Jesus was a mountain man.
He led his disciples up three mountains
– the one where he taught them the Beatitudes
and to turn the other cheek
– the Mount of the Transfiguration in today’s lesson
-- and finally the Mount of Olives.
We can spend our whole lives climbing mountains
- the career mountain, the money mountain,
the mental health mountain, the happy family mountain,
even the religion mountain.
There are so many mountains,
each with a prize on top.
Moses was a mountain man. He climbed Mt. Sinai.
It had the law on top.
It had the moral order of creation, the way of life.
Moses climbed the mountain of morality.
Elijah was a mountain man.
He climbed Mount Carmel.
It had mystical experience on top,
the awesome silence of God,
the absolute stillness we find in contemplation.
Elijah climbed the mountain of spirituality.
Figuratively speaking, St. Paul was a mountain man.
He climbed both mountains – morality and spirituality.
As a Pharisee he practiced the moral life to perfection.
As a Mer-kobah mystic, he had ecstatic visions of heaven.
But one day on the road to Damascus, Paul,
like the disciples on the Mount of the Transfiguration,
saw a light shining from Jesus
– and that encounter changed his life forever.
20 years later, he remembered all his mountain climbing and said,
Whatever gains I had, these I count as loss
because of the surpassing value of knowing
Christ Jesus my Lord.
Paul no longer billed himself as a just man or as a mystic.
He didn’t bill himself at all.
He said, It is not ourselves that we proclaim.
We proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord and ourselves
as your servants for his sake.
Paul tossed aside every prize he had claimed
at the top of every mountain and said,
I’d rather have Jesus.
In our Gospel lesson, the disciples
had already left most things behind.
They’d given up homes, families, careers.
But they still had their religion.
They had the morality of Moses
and the spirituality of Elijah.
So when they saw their rabbi on a mountain top
talking with the father of ethical religion
and the father of Jewish spirituality,
it all came together.
So Peter said to Jesus, Let’s build three dwellings here
– one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
He meant it as a compliment, to put Jesus on a par with those giants.
But Peter had missed the point.
So God showed up as a bright cloud and thundered,
This is my beloved Son . . . . Listen to him.
And the disciples were afraid.
They were afraid because they had rashly answered
life’s ultimate question
– the question of what really matters
– and they had gotten it wrong.
They pushed the existential Jeopardy buzzer too soon.
In a multiple choice question,
with the answers being morality, spirituality, and Jesus;
they’d answered all of the above.
But that wasn’t the answer God had in mind.
They hadn’t seen what blind Paul saw so clearly
– that the ultimate value of God’s own self
was fully present in this human person,
this peasant preacher who would end up a convict,
All of morality and all of spirituality lead
to what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
called the Omega Point, the goal of the cosmos,
and it turns out to be this glory in the dust,
this God in man made manifest.
The notion that the final answer isn’t
the moral order or a transcendent experience
but a person – that’s a lot to swallow.
But it is the key to intimacy with God.
The story of the Transfiguration shows us why.
The disciples thought the terrifying cloud
was the Epiphany.
They thought the voice from heaven
was the divine revelation.
So they fell on the ground and hid their faces.
But the real epiphany was what happened next.
The real epiphany was when Jesus touched them
Get up and do not be afraid.
They looked up and saw no one
except Jesus himself alone.
We don’t see God as a thundercloud
sending us diving to the dirt in terror,
but as a brother saying, Get up and do not be afraid.
The real epiphany was Jesus.
John Calvin, who was so often wrong, got this right.
(A)ll thinking of God, apart from Christ,
is a bottomless abyss
which utterly swallows up our senses . . . .
In Christ, God . . . makes himself little,
in order to lower himself to our capacity;
and Christ alone calms (us)
so that (we) . . . dare intimately approach God.
Calvin says Jesus makes it possible for us
to be intimate with God.
In Jesus, we can embrace the source, the destiny,
and the meaning of all Creation,
as we might embrace a friend.
Jesus brings divine love into the flesh of human life.
God can touch us only with a human touch.
A surgeon, Richard Selzer, tells this story
from his medical practice.
I stand by the bed where a young woman lies
. . . her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish.
A . . . facial never has been severed . . .
(T)o remove the tumor in her cheek,
I had to cut the nerve.
“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say, “It will because the nerve is cut.”
She nods and is silent,
but the young man smiles,
“I like it,” he says. “It’s kind of cute.
He bends to kiss her crooked mouth,
and I, so close I can see
how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers,
to show her that their kiss still works . . . .
I hold my breath . . . .
Just so, Jesus touched them, saying,
‘Get up and do not be afraid.’
And when they looked up,
they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
That’s what we mean by God because that’s who God is.