Sunday, January 20, 2013

Of Mountain Tops and Valleys

The Transfiguration of Our + Lord, January 20, 2012
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, MT
Of Mountain Tops and Valleys - Matthew 17:1-9
Vicar Jason Toombs

Which is sadder: a mountain top or a valley experience? 

There’s nothing like a mountain top experience.  You’ve reached the peak, as high as you can go, and nothing can stop you from reveling in the moment.  Views that take your breath away not just because of the view but because the air is thinner and crisper.  The brightness of the sun is kicked up a notch.  You can peer off in the distance and see all of God’s creation.  But when you come down you are often disappointed because life will never be that good again.  Sure, you can relive the moment in your mind but there’s nothing like a mountain top experience.  When life returns to normal it bogs you down.  Normal life isn’t exciting or thrilling.  It can’t match that feeling when you’ve been on top of the world.  Normal life, or as normal as it can be, is about the highs and the lows.  Sometimes you need to view things from a different perspective.

Valley experiences cause pain and sadness.  You’re at a low point.  The stress of the holidays gets to you.  The sun isn’t shining and the darkness starts to creep in.  You’ve spent so much time away from family and friends that you turn to something to take the pain away: sex, drugs, alcohol, or gambling.  You’ve been going it alone for so long that you don’t know when somebody wants to help you.  They’ve reached out to you but you turn away from them, “They don’t know the pain of an abortion.  They don’t know the pain of an addiction. They can’t help me.”  Pride or maybe shame rules your heart; you can’t let other people know your pain and agony.  You’ve made it this far on your own.  You need to push a little harder and you can make it.  Like Thomas the Tank Engine, you say, “I think I can, I think I can” not realizing that maybe some things in life are too big to overcome on your own.  Valleys are surrounded by hills or mountains; when you leave a mountain top the valley isn’t always far away.  But sometimes you need to view things from a different perspective.

We have all had those mountain top experiences.  When he got down on bended knee to ask for your hand in marriage.  When she said yes.  When the pastor announced to the congregation, “I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. ...”  When your favorite team won the big game against their rival.  When your team won the championship.  When the judge awarded you first place in the contest.  The agony and practice were all worth it when you stand on top of the world.  But what if things went a little differently?

We’ve all had those valleys in our lives.  Husband and wife, parent and child arguing with each other.  Neighbors arguing over pets and property lines.  Your team loses in a close battle or, worse, in a blowout.  You’re the favored team; you’re expected to win, but you fall short of winning the championship.  Life drags on and you think, what if?  What if we went left instead of going right?  What if I looked to the left once more and saw that car?  What if we got the message a little sooner about a loved one going to the hospital?  What if?

So I ask again, which is sadder: a mountain top or a valley experience?  Don’t answer too quickly because sometimes you need to view things from a different perspective.

Peter, James, and John his brother, went up a high mountain with Jesus.  They were going to have a mountain top experience, on a high mountain no less.  They had been with Jesus and knew that He went up on mountains to pray (Matt. 14:23).  They knew that going up mountains was not out of character for Jesus.  But this mountain was different.  They wouldn’t forget what happened on this mountain.  They had followed Jesus up the mountain when, what to their wondering eyes should appear, but Jesus transfigured, and boy did they peer.  They looked intently at His appearance, it was changed.  He was transfigured, He was transformed before them. 

His appearance was altered from how they normally saw Him.  His face shone like the sun, shining with His full radiance which He hid from their eyes.  His clothes became white as light.  White, pure, holy, radiating with the truth and light that Jesus is.  As St. John writes in the opening words of his gospel, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).  Jesus came into this sin darkened world to bring light and life to you.  God’s word, this same Jesus, is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).  He is your light and shines upon you every day.  Last week we had the Paschal Candle, the Christ Candle, beside the baptismal font as we celebrated Jesus’ baptism.  We celebrated the light of the world being in our midst.  This celebration continues every Lord’s Day as the candles are lit to show Christ’s continued presence with us radiating from the cross.  But even when the candles are not lit at church He is still there with you because of His promise to you, “Lo, I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).

