Readings: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the understandings of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our sustainer. Amen.
When my parents lived in Kaka Point, down in South Otago on the coast, from their window some mornings you could see the sun rise seemingly out of the sea – huge and warm and stunningly close. It never failed to take my breath away – and the way it lit up the sky and dressed the clouds around it and changed its shape minute by minute – then suddenly it was all over - it became recognisable as the sun that crossed the sky each day, a bit more ordinary, a bit less spectacular.
Was it anything like that for the disciples on the mountain top do you think? A sense of extraordinary closeness to the divine, the inexplicable yet total experience of magnificence that simply stopped you in your tracks?
I wonder. If you were ever to try and put yourself into a moment from the gospel narrative, would this be the one? I suspect it would be for me – mainly for the sheer way in which it overwhelms and drives away all normal thought and response – leaving just the glorious experience. For someone who routinely over-thinks things, pure experience is both chastening and uplifting.
Marcus Borg uses a Jewish theologian’s phrase to describe this – he calls this having a ‘radical amazement moment’ where all the struggles we have with the nature of God, the very existence even, are just swept out of the way in a moment of absolute clarity of God as the presence in which we live and move and have our being. A moment of binding relationship, of clear purpose and experiential certainty in and with God.
For me these moments are incredibly powerful and, yes, held close and not often talked about because I am not sure how anyone else would react. Yet I would suspect that more people than not would have at least an inkling of where I was coming from.
Hear the response of the disciples to this mountain top experience. Fear, awe, bumbling responses, silence, transition from thinking they had a hand on this disciple stuff to being blown out of the proverbial water, the sense of homecoming with the appearance of Elijah and Moses, yet the sense of terror that this ‘thing’ was happening around them.
And what do we often do when we are afraid –we revert to something familiar – in their case offering hospitality and comfort so they didn’t have to think about what was actually going on. Later they would have cringed at their inadequate response I suspect.
Let’s take a moment to follow that thought. Are there times when we are invited into one of those moments of radical amazement with God but fail to grasp the moment – too busy to stand still, too blinkered to let the light in, too preoccupied with our own understandings to recognise where we are. It totally reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle” where the dwarves in the shed are so convinced that the world and all in it is against them that they cannot recognise the joy and beauty of the land of Aslan – their minds simply won’t let the good news in. And so their potential sparkling water became fetid swamp water, their banquet became mouldy bread.....
One of the phrases from the Psalms that was a ‘radical amazement’ moment for me was that we are called to delight in the Lord. Not be dour and serious all the time, to laugh and be filled with the sheer joy of the moment – in other word show our delight in the glory of God and to rest in the beauty of creation and the joy of being loved. Because it’s not always like that. These are moments, not destinations.
For we live a dynamic faith – one that does not allow us to remain forever in those aha moments but rather to gather them close and head down the mountain and walk amongst the mundane and the ordinary and the hurting. Where do Jesus and the disciples go when they come down the mountain – they walk straight into a crowd of need – a need that the disciples were having trouble meeting. And the disciples that have stayed in the valley ask – ‘Jesus why couldn’t we drive out this demon?’ To which Jesus replies ‘It is only through prayer that this can happen.’ There is the sense that all the human institutions in the world will not by themselves change the course of human history for good – that there is a power in the presence of God revealed in us, - as Paul puts it - the light of Christ shining in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Again going back to Borg – he says that as a young man he rejected the understanding of God as a distant, occasional supernatural being that occasionally intervened in our lives and came to know God as an intimate presence, a relationship experience of both the immanent (everywhere present) and the transcendent (holy mystery beyond our understanding ). In the radical amazement moments he found God again and in the reality of those experiences he again believed in the purpose and power of a God within the valleys of our lives. This will not be the journey that we all take and what we call our moments of experiencing the light of God will be very different for each of us – it may be moments of quiet peace, it may be a deep assurance that we have always had, it may be spectacular light bulb moments or gentle awareness of the beauty around and in us. But the question we ask of ourselves is – what is it that strengthens and increases the wattage of the light of Christ in us so that we can then share that gift purposefully and generously with others?
It is no surprise that this transfiguration moment is placed before the road to Jerusalem, to the chaos and to the cross.
The moment of clarity and glory, of assurance – so that – there are those words again, so that we are better equipped to walk the way of Christ – taking the sacred and holy into our ordinary and everyday, which will be up and down, challenging as well as delightful.
So what might this acknowledging of our mountain top experience of ‘God with us’ encourage in us as a people of faith?
Perhaps a willingness to engage in dialogue, to share experience, to talk ‘God’, to hear, really hear, the difficult uncomfortable invitations to new understandings.
To trust each other enough to share both our mountain top experiences, our doubts, our questions and our belief.
To respect and give room to others who think things differently to us, knowing that ‘God with us’ is real and we don’t need to be intimidated by or afraid of other’s ways to God.
Perhaps to give of our abundance into people and situations where we don’t know the outcome, have no control over the process, can’t immediately fix the problem – but instead to trust in the power and presence of love to do what it does best – to heal and restore.
To delight in our God – morose faith is a contradiction in terms – sing loudly, laugh and clap your hands, enjoy being a person of faith, be ready to share why with the people who wonder what it is that makes you content, happy, delighted.
To come to worship knowing that you are welcome just as you are – to lose the guilt, the need to prove yourself or be someone other than you are – for each one of us is the beloved of God, the one who is intimately with us in the everyday and in the mystery that is the mountain top experience. Amen.