As you probably know a few weekends ago I was at an event with some of our youth and a few of our adults called a youthquake. I have been to several of these events in 3 different states and have come to love watching both the young people and the adults just become saturated in the constant and concentrated praise and worship, especially those people who have never been to one before and have usually never experienced anything like this before. One word that I have heard used to describe this experience numerous times from numerous people is the label “mountaintop experience”. This label may bring to mind some experiences that you have had in your walks with God. Women of faith retreat, marriage seminars, certain bible studies, for me the Society of the Holy trinity general retreat always provides me with a mountain top experience.
What exactly is a mountaintop experience? My understanding of a mountaintop experience is when a person is so completely in the presence of God that even our limited senses and understanding can’t help but recognize it for exactly what it is. In this experience of God’s presence the sense of the holy is all around us. In these moments we truly encounter all that is pure and good in an extraordinary, even supernatural way. I believe that God provides us with these experiences to equip and empower us to live out our lives of discipleship in a fallen world, these are supposed to serve as moments of preparation if you will as opposed to moments of completion.
In today’s Gospel lesson Peter, James, and John had a mountaintop experience that actually took place on a mountain of all places. The three of them were walking up a mountain with Jesus when all of a sudden Jesus’ appearance changed, he began to glow, now it wasn’t like a spotlight being shone on some celebrity but the light was coming from Jesus himself. And all of a sudden he was joined by Elijah and Moses and God’s voice was heard saying this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."
Peter being the spokesperson of the crew had something to say before he was driven to his knees by the voice of God. I must say that Peter is by far my favorite disciple. This is because we see in Peter what a life of discipleship is made of. The life of a disciple brothers and sisters is full of highs and lows. They’ll see moments of astounding faith and understanding followed by hours of obliviousness. The Christian life will be marked both by acts of radical obedience and times of inaction and indecision. Just like Peter’s life of discipleship.
For example at the beginning of the trip up the mountain we are told it was 6 days after an event. Do you know what event this is referencing? The meal where Peter responds to Jesus’ question “who do you say that I am?” with his confession “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God”. Only to be rebuked and called Satan by Jesus a few minutes later because of his unwillingness to accept Jesus’ description of the work of the Messiah.
Once again on the mountaintop we experience this kind of two faced disciple in Peter. First he realized that something special is truly happening and that it is truly a blessing for him and his colleagues to witness this holy encounter. But then he makes a move that displays that he doesn’t quite get it in its entirety. He offers to Jesus to build 3 booths or tents, one each for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. These shrines would serve to capture this very special moment. However what Peter failed to understand is the purpose of this moment wasn’t to be caught and captured in some glass box. But instead I think the goal was in part to nurture a heart and mind that would allow the disciples to stand beneath the cross of Jesus in bold and steadfast faith and continue the work of Christ Jesus as the church.
We may hear Peter’s words and roll our eyes thinking Peter, Peter, Peter you did it again. However the truth is that Christians are constantly struggling with this same tendency that Peter is showing today. A tendency to confuse God’s gifts with God. The result may be making idols of all the things God offers, things like mountaintop experiences, offered to bring us closer to him become an end instead of a means to an end. If the goal of faith is an intimate and profound relationship with God than like any relationship it’ll be made stronger in moments of increased closeness and love. However if our sole purpose of relationship is to have those moments we will be disappointed by human relationships that are characterized by disagreement and hard work. Even our relationship with God isn’t easy on this side of eternal glory. It’ll be full of moments we have to chose between our wants and desires and obedience to God’s call, thankfully we have the memories of past mountaintop experiences to help us make the right choices at least sometimes.
Because you see, in the end we need to remember that it wasn’t Peter who was transfigured, no he still leaves the mountain and denies his Crucified Lord 3 times. Jesus who shone with his own brilliant light and glory lifted Peter, James, and John off of their knees to bring them off the mountain back to the world he came to redeem. If anybody had a reason to build a dwelling and stay on the mountain it was Jesus who knew exactly what awaited him in the valley. Although if Jesus didn’t want to redeem the world he never would’ve left his holy mountain and come to us in the womb of a virgin to begin with. A God who would do that for us would not want us to create mountaintops for ourselves where we escape the world that God so loved that he gave his only begotten son. Instead he creates those mountaintops for us so we can more fully love the world he created and redeemed. Please pray with me.
Thank you for the times in our lives when we were brought closer to you. Help us remember those times on those days we drag ourselves farther from you. In Jesus’ name we pray.