Luke 9:28-36 • February 10, 2013
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
I’m guessing that all of us have had what is commonly referred to as a “mountain top experience” at one time or another in our life.
A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in a First Call Theological Education Retreat for pastors in our synod at Metigoshe Ministries north of Bottineau. My drive from Bismarck to Minot was rather uneventful, some blowing snow, an occasional stretch of ice, freezing rain and sleet around Baldwin and Max. You know, pretty much normal seasonal driving conditions for North Dakota. As I left Minot though, I could see that there was change on the horizon.
Within minutes I drove into a dark cloud and for about 90 miles drove through some of the most dense fog I have ever experienced. Add to it snow, blowing snow, and ice and by the time I made it to the retreat center, I was glad that I had made it safely but somewhat unclear as to how I had actually gotten there.
As the retreat came to an end two and a half days later, I wasn’t ready to leave. But those of us who had gathered for a few days of rest and conversation about what God is up to in our congregations and around the world, couldn’t keep our tents pitched at the retreat center and stay on this mountain. We needed to go. During our time on the mountain that we know as Lake Metigoshe, we experienced the shining presence of God and were changed. It was time for us to head back down and return to the work that God had called us to do as a spouses and parents, friends, pastors, and children of God. But were we ready? I mean, couldn’t we just keep our tents pitched for one more day??
There is a true story of a truck driver named Larry Walters who loved to sit on his backyard lawn chair and look at the sky. Longing to fly. He had dreamt of flying for as long as he could remember, but never had the time or money to become a pilot.
One day in 1982, Larry had an idea. He decided to tie 45 helium-filled surplus weather balloons to his lawn chair and see if he could finally fulfill his dream of flying. He put a CB-radio on his lap, tied a couple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to his leg, and slung a BB-gun over his shoulder so he could pop the balloons when he wanted to come down. He lifted off the ground in his lawn-chair and hoped to get a few hundred feet in the air. But instead, he quickly shot up to 11,000 feet. To make things worse he had dropped his BB-gun during the unexpectedly rapid ascent into the skies over LA and ended up right in the middle of the approach corridor to the Los Angeles International Airport.
Eventually Larry was safely back on the ground. During a media interview, he was asked why he did it. “Well, you can’t just sit there.”, he said.
Then they asked him if he was scared. Rather calmly he answered, “Yes…wonderfully so.”
I think Jesus’ disciples Peter, James, and John may have answered in much the same way if the media had asked if they were scared after what they had just experienced on the mountain. To which, one would hope their reply would be, “Yes…wonderfully so.”
The Christian life is filled with mountain top experiences. They are experiences of amazing joy and satisfaction. Experiences of being together in community or simply sitting quietly alone. Experiences of breathtaking beauty or unconditional love. It’s tempting isn’t it? Tempting to want to just sit there. To pitch a tent and not want to leave.
We expect, or at least want, our journey as followers of the savior Jesus Christ to be made solely through these kinds of experiences. We want to bypass the chaos that we see in the communities we live in, the challenges that unexpectedly come before us, the uncertainty that each new day brings, the struggles that we hope we will be able to endure.
Pastor Lee Koontz reminded me of a well-known Hallmark-style proverb this week. You may have heard this before – “’life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.’ This may be true to some degree,” Pastor Koontz wrote in a reflection on our gospel today from Luke, “but it’s also true that life – especially the Christian one – continually calls us down from those breath-taking moments, down from the mountaintop. We are called to descend from our moments of profound glory, celebration, and joy, into the valleys of this world where life is messy, and challenging, and inhospitable.”
Often when others share their mountain top experiences with me, a life changing event that’s taken place, I’m struck by how stuck they are. They have pitched their tent after that one experience and haven’t moved off the mountain.
You see, our excuses, our own thoughts and ideas, and our plans for God are very different from where Jesus actually leads us. These experiences may be a little scary from time to time. In those times, may your words echo those of Larry Walters from that story I shared with you a few minutes ago when he was asked if he was scared while flying over LA on a lawn chair, “yes…wonderfully so.”
So – as you leave worship on this day that we call Transfiguration, are you ready to come down from the mountain?
Author Karen Ward says, “All of heaven breaks loose for us in the weekly assembly (she’s referring to our time together in worship), but we miss it” she says “if we are sleeping. (yes, I can see you)” Ward offers this challenge, “As we awake to God’s presence, let us not lock it away in booths of our own security and salvation. Instead of snoozing, let us be dazzled, opening our hearts to God’s presence, a source of courage, power and might that will motivate us to go out into the world and point others to God’s most brilliant light.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we say at every celebration of the sacrament of Holy Baptism at Good Shepherd, “May your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” May you be richly blessed this week as you come down from your mountain top experiences, step out of the tents that you have built, and freely share the radiant light of our savior Jesus Christ with everyone you meet. Amen.