In the name of God who meets us atop mountains and dwells with us in the Valleys. Amen.
Mountains have come to have significant symbolic meaning to us in our daily lives. For some, mountains can represent obstacles we face, or challenges to overcome. While for others, the mountaintop is sacred and hallowed ground, it is where many literally go to meet God.
The image of the mountain is everywhere:
- It shows up in secular music, where Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and later Diana Ross and Michael McDonald sing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough…”
- In the fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the seven dwarfs mined for gold and silver in the mountains, and in the Disney version whenever they entered into the mountain caves, they would yodel and chant, “hiegh-ho…”
- In video-games, there are images of floating mountains, or the mountain would be level where the video game player would meet the final villain aka “final boss” level.
- If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, the Eye of Sauron is near Mount Doom in Mordor
The image of the mountain is everywhere:
- The image of the mountain shows up in a significant speech delivered by The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he said, “I just want to do God’s will. He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land…”
- Mountains are in our sacred texts,
- Mount Ararat was where Noah’s ark supposedly landed.
- Mount Moriah was where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac
- Mount Sinai was where Moses received the Ten Commandments…Twice
- Mt. Pisgah/Mt. Nebo was where Moses was able to look over and see the Promised Land, despite not being able to get there.
Mountains have significant meanings. They can represent challenges and they can represent reminders of the presence of God and what people have overcome.
Today in our Gospel, Jesus takes a few of his disciples up a mountain, where they see Jesus change before their eyes. We as the readers of this story, learn more deeply about Jesus’ mountaintop experience as witnessed by his disciples. In addition to the miracles and healings, Jesus’ transfiguration, is yet another way he shows his glory to the few who were with him.
The beautiful aspect of this story is that unless you were there, you have to lean into the mystery of it all. No one knows exactly how or what Jesus’ transfiguration looked or felt like, we are only left with, “His face shone like the sun…” Did you ever have one of those experiences where you encountered something so amazing, and you tried to describe to someone else, and they looked at you like you had two heads? Then you finally end the conversation by saying, “you had to be there.” I believe this is one of those “you-had-be there-type” moments.
Biblical scholars assert that Jesus’ mountaintop experience parallels the story of Moses, which we also heard today. Moses had many mountaintop experiences, but this encounter in particular, occurred when Moses received the tablets for the second time. Brief story… When Moses came down from talking with God on the mountain, his face too was all aglow. Moses’ face was so radiant, that Aaron and the Israelites were afraid to approach him, but he assured them to not be afraid. When Moses finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face, but he removed the veil when he went back up the mountain to speak with G-d. When Moses returned he was again radiant. Moses was transfigured.
It is said that Moses established the commandments of God, and that Jesus’ transfiguration was a renewal of that covenant. As Christians we take both into account, and all of this can be debated. However, a few things are for certain:
- Both Jesus and Moses went to the mountaintop,
- They experienced G-d in a transformative way,
- and they were both changed…
Because that’s what mountaintop experiences are supposed to do, they are meant to change us.
If you ascend a mountain literally or if you are faced with a metaphoric mountain in your personal lives, the process through which you encounter the mountain is meant to change you. Who scales a mountain or a trail and says, “I can’t wait to hike, so that I can return unaffected?” After a mountain experience you will never be the same.
What is your mountain today?
Is your mountain work
Is your mountain your health
Is your mountain personal relationships with each other? Or with God?
Where mountains pose challenges, we often pray for God to simply remove it or flatten it to make it easier for us to climb. Sometimes we need the relief, because we are tired, exhausted, or too frustrated to climb it. However, if we are able to take a moment to identify where God is in our mountain moments, maybe our trials won’t feel so heavy.
Today, on Transfiguration Sunday, we honor St. Stephen’s School, which in its inception had its own mountains. Our cathedral, Pat Cameron, clergy and lay leaders explored financial resources, building spaces, volunteers and teacher support in order to ascend this mountain. Every step of the way, there was a mountain to climb. But when we look around and see our students, families, staff, and board members, I believe that we are witnessing something like Jesus’ transfiguration. We are blessed by this mountaintop experience through the lives that bear witness to that hard work and mountain climbing.
Once we experience God’s glory, our lives are forever changed. Similar to the disciples and Israelites, it can be scary for us, but we do not have to be afraid.
It was only a few years ago, in 2017 that a pre-kindergarten class under the direction of Ms. Kelly McDonald, who has since relocated states, was taking a walk alongside the river with her class. The children observed some people who were living in poverty and without homes. These young pre-k students wanted to do something about AND they did.
Some of you may have noticed, that on the corner of Front and Cranberry Street, there stands a wooden box, with a clear plastic door, which we call “the food pantry.” The summer campers of 2017 were the first to fill the pantry and it continues to stand today. Members of our cathedral parish, the school and community, fill it with non-perishables to help feed those who are in need of some relief.
It is as a direct result of our students’ passion and the teacher’s guidance, that we have been able to give refreshment to hundreds of people who are hungry in this area. Ms. McDonald could have shrugged it off, turned away or made up an excuse as to why they couldn’t provide hospitality to those in need. She could have said, “I don’t have the energy or let’s leave this to the cathedral to do,” but Ms. McDonald heard the voices of her students, saw the need and they worked together to help. She and her class exemplified what it meant to be good stewards of God’s resources, they embodied the church. The pre-K students are now in the 2nd Grade.
I’m not sure if every single one of them is here, but I want to acknowledge the 2nd grade class today, for sowing this great seed.
We don’t have to climb mountains to see God, because God is at work in the world, right here, at our cathedral, in our Sycamore, in our school, and especially among our 2nd grade class.
If we’re honest with ourselves our faith communities are supposed to provide a mountaintop experience of sorts, a place where you can come expecting to be changed, expecting to see the face of God, expecting to feel inspired to want to spiritually transform, and more importantly to meet God here.
- We are to come expecting to have a change of heart
- We are to come expecting to have a change of mind
- We are to come expecting to repent and to do the work of reconciling our relationships-to forgive and to be forgiven.
We each have our mountains to climb…
My prayer for each of us today, is that no matter how many, or how high the mountains are that show up in our lives, may God always meet us there every step of the way and may you be forever changed in a way that is life-giving, in a way that will help you excel in your personal lives, and in a way that is loving to yourself and all people.