Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mountain Top Experience

Commerce Presbyterian Church, GA
Luke 9:28-36
The Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon:
Some of you may recall me mentioning my adventures from years ago that came around this time of year in New Mexico.
the focal point was a high one. Mount Taylor,  a volcano just northeast of the small old mining town of Grants.[3]
This mountain is the high point of the San Mateo Mountains[a].
Commonly called Taylor for president Zachary Taylor. It bears many names.
For the Spanish who reside in NM It is called Cebolleta which means tender onion.
And the Navajo, who have resided in the land well before Spain or the United States the mountain is--Tsoodził, the turquoise mountain, one of the four sacred mountains marking the cardinal directions and the boundaries of the Dinetah, the traditional Navajo homeland.
The mountain is also sacred to the Acoma, Hopi, Laguna and Zuni people.
Mt. Taylor, Cebolleta, Tsoodzil is an impressive 11,301 feet above sea level.  

I feel blessed to have been able to experience the sacredness of this mountain namely through an epic event called the Mt. Taylor quadrathlon.

I competed 4 consecutive years as a soloist.

At the 7 am start, it is well below freezing. The gunshot echoes through the crisp air and the pack begins a 13 mile summit on bicycles. Then, bikes are dropped and we run walk crawl 5 miles, after which we strap on cross country skis and enter the forest,
Finally, a mile from the top we drop our skis and strap on snowshoes for the final ascent.  

So, picture this. It’s February. A snow capped mountain. Well above the tree line. From the top in every direction you can see for miles, and miles and miles and miles and miles...oh yeah,. It is spectacular! You have covered a distance of 21 miles after a 5000 foot ascent.
There is a humble table with frozen water, also called ice, in tiny paper cups.
Every inclination is to stay put. To pause. To stop and bask in the glory that is all around.  
It is transcendent in so many ways.  it is almost as if time stands still.
It is so good to be there,  
But, if you stop, the volunteer, with ice icicles hanging from his nose and beard musters a
“Good job, keep going! you’re half way!”  
Fellow competitors are just ahead, and are coming from behind.
fighting every urge to stay there, even for just a few moments, eventually you have to descend back into the valley.

Mountain top experiences are amazing spiritual experiences.
We experience them physically, when we accomplish great feats, from climbing Stone Mountain--or Rabun Bald.  
Everest--ehh. I’ll leave that to the fanatics :).
Mountain top experiences can happen in a spiritual sense as well.  
When you experience true forgiveness,
when you are wrapped up in the energy and love of someone close to you,
when you are jamming to music that can speak deeply to your soul.
When you experience the birth of new grandbabies
When you finish a meaningful project
When you find purpose once again
Mountain top experiences can happen in silence, and in prayer…
a high like nothing you’ve ever felt before.  

Mountain top experiences.
moments when we are transformed into our better selves.  

Wouldn’t it be nice if they happened more frequently, or if you could just stay in those moments a little longer, then everything will be alright.

Slightly different from Mt. Taylor,
SLIDE: The name of the mountain Jesus took his friends was Mt. Tabor.
they didn’t have bicycles, and there wasn’t a need for cross country skis or snowshoes.  
Mt. tabor--where Jesus and his disciples sought refuge--a time apart, a time for healing, a time for togetherness.  A time for prayer.  
It was while they prayed Jesus clothes changed, his face was dazzling!
And there appearing with him was Moses, Elijah.
The disciples must have thought they were dreaming? Or questioned what was in the meal they had shared together earlier.
Jesus, it is so good for us to be here, says Peter. He was having a mountain top experience!
And he wondered: How do we make this moment last!?
Let’s build structures, something to dwell in, so that we can prolong this experience--so we don’t have to go down right away.

A cloud comes and hangs over them--out of which, a voice...This is my Son, the chosen one. Listen to him!  
Hey, isn’t that the same voice we heard at your baptism Master?

The next day, they come down from the mountain, back to the troubles of the world.
A man with a sick boy seeking to be made well. And the disciples are unsure about what to do, for they had little faith, as Jesus tells them.

At the beginning of 2013, Trasie and I were unsure about what to do in our lives.
We had just celebrated six years living in New Mexico. We were part of a wonderful church community, and had many friends in place we had built a home.
When we moved there, we were without children, and had been blessed with two baby girls during that six years there, and as a result, .
We had a deep longing to return to Georgia, to be closer to family, to nurture the relationship between our children and their grandparents, not to mention aunts uncles and cousins.  But, Where in Georgia might we end up?
At the same time, the church was facing a challenging situation-- a dear member who was causing many problems, and was hurting many people as a result, including myself; I was uncertain of the role I should play.  I was worried about many things.

