A sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Matthew 17:1-9
Have you ever been to the top of the mountain?
I wouldn’t be standing before you without having been there.
In fact, I keep going back to the mountaintop to fill my being with the glory and radiance of Christ that is on full display.
Every week, and then summer, I spent at Episcopal summer church camp.
New Beginnings retreat weekend in the fall of 1999.
Attending the Episcopal Youth Event at 15 years old in Laramie Wyoming in 2002.
Being on the planning team for the Provincial Youth Event in Portland Oregon (at Concordia University of all the places that are currently in the news) in 2004.
Attending the Episcopal Youth Event at 30 years old in Oklahoma City in 2017.
Attending my first Episcopal Revival at General Convention in Austin in 2018.
I have chased the mountaintop around the country.
I have supported others seeking their own experience atop the mountain.
I continue to chase and support.
Seeking that next experience that will fill me with the radiant light of Christ in a visceral, confounding, stupefying manner.
Creating opportunities for others through my gentle prodding, or downright pushing, to get others to share in the moments and experiences that have made such a huge impact on my life, that have fueled my life in faith, that have encouraged and set me upon this path, this vocation that I am called to live into.
I 100% get Peter today.
Oftentimes, Peter is held up as a faithful foil of sorts, someone who is so full of faith but also so very much human that he often falls short as he builds up to being worthy of the designation of the rock upon which the church is built.
But today, I don’t think it’s fair to paint Peter in a negative or naive manner.
Perhaps that’s selfish of me to protect my own understanding of faith, but I just completely and fully get where Peter is coming from today.
Peter, James, and John, are present for the transfiguration of Christ.
The moment when Christ undergoes a complete change of form into a more beautiful, a more spiritual, state.
Of course Peter wants to build dwelling places and to stay on the mountaintop forever. This is a profound moment. This is a moment when the full radiance and glory of Christ is on full display. It would instantly change any person who witnessed this moment, this experience, and of course he would want to stay in the midst of that moment and celebrate the reality that has been made known to them on that mountain.
I know that feeling.
I know recognizing that moment with your very soul.
And, I also deeply know the reality of what comes next.
You cannot stay on the mountain.
Peter, James, John, follow Jesus back down the mountain.
And, Jesus instructs them to not share this story, to not share this moment, until after he has gone.
Ministry, the Church itself, is not on the mountaintop.
You don’t come to worship every Sunday to experience the mountaintop.
This isn’t to say that you cannot find your mountaintop here on any given Sunday (for my money, your best bet is on Baptism days and Easter Sunday), but that’s not why we come here.
To get a taste, maybe.
To get that necessary fuel for life, of course.
But, we are not here to dwell on the mountaintop.
We are here to be reminded of what happens when we experience the mountaintop. We are here to be reminded of those moments in our own life in faith that fundamentally altered our being. We are here to be reminded of those moments in our own life in faith where we were converted. We are here to be reminded of those moments in our own life in faith where the church provided a home: a stable, reassuring, ever-ready presence. We are here to be reminded of those moments in our own life in faith where the glory and radiance of Jesus Christ shone brighter than we had ever experienced it before, and perhaps have never experienced again. And, in that, we are here so that we can go back out and change the world around us.
For the work of the church is not on the mountaintop.
We cannot have church without the mountaintop, because the mountaintop fuels us in a manner that sustains and invigorates (and even reinvigorates).
But, the church is not on the mountaintop.
The church is out among the people.
The church is out among the creation.
The church is everywhere, in everything, and this is why Christ instructs these trusted disciples to keep this moment to themselves, because the work they are doing is not about what happened on that mountain top, the work they are doing is simply fueled by what has happened on that mountain top.
We enter Lent this Wednesday.
Next Sunday, we will start over again with Christ as he enters into the wilderness. We go, every year, from this moment on the mountain, to the fasting, prayer, and temptation of Christ in the wilderness. The wilderness is not a mountaintop experience. The wilderness is a rough place. It is not full of Christ’s radiance and glory. And yet, this transition speaks so much to our own experience of faith, our own journey as followers of Christ.
We have to come off the mountaintop and do the real work of being Church in creation.
In that work, we have an advantage, for we have the light of Christ with us.
The star of Epiphany shone the light of Christ when he first entered into our creation.
Christ shines again in glorious splendor in this moment of transfiguration upon the mountain.
And, we take that light with us as we walk out into the wilderness with Christ as Lent begins.
This cycle of light and dark, of bringing light into the dark, is the cycle of our church calendar.
This cycle of light and dark, of bringing light into the dark, is a reflection of our own experiences in creation and the call we have received as followers of Christ.
This cycle is the cycle of baptism, death and rebirth, darkness and light.
This cycle is the cycle of Holy Week, light is extinguished only to return in a blaze of glory.
As we enter into Lent, remember your own mountaintop experiences.
As we enter into Lent, remember that we do not stay on that mountain top, rather we take that experience, we rejoice in that moment, in that radiance and glory and splendor of Christ, and go out into the world to do the work that we have been called to do as followers of Christ.
Then, return to this place, to be filled once more with a taste of what a life in Christ is like, knowing that every day cannot be a mountaintop experience, even the disciples only got that one moment, so rejoice in those we have had, and know that Christ’s light still leads us, fills us, comforts and strengthens us in the work we must do.