February 15, 2015 - Mark 9.2-9

“Glad We’re Here, but…”

Mark 9:2-9

February 15, 2015

2Six 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, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then 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.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9As 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.

This text is Jesus’ “Mountain Top experience.”  (retell text’s story.)


Mountain Top experience.  The phrase is filled with meaning.  It is a spiritual cliché – but accurate.  It speaks of a moment in our lives when we see things more clearly than we ever have before; or when we have such a wonderful, powerful, emotional experience that we know we will never be the same.  A mountain top experience means we have been forever changed.  We feel like we have reached the pinnacle or summit of existence – “It can’t get any better than this.”


Many times those experiences are preceded by great hardship or effort. A long hike up the mountain comes to mind for me.  Childbirth might be another one.  The contrast has a lot to do with what makes the mountaintop so wonderful – it is so much greater than what is usually happening in life.  For me though, the term is forever linked to church retreats that really went well.  Especially as a youth, the retreats left me certain that from that moment on everything would be different.  I was right.


The biblical text this morning is about a mountain top experience of Jesus and his disciples.  It is profoundly significant theologically.  Here is the voice of God signifying that Jesus is God’s Son, here is Moses the giver of the law conferring his mantle of authority to Jesus, and here is Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets, conferring upon Jesus the mantle of prophetic authority.  It is truly a hallmark event, one worthy of remembering, and celebrating.


Peter’s reaction here is expected.  He says, “Let’s make three dwelling places!  Let’s just stay here forever!”  Why not?  The situation is so good, so wonderful, and so supernatural that he never wants it to end.  We can all understand his sentiment.  But his sentiment has one fatal flaw.  Jesus had to come down off the mountain in order to be Christ.  Though the idea of staying there tempted him, Jesus had to come down from the mountain to do the will of God.  His path led him from the mountain to the cross.  If Jesus had chosen to stay, we would not be here.  I wonder, if we were faced with the same choice, to stay on the mountain top or come down and follow Jesus, what would we choose?


Art Deojay is the best person at hiding that I know.  He once found his hiding place, liked it so much, got real comfortable, and fell asleep.  We did not find him.  He woke up at 6 a.m. and then finally found us.


Too many churches and church people find the perfect place to exist, and then are never seen by the world again.  Like Peter on that mountain, and like me in the game of hide and seek, We think we get it perfect and then we build ourselves a little dwelling place right on that spot and we never leave.  But if we do that, we aren’t being faithful to the experience.  Discipleship involves following and going on.  That experience is meant to transform us for the rest of our journey.


Mountain Top experiences are not given to us to be an end in themselves – they are given to us to be the beginning of something grand.  Each one marks the beginning of a new chapter of our lives.  What happens when we leave the mountaintop is the most important part of the equation.  We are provided with this Mountain Top experience precisely so we can come down off the mountain and proclaim to all who will listen, “Guess what I just saw!”


Now my normal inclination as a preacher is to find the challenge in this text.  But with today’s world and the challenges we face in it, I want to make sure I don’t get ahead of myself, kind of like my Grandfather used to do.

Granddaddy: “Well…Glad you’re here…how was the trip…when are you leaving?”

We have to come down off the mountain.  That’s true.  We have to deliver the message to those who need it.  It is true that we must forsake our own desires and come down from our lofty perch and warm fuzzy feelings.  BUT, it is still really good to be here.  We face so many hard things these days.  Let us not get so preoccupied with what we must do when we leave here, that we forget to enjoy that we ARE here.  It is GOOD to be in the presence with Jesus. 


Why worship? What good does it do to gather on Sunday for prayer, praise, and proclamation? Worship is a "pointless" activity, the sort of behavior one might expect from those who have been loved and who long to return that love. At the heart of our relationship with God is the joyful desire to love God through worship.


Christian worship is the experience of revelation, when the veil of our human understanding is pulled back and we see Christ with stunning vividness.  Christ is here and suddenly, we know it!  That is why we keep coming back here, to worship.  Every time we come in contact with God’s presence, it changes us.  Worship is about transformation; God’s transforming us by God’s presence.


Worship is a countercultural activity in a hedonistic, auto-salvation-oriented, pragmatic, utilitarian society. It is scandalously "useless." Worship serves no more worthy purpose than the joy of being with the one who loves and is therefore loved. It ranks somewhere near the top of the list of other useless and purposeless activities such as singing songs, kissing, giving a gift without expecting anything in return, sitting quietly with a good friend, or doing nothing but watching a winter sunset. We can really blame those busy, serious folk who look at worship and wonder, "What's in it for me?" Their very question answers itself - for someone like them, alas, nothing.


Unfortunately, the church, in our never-ending flirtation with our culture (in hopes of luring it into the church) becomes a marketplace that peddles anything the culture happens to be buying at the time. When culture is in the market for self-gratification and self-centered-ness, we have been all too willing to give it what it thought it wanted. When asked, "Why worship?" we are quick to point out all the valuable benefits of worshiping God.

It's all the same. The focus is on me, my feelings, my thoughts, my commitments, my guilt, my needs. I am the center of worship, the focus of a carefully orchestrated series of Sunday morning activities that are designed to do something to or for me. We are so busy looking at ourselves, no wonder we sometimes miss God. On our knees, with our heads bowed low, we are still looking only at ourselves.


I fear that we turn in on ourselves or else peddle friendliness, inspiration, warm feelings, happiness, intellectual stimulation, aesthetic experience, moral edification, and distribution of interesting information when we feel we no longer have God, when we lose that scandalous New Testament church confidence that the one we long to meet has already come and is waiting to meet us.

Walter Brueggemann offers this stinging critique of the modern infatuation with cheerful, upbeat, praise-dominated worship:

It is my judgment that this action of the church is less an evangelical defiance guided by faith, and much more a frightened, numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the disorientation of life. The reason for such relentless affirmation of orientation seems to come, not from faith, but from the wishful optimism of our culture. Such a denial and cover-up, which I take it to be, is an odd inclination for passionate Bible users, given the large number of psalms that are songs of lament, protest, and complaint about the incoherence that is experienced in the world. At least it is clear that a church that goes on singing "happy songs" in the face of raw reality is doing something very different from what the Bible itself does.[1]

Behind all our wants, our deepest questions, and beyond even our very best answers, we may discover in worship that that was what we were wanting all along - or should we say that it was God who was inquiring after us, seeking us, wanting us all along, seeking with only one good purpose in mind - that God might meet us, surprise us, love us, and enjoy us forever.


It’s Good to be here.  When the world reminds us of how evil it can be, it’s good to be here. When life gets too hard to bear alone, it’s good to be here.  When questions come and answers seem far away, it’s good to be here.  Let us go away from this place and follow Christ down from the mountain, but let us not do that without fully acknowledging what “being here” really means.


In order to be able to tell others, “Guess what I just saw!” we have to make sure we really know what it is we are seeing.  We have to look carefully with our full attention.  It really is good to be here, to soak in God’s presence, God’s love for us, the fellowship we share.  Make sure you take a really GOOD look, at Jesus, at his message, at how much he loves you, at all these things, so you can tell them all that it really is GOOD to be here.


[1] (Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary, Augsburg Old Testament Studies [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984], pp. 51-52.)

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