February 7, 2016 – Listen to him, look to him

Transfiguration Ps 99, Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Corinthians 3:3-18, Luke 9:28-36

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High on the mountain… We glimpse the glory of God in the face of Jesus transfigured, his clothes dazzling white. Moses and Elijah of old, also in glory, representing the law and prophets of Israel, conferring with Jesus… Then vanishing in the cloud…

Peter wants to translate this revelation into something safer, more suitable for habitation…

But the voice of God comes from the cloud, silencing him…

And he and James and John say nothing of this experience till much later…

And as the glory recedes into cloud and memory… and we head back down the mountain…

I’ve been thinking of mountain top experiences…

And prompted by last Friday’s snow, and the wondrous sight of trees hanging heavy with blazing whiteness… I’ve been remembering…Climbing Mt Jackson in New Hampshire’s White Mountains with my friend John Fitch, both of us then just a few months out of high school. John already a seasoned mountain-climber, who’d climbed all of New Hampshire’s (46) 4000-footers, most of them more than once, was now into climbing them all in winter. He was the guide, I the disciple, following…

Our base camp was his aunt and uncle’s place in Northern New Hampshire. John got me out on snowshoes for my first time for a practice run, stepping around in a field, the day before we were to climb. Using ski poles to balance in the deep snow…Getting used to backpacks stuffed with food, water, extra clothing…

Next morning we were up by five and out on the road…Snow was falling steadily. We parked at the foot of the mountain, and began climbing before full daylight. It was near the winter solstice; days were short. John knew how long the climb should take. He kept his eyes on his watch all day, to be sure we’d be back down before dark.

But I don’t remember thinking at all about time – or much of anything except the startling brightness – far as we could see – everything covered in clear, bright, brilliance….

Soft powder snow kept falling, silently, through the day – calm, incredibly graceful… Strangely beautiful…

We climbed in steady, step-step, step-step rhythm going up… Speaking only a little to save energy… Making only quick stops to eat…

Snow continued falling…Winds blowing snow from trees in bright flurries. We could see only a few hundred feet. No long views for us from the summit when we got there.

No voice spoke from out of the cloud…

But we were caught up in clouds of almost frighteningly bright snow… Making me now think of disciples of old gazing at the dazzling brightness of Jesus…

I was agnostic at the time. Even so, I had a glimpse of the glory of God, I believe… in the beauty of God’s handiwork on the mountain…

I didn’t know a thing about prayer in those days – yet I was in a deep meditative rhythm, resembling, in retrospect, slow silent prayer…I believe I was sensing somehow the presence of God… Though I didn’t yet know there was a God… (We don’t need to know God… for God to be present, of course…) And we were touched by the presence of the Holy… Though I didn’t know yet how to name holiness…

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Descending the mountain, our feet fell into quicker, swifter rhythms… Step-step, step-hop-and-slide… Stepping around the corners of the switch-back trail, gliding down straight-stretches… in deep, crisp, dry-powder snow….

We arrived back at the road just before dark. All the drive back to near Boston, snow kept falling… About two feet in all… The drive home took maybe seven hours, at 25 miles an hour… Passing quite a few cars off the road on either side of the highway, stuck in snow banks. Driving slow, we arrived calm, and wide awake… Still caught up in the beauty and glorious mystery of the mountaintop experience…

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I wish I could tell you my whole life turned around, then and there….Well, perhaps this time on the mountain prodded me into starting to search more… into the meaning of life and of God. But this wasn’t anything like a quick fix…And…

It comforts me a little to remember… It took Jesus’ first disciples awhile to start to understand also. Even there on the mountain, looking straight at Jesus in glory, Peter’s first instinct is to try to freeze-dry the moment, and turn revelation into condominiums…

And when the disciples get back down to level ground, and are again immediately facing situations they still don’t know how to deal with… They continue to make plenty of mistakes… (Review Luke’s gospel, where we’ll be reading most of this year…) It takes a lot of practice for them to start to remember, on an everyday basis, what the voice of God says on the mountain –

This is my Son – Listen to him!

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Most of us will never hear that voice speaking alound as disciples did long ago. Yet we can hear Jesus… Since he tells us (in John 14) that the Holy Spirit will remind us of all he has said. And the word of God in Psalm 19 tells us: The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. God’s creation testifies to the glory of God…(and…)

The psalmist also tells us – There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Yet their voice goes forth through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.. It takes good listening to hear… the word that is not heard.. Though it goes out to all the earth…

And like Peter and the other first disciples, I know I’m not always listening well. Like Peter, I still often want to see Jesus in resurrection glory… without the cross… I want mountaintop experience with Jesus… without the climb.

But the voice of God keeps saying – “Here’s my Son. Listen to him.” Learn his ways. Walk with him, up and down the mountain…Often…

The mountain, the cloud, and blazing glory are all reminders of Israel’s heritage. Moses first meets God in the blazing bush at the foot of the mountain. Later he ascends the mountaintop, listening, in the cloud of presence, forty days and nights to God… Receiving the law, etched on stone tablets, while Israel camps below. The voice of God thunders, the mountain is (as if) all ablaze with glory. Israel is afraid to listen or look. Only Moses can fully enter into God’s presence.

When he comes down from the mountain the face of Moses shines so brightly that he veils himself. Perhaps to remind us – its God’s presence, not his face, that’s holy…

The prophet Elijah also spends forty days and nights on the mountain. He listens… As the voice of God now comes as a still small voice… A whisper, not a shout…

Jesus alone is the light of God. His light is the light that shines in the darkness in the beginning… The light that illumines the city of God at the end of time. The resurrection light shining in this preview through Jesus on the mountain is the most extraordinary mountaintop experience there is…

Till we get to Mt Calvary…

And now in Christ, as St Paul tells us, our mountaintop experience is about attitude… not altitude. If we’re not listening to Jesus we can be on Mt Everest and still be a million miles from God. But if our hearts, minds, eyes, and ears are attuned to Jesus… We can be on the mountain wherever God leads us…

Mountaintop experience is about transformation, not information.

The apostle Paul reworks the story of the shining face of Moses… To let us know we too are being transformed into the image of God, as we look to Jesus…

Being close to God was never meant to be reserved just for the spiriutal elites – Moses, Elijah, the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples. (When we read all Paul’s letters, we see he’s never disrespecting Moses or Elijah. They blaze the trail he follows. They help the apostles and even Jesus himself explain and interpret Jesus.) The apostle’s point here is that spiritual formation is for transformation… Which is the daily work of all believers, everywhere…

And… The more we encounter the holiness of God –

The more we realize the limits of language…

The more we know our need for both holy Scripture and direct experience of God…

The more we know we need both, And..

The work of faith for transformation is still huge –

And mysterious…

And beautiful…

As a walk in fresh bright snow with Jesus…

Looking to him.

Listening to Him…

Here is our mountaintop experience.

Thanks be to God. Amen.