Livestreamed service

Exodus 34:29-35
Matthew 17:1-9

        As far as we know, there were no sunglasses back in the days of the burning bush, the Ten Commandments, and Moses’ shining face.  So when Moses came down from the mountain, for the second time, with two new tablets of the covenant, his face shining like the sun because he had been talking with God, the people sort of freaked out.

        It was because Moses was so bright and the people were so scared— and there were no sunglasses—that Moses wore a veil whenever he was with them. Not because he needed it, mind you, but out of consideration for the people who were blinded by the light. Whenever Moses left them to go talk to God, he would take the veil off. When he came back, glowing bright as ever, he would put the veil back on.

        As far as we know, back in the days when Jesus walked the earth there were still no sunglasses. Which is to say that there was nothing to come between his dazzling mountaintop glory and three sleepy disciples rubbing their eyes in shock and awe. Nothing but a cloud, a voice, and a great epiphany: that their teacher was God’s Chosen One.

        And now you know, if you didn’t already, where the phrase “mountaintop experience” comes from. Its original meaning refers not to victory or conquest; it is more mystery than mountain, more gift than accomplishment, more unexpected ecstatic encounter than well-planned itinerary, more fleeting than firm.

        We cannot schedule a mountaintop spiritual experience. We don’t know when, or if, we will have one, or what form it will take. We don’t know if, or when, we will actually feel God when we pray, or whether we will feel anything when we come to worship or take Communion. We rarely even consider what might happen when we stop doing and start paying attention, when we stop trying to control and, instead, simply open our hearts.

        But, oh, how we want to have those holy encounters—whether we imagine them happening while we’re deep in prayer, deep in the woods, at rock bottom or riding the wave of success, all alone with God, or not even thinking about God but overcome by beauty or surrounded by the love and laughter of friends and family.

        Sometimes, we try to plan those moments but we generally know there’s a lot of grace involved.

        Everything we know about ourselves and our human nature confirms that we are hungry for the holy. Oh, we may not realize it’s the holy that we’re longing for; we may use different words. Or we may have no words for it at all, just a persistent, low-level ache for something more. We may try a thousand different things—or too much of one thing—to satisfy it: We travel the world. We keep buying things. We hop from one place or one relationship to another. We try on different religions like so many new outfits, looking for the one that fits us best.

        Of course, we do!

        We were made this way, after all: to long to rise above the mundane, to want that giddy, in-love feeling, to want to feel alive, and maybe even to shine. It is that spark of the Divine within us seeking kindred Spirit, our sense of the Holy wanting to connect with the holy within us, the love we were made for longing to find expression in love.

        We want it and yet we fear it, too—knowing that it will change us, concerned that it will ask something of us, worried that the something it asks of us will be more than we think we can give. And so we try to protect ourselves (sometimes consciously, mostly not): by staying busy, shutting down, avoiding church, closing our hearts, running away, maybe hiding who we really are, wearing a veil over our heart if not our face.

        No, we cannot cause light. We cannot force grace. We cannot make magic. We cannot manufacture love. We cannot always feel God’s presence.  We cannot schedule transfiguration or transformation or control what will happen. Ever.

        But here’s the thing: Those mountaintop experiences, those fleeting moments of awe and wonder, those transformational encounters are not simple matters of chance. God’s transfiguring, transformational grace is promised to us. It is what we were made for. It’s not a question of if we will experience it; it’s only a matter of how and when and where and how often. And part of that is up to us.

        We can pray for the grace to help us trust that change is not only possible but promised. We can pray even when we don’t feel like it, even when we worry we don’t know how. We can cultivate stillness and seek out wonder. We can follow our hearts. We can read the Bible as if for the first time, being attentive to the words, ideas, and stories that speak to us. We can choose an attitude of gratitude. We can choose to honor our doubts while living in faith and hope. We can choose to open our hearts to God and to one another. We can choose to say “yes” to life, “yes” to love, “yes” to community and connection as often as possible. We can choose to pay attention to the brokenness and beauty of the world, and to always be on the lookout for the places and the ways where God’s love and glory are shining through. We can choose to say “yes” when God invites us on what feels like a weird, hard hike up a very tall mountain.

        Now, I can’t explain or even begin to really understand what happened when Peter, James, and John went up the mountain with Jesus. But sometime before that, Jesus had invited them to follow him, and they said “yes.” That morning, Jesus invited them to go for a hike—and they said “yes.” Jesus didn’t tell them Moses and Elijah might show up—and still they went. Jesus didn’t try to entice them with lots of programming, the latest technology, or a fancy building.

        He just loved them.

        He treated them with more compassion and dignity than anyone else ever had. He spent time with them, blessing them in their struggles and healing them in the hurting places. He told them stories about a God who was unlike anything they’d heard before, and he promised them the kingdom of God was at hand. He invited them to see the glory of God in the every day and the every person, and he told them to be not afraid.

        He had awakened in them hopes they thought had long died. He had revealed to them possibilities they never knew existed. They had let his love—God’s love—begin to change them.

        So, of course they said “yes”—having no idea what they were in for—because they trusted him. That, after all, is what a life of faith looks like.

        Beloveds, even now Love is at work. Even now, God is up to something. Even now, we can put down our skepticism, open up our weary hearts, let ourselves be wowed on the regular, and notice ourselves slowly but surely being changed.

        I invite you this Wednesday evening to go with Jesus up a different kind of mountain, a place where the love of God is sure to shine through in willing and humble hearts and smudges of ash. I can’t promise you shining faces or mountaintop experiences, but I can assure you that your “yes” will be honored in some way because I believe amazing things happen when we open and humble our hearts.

        I hope you will join us for our Ash Wednesday service and then continue on our Lenten journey together into new, glorious life.