Sermons

Exodus 34:29—35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12—4:2; Luke 9:28—43

 

One moment, they are top of the mountain, Jesus is transfigured before them, shining in the radiance of God’s presence and assurance.  Moses and Elijah are there, too, though only for a moment.

 

The next day, they are in the midst of a crowd, confronted by illness and a desperate father seeking healing for his only child.  Jesus responds with a rebuke -- of the crowd, his disciples, and then of the demon.

 

“You faithless and perverse generation!  How much longer must I be with you and bear with you?”  Harsh words from Love incarnate.

 

Jesus’ descent from the mountain into the crowd marks a stark turning point in the Gospel.  For all Jesus’ travels around, his itinerant teaching, from this moment on, he is headed toward Jerusalem, where he would meet his end in a violent and very public way.

 

One moment, he is, quite literally, as high as he can get, enjoying an experience of assurance by God, enjoying as great a closeness with God as one could imagine.

 

The next day he is, once again, surrounded by the incredible need and overwhelming apathy in the world.  Suddenly, that assurance, that closeness feels miles away. Maybe even further away than that, since he had just known such a powerful connection with and vision of, the glory of God.

 

This is an experience I understand.  This is a parallel to my own lived experience.  This mountain-top to valley paradigm is one I know well.

 

 

My earliest memory of such an experience was in Junior High school.  In the Diocese where I grew up, we had a retreat for young people called Happening.  Perhaps you went on such a retreat.

 

It was a three day experience for teenagers led by teenagers that was a full-immersion experience into the magnitude of God’s love for each one of us, expressed in a multitude of ways.  It was a love-fest. It was 72 hours of unapologetic “God loves you and so do I.”

 

Like Peter in today’s Gospel, I could have stayed there forever.  I, too, would have built boothes in a desperate attempt to keep that experience going forever.

Sunday afternoon, my parents brought me home and I was flying.  I am almost positive my face was shining. I probably looked almost transfigured before them.

 

And then Monday morning happened.  And I remember it just as well, perhaps even more clearly, as the weekend before it.

 

Park View Junior High School had an enormous lobby where everyone would gather before the first bell rang and we were unleashed to our first class of the day.  Imagine 750 students in a room about the size of this sanctuary.

 

I remember standing in that room and wondering why everything seemed like it had changed.  I felt like one of those characters in a movie where everyone around them is moving in fast motion; talking to each other, laughing exaggerated laughs while I stood in the middle of it all, suddenly aware of how much pain and suffering there was around me--what a far cry this lobby was from the chapel where I had said goodbye to my friends less than 24 hours before.

 

This experience would play itself out multiple times in my life.  There was the day I was sitting on the Red Line just weeks after my ordination to the priesthood, and I became suddenly overwhelmed by the front page of the Metro -- helpless to respond to the need and despair in the world; crashing after the mountain-top experience of my ordination -- a day of which I had dreamt since I was seven.

 

Or any Monday morning after an All Parish Retreat weekend takes me to this same place.

 

And there are more.  As I’ve preached before, most Mondays present themselves as smaller examples of the same experience.  The mountain-top experience of worship with all of you, in this place, with this choir, followed by the mundane tasks of Monday morning, the emails I’m behind in returning and the unrelenting news cycle.

 

Monday mornings are like this for many of us.  The experience we have of our weekend, whatever that is, makes the harshness of Monday morning all the more real.  I actually learned a new word about this; “Smonday.”

Smonday is “that moment when Sunday stops feeling like Sunday and the anxiety of Monday kicks in.”  Perhaps you know what Smonday feels like. Maybe I am triggering it for you right now. Don’t worry, the Pancake brunch and Talent Show after church will bring you right back up the mountain.

 

So I am grateful that Jesus’ mountain-top experience is followed by his not-so-patient outburst on the next day.  It tells me that an experience of the closeness of God does not insure there won’t be days when I will wonder where God has gone.

 

It tells me, in fact, the more experiences I have of what living in the Kingdom of God might look like, the more I glimpse pieces of the Dream God has for the world, the harsher the world in which I live might look.

 

It’s the mountain top experiences that remind me, remind us, that poverty is not normal; apathy is not normal; suffering is not part of God’s dream for the world; isolation, competition, desperation are not how God longs for us to be.

 

And we are given glimpses, by the grace of God, in the face of Jesus Christ, of what it feels like to bask in the radiance of God such that our faces burn.

 

But we are not meant to stay on the mountain.  We must, at some point, journey back down into the world, where we will be confronted with the reality of the world until we are, again, confronted with the reality of God on the next mountain top we are given.

 

Our habit is to look at these two experiences as disproving the existence of the other.  It is the either/or to the both/and into which we are invited. Life is either the mountain top, or it is the valley below.  When, in fact, it is both.

 

It is in the challenging experiences of life where God meets us and takes us by the hand to the top of the mountain.  I imagine that day at the end of the gospel story was a mountain top experience for that child and his father.

 

And it is our experiences of the revelations of God’s grace and love that we are meant to carry into the world, to sustain us for the work of confronting the world as it is, to transform it into the world God hopes it might someday be.

 

Don’t let the work left to do in the world convince you no work has been done.  And don’t let the work that has been done in the world convince you there is no work left to do.

 

Jesus is there on the mountain top, as fully as he is there in the crowd below.  Jesus is here as fully as he will be over pancakes and laughter, as fully as he will be walking into school tomorrow morning, or the office, the doctor’s appointment or reading the paper.  

 

So, tonight, when Smonday happens, or whenever Smonday does, know that God is there.  Mountain top and real world, God is there.

AMEN.

 

© 2019 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

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