In the name of the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
On this Sunday, we remember two of the best-known stories of transfiguration in the Bible: the transfiguration of Moses on Mount Sinai; and the transfiguration of Jesus along with his disciples Peter, James and John on an unnamed mountain. But this Sunday, it’s not just about remembering their transfigurations. I invite you this morning to remember your own: to reflect on a time in your own life when God came to you in a powerful, tangible way so that you knew that God was real, that you were not alone, and that God was with you.
Perhaps your transfiguration happened on a mountain. Maybe it was in the wee hours of the early morning when you were struggling with something and in pain and begged for God to come to you and God did. Maybe it was out in nature when all of a sudden you became aware of the extraordinary beauty of God’s creation. God was with you and you knew that no human hand could have created that beauty. As you go to that place in your memory, do you remember what you felt? Where you were? Were you overwhelmed and fearful like the disciples? Were you relieved that God had come to be with you? Were you enveloped in the love that surpasses all understanding?
It is that deep rootedness and grounding in God that is so critical in all of our journeys of faith. I would posit the view that the transfiguration of Moses as he received the Ten Commandments from God emboldened him to go forth in the ministry that God called him to—to come down off that mountain and to lead his fearful people through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Jesus, in like manner, knew what was ahead of him. The disciples were with him. There was no mistaking who Jesus was. and He’d told them before they ascended the mountain that it was his call to suffer, to die, and to be resurrected, and that after the resurrection it was up to the disciples to carry forth in the transformative ministry that Jesus had begun.
You don’t need me to tell you that our world needs us to be bold, to be those who heal, who reconcile, who help repair the breach, to build bridges, to build beloved community. I think we can only do that when we are very clear, get our bearings and are grounded in the presence and the power of God. That is when we can go forth and truly live as the people that God intended us to be. Last Sunday from this very pulpit, our Dean preached a powerful sermon about our being healers, bridge builders, repairers of the breach. He made the point that truth matters. Character matters. As our baptismal covenant calls us, that we are to strive for peace and justice for all and to respect the dignity of every human being, not just those we know and like or who look like us. but Every human being is worthy of our respect.
How do we do that? In his book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, David Brooks uses mountains as metaphors. He talks about how in the first mountain of so many of our lives we’ve been conditioned since birth that we’re to strive, to achieve, to be successful, to make our mark. But it’s a pretty individualistic and self-centered journey. He says that he is the poster child for the lie that we are what we accomplish, that if we have career success that we will be fulfilled. How often do people get to the top of that first mountain and look around and the view’s not all that satisfying? In fact, it’s disappointing and it begs the question, is that all there is?
Brooks goes on to write that from the top of that first mountain, however, we can see a second mountain that’s bigger and better and is the mountain that was intended to be our mountain all along—where we live lives of commitment and relationship and we live lives of meaning that matter and make a difference. We move from being self-centered to other-centered, independent to inter-dependent: that what we strive for and what we want and pursue are something worthy of the journey. Throughout the book, Brooks lifts up people who were doing exactly that: living lives of joy in the second mountain of their lives. If you want to look for signs of hope and people who are doing it, read the book.
I just want to share one example from the book because, truthfully, it’s not that challenging to do. Each one of us could do it in our own way and in our own context. He tells the story of his friends Kathy and David who some years ago, when their son Santi had a friend named James who Santi learned often went to bed hungry, invited him for sleepovers, knowing that James would at least go to bed with dinner. As those things go, James had a friend who had a friend who had a friend and before you knew it, Kathy and David were opening up their table, building beloved community where there was none. To this day, on any Thursday night, you can find about 26 kids and young adults around that dinner table.
It’s their practice, at about a third of the way through the dinner, to go around and they share their stories. Sometimes they’re celebratory things: someone has passed their GED, someone has just gotten a great job offer, someone has achieved their barber certification. But other times, it’s more complex. A 17-year-old girl shares that she’s pregnant and she doesn’t know what she’s going to do at 17 with a baby. A young man shares about his severe depression and he can’t see a way out of that dark place. A young woman who came for the first time, who’s 21, is open enough and vulnerable enough to share that the last time she was around a dinner table, she was 11. Can you imagine? Beloved community.
We are called, brothers and sisters, to be healers, to be relationship builders, repairers of the breach, bridge builders. Jesus has shown us the way and when we ground ourselves in the reality that God is real, we’re not alone—that with God’s help, we can do this. We too can find our second mountain, our purpose, our path. As tempting as it is to stay on that mountain top where the view is good and to pitch tents like Peter wanted to do, we are called to come off that mountain to do the work that God has given us to do, knowing that we don’t do it alone.
I invite you this morning, as we prepare to enter the season of Lent, to remember the transformative time or times in your life. Let it give you your bearings and your grounding and imagine if you will, that you can hear Jesus as he said to the disciples, “Get up, don’t be afraid and follow me.” Amen.