Rev. Greg Osterberg
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a
high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his
clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And
there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter
said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one
for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they
were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a
voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked
around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what
they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
The Abenaki tribe, first inhabitants of New Hampshire’s White Mountains before the
17th C. European invasion, believed that the tops of the mountains were the dwelling
place of the gods, so they did not climb them — out of deference to their sanctity.
Fast-Forward to the 1980’s…
My friend, Bill, an Outward Bound instructor, invites me to go on a guys’ weekend,
hiking. The plan?
Take a long weekend in August; Drive from PA to the White Mountain’s “Presidential
Range”; climb the peaks (incl. Mt. Washington) — then drive back!
Well, Bill is a very experienced mountaineer, we had the equipment — so why not?
(Some of you “outdoor guys” like Mike Riley or Dick Pixley are thinking to themselves:
Are you crazy?!)
Not only that, but, Bill was “tired” of freeze-dried trail food, so he bought fresh food…
which is three times as heavy! (Bill is bigger than me.) So… with tent, climbing gear,
food, layers of fleece and Gore-tex clothes, etc., our packs weighed 80+ lbs.!
We are climbing the highest peak in the Northeastern U.S.: 6,288 ft. and climbing it
quickly. Ever have one of those, “what was I thinking?!” moments?
This was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done!
This was not a spiritual quest, except to test physical limits at age 30-something. I
did learn some things though: that Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared” was confirmed:
we were prepared. Not wise, but prepared! In fact, the very night we camped at the
bottom, a guy who prepared only for an August day hike got caught in a snow storm,
and died on Mt. Adams. A helicopter was returning the rescue litter when we made
the mountain hut near the peak. Why did we go up? Bill needed to get away, and I
went as a buddy.
Well, Jesus had his own reasons to climb a mountain. We can’t know for sure, but:
– his ministry had “gone viral” — crowds were seeking him “24/7”!
– his compassionate acts had power — strange & miraculous;
– his words & actions were inciting controversy…
Maybe Jesus needed to clear his head, ground his spirit, pray…
“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a
high mountain apart, by themselves.”
This is often why people climb mountains: to be “apart, by themselves;’ to get a
broader perspective. That must be part of what Jesus sought. Who knows what the
three disciples, Jesus’ hiking buddies, were expecting?
Climbing Mt. Washington with Bill, I expected some challenging trails & pristine vistas.
After summiting Mt. Adams, we could see grand wilderness vistas: “Lake of the
Day 2, we made for Mt. Washington — 2 peaks over — where I was anticipating even
better vistas, and a look at that austere Mt. Washington Observatory, where the
most extreme winter weather has been recorded. Feeling cold this frigid weekend?
Winds 200+ mph; Temps of -50°F; Wind chills of −102°F (Jan. 2004).
Surely, atop Mt. Washington
would be a remote vista for only
the rugged, the self-reliant, the
mountaineer! So, we’re climbing
toward the summit from the
& I keep hearing a high whistle.
Bill said it was the cog railway.
Oh, OK, I’d heard of that.
Then, near the top…
I hear a car horn, then voices, then glimpsed one of those coin-op binoc machines
just above a rock wall! Peeking over the wall I see… Tour vans!” ”
A Visitors’ Center! ??
Crowds of shorts-wearing, camera-clad tourists, concession stands! Just then, a
family approached saying, “Oh cool! real “mountaineers!” Can we take a picture?!”
Well, so much for the remote, wilderness, “mountain top experience!”
Not what I expected to see.
What the disciples found with Jesus on the mountain top was not what they expected
to see either!
“ …he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such
as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with
Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”
Peter, James and John — the first students he hand-picked. From little Capernaum
— they had never seen anything like this! If you were a 1st C. Jew, these two figures,
Moses, and Elijah are huge! They had near angelic status. Here, Mark’s gospel presents
Jesus talking with them as equals!
Jesus likely climbed the mountain to connect with the Sacred — to BE with God.
He probably hoped his First Followers would too. Here they could gain a perspective
on just how unique Jesus is, and how pivotal their lives could be!
Some of what we ourselves see when drawing aside to “look at the big picture”
can overwhelm, or underwhelm but always — it depends on our openness to “seeing.”
Peter, James, John they are open, and seeing…
Except, in the middle of it, Peter blurts out:
“Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for
Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Seeing, Peter just wasn’t OK with just being there. Peter wanted to keep the moment
on the mountain from passing. Good thing Simon Peter didn’t have an iPhone!
He’d have probably attempted a “selfie” (photo of one’s self) with Jesus, Moses, and
Elijah in the background! (Imagine uploading that to First Century FaceBook!)
We want to “keep” our moments too…
Even when we are able to be fully present, on an actual mountain, or with a person,
or in a blessed moment, it is hard to just be there. Our culture for the last 100 years
has increasingly sought to preserve the moment — “The Kodak Moment” promoted
hear so that now, with cell-phone cams ready we rarely have a moment we are not
wondering, How To Frame [ * ] a shot!
But of course, we can’t “Hold onto the holy” any more than could Peter:
a moment of wonder; a person; a place we love — even church…
If we try too hard at preserving it, we miss it and miss the point!
Well, Peter — got an instant “wake up call…”
“Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is
my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’”
“LISTEN!” BE WITH…!
If only a Voice & Cloud like that would bring US up short — give US a “wake up call”
sometimes! Maybe it does:
– in the Cloud of a near-miss, The Voice says, “Savor your time!”
– in the Fog of Loss, The Voice says, “Touch loved ones!”
– in the Mist of Disease, The Voice says, “I am with you!” (always)
– in the Smog of Doubt, The Voice says, “Listen!” hope will come.
“Suddenly when [they] looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but
Maybe that’s the point: Christ, this Human expression of the Divine:
“translating” God for our limited minds is our best shot at comprehending
our Maker — imperfectly as we may see.
“they saw no one… only Jesus.”
Maybe that’s why we come to this “Mountain” each week:
to “see Jesus…” somehow as this story says
to be present with the Divine, if fleetingly;
then, find what best to do.
The rest of this Mountain story, the DO-ing comes next week.
What does Jesus lead them to start doing?
Come find out! Amen.