Mountain top experiences. Sometimes they come upon us unexpectedly, in the midst of the every day, as on this occasion. We see the presence of God in the laugh of an elderly person, in a bank of clouds pouring through a mountain pass into the valley below, in the bouncing surf on the coast of Florida, in a moment of peace as we drift off to sleep. Sometimes we cultivate a space for a mountain top experience. We go to a special retreat, such as a Via De Christo weekend or the ELCA national youth gathering in 2018. We come to church, even. We can’t guarantee a vision of God every time, but we can make a space for it, so that it comes, sometimes.
We honor those experiences when they come. We do not minimize them or explain them away, because they are gifts from God. Those glimpses of God’s life help us to respond to the darkness. When we ask, “How can the light eventually triumph when there is all this darkness in the world?” We turn the question around and ask back, “How can this darkness in the world eventually triumph when there is so much light?”
Mountaintop. It’s a good thing to keep them in mind. Good thinking, good kind of attitude for walking our journey. Now I’m going to tell you how Jesus stretches that good thinking, good attitude, into good news, Gospel.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus brings Peter, James and John up on the mountain. They see his face shining like the sun, a mountaintop experience. This is not just a pretty light show. They have an inkling of the nature of this light. They have heard the disorientingly hopeful teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. They have seen Jesus stand up to the power of the demonic as it comes in these random, stupid horrors that appear out of nowhere, tornadoes and hurricanes, illness we did not expect, addictions that e thought we had got rid of. He holds the power of God victorious against political and economic oppression that his country suffered. We look at some countries in the world that are politically oppressed. WE say “Nothing can change that.” No. God’s power is deeper. We look at our own lives, our debt. We feel overwhelmed. How can we possibly deal with all this debt? This is the most powerful force in my life.” No. it’s not. God’s power is greater.
Jesus holds the power of God against even death itself. We stand beside the coffins of our loved ones. We mess them deeply. We think death is the greatest power. Not it’s not. God’s power reaches beyond death.
Mountaintop experience. Peter wants to stay on the mountaintop. Of course he wants to stay. We all want to stay. But that’s not what mountaintop experiences are for, is it. God comes in a cloud and says “This is my Son, my embodiment, This is my presence on earth. Listen to him.” Here is where the good news comes. What has Jesus just said? In the verses immediately before the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus says, the Son of Man, the one prophesied from ancient, ancient old days in the Book of Daniel, who will come on the clouds of glory and turn the world back toward God’s life, the Son of man will suffer and be killed and on the third day rise.
Peter cannot handle this He objects. But Jesus says “You are thinking in the ways that human beings think. You want a pretty boy, a charismatic hero, a superman who does not show weakness who is never broken, never human. That’s not the way God thinks, it’s not the way God works and it’s not the way God saves. God’s deepest power comes through the cross. God’s deepest power is willing to touch us in our ugly, brutal places as well as our pretty ones. And if you want to be a part of that power, it will sweep you up into itself too. You manifest the love of God in the midst of the brokenness of the world too.
This is my Son, this is the embodiment of my presence in the world. Listen to him.
That’s good news. Because now we don’t have to go to the mountaintop to get a glimpse of God. No, God comes to us, always. God comes to us in our everyday, eating our oatmeal in the morning lives. God comes to us in our worst, most despicable, most broken selves. God sends us into one another’s lives, into the darkplaces of the world as well. Because we are part of God’s light too.
God loves all of us, God loves you. God loves every human being on this planet and every atom of creation, not just in the pretty parts, but in deepest broken and most brutal places. God’s power touches us there, all of us. God’s power moves through us as well, to touch others there too.
This is the way God works. This is good news.