Feb 26, 2017 Mountains
Going up to the mountains changes you, doesn’t it? Mountains, big rocks, all are monuments to God’s creativity. I’m always amazed when I get to go up into the mountains. I loved going up to the Sierras when I lived in Folsom. I love the forests and the vistas, the clean air and wildlife.
Mountains provide inspiration look at a work of Thomas Kinkade’s, it’s just gorgeous and uplifting. It’s serene and powerful all at the same time. Mountains seem to draw us away from the mundane and the daily to something beyond ourselves. Mountains give us a perspective on life that calls us to something bigger than who we are.
The Sierras in particular however, also provide a surprise, something you simply don’t expect when you head up to the high country.
When I went up to my first pastor’s retreat at Meyers I was struck by what a surprise Lake Tahoe is. It startled me and made me think, what must it’ve been like to come from the east, across the miles and weeks of nothing but dry desolate desert, and then to put out the effort to hike the dry-side of the mountains and suddenly to see what looks like a sea! This vast body of fresh, clear water is where you’d have no reason to expect it to be.
Why would there be such a gigantic amount of water right there in the midst of the high mountains after days and days and days of dry, arid desert? Coming across that desert you’d have no expectation of ever seeing such a sight and yet… there it is (!), just waiting to surprise and delight you.
Yes, you’d’ve had water from streams, rivers, and the occasional spring, but this; this overabundance of water; such a thing is just simply not to be believed here on the top of this mountain!
And it’s that; that – not believing what you see in the mountains – that’s what happened for Moses and the Israelites in the Old Testament lesson today isn’t it? For them meeting God on the mountain was something that you just would not expect from wandering the desert after leaving Egypt. And reading further on in the text, it would have been amazing for the people of Israel to come to Mt Sinai and have their leader talk with God.
And notice this talk between Moses and God took 40 days – it’s like what we’re going through in Lent starting Wednesday. After Moses had been on that mountain with God for those 40 long days, he then returns and gives you, from God’s own hand, stone tablets with God’s own handwriting!
Never has anything like it been seen by anyone at anytime. This is simply not to be believed, but, like the water of Lake Tahoe, it can’t be denied. It is true! God has given to Moses, to the people of Israel and the world; God has given His word of covenant and law here on the mountain called Sinai.
But as you read the history of the people of God in the Old Testament we learn that the novelty of obeying God’s law… sort of wears off after a bit. Again, it’s like Lake Tahoe becoming something ho-hum for those who live there, the Jews had simply become accustomed to the amazing law God had given them. Its freshness and uniqueness had turned into the mundane and ordinary. The fantastical revelation became just a functional reality. The expectation of more – of wanting the ‘Wow factor’ along with a feeling of entitlement replaced the people’s awe and humility that first filled them at receiving God’s hand-written words It now became about… “What’s next, God? You rescued us, You fed and clothed us, You guided us and met us on the mountain, You gave us a covenant, but… what’s next? What are You going to do now? We’re getting a bit bored and You need to do something else to get our attention.” How jaded we can become.
We get bored with life and its responsibilities for our relationships – both our earthly and our heavenly relationship. And so we want to escape it all. God gave His covenant and it was greeted by the people with enthusiasm and a commitment to follow-through, but (!) But that energy failed over time as they became more concerned with themselves and less on their relationship with God. They became tired of living with what God had given them and with caring… for Him.
There was a sad story in the Seattle Times newspaper back in the early 90’s of a U.S. army enlisted woman who killed her healthy 4-week old baby daughter by leaving her in a closet while she went on a vacation. She placed her in a closet in her apartment in Germany and flew to Atlanta, Georgia for a 3-week vacation. When she returned, she called the military police to report that her daughter had died. She pled guilty to charges of premeditated murder during her court martial.
She just let her baby die because she wanted a vacation! Yes, it’s an extreme example, but it speaks to the truth of what happened over time with God’s people and how they came to treat their relationship with Him. Though He had brought them up out of the land of slavery and oppression, they sought to kill that relationship through their indifference, their self-absorption, and their neglect toward God.
But God wasn’t about to let that relationship be destroyed by such callous disregard. God knows the hearts of people. He knows because He created us… and we turned away in rebellion. And He knows we need rescue; we need saving from our sin.
And so God brings us to yet another mountain. In the gospel lesson today, He again comes to a mountain and speaks and again gives us His word. The mountain this time is what we call the Mount of Transfiguration. Look in the gospel at the first verse. Read it with me… “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” And then skipping down to verse 5 it says, “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
St Peter, in the epistle lesson today, gives us His testimony to these words having been spoken by God. Peter was there on that mountain with Jesus when God spoke. And remember Peter, James, or John, had no idea what was yet to come after this mountain-top experience. They had no clue what you know is going to happen when Jesus takes them to Jerusalem. They didn’t know, like you do, that God was giving us, in His Son, something new. God gave us, in Christ a new covenant – one not based on a new law but rather on the fulfilling of the law given to Moses on Mt Sinai.
And that new covenant was sealed with blood on yet another mountain, on the mount of Calvary. And on that mountain also, God speaks. He speaks through the words of Jesus when He says, “It is finished”. And on that mountain, we’ve been given grace; grace through the person of Jesus Christ.
Again, like the overabundance of water in Lake Tahoe in the mountains – on the mountain of Christ’s death on the cross He supplies us with surpassing grace to more than meet our every need of forgiveness for our sin. This One who died on Calvary is the same Son of God revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration to Peter, James and John in today’s gospel reading.
At His Transfiguration, Jesus is changed in His appearance to show us, through the witness of these three disciples, the fullness of the Godhead in the One person of Jesus Christ. The transfiguration wasn’t so Jesus could change; it was so that His followers understanding of Who He was could change! It’s to us that this change has been revealed so we could have a hope to live in throughout all our days. God cares for His creation and wants a real relationship with His people. That’s why He does this on this mountain.
God’s words to the disciples there on the mountain of Jesus transfiguration were, “this is my Son… listen to Him!” God is giving us yet again, there on that mountain His Word. He gives us His Living Word, Jesus Christ, not stone tablets carved from a mountainside but His word now made flesh! And in Jesus, in our baptism into Jesus, God writes His Word on our hearts! Jesus, the Son of God, begotten of the Father from before the foundation of the world, has come to the mountain and put God’s word into us.
Mountains are places of inspiration and beauty as we said at the start. King David in psalm 121 said, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” These words give us a reminder of the source of our help, Jesus Christ who was revealed to be God in human flesh there on a mountain.
Even when the mountains are obscured by distance, cloud or fog we know that they’re there. And when our experience of the relationship with God seems distant, clouded and foggy to us, we know that He is there, just like the mountains. We rely and trust on what He has done in creating a better relationship, on what He has said, “this is my Son… listen to Him!”
The next time you go driving through mountains, stop someplace up there and get out for a quiet moment. Think about what God has done on all the mountains in scripture. And remember the Mount of Transfiguration and the better relationship with God that’s yours as a result of that. And then pick up a rock from that mountain and bring it down with you. Let it remind you that the mountain is there even when you can’t see it.
Remember, the Mount of Transfiguration wasn’t so Jesus could change; it was so that His followers understanding of who He was could change! Jesus is our overabundant source of help and hope. He’s the one on whom our relationship with the Father in heaven is based. He is the mighty rock, the mountain high and lifted-up, that our faith and hope rely on. In His name, amen.
Sermon #871 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Old Testament Reading Exodus 24:8-18
8 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”
13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”
15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
Epistle Reading 2 Peter 1:16-21
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Holy Gospel Matthew 17:1-9
17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”