Monday, February 11, 2013

Sunday's Sermon: Transformation on the Mountaintop

Fred Craddock, a well-known preacher and scholar, tells the story about a young minister who visited an elderly woman in the hospital. She was quite ill, and was gasping for breath as he entered her room. He decided to keep the visit short and not tire her. He asked her, "Would you like me to pray with you?" She nodded yes.

"What would you like me to pray?" he asked.

"That I would be healed," she replied.

The young minister gulped – but he prayed, "Lord, we pray for Your sustaining presence with this sick sister, and if it be Your will, we pray she will be restored to health. However, let us accept Your will, so that whatever the outcome she will know that You are with her, every step of the way."

As soon as the prayer ended, the woman's eyes flashed open, she sat up, threw her legs over the side of the bed, stood up, stretched out her arms, and said, "I feel better! I feel a great deal better! And with that she walked out of the room, headed down the hall toward the nurse's station, shouting, "I'm healed! I'm healed! Look at me! I'm healed!"

The minister staggered out of the room, went down the stairs, exited the hospital, and when he reached the parking lot, he stopped beside his car, looked heavenward and said, "Lord, don't ever do that to me again!"

Ah, yes, we chuckle at this little story. It is indeed humorous, especially when it happens to someone else. But I want you to think a bit about this story and ask yourself, why did this young pastor say what he said? After experiencing a miracle, a mountain top experience, why did this pastor say, "Lord, don’t ever do that to me again!"? Why after coming face to face with God’s power and might did that pastor want no more of it? Let’s play with this a little, shall we?

Mountain top experiences are part of our life of faith. Stories about them are shared all throughout the Bible and throughout the history of Christians. Stories abound about when God has revealed Himself in one form or another: through miracles, through experiencing God’s presence, through speaking in tongues, through healing that cannot be explained medically, and through many other forms and fashions. These experiences and stories cannot be verified by science. Science requires that an event be replicable. The miraculous isn’t replicable. It happens at certain times and in certain places for reasons quite mysterious to those even of the deepest faith. But I am convinced that they happen. I’ve been a part of a few of them. They are overwhelming, to say the least.

I mean, even in our Gospel lesson this morning, the mountain top experience was overwhelming for Peter, James and John. They were invited to go up the mountain with Jesus, and when they got there, something miraculous happened. Jesus was transformed right before their eyes. He didn’t look like that peasant man who was once a carpenter in Nazareth. Now, before their eyes, Jesus was revealed as the Son of God. Jesus’ robes became dazzlingly white. Ah, but that wasn’t it. Suddenly, there stood, not just Jesus, but two other figures, both revealed in their heavenly glory: Moses and Elijah! As the three of them stood before Peter, James and John, Peter is overwhelmed. He wants to say something, anything to capture the moment. "Lord, it is good for us to be here, let us build three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah."

What a stupid thing to say in the midst of seeing such a miraculous event! But it’s not surprising. We’d all probably fall into such stupidity seeing such a thing transpiring right in front of us. We’d all probably be overwhelmed and at a loss for words.

But the miraculous, mountain top experience was not done yet. Suddenly, a voice from heaven proclaimed, "This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to Him!" That signed, sealed, and delivered the deal for the three disciples who were with Him. We are told that once they came down off the mountain, "They were silent and told no one what they had seen." Of course they didn’t. It was difficult to put into words what they had seen. It was difficult for them to wrestle with what had just happened to them. It was difficult because that experience on the mountain had done something to them deep within their very hearts and souls. It shook them to the core.

Just like it did that young pastor. Seeing God’s hand moving upon this earth shakes you to the core. It changes you. It transforms you. The disciples were silent. The young pastor told God to never do that to him again. Both were reeling from that mountain top experience. Both were wrestling and coming to grips with experiencing God.

You see, my brothers and sisters, that’s the key with mountain top experiences: you actually experience God and His work. You actually feel, sense, know, are touched by God, and on the one hand it’s exhilarating! You feel extremely blessed. You feel connected to the Holy One. You feel uplifted and secure that God is real, that He is active, and that He is a part of this world and not apart from it.

Ah, but after the mountain top experience is over, things change because you are changed. God is no longer something one can talk about as an intellectual pursuit. God is no longer something to be debated. God’s Word isn’t something to just bandy about back and forth as one seeks to understand what this "really" means or doesn’t mean. No. When you have a mountain top experience, God really does become real, and you no longer can keep God at arm’s length. You can no longer just go about business as usual. Your perspective changes. You know that Scripture isn’t something just to be studied: it’s something to be lived.
You know God isn’t something to be debated, but is someone to love and be loved by. You know that your life really doesn’t belong to you but is connected to God and living for Him and with Him and in Him. These are the transformations that happen on the mountain top.

And not everyone is comfortable with those transformations. Not everyone wants to have their hearts and minds transformed in such a fashion because that means changing the way they move and operate and think in the world. It means no longer living one’s life for one’s self but in service to God and in service to one’s neighbor. It means giving up what I want and seeking, praying, and discerning what God wants. This is why that young pastor said, "Lord, don’t ever do that to me again." This is why the disciples were silent.
They had been transformed. They were forced to change. Perhaps this is not all bad. Sometimes God transforms us slowly, piece by piece and bit by bit. But sometimes He uses a mountaintop experience to bring about that transformation. And really, it’s not such a bad thing. Just wait until it happens to you. Amen.

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