I love you, and I love celebrating the mountain top experiences with those I love, but there is a time when we have to come down the mountain. Peter, James and John want to set up shop right there on the mountain, let us build memorial buildings right there. We can relate, it is hard to come down the mountain, and face our daily tasks once again, it is hard to come down from this mystical and magical moment.
I know I am sad when I have to say goodbye, to leave the places I had such wonderful times, but I know too that I cannot stay there, that the calling of God tugs at my heart. Jesus knows he cannot stay there, he has a mission to accomplish, he needs his disciples by his side to help accomplish that mission, so they can’t stay either and so that sad moment comes when you go back to reality.
And so you do, and you go back to work but the good news is that the mountain top experience goes with us. Again Nouwen says it this way: “When our deepest truth is that we are the Beloved and when our greatest joy and peace come from fully claiming that truth it follows that this has to become visible and tangible in the ways we eat and drink, talk and love, play and work”( Ibid. p. 47)
There comes a time when we do put into practice in our daily living the truth we experienced on the mountain top, weddings are followed by the hard work of learning to live together, and be a family, worship is followed by the hard work of making disciples, and following the disciplines that keep us connected to God, graduations are followed by the anxiety of wondering who will hire us, and starting our careers, our experience of accepting the Lord into our hearts and lives, is followed by the hard work of service and sacrifice. Yet, even then, even in the most tedious moments, that glory we have experienced on the mountain top drives us forward with courage and joy, and usually when we least expect it we get another rush of God’s love that fills us with enthusiasm once again.
There is sadness too when the disciples discover Jesus’ deeper mission. We know the rest of the story, we know the suffering that is to come, and how hard this will be on the people that Jesus loves, how hard it is even now for us to hear, of how much pain Jesus endured, ridicule, abandonment, prosecution. We wish Jesus could of stayed up on the mountain top, safe free from the doubters and the injustice. But God does not stay safe up in heaven some where, rather God is here, God is suffering because we suffer, God cares even about those we can’t seem to care for. John Wesley our founder of the Methodist moment, did not stay in his safe town, but traveled extensively, and declared at one point the world is my parish, as United Methodists we follow in that tradition, caring for not just ourselves, not just for those close to us, but for those whom we do not even know their names, who suffer because they do not have enough bread, who are murdered, those who are mistreated. It is not an easy task, but this is the inevitable result of going to the mountain top, you will be changed from selfishness to selflessness. And so, Jesus experiences pain, and unfortunately when we follow Jesus, we experience pain, as we work with those who suffer.
And yet even as we lose the self we once knew after we have been to the mountain top, we find a promise that will satisfy our souls. “God has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity!” (Ibid. 58)
The rest of the story, the story of Easter, the story of how love overcomes death, how nothing can seperate us from God, how no one can cancel our belovedness, this promise keeps our spirits from bottoming out from despair as we go through the difficult and impossible experiences of life. This is the ultimate mountain top experience, coming to the acceptance that death is not greater than love.
As we move now into the life of Jesus and his journey from the mountain top, to the cross to resurrection, let us take the glory we have received and stay close to God
Let us keep looking for the love, practicing the love and celebrating the love of God as we move from the celebration of Jesus’ birth to his ministry to holy week and Easter. As Bishop Swenson reminded me this week, let us practice the three simple rules of Wesley:
(Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love With God.)