Down the Mountain

Preached on Transfiguration Sunday (2/10/13) at Head of Christiana PC

Exodus 34:29-35

Luke 9:28-43a

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things were made through the Word, and without the Word was not anything made that was made. 
In a wave of wonder,
in an extravaganza of imagination,
in a roar of deafening waters,
in a drum roll of thunder,
God said let there be Light!
and the dazzling sun of Day
made her entrance,
singing her song of Life.
Then in a stunning display of fireworks,
lightning leaping in bolts,
stars hurling through ink black sky,
moon floating above,
the Light of Night took her bow.
The stage was set.
Right from the beginning
the Word was there,
with God.
The Word was God.
And without the Word not anything
was made that was made. 
Day and Night,
darkness and light,
waters and land,
trees and living plants,
animals and birds,
and people,
all created by God. 
Right from the beginning
the Word of God
was spoken in miracles.
Right from the beginning,
in the light of God’s love,
the people of God
were created for
covenant keeping.
I will be your God
and you will be my people.
Right from the beginning
the Word was Light
and the Word was Life.
Right from the beginning
God’s people were invited
to walk in the way of the Word.
God saw that it was good.
It was very good. 
Until, that is, somebody
left the door open in paradise,
and Death walked on stage
and turned off the light. 
Somebody or somebodies thought
they didn’t have to listen to God,
thought they didn’t need
to keep covenant.
Call them by whatever
names you like:
Adam, Eve, the neighborhood snake;
it’s all the same.
God’s people had been entrusted
with earth and stars
and all living things,
and yet it wasn’t enough.
Something gnawed away
at the souls of God’s people
and they broke covenant…
right there in the beginning…
and again…
and again…
and again. 

There’s a lot of poetry in the bible, and for good reason.  There are times when the simple facts of who, what, when, and where just can’t capture the reality of a mystical and often mysterious God.  So we turn to poets, ancient and modern – like the contemporary Presbyterian poet Ann Weems – and in words of metaphors and imagination, somehow we start to get to the truth of these moments that just defy rational explanation.

Our story today is one of those moments.  It’s known as the story of Transfiguration, and it has baffled theologians and stumped preachers for centuries.

It is one of those rare moments when all the pretenses of reality fall away and a true face is revealed: when the frog or the beast becomes a prince, when that friend you’ve known for years becomes the most beautiful person in the world, when just for a moment the face of God shines into the middle of an ordinary day.  And Peter and James and John get to see that face, and it is good.  Just for a moment, the light of the Word, of the miracle of creation bursts forth again into a world that has mostly forgotten it.  When God says, yes, I’m still here!  I haven’t forgotten you.  Miraculous things still happen.

But of course we don’t get to see it the way they did – in fact, we don’t get very much at all.  “His face changed,” “his clothes became dazzling white,” and it is up to us to imagine the contours of that face that revealed his glory.

It is a face that heals, and a face that feeds multitudes; it is a face that causes the rulers of the world to quake in fear and confusion, a face that asks impossible things; it is a face that sends us out into the world with nothing but the clothes on our backs and the gospel on our lips – and we go, gladly, because even though these words are strange (the last shall be first?) we go, because there’s just something about that face.

And then we come back, and like Peter we want to stay.  We want to build buildings, and just stay here, with the glory of God shining; and resting in the traditions of our ancestors to build shrines to them.  But it’s good here!  And it is good here, and it has been good here.  We have seen something special, felt something holy, and sometimes we just want to sit down together and bask that in.

And it is good.  Jesus is always going up mountains, just like Moses kept going up mountains, because that’s where they found God.  That’s where God made promises to the people, and sometimes people remembered the promises we made to God.

But there’s always a crowd waiting at the bottom of the mountain.  The people are desperate, clamoring for the Divine words, for a healing touch.  For God to look upon them again.  For something they can’t quite describe, but which tugs at their hearts like a forgotten story.  And of course we’re there at the bottom of the mountain, sometimes, too – when we just can’t seem to make it all the way up into God’s presence, when the old answers don’t quite fit, when life feels so big and heavy that God must be impossibly far away.  We know how that goes, too.

No one ever told Peter, no, don’t build a house here on this mountaintop.  But as soon as the voice of God booms out in the cloud, Moses and Elijah are gone and it is back to business as usual – or as usual as it gets, with Jesus around.  The blinding specialness of the moment has passed, and no one needs to build tents for ancestors who have vanished.  So perhaps they could stay, but the gesture feels a little hollow.  And anyway, that Light that is the presence of God was never meant to be kept up and away in the holy places.  That Light is for all the people, and runs through all the people like a golden thread tying us back to our creator God.

So we can look around, in this holy place, rich in the knowledge of all we have seen and heard and felt, and learned of who our God is and who it is that walks among us.  And we could rest in this vision – yes, Moses was here and don’t you remember how he used to get all tongue-tied with those holy words; and Elijah too, he used to sit just there, and oh I loved to hear him sing – and know that our ancestors’ blessing is upon us and just stay and remember… but that moment is gone.  The blinding glory of that vision was just too brilliant to last very long.  We blink our eyes and wonder what it is that just happened, exactly, and with our hearts full of inexplicable God-ness there is nothing else to do but walk down that mountain.  Walking in silence, in reverence, because sometimes there just are no words.

The crowds are waiting, and the loudest shouts are not demands to see our credentials, not interested in the visions of Moses and Elijah, but desperate cries for healing, for presence – for love.  Teacher, look upon my son.  Look upon him – with that face which glows with a mysterious something – be present with him and with us.  And it is then, only then, when everyone saw the greatness of God, and was astounded.

 * * *

We bear on us, within us, a great gift.  We have felt the presence of our God.  In countless different ways, at different times and places, and maybe that’s a very new thing or maybe it’s been years since we were knocked to our knees with the presence of the Almighty or maybe it’s no more than the faintest whisper underneath our consciousness.  Maybe we don’t even realize it, but it shows.

When we step out of our holy places, we are changed.  We walk down the mountain, and like Moses our faces will shine and they will know we have spoken with God.  With faces upturned, we look to each other longing to see one another, truly.  We search out the glow of something special, written on the faces of those around us, and we clasp hands and speak words of love.  And in that, God is glorified.  “The world was created in miracles.  Surely there are miracles yet to come.”


* The opening poem and the ending quotation are taken from Ann Weems’ poem “The Word of God.”

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