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Mountaintop Experiences

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met [Jesus].” Luke 9:36 (NRSV)

Have you ever had a mountaintop experience?  If so, it may have been a spiritual retreat week-end, your marriage, receiving special recognition, having children, literally hiking a mountain to the top, walking the beach, a sudden revelation about something, a musical or dramatic performance with lots of applause, a good performance in some sporting event, or any number of times when your life was lifted up and in a really wonderful place.  What did it feel like?  How did you respond?  Then, what happened as you settled back into every day life and routines?  Let down?  Depression?  Disappointment that it hadn’t lasted?

Three of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, John, and James, went with Jesus up a mountain to pray.  While they were there, Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes – a dazzling, bright light coming from his clothes blinded him, and Moses and Elijah appeared in the midst of it to talk with Jesus.  Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (v. 35).  The three disciples were speechless at first, and they probably stumbled around inside their heads as to what to do next.  Peter eventually found his voice and suggested that they build booths to commemorate the event – much like we do when we take pictures of special events in our lives.

But Jesus didn’t want that, and God had clearly said to “listen!”  It was an amazing, awesome and awe-filled experience for those three mere mortals!  And as they came down the mountain from this magnificent, indescribable event in their lives, Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone!”  Excuse me?  Don’t tell anyone?  But . . . Jesus, come on, we just saw something fantastic here, and you don’t want us to share it with anyone?  Really?

Jesus knew they couldn’t comprehend the event until after his death and resurrection.  The entire experience was one of affirming Jesus’ identity as God’s Son – as God in the flesh.  So, they needed to see the whole picture before they could begin to share it with some understanding.

And then look at what happened after their mountaintop experience:  they came down the mountain to the same old thing – crowds pushing around Jesus and asking for healing.  It was the same dusty street, the same old, same old work, the same pressures, the same expectations and demands.  What a let-down!  Jesus jumped right into the routine without even missing a beat.  The disciples really DIDN’T get it!

We are like that too at times.  We go on vacation and have a great time, playing, eating, laughing, visiting family and friends, and we come back refreshed and renewed, rejuvenated and restored only to find that the same pile of work awaits us on our desk, the same problems are in our lives, the world is the same (or maybe even worse) than when we took a week or two off.  Rats!  Ugh!

Mountaintop experience, I think, are there for us to appreciate the opportunities we have in all of life.  When we experience God in a new way, we are transformed into new beings although the same on the outside and with our daily routines, we begin to discover the joys in all of life, in our every day, ordinary events and circumstances.  Vacations, mountaintop experiences, times when things are different can help us find ways to better live out our lives as God’s children.

If everything seems drab and tends to drag us down after some kind of wonderful event, maybe it’s worth our while to stop to think about what we learned and how we can bring it with us into our work, at home, in the marketplace, with our families and friends.  What can we take from the experience to make our lives better?  And then how can we help others to make a difference with them?  The mountain top prepares us for the valleys and we need both in our lives in order to live fully.  May you cherish the mountaintops and live in “shalom” in the valleys!  God bless.

From the Mountain

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and it’s people as a delight.”  Isaiah 65:17-18 (NRSV)

Isaiah’s proclamation from God is that God is creating new heavens, new earth, a new Jerusalem.  What does that mean?  The Hebrew people have been in exile, taken away from their homeland of Israel.  Those who longed for their homeland and for Jerusalem where they believed God resided became homesick, feeling that God had abandoned them.  They had been separated from loved ones and brought to another country to be enslaved or intermingled with the population of that country (depending on which country was holding them captive).

God’s promise was that they would be renewed, restored, and transformed.  Their anguish at being taken away from their homeland would turn to joy and delight as they would return home and all nations would look up to them.  Jerusalem would also be restored, and people would once again look up to Jerusalem (sometimes called Zion).  In the midst of the wilderness, Jerusalem is on a hill, so all roads lead upward to get to the Holy City.  The reuniting of the people with their homeland was a promise and a gift from God, in spite of the ways in which the Hebrew people had turned away from God and stopped following in God’s ways.  The promise of renewal and restoration gave them another chance, another opportunity to set the relationship with their Creator right.

The mountain top reminds us of the presence of God.  In the Bible, it is often where the significant encounters with the divine happen, such as Moses receiving the ten commandments, Jesus being transfigured, and Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  Today, we speak of a significant spiritual awakening or experience as a “mountaintop” experience.  We need the mountaintop encounters with God in order to live in the valleys and plains of life.  We have both mountaintop and valleys, and we recognize the wonderful things of life because we have walked through the valleys and lived on places where things seem at times to level out.

For example, one of my most powerful mountaintop experiences (I’ve been blessed to have many) was being in the land of Israel on a tour designed for pastors.  At first I was disappointed that so many churches had been built on the traditional sites of the life of Jesus, but eventually I began to absorb the idea that I was walking where Jesus walked (our tour guide said that we “ran” where Jesus walked because the tour was crammed into seven days instead of ten).  My most moving experience there may have been at the west wall of the Temple when I crammed a little wad of paper that contained the deepest prayer of my heart into a little hole in the wall.  There was a strong connection with my spiritual ancestors as well as the presence of God.  The women were over in one place, the men in another, and we were not allowed to speak out of respect for others who were there to pray.

I can’t say that the experience necessarily change my life, but it touched my heart and reminded me that we don’t have to travel to Jerusalem to be moved by prayers to our God.  God hears our prayers no matter where we are.  A mountaintop experience reminds us of the great love and abiding presence of God in our lives and God’s promises to “make all things new.”  God can take the worst circumstances and bring something new or transformed out of them.  At the time we are going through them, it may not seem that way, but like the Hebrew people in exile, we can trust God’s promise to bring renewal and help us “come home” to God.  We can trust God’s promise to point us in the right direction and find blessings even when things haven’t gone so well.

May we trust God’s promises and may we have mountaintop experiences so we can make it through the valleys.  Amen.

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