In march of that year, close to Holy Week, I went to a monastery with a clergy friend to spend three days in prayer.  Before going to the monastery, during a restless night, I had a vision of Jesus being transfigured. I repeated the words of Peter, “It’s good to be here.” I did not know what this meant considering our desire to return home, and the present challenges.
When my friend and I arrived to the Monastery, we were met by the guest master who announced the names of the rooms we were to stay in--Mt Tabor and Mt. Nebor she said, but who was paying attention to the names or their significance. She placed the keys on the desk, encouraging us to pick one up when we were ready. With a bit of hesitation we both randomly reached for a key. Then made our way to our respective rooms.
Hermitages about 1000 yards away from the main gathering spaces.  
My friend entered his, and I entered mine.  
As I was putting my things away, and basking in the peaceful quiet.
I became more aware of my surroundings.  
SLIDE It was then that I noticed an iconic picture of Jesus on the wall.  
It was entitled: Jesus at the Transfiguration.
That is curious, considering my vision days before.  
I sat down to read this story again and meditate on it.

After a meal together that evening, I was going back to my room when I noticed on the gate outside my quarters was a wood carved sign: Mt. Tabor.
Mt. Tabor.
What I had not realized before, Mt. Tabor, the name of the mountain where Jesus was transfigured.  I was staying in the Mt. Tabor room

This text became my focus for the remainder of my stay. I searched deeper for its meaning.  

The three days there passed too quickly.
When it came time to go, I was reluctant to leave, for it had been so good to be there.  
But Trasie was managing our two young children at home by herself, not to mention my congregation preparing for Holy week and Easter.  

But I had peace, because I had come to learn the meaning of the Transfiguration for me.  
Jesus went to the top of Tabor and was rejuvenated and empowered--
Lying below Mt Tabor, for him, and the disciples were the problems of the world.  
But, perhaps even more challenging, awaiting Jesus below in the valley, was persecution, ridicule, and the cross.
The mountain top experience, the presence of the prophets and his disciples, had given Jesus strength and courage to face his fears. I believe the disciples also were given this gift.
And so they descended with new resolve and confidence in God’s presence with them.  

In a similar way, I believe God had strengthened me to face the fears I had been experiencing:
to not run from them.
To not avoid them.
To not delay them.
to not ignore them.
to not allow my fears to control me any longer.

What are your fears you are facing?
Are you willing to descend and face those fears? Do you hear God calling you to do so?

Ash wednesday, this upcoming Wednesday, marks our 40 day journey through the valley which will lead to the cross.
It is a wonderful time to consider ways you hope to draw closer to God and neighbor.  
As you consider how you might observe this time, consider your fears. What causes you great worry? What is possessing you?
Lent may be a time to draw upon mountain top experiences to face those fears, and be freed from them once and for all.

It’d be so much better to be on top of the mountain than to have to deal with the problems of this world.
It’d be so much better to be on top of the mountain than to have to deal with the monotony of this life.
It’d be so much better to be on top of the mountain than to have to watch anything else about the presidential race!! And we’re not even in a swing state. I pity those poor people!
It’d be so much better to be on top of the mountain, than to face our own pains and limitations.
It’d be so much better to be on top of the mountain, than to have to suffer and experience loss.

It’d be so much better on the top of the mountain...

Or would it be...for the power of the gospel message is that it is from suffering and death that new life comes.
And it is into the valley, if we’re listening to Jesus, that we as disciples are told to go.

In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated after giving a speech at a sanitation workers boycott in Memphis Tennessee. His life had been threatened countless times by vile people who were blinded to see the needs of those who were victims of unjust systems of oppression.  The closing words of his speech were prophetic in nature…
he faces his fears, because he had been to the mountain.  

Clip Speech:

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

And I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight.

I'm not worried about anything.

I'm not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

Where there are mountains, there are also valleys.
Where there are high points, there are also low depths.
Where there is the cross, there is the tomb,
But that tomb was empty on the third day.
From that tomb burst forth new life

Close out this sermon with me by joining in affirming our faith using the words Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians

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