Mountaintop Experience

transfigurationMatthew 17:1-9
2 Peter 1:16-21

I can’t stand here and lie to you, my family. I’m not the woman I was when last I preached. You know. You know my daughter, Persephone, is dead. I can only live and work, pray and preach, exist now, forever changed with that experience and pain.

I stand here and I see so many other lives that know pains. Little pains. Physical pains. Big pains. Pains that strikes you on every anniversary. Existential pains that strike you in the middle of the night. The pains when hearing or reading the news; the pains when looking at old photos; the pains when reflecting on where you wanted your life to go. The pain of expectations dashed, dreams burned, and hopes, lives, extinguished.

In my respite, I talked a lot with people – friends and family coming in – not understanding my loss but knowing I need shoulders to cry on. We spoke of those expectations and dreams that get crushed.

My generation? We hoped to live like our parents. By the time we’re thirty, to have a job that supports us, live in our own home, have a spouse, a kid or two… And most thirty to forty year olds I know live at home, or in an apartment, often with roommates. They work jobs that don’t support them, can’t cover their student loans, and are going no where. They don’t have a spouse, and some have a kid with someone who broke their heart. There is disillusionment. Feeling powerless over life. Being disenchanted with our politics. There is feeling our world is lost. Pain.

I also talked with those in my parents’ generation about their losses. My parents’ generation also wanted to live like their parents did. They wanted to reach retirement age and be able to retire — finally travel the world, visit every state, stop working and play with their grandkids. But when they reached 65, there wasn’t enough money. Benefits at their jobs had been cut, or they had began their second career too late in life to retire and survive. (You know, that first career of raising kids has terrible retirement returns.) Often divorced, often in deep debt, often watching or raising their grandkids while their children AND working the same entry-level jobs as their adult kids to support a house ever more deeply struggling to make ends meet. There is disillusionment. Feeling powerless over life. Being disenchanted with our politics. There is feeling our world is lost. Pain.

Some of my grandparents still live, and I am blessed with many, many adopted grandparents. I have heard their loss, too. I hear the desire to live like their parents did, and to have a world that was simpler — more stable — and changed more slowly. I hear their worries for their families that are scattered to the four winds. My grand parents’ parents had generations at home, and lived in the same farm houses for decades. I hear the loneliness. They never expected communities to fall apart like they have, nor foresaw a day when churches would close from lack of attendance. There’s no more mom and pop stores. They worry – who, if anyone, is going to help care for you with your family and friends and communities so… in exile? Dispersed?

There is disillusionment. Feeling powerless over life. Being disenchanted with our politics. There is feeling our world is lost. Pain.

What keeps us going? Why don’t we lie down and give up? Surrender to this pain?

Lying in a fevered state in ICU, I wondered that. Why not give up? Why keep fighting? Why keep getting up in the morning, going to church, trying to change our world; why keep seeking love, seeking friendship, seeking beauty? Why keep up hope in the darkness of hours when everything is saying ‘Abandon Ye All Hope’?

For me, the answer is playing in the nursery. Both of them. The answer is here, listening to me. All of you. The answer is growing under my feet and flying in the air. The answer is in our holy scripture and emblazoned on our hearts.

Jesus’ disciples have heard their mentor, their beloved friend, their rabbi speak of what is to come for him — humiliation, defeat, torture, death. Jesus warns of the coming disillusionment, powerlessness, disenchantedment, a world lost… and pain. Jesus warns them, but they don’t understand.

They hold out dreams for this trip to Jerusalem. Victoriously they shall enter the city. Courageously Jesus will toss out the Roman politicians and be crowned as the Jews’ new king. He will be the new King David, God’s own Messiah, and the era of God’s reign on Earth shall begin. There will be no more pain, no more sorrow, no more suffering. Beautiful, beautiful dreams fill the minds of those following Jesus.

 Mountaintop dreams.

The phrase “a mountain top experience” comes from the Bible’s stories. In old religions, and in the Bible, Gods and humans could be close to one another on mountains — where the ground and the sky met. People climbed the mountain to receive a vision, or visitation, from God — people like Elijah and Moses, who stand in the vision with Jesus. I’ve climbed a mountain once, as a teenager. I didn’t make it to the top, but the view was incredible — I could see for ten some miles over the pine forest, into the desert, and to the next mountain. It stole my breath away with its beauty. I know why people climb up high to get a sense of God – to see such beauty. The phrase has come to mean moments of not just beauty and divinity, but moments where we are HIGH – high, dizzy, giddy with life, joyful over how marvelous creation is, at peace and in delight with ourselves and our God and our world. A time when all things are right.

 These moments stay in our minds as bright beacons. You know the country music song “These are the moments I thank God that I’m alive / These are the moments I’ll remember all my life / … and I could not ask for more.” Those are mountain top moments. Moments — like holding that new born, like marrying that spouse, like that sunrise, like that camping week, like that Christmas… What is your moment? Your mountaintop experience when you could not ask for more?

 Jesus gifts that to Peter, James and John.

 Just as we are gifted those moments today.

 Because they, like us, NEED them.

 Think what they witness — the bright blinding light, the mountain top experience, when all is well and right and perfect with the world — and then, the light fades and fades. It all fades until only Jesus remains.

 Then, from the mountain, they walk down into the valley, and on to the cross. On to ruined dreams and expectations. On to hardship. On to friendships forever broken. On to families ripped apart. On to meaningless suffering. On to death. We, too, in the church walk from the brilliant blinding light of Epiphany and this Transfiguration into Lent, into mourning, into the darkness. Daily, we walk in a wounded world we’re called to heal.

 We NEED mountaintop experiences because our lives are full of pain.

 Those moments from God, those times with Jesus, those promises of Scripture – that is our hope in pain.

 That hope is a lamp in a dark place, keeping us going until the good times, the dawn and morning star, rises again. That hope isn’t a cleverly devised myth. Some people say our faith is. They say religion is an opiate to the masses, a way to dull the pain of life away to keep us from acting on that pain and changing things. Some people say religion is a crutch, keeps us infantile, keeps us in lala-land.

 But we are eyewitnesses of mountaintop experiences that defy the darkness, defy the pain, defy the agony and senselessness and give us hope. And it is out of hope we change the world.

 Some people cling to the cross. I personally cling to the resurrection. But we all cling for the exact same reason: hope. Hope and trust in God’s promises. Hope and confidence that God loves us. Hope and assurance that the pain we know now in this life is fleeting; and a spring, a resurrection, a renewal, a complete peace — a new beginning — indeed, Easter, is waiting for us just around the bend.

 We are an Easter people. But we only know Easter, know hope, because we have known the cross, and known pain.

 Amen.

Given to Saint Michael’s UCC, Baltimore Ohio, 2-26-17

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