1.29.2008

The Transfiguration

Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 99
II Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Have you ever had a "Mountain Top Experience"? Is that term even familiar for you? Having hung around churches most of our lives we have heard several people share their own stories around their "Mountain Top Experiences". Most of the time it goes something like this...

"And so we were all there together, and we had been praying and singing, and I really felt God show up" or "I had been on retreat by myself for the weekend and as I was walking along the lake I saw an egret gliding across the water as the sun was coming up and I knew in that moment that I was in the presence of God."

Without having done any official research, anecdotal evidence tells us that there are a few common characteristics of a "Mountain Top Experience"
• intentional time away from normal pace / events / people / surroundings of life
• a different physical / geographic setting (not necessarily on a mountain top)
• some sort of experience of / meeting with / different understanding of God

This week we are looking at two of the original and archetypical "Mountain Top Experiences" in the stories of Moses going up Mount Sinai and Jesus going up an unnamed high mountain.

Preceding this week’s Exodus passage, Moses has been on the mountain with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy elders of Israel. There on the mountain, they find themselves in the presence of God, whom they see and then in whose presence they eat and drink. In this week’s reading, Moses has been summoned by God back up the mountain to receive the tablets. He takes with him his assistant, Joshua. We don’t know much about Joshua – only that he is referred to earlier in the Exodus and that he ultimately leads the Israelites into the Promised Land after Moses’ death. Up on the mountain, a cloud descends and Moses spends 42 days and nights (code for a long, long time) in the presence of God.

The Psalmist writes about the experience of Moses and Aaron and the elders. The verses echo many experiences with God throughout both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. God is praised for his responsiveness, his mercy and might.

In Matthew, we encounter Jesus with James, John and Peter. They have been traveling and teaching and healing. These men have been through a lot. In particular, Peter seems to be marked. He has walked on water and saved in his moment of doubt by Jesus’ hand. In an infamous exchange, Peter has declared that Jesus is the Son of Man – the Messiah, much awaited in the Jewish tradition. In response, Jesus has proclaimed that Peter is the rock on which the church will be built. In the next breath, Jesus scolds Peter for his lack of faith. We know a lot about Peter’s experiences with Jesus.

So here they are on the mountain. They must have been weary, drained by all that they have seen and done. In a scene that echoes the literature of the Hebrew scripture, Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, his face and clothing shine, and a voice speaks from the clouds, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” As Jesus comforts his companions in their understandable awe, he asks that they tell no one of this vision until after he is raised from the dead. Hmmm.

What would you do?

2 Peter was written as the apostle Peter’s testament. There is debate about the actual author, but clearly, the letter was written to pass along Peter’s experiences and his teachings, perhaps by one of his own disciples. In a way, the testament is a fulfillment of the command Peter received when Jesus appears after the resurrection. Even after Peter has denied Christ in the shadow of the cross, days later Jesus affirms him and commands him three times…if you love me, feed my sheep. In this week’s reading, the author of 2 Peter is witnessing not just to the experience on the mountain, but to the reality of personal experiences with God and the obligation that comes with these experiences.

  • If we have some sort of “Mountaintop Experience”, whether we seek it out or have one imposed on us, are we obligated to respond in some way?
  • What must we do to prepare ourselves for these types of Experiences? Is there anything we can do, or must we simply wait for God to initiate the meeting?
  • Can we orchestrate, or ‘force’, communication with God?
  • In what ways do you prepare for or invite encounters with God?
  • Who do we expect to validate the prophecies we hear or the experiences that we have?

"Great God, humble us so that we will be capable of hearing your Word. We thank you for the gift of yourself in the Scripture. We rejoice in its complexity. Give us the simplicity to be confounded by your Word. Amen"

Stanley Hauerwas
Prayers Plainly Spoken

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