Coming Down the Mountain of Bliss
One of the huge struggles I’ve had as a Christian is coming back down the mountain where I’ve seen Jesus transfigured before me. What I want to do, when I see the tiniest glimpse of the world fully reconciled to God in Jesus through his Spirit, is to stop life right there. Like Peter, James and John, I’ve managed to stay awake, not falling asleep as disciples are won’t to do when things with Jesus are about to get serious. I’ve managed to stay awake, that is, to see through the brokenness of my own sinful evasion of God’s calling to me, of his directing me, and turn my eyes, my direction of gaze, my will, my heart, my thinking to him.
And so I’ve just caught a glimpse I say to Jesus: stop. Stop right here. This is just perfect. The broken world you’ve pulled me out of is gone, forgotten, I don’t need it anymore; I’m with you now; the law of love is fulfilled in you; and you have let me in. I’m right here. Let me build a house for you, Elijah and Moses, the law of reconciling love is just here. Everything is perfect, just the way God made it. I know it now for my joy is complete. My joy is so complete, it is overwhelming it flows out of me with tears of fulfillment, belonging, consummation. I long for nothing more, I am satiated. I am in you and you are in me. Stop here please. Let us dwell here together in your kingdom.
Our Gospel reading from Luke this morning should be a familiar one. It involves Jesus going up on a mountain, his face shining, as Moses’s shone when he encountered God on the mountain, and having his Father affirm Jesus as the inbreaking kingdom of God who would reconcile the entire world to his Father, through his Spirit. We see this inbreaking kingdom, the very gospel itself, foreshadowed in God’s revelation through Moses to the Israelites, a reality confirmed in our reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church. But we find it fulfilled only in the one, Jesus, who can and so freely chooses to reconcile us to God because he loves his Father and so he loves that which is Father created: us.
Of course some background is helpful, or you’d probably find some holes in the plot. Our reading from Exodus is rather helpful here. It continues the saga of Israel, commissioned to be God’s witnesses in the world after Adam and Eve decide to they want to direct their own lives rather than following God’s perfect will for them (because of course we all know together we’ve done a stupendous job of directing our lives to a joyful and non-conflictual perfection all by ourselves thank you very much God). God’s given them a fairly simple commission to follow him and in doing to, to provide a witness to other people about what following him entails. He even gives them 10 commandments to follow that summarize living well together as diverse individuals.
By the time we get to Moses on the mountain top though, we realize there’s this, well, I guess you’d call it a repeat pattern, something like those old fashioned records skipping over the same track unable to move on to a new song. Israel struggles with the consequences of sin as a result of trying to direct their own lives, they get caught up in the lives and ways of other nations who are doing the same thing, and God finds one lowly servant, in this cases, Moses, to set them straight.
Moses of course, not being God himself, can’t communicate the full reality of who God is to the Israelites who simply could not bear it so he’s got to wear a veil when he tells them of the Covenant that God has created with them. I’m going to be your God and I’m going to rescue you and I’m going to preserve you and your generations and I’ll gather you to me and restore you to relationship with me. So worship only me. No matter what trials you face, don’t try to go it alone; constantly turn back to me from whatever plans and plots you conjure up because you can’t build the kingdom of God. I’m bringing it to you.
And this is precisely the reality we encounter when Jesus is born into the world: God himself, in the Person of Jesus Christ, is the one who judges evil as wrong all the way to being executed for doing so, including all the miracles, all the generosity, all the admonishing of treating people poorly, of judging, of being hypocritical, of loving words and admiration rather than God and neighbour of not caring for the poor, of preventing those who struggle from following him, of trusting in oneself rather than in God, of trusting in wealth, power, the ability to manipulate and control others through actions and words often without even realizing it.
Jesus is the one who is righteousness itself the perfection of love for God and for neighbour and enemy; he is the one who overturns how the world works: those in power now have nothing, those who seem to have ‘gotten in right’ now, have nothing, for these things are utterly temporary and only in place to try to keep this world in order. But the world to which we are going, God’s world, has none of this because these things are irrelevant, from wealth to marriage; from the ability to influence, to the ability to bear children; from the ability to climb ladders, to the ability to show demonstrate one’s youthful body or brain.
And yet down the mountain Peter, James and John go; back into the world we live in where all of these things must be engaged, lived through, dealt with. Yet they are told not to tell anyone what they have seen. Why? Perhaps for the same reason Moses could not remove the veil when speaking to the Israelites: the time was simply not yet right. God would put the words into his and into our mouths when the time is right. I can tell you that when I have seen glimpses of God, it has taken me years, and multiple encounters with other people through a variety of experiences – good and bad – to find the right words to express this fully revealed God whom I encountered.
Yet it isn’t actually about me finding the right words. What I have learned is that it is about waiting on God to transform my heart and mind into his likeness so that what another hears does not point to me, and my direction, but to God and his. And so I ask you, in what ways have you come face to face with God? If you haven’t, why do you think this might be? These are things that, coming into Lent, we might lift up to God as part of our turning to him, our confession, our desire to know his kingdom so we might share those glimpses of joy with others. AMEN