I hardly even look anymore. I know I should. I have a responsibility to do it. I used to take pride in the fact that I considered myself well-informed and up-to-date on the news, but I barely crack up a newspaper and conveniently miss the world news at dinner time. I just can’t stand to hear it. I know I’m not alone because when I mentioned in several different circles this week that I would be talking about feeling overwhelmed almost everyone who heard it offered their own version of that same confession. The weight of the world just seems too heavy to even read about, so we are tempted instead to ignore it.
And it’s not just the news from around the world that’s a problem. Maybe we could handle that if things in our more tangible “real” lives were a little smoother. Maybe it would be easier to pay attention even to the difficult news we hear places like Syria if our own political system seemed more civil that it has been recently. Maybe we could begin to contemplate the violence in other parts of the world if we weren’t worried about threats of violence in our community. Maybe it would be even possible to look at any of this if our joints weren’t failing, if our hearts weren’t skipping beats, if the cells in our bodies weren’t growing in wrong places and fighting against themselves. I’m not saying it’s right to get caught up only in our own struggles, but it’s true. It’s what happens.
Then throw some sermons from church on top of all that – sermons that encourage us to touch the people no one else even considers touching, to speak up and speak out against the evils and injustices in our culture, to announce a message of reversal where the power have none, the rich are brought down and the lowly greatly honored – throw that in the mix and, well, yeah, it’s overwhelming!
He began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering. No wonder Peter tried to quiet him down. He told them they needed to carry their own crosses. He told them they needed to lose their lives. He called the generation sinful and adulterous. He said the kingdom of God was coming even before the time of their own deaths – a kingdom they expected would be accompanied by divine horsemen and blessed warriors coming to topple an oppressive government and set their nation on the top of the pile.
I don’t doubt for a second that they were overwhelmed.
On the Mountaintop
Each summer my high school youth group took a trip to Montreat. Different people mean different things by “Montreat.” Montreat is very small town in North Carolina. In the town is an even smaller Presbyterian college, Montreat College. Next to the college campus and overtaking it in the summers is a Presbyterian conference center by the same name. Each summer my high school youth group went to THAT Montreat for their legendary youth conference. It was a literal and figurative mountaintop experience in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. Inevitably each year we would read together the story of the Transfiguration during one of our nightly devotions.
The temptation to want to stay on top of the mountain is not hard to understand. Peter’s desire to build a few dwellings, camp out, and call it good is a desire to which I can relate. Up on the mountaintop it was all clear. Up on the mountaintop it was easier to see. Up on the mountaintop it impossible to deny, in Jesus of Nazareth is the presence of God. Moses and Elijah were there, confirming Jesus as the next great prophet and agent of God’s promise. The cloud overshadowed them as it did on mountains before when the voice of God would speak to mortals. “This is my Son, the Beloved,” it spoke, announcing the truth that they needed to hear.
In the middle of all that threatens to overwhelm – the crowds of people sick and demon-possessed; the daunting task of ministry before them; the illness in our own lives, families, and friends; the uncivil political discourse; the financial worries all around – in the middle of all that makes us want to run away, God is present and has a word of grace to speak. “Listen to him.” Up there on that mountaintop, Peter and James and John caught a glimpse of God. It was a quick peek at the reality that is so hard to see sometimes. It’s like the veil between heaven and earth was lifted, even if just for a moment, and they could see what was true all along. God was with them.
God is with us. It’s the exact same truth we celebrate every time we gather to worship, but especially when we celebrate the sacrament of baptism as we will today. God is with us. God does not forget us. God does not expect us to go through our life alone. By the water in the font that comes from God, we are blessed and reassured of God’s presence. By the water in the font that comes from God, we are cleansed even before we can clean ourselves. By the water in the font that comes from God, God’s all-encompassing peace, God’s never-ending grace, God’s overwhelming love is revealed.
Coming down the mountain
As much as Peter wanted, they couldn’t stay up that mountain. The experience was amazing, brilliantly shocking, yet simultaneously calming, but they couldn’t stay up there forever. They couldn’t ignore the world below them, the world that included people with broken bodies and souls, nations fighting against nations, bank accounts that were empty or near empty, relationships stretched to their limits. No, the experience of Jesus transfigured and the appearance of Moses and Elijah was a revelation of God in the most extraordinary of ways, but none of them could stay up there forever, because there was still work to do in the world.
The world still needed the gospel. The world still needs the grace of God in Jesus, and the disciples of Jesus are called to share it. When they got to the bottom, before they were there even, the crowds were already rushing to them. The man with his demon possessed son was already there waiting, clamoring to reach the one who could heal his boy. When they got to the bottom, before they were there even, they were called to touch and to heal.
We have been here on the mountain together. We have wondered how in the world we are going to be the disciples Jesus calls us to be. We have lamented over the brokenness in our lives and in our world. We have begged to see God to know that it is all for something. And here on this mountain we have seen our answer.We have seen a glimpse of God’s all encompassing grace in the baptism of a beautiful child of God before she even knows of God’s love. We have heard the words of God’s promise to be with Savannah, to be with us. We have made our own promises to support Savannah as she grows in faith, reaffirmed the promises we have made to every other child whose baptism we have witnessed, remembered the promises that were made about us. We have seen Christ revealed to us right here in this place.
And now we have to go back down the mountain just like the disciples did. We can’t keep our heads in the clouds or in the sand. Just like the crowds were waiting there for Jesus and the disciples to return, the pains and fears and discord of our time are right outside our doors, too, and we have to go down to meet them. Jesus and the disciples came down the mountain because they couldn’t hide away with what they knew, with who they knew, with what they had to offer the world. Like the disciples we have to come down from the mountaintop experiences we have with Jesus and carry his healing into the world. We have to come down TOGETHER to follow where he leads.