Sermon for February 6, 2005 (Transfiguration/Boy Scout Sunday)
Scripture Reading: Luke 9:28-36
In the summer of 1998, only a couple of weeks after my Dad died, D. & I drove all the way to New Mexico with 10 youth to go on a 12-day backpacking trek at Philmont Scout Ranch -- just her & me, 6 teenage boys & 4 teenage girls.
We had chosen a challenging itinerary. To make things more interesting, we discovered we had some whiners along -- and an agitator -- and two girls who I think were bound & determined to meet every boy in Philmont. Halfway through it, one of our kids froze up from the stress, revealing a psychiatric problem we weren't warned about, and for which he had no medicine along, nor anything authorized on his medical form. Oh, yeah, and it rained almost every day. It was a tough trek.
About day 7, we got up early and started up the path to summit Mt. Phillips, the 2nd-highest peak at Philmont. It was very steep, and we paused often. Every time we did, I took a sip of ice-cold spring water -- it was like sucking in liquid oxygen. Thankfully, THAT day it didn't rain -- and for once, everybody got along and did what they were supposed to. Just before noon, we broke through the trees, and there was a long, gentle slope of loose rock, leading up to the summit of Mt. Phillips.
We strolled up there, exhilarated at the view, at the day's accomplishment, at the joy of it all, and D. turned to me and said, "This makes it all worth it."
To which I replied, "Yeah. But don't forget, you had to walk for a week to get here -- AFTER driving for 3 days to the trailhead -- and that was after preparing & training for this trip for SIX MONTHS -- all the while telling yourself, 'it'll all be worth it.'"
But she was right: there's something about standing on the top of the world. It changes the meaning of the struggle to get there. It changes the meaning of what comes after you go back down the mountain.
Our story from the New Testament this morning takes place on a mountain-top. It is literally, a mountain-top experience for Peter ,John, & James -- and it takes place at the climax of Jesus's earthly ministry. Everything's been going better & better, the miracles bigger, the crowds more enthusiastic, Jesus's hints and sayings getting more powerful.
Just before this, Jesus raised Jairus's daugher from the dead, he sent out the 12 to cast out demons & cure diseases, he fed 5000 men with 5 loaves & 2 fish, & later on, while he was quietly talking with his disciples, Peter jumped to the conclusion that Jesus was the Messiah they'd all been hoping for, & Jesus had admitted it!
Two years and more of walking about, of teaching and healing, and all the rest of it, and now, THIS: Jesus glows with the Shekinah -- the glory of God, resting not on the lost Ark of the Covenant, but upon him. For he is, in himself, the mercy seat -- the place of God's dwelling -- and he is seen talking with Moses & Elijah, and the actual voice of God speaks to them. Peter, John, & James might be forgiven if they looked around on this day, and said, "this makes it all worth it" -- all the hard work, all the sacrifice, all the disappointments.
But of course, the thing about mountain-tops is, you can't stay on them. You have to go back down the mountain, and the clear view you had from the top gets confused again, amid the trees and canyons and towns and people's motives and all the rest of it.
At one point on the descent from Mt. Phillips, as we were having lunch (I think on Comanche Peak, the next mountain down) -- we were all lying on the ground, and D. said, with a sigh, "I'll be so glad to get back home & eat off a clean floor." And after that one day of our trek in ‘98, the rain came back, the youth seemed to forget how easy it was when they all worked together, and it was a long, hard slog back to base camp.
No, you can't stay on the mountain-top. And from the mountain of the transfiguration,things begin to gather speed as Jesus "sets his face toward Jerusalem," the cross, and the mighty work that saves us from our sins. The crowds were no longer quite as friendly, the opposition had had time to get organized, nothing seemed as easy as it had up on the mountain-top. It had all seemed ACCOMPLISHED up there, and here it was all still to do -- and they fell to squabbling over who was the greatest and bickering about money and finally, one of the 12 betrayed Jesus.
If we did not know the ending of the story, we would wonder what that day on the mountain would mean to them afterward. Would they still say, "this makes it all worth it?"
Well, I want to suggest some things to ya, that I hope will make sense for your life as you're living it right now -- about mountain-tops and the path that we struggle to follow and what makes the journey worth it.
And the first thing I want to do is to affirm the Vision -- for where there is no vision, the people perish. The vision of what your life COULD be, SHOULD be, is born of an experience: perhaps a completely INNER experience, known only to you; perhaps an actual happening in the world, that others may have shared, though it may not have meant to them what it does to you. But I believe that God speaks to us in the language of our hearts, telling us that he will make it all worth it, if we will only stick with him, & not settle for second-bests and might-have-beens.
The temptations are many to give up, to settle for less, to say, Yeah, I had those foolish dreams once upon a time, but now, I'm wiser. And maybe you are -- but God has debunked the wisdom of the wise, Paul said -- and exalted the folly of the cross. It's easy to give up, to say No, not for me, I guess -- & to believe the lie that you're nobody special, & therefore not worthy of God's special attention, as if you really, you know, MATTERED.
Now, I have let many childish dreams go -- when I was in 6th grade, for instance, I wanted to be a cartoonist. I later found something better to be -- not that there was anything wrong with what I thought I wanted, but it just wasn't me. It didn't really fit the vision God had given me. But I see others who have sold their birthright for worldly success -- or popularity -- or a big house and 3 cars in the driveway -- or security -- and they don't know who they are anymore. And that's sad.
God calls us to follow Jesus Christ -- and promises to fulfill our inmost Self according to the vision he has laid out for each one of us. And along the way, he gives us -- as a special grace -- the occasional moment that re-confirms our vision, that tells us, see, it's all worth it.
And what I'm telling you is that you've got to believe that when you can't believe it: you've got to make the trip, believing that when you get there, you'll know what right now it's hard to accept; but if you give up -- if you turn back -- then you may never know -- never have -- never BE -- what God wanted for you.
I see so many start out on the path, excited and full of faith -- and I see so many lose their way -- because it's hard, and nobody understands, and it's not as fun as it used to be, and -- and there are other things that I really, really want -- I think -- and God's just gonna hafta wait. And he will; he will wait as long as it takes. But if you lose yourself, you might not be able to find your way back. Or you might convince yourself that you don't want to -- or that you wouldn't be welcome -- or that it's too late.
Ah, the lies that the enemy tells, and which we believe because we're tired and confused and (maybe) feeling guilty about our bad choices. But I tell you, you've got to believe in the vision, and you've got to trust the confirmations of it that come to you in God's special times. They are not phantoms -- they are a clear view of what God intends for your life.
It's just that you can't live on the mountain-tops all the time. But you can hold onto this day, this experience, this restatement of the original vision, until the next time, and the next, and finally, the great Day on which God will reveal everything to your waking eye.
So trust in Christ. Stay close to him. Pray without ceasing. Hang on to your best moments, not your worst ones. Believe the best about God -- and what he can make of your life. Don't believe what the world says. Don't trust what the flesh says. Don't listen to what the devil says. Heed the voice that comes out of the cloud and says of Jesus, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
And if you do, then some day, you, too, will be clothed in glory, shining as the sun, a joint-heir with Christ to the kingdom of heaven. And you will live all the days of your life between now and then with the knowledge that this is what your life is about -- and no earthly toil or stain or disaster can keep you from it.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.