Six days later, three of them saw that glory. Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.
Peter broke in, “Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?”
While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.”
When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Don’t be afraid.” When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.
Coming down the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy. “Don’t breathe a word of what you’ve seen. After the Son of Man is raised from the dead, you are free to talk.”
This morning I’d like to talk about mountaintop experiences. Mountaintop experiences are those experiences when we feel like we’re on top of the world. They often include feelings of incredible happiness and joy. The feeling that life is good and you’re glade to be alive. They include feelings of confidence; you know that you’re in tune with God’s purpose for your life, you know that God is with you, and you can handle whatever challenges you face.
Over the years, a lot of people have shared their mountaintop experiences with me. Some came at a retreat or summer camp. Some were on mission trips. Sometimes people were alone and other times they were part of a group.
Mountaintop experiences are often special events in our lives; things like graduation, baptism, your first day on your first job, your wedding, the birth of a child. It could be something really “spiritual” in the traditional sense, like a week at church camp or a church retreat. Or, it could be something of a smaller quieter nature, like a very intimate conversation with your mother or father when you felt that they honestly understood what you were saying and why you felt the way you did. Mountaintop experiences can be many things. They all have one thing in common, a sense of closeness to God.
What I’d like to do now is to ask you to think about mountaintop experience in your own lives. We’ll pause for a moment of silent reflection, feel free to close your eyes if you’d like. Reflect on this simple question “what have been the mountaintop experiences in your life?” What were they and what were they like? Just allow yourself to remember them. For children you may very well be too young…that’s to be expected. Just try to imagine what it might be like. When we’re done I’ll invite anyone who is willing, to share. No one has to, but if you’re willing to it will be a gift to the rest of us. A mountaintop experience may happen once in a person’s life. But, the memory of it, the power of it, can provide faith and strength that lasts the rest of their lives.
As a pastor, people will sometimes tell me about an inexplicable mysterious magical moment that they had earlier in their lives. They recall it with great joy and they recognize it as a gift from God. But, what really strikes me is the way that past experiences gives them strength and hope for the day to day challenges of their present lives. Mountaintop experiences are a gift of grace and source of strength. They can also be a catalyst for change, a catalyst for transformation.
Our scripture reading says that Jesus was “transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun and his garments became white as light.” Those who have had mountaintop experiences were transformed in the process.
For me my experiences at Silver Lake, the church camp I went to in junior high and high school changed my life. It’s a big part of why I’m a pastor today. A mountaintop experience could cause you to change your job. But, the change is more likely to be more basic. Your transformation could be to change your opinion or to change your attitude. My little sister Tammy would tell my mother that she liked it when I went to Silver Lake because when I came back I was nicer. Mountaintop experiences are a source of strength and a catalyst for change.
What I’d ask you to think about for a moment is how your mountaintop experiences have affected your life. Similar to before, but a little different, we’ll pause for a moment of silent reflection. The similar part is a moment of silent reflection. The different part is that instead of sharing with everyone I’ll ask people to share in small groups of two to four. Here’s the question, it has two parts: “How have your mountaintop experiences given you strength and/or how have they, or did they change you?” Children and youth, again you probably have not had this experience. What I want for you is to hear from the adults what their experiences are like. So, a minute of silent reflection just think to yourself “How have your mountaintop experiences given you strength and/or how have they changed you?” I’ll let you know when a minute us up.
The last thing we need to look at is that mountaintop experiences inevitably lead to the valley below. In spite of Peter’s request to pitch a tent and camp out for a while. Jesus quickly led him, James, and John back down the mountain. The same Jesus who leads us to spiritual high places also leads us to care for the hurting, minister to the homeless, or simply to tend to the needs of a brother or sister. The same Jesus who leads us to the mountaintop is there in a bad smelling hospital corridor, is present in the fears and tears of everyday life.
In summary mountaintop, experiences are a source of strength a catalyst for change and they inevitably lead to the valley below.
I’d like to close with an excerpt from a speech by Martin Luther King Jr.. It was given on April 3rd 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee the day before he was assassinated. It’s entitled “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” He was in Memphis in support of the city sanitation workers; they were on strike at the time. You can hear in it how his mountaintop experience was a source of strength, a catalyst for change and how it led him to life in the valley: Here are the words: “Well I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But, it 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 concerned about the 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 I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”
My prayer is that all of us have had or will have such mountaintop experiences. May they change us and give us strength, strength to face the challenges of our daily lives. And, strength as Martin Luther King Jr. to do God’s will. Amen.