In the spiritual world, mountains are identified as holy places. Reaching toward heavens, mountains are places where seekers hear God’s word and receive God’s guidance. On the mountaintop, Moses met with God and received the Ten Commandments and later viewed the Promised Land of Canaan. On the mountaintop, Jesus shined like the sun.
I’m an ocean person but I recognize the power of mountaintop experiences. When we are on the mountaintop, we can see further, beyond our typical boundaries, and gain perspective on the world below as well as our daily lives.
Just a day before his death Martin Luther King, spoke of the mountaintop: “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really 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 not concerned about that 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. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
In today’s reading, Jesus and his inner circle have been to the mountaintop and they’ve had a mystical experience. In the words of Aldous Huxley, the doors of perception are opened, they see the world and their teacher as they truly are – Infinite and Divine – and encounter the long-dead heroes of faith – ALIVE!
They are so overwhelmed by the experience of Infinity in everyday life that they pass out. Upon awakening, Peter stammers, “let’s build some tents here, let’s make a permanent shrine, and stay here. The world below is too much with us.”
They have been to the mountaintop, but like Martin Luther King, they must return to the world of conflict and challenge, whether a strike by sanitation workers in Memphis, TN, or a heart-broken and hopeless parent and a child with an incurable illness.
We can all identify with the man who seeks healing for his son. We know what that feels like: we’ve been to the hospital room with children and spouses and the graveside with parents, siblings, and life partners. I’ve been to the hospital room, with my own son, and felt the helplessness, the fear of what the future might bring. I’ve felt the pain of parents and grandparents in this sanctuary, and their pain has been my own. And, so have you!
And Jesus responds to the pain, restoring a father’s hope and curing a boy, seized by spirits, perhaps, epilepsy.
Jesus joins mountain and valley, heaven and earth, bliss and pain, joy and sorrow, to share God’s healing touch. The mountain is the heavenly, but the heavenly brings us down to earth, to make earth heavenly, to bring God’s realm to earth as it is in heaven.
Tomorrow, in our Mystic series, we study the Quaker John Woolman. From an early age, he felt God’s nearness in dreams and spiritual openings. As a young man, he was asked to write a bill of sale to transfer a slave from one Quaker to another. He performed the task as part of his job description, but then quietly challenged his employer. As a Quaker, he believed that God’s light shined in everyone – that there was something of God in everyone. He could no longer be a part of slavery, despite its legality. For the next two decades, he walked across the East Coast wearing undyed clothing to protest against slavery and preached to his fellow Quakers the good news that all persons are God’s children. Woolman became what many call the parent of Christian social justice in the United States.
The day after King’s mountaintop speech, the dreamer was shot, and we are still struggling issues of race, whether at our borderlands, inner cities, wages and education, and even on Cape Cod. We are still struggling with gun violence with 1200 children killed since Parkland, thirteen months ago, and 40,000 gun related deaths over the past year. We are still struggling to protect our fragile environment and balance economics with ecology.
Jesus went to the mountaintop and then faced a family’s pain. Where will our mountaintop lead us? Where will our visions inspire our steps – to elementary schools on the Cape, to ministry with the homeless, to care for orphan children, to reconciliation with neighbors… The tasks are overwhelming and often we receive no clear guidance.
But, let us seek the mountaintop. Let us pray for a vision. Let us go beyond our own self-interest, to care for others in ways appropriate to our faith, obligations, and current situation. We need to bring that sweet hour of prayer to the chaos of life. We need to embrace and push forward the moral arc of history, the justice of the future, the healings of the spirit, so that we and our world might shine with the spirit of that transfigured Jesus.