Mountain Top Experiences

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Hello, friends, and welcome back. I’m the Rev. Sare Liz Anuszkiewicz and this is the Sunday Sermon. If you’re looking for the bits of the bible I’ve referenced in this sermon, you can find the link right here on the website where you found this audio file. For the nerds in the know, this is Last Sunday After The Epiphany, and here’s the sermon I preached on Sunday, February 19, 2023. 

Good morning! Today we heard something remarkable in the lectionary, the three year cycle that has us reading most of the Bible out on a Sunday. We heard readings from the old testament, from the epistle, and from the gospel, and they were all about the same thing. This happens sometimes, but not always quite so obviously as today. And today we saw people having and reminiscing about Mountain Top Experiences.

Have you heard that phrase, before? A Mountain Top Experience? Usually it’s talking about something rare in your life, something deeply beautiful, and something that is so intense and spiritual that it changes you. Who you were before is quite different than who you are afterwards.

We got to hear the first part of Moses’ Mountain Top Experience – and this is the original folks. This is why we call them Mountain Top Experiences. You go to the Mountain, you get to the Top, and you have an Experience of God that changes who you are and how you see yourself and the world, forever. And that’s what happened to Moses. It’s a long story, of course, all the old ones are, and when he comes down off the mountain he’s glowing, he’s got the ten commandments written on two tablets, and he promptly has a temper tantrum because the people in the valley have been extremely naughty while he was away. And while that’s a fun story to read, the point for today is that he was the first person in our histories spiritual or otherwise who went to the mountain, encountered god, and was changed.

In Peter’s letter, he’s referencing the gospel reading, urging people to remember that as fantastic as it all is, the next generation shouldn’t try to write it off. Peter really encountered God on the Mountain and he wasn’t alone, and it did change him.

And then there is the gospel reading. Now it seems like this is Jesus’ moment, Jesus’s Mountain Top Experience… but you know, I don’t think it was. Jesus knew who he really was, already. He didn’t need to be changed by God, and Jesus was the same before the mountain as after the mountain. No, I think what we see in the gospel reading today was really the Mountain Top Experience for Peter, James, and John, who went with Jesus. They didn’t know what they were getting into, and they didn’t have the best immediate reaction afterwards, but they were certainly changed from the experience. Before they knew Jesus as their teacher, their mentor, the one who just seemed to understand the heart of God and every now and then they’d have a flash of deeper understanding, but it was all still so tentative, so fragile, like a difficult understanding that is dawning so slowly, so gently you could almost miss the signs. And then on the top of the mountain, God just ripped the cover off and then Peter, James, and John couldn’t unsee what they had seen. Jesus wasn’t just their teacher, Jesus wasn’t just a prophet of the Living God who understood the heart of God better than anyone alive, and Jesus wasn’t even just the foretold Messiah, Jesus was… somehow… God.

Now, remember these people were monotheists, and very specifically their deity got super tetchy when they raised someone or something up to be co-equal with the deity. And this, friends, remains the main beef that modern Jews have with the Trinity, and understandably so. Christians are fine with the paradox of one-in-three and three-in-one, but from the outside it really doesn’t look like monotheism.

But in this ground breaking moment for Peter, James, and John, these three monotheists realized that Jesus wasn’t just a very good person, they saw Jesus as he truly was: God. Now, they still couldn’t manage to think that thought completely, so for reasons I won’t go into they still ended up separating Jesus out from God the Father so that later on Jesus became known as God the Son, but the key take home here, is that when Peter, John, and James went to the top of the mountain, they experienced God. Which is to say, they saw Jesus as he was for the first time, and they heard the voice of God telling them to take him seriously. And Jesus tells them afterwards to keep it on the downlow, which is just as well because if they’d told anyone, they could have been stoned to death for blasphemy. Because they were surrounded by hardcore monotheists.

So, have you had a Mountain Top Experience? They are, by their nature, beautiful things. Treasure it, if you’ve had one. Mine was by Silverlake. But one of the true things I had reinforced for me in that moment is that God really doesn’t want us to wait and only find God and be changed by God on the top of a mountain. (Or by a lake I infrequently visit.) God would much prefer to walk with us day by day, offering perhaps smaller course corrections, and smaller moments of peaceful inspiration, but much more regular infusions of them. Like the difference between taking a nice vacation once a year, and taking a deep breath every time you remember to do so. God will settle for being the vacation, but God would much prefer to be as close as breathing.


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