And when Jesus was transfigured there were two other people talking with Him.  Moses and Elijah were having a conversation with Jesus about His exodus, His leaving the disciples and returning to His Father.  Moses had handed over what he received, the Law of God.  Elijah, one of the prophets standing in place for all of them, was God’s spokesman to Israel and the nations.  God had spoken by these two men, as well as many others.  “In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets. But now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son” (Evening Prayer Heb. 1:1-2a).  The Law and the Prophets were speaking with Jesus about Him.  The Law and the Prophets testify about Jesus and how He will save His people.  All people are His people; He came to rescue all people from the hand of the devil and bring them back to God.  He came for those who are having a mountain top experience and those who are in the valleys of life.

When Peter saw Jesus, Moses, and Elijah talking, he had a brilliant idea, “we should build tents, one for each of them.”  He wanted to stay on the mountain, to maintain the mountain top experience for as long as he could.  He went up to Jesus with this idea, “‘Tis Good, Lord, to Be Here” but while he was speaking a bright cloud overshadowed them. 

And a voice came from the cloud saying what we heard last week at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”  The beloved Son of God came down from heaven to die on the cross for everyone’s sin.  And Peter would have prevented Him by staying on the mountain rather than going down through the Kidron Valley.  Jesus walked through the Kidron Valley before He was crucified outside of Jerusalem on a hill.  Peter wanted to keep his mountain top experience with Jesus rather than going through the valley of death that was waiting for Jesus outside of Jerusalem. 

Peter’s mountain top experience would have prevented Jesus’ dying and rising for his sins.  Viewing Peter’s mountain top experience from the perspective of preventing the death and resurrection of Jesus would have been far sadder than losing his beloved friend and master.  As sad as the valley of death that awaited Jesus on the cross was, it is nothing compared to His not dying for our sins.  If He had not died for you, you would still be in your sins, you would still be in bondage to the devil, and there would be no hope for you. 

But thanks be to God because He has rescued you from your sins and the devil.  Jesus is your hope and sure foundation for your faith.  Jesus left the mountain top and travelled through the valley to the cross.  On the cross Jesus paid the ultimate price, giving His very blood to cover you, covering your sins.  Going further into the valley of sorrow He was placed into a tomb where He rested until He rose again on the third day.  He fulfilled all righteousness in His death and resurrection.  And He ascended higher than any mountain top, ascending back to the Father from whence He came. 

Jesus makes the mountain top experience that Peter wanted to maintain a valley experience as it would have prevented Him from going to the cross.  He also helps by making your valley experiences, the struggles that you are going through in your day to day life, better.  He lifts you up with a Word of promise when you are brought low by pain and agony.  He is there with you through your struggles of addiction helping you day by day and moment by moment.  He is there forgiving you when you can’t seem to forgive yourself for you past actions, your what ifs, and your pride and shame.  He is with you to remind you, “Lo, I am with you always,” even now shining His light to illumine the path of salvation that is found only in Him.  Jesus, your light, is there to shine on you in all of your dark days.  He gives you life and comforts you in your sadness and agony over your past actions: abortion, addiction, giving in to temptation wherever it is found.  Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, can only point you to Jesus, they can’t get you into heaven on their own.  There is no one but Jesus only for that.  And in Jesus you rise and have no fear because He is there to protect you.

Mountain top experiences are fun every now and then but they are nothing compared to the joys and experiences that you will have in heaven.  Throughout your life you will have mountains and valleys but these you shouldn’t focus upon. Instead, focus upon Jesus as He is your life and light.  Your trust and faith resides in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The beloved Son of the Father is there for you throughout the mountains and valleys of your life.  Listen to His words calling you to Him, “Rise, and have no fear.”

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