Monday, March 9, 2015

Follow to the Mountaintop (or, How to Stick Your Foot in Your Mouth)

into LENT

We must go through the uncomfortable. 

Mark 9:1-12

New International Version (NIV)
And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

The Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.
11 And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
12 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?

The ecstasy of mountaintop moments are not always interpreted as such. 
We often think of those incredible moments where we find our emotions running high and then adrenaline kicking in as something filled with satisfaction and elation. I would plead that case that we have been told that mountain top moments are supposed to be enjoyable. Well, then, why don't we have more of them? Why aren't we engulfed with more incredible moments that take our breath away? Is there something we don't like about the mountaintop? Is there something that makes us uneasy? 

Maybe, just maybe, there is something that turns our stomach at the thought of going through such elation. We like a simple life that we can understand. We like situations where emotions and people don't get out of our control. Many times mountaintop moments are full of the unexplained. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes a moment lacks definition. 

And, sometimes it's just so easy to say too much and stick your foot in your mouth. 

Part of this situation, I believe, rests on our youth and the other part is common human melodrama. When we are younger, we yearn for the mountain. We want to go up. We want to be at the peak and take it all in. When we are younger, we don't want to come down off the mountain. We want to roost there and live. But, after every mountaintop experience we find ourselves coming back down to the valley again. We get depressed. Elation gives way to sorrow. Maybe that's why we seek to avoid the heights as we get older. We don't want to be let down. We have taught ourselves not to expect too much, not to want too much, that way we don't have to feel let down. We get comfortable in the valley. Then we don't have to go up. We don't need to feel that elation is we don't want to. 

But, just for the sake of conversation, let us analyze this moment through the eyes of some curious, blue collar fishermen who tagged along on an invite. Where are the rest of the twelve? Don't know. We read about some moments like this. The only ones who are present are these three, the brothers - John & James, and the fisherman Peter. For some reason, these three get to see more than the rest. The healing of a little girl. This mountaintop experience. Later, in the garden, the gospel account will say that these three go a little deeper into the garden, with Jesus, leaving the others behind. Sometimes that what the mountaintop is about. You get to be one of the people who gets to see what others do not. It is a special thing to be one of the inner circle.

The nuance of this particular moment that applies to all of us is where the mouth comes open and strange words come falling out. Words that come with reason or maybe without thinking, but they come. And, we are left with a bitter moment of kicking our own rears in a regretful rehashing of the events. Look at this moment and see if you can't put yourself in the shoes of this haphazardly speaking fisherman.

Peter does what many of us do in moments when were aren't sure what to do. How many of us have found ourselves in an awkward moment where eloquent words do not fall from our lips. Maybe we shouldn't say anything at all. Instead, this is what falls out of our mouths. "Why don't we do this or that?" Peter is simply living up to his reputation. This is what he does. He blurts things out without thinking. This account comes to us from Mark's gospel. It is thought that Mark got much of his account from Peter or the retelling of events from Peter's life. Maybe Peter is being brutally honest about himself here. The other synoptic accounts say that the disciples were too afraid to say anything. Imagine being there when the sky gets cloudy and suddenly as white as white can be. Jesus' clothes are 'suddenly' transformed. Also, there are suddenly two extra people on the mountain. It is revealed that these two men are Moses and Elijah. Imagine being in the presence of such greatness! What would you do? What would you say?

I recall back in my Nazarene days we would have revival services every spring and every fall. I was dealing with this "calling" I thought I had. I knew I'd be up front at some point speaking and leading. I just wasn't doing it right then. I had much schooling and years of maturity ahead of me. It seemed that every revival week I wanted to corner the evangelist and talk him to death. The pastor would try to cut me off. It never worked. I had questions. I had concerns. I had wonderings. This guy was supposed to have the answers. Goodness, I shake my head as I look back down the road.

Maybe Peter is wondering how long they'll be up on the mountain. They have guests. It's a monumental moment. Maybe this will last a while. Why not plan of staying for awhile? “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” I can see the eagerness to please in Peter voice and in his face.We've all had those awkward moments. You either blurt something out that makes you want to slap yourself, or you have an epiphany an hour later thinking about what you could have said. Peter doesn't mean anything bad. He just doesn't know how to handle the mountaintop experience. It is the voice of God that brings order in the awkwardness. Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” 

The mountaintop is full of "sudden" experiences. Rarely do we plan the whole thing out.
This moment of elation is brought to us by the sudden moment of God, knowing what we need and when we need it. Suddenly, the cloud is gone. So, are Moses and Elijah. It's just Jesus and three guys left speechless. Then it's time to come down off the mountain. Just like myself with the evangelist every spring and fall, these three guys have questions. Here's another thing the mountaintop does. It exposes what we are not sure about. The scripture says that Jesus charged them to keep quiet about this event until he had risen from the dead. The walk back down the mountain, Peter seems to reveal to Mark, these disciples have a discussion about what "rising from the dead" means. There is so much we don't understand. Even all these centuries later, we still have no idea what Jesus is talking about. Mostly because we have not experienced certain moments and truths yet. Experience is essential to our Christian faith from a Wesleyan perspective. It completes the quadrilateral for us.

Scripture. Tradition. Reason. Experience. 

They tests all areas here on this mountain. 
The very essence of scripture is seen in the person of Moses, who gave the Law. The idea of tradition is present in the figure of Elijah, who spoke and tried to reason with the people of Israel. The voice of God brings experience to a whole new level. Still they have questions. They saw him on this mountain. Now something doesn't make sense. And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” You are already here, Jesus. We just saw Elijah. Our leaders say Elijah was supposed to come first. It's funny what different scriptural accounts reveal. In Luke's passage, it says they came to understand that the person of John the Baptist represented Elijah. The forerunner. The one who went ahead preparing the way. Do they see now why they were taken up on this mountain?

Going up on the mountaintop is essential to our faith. 
It can be awkward. It can leave us speechless. It might show us something we weren't expecting. 
But, it's necessary. If we are following Jesus, then we go. It's where Jesus went. 

These followers would later be forerunner themselves. Spreading and sending the gospel message everywhere. Sharing the good news to all who would listen. If we are also followers of Jesus, are we "going ahead"? Are we preparing the world for his coming? He is coming back. Is the world ready? Are we ready?

It will be a mountaintop experience when he returns. Full of chaos and mystery. Hard to explain. 

But, he's coming. The difficult road lies ahead, just as it did for Jesus. The ecstasy of the mountaintop will see us through. That's why we went up there. To witness the glory of God. To have something incredible to hang on to as we come back down and go back to our lives. We go through the uncomfortable to get to the comfortable. The only thing that waits for us is glory.

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