God is with us, let’s follow Him down the mountain!
Its good to be back this 2nd Sunday after the snowfall.
Welcome to all visitors
Welcome back to everyone who was snowed in last Sunday.
Welcome on this end of Epiphany—the season in which we celebrate God being manifest—being disclosed—being revealed—showing up—in Jesus Christ.
Welcome on this Transfiguration Sunday—the Sunday that functions as the capstone of the season of Epiphany and the most overt example of God showing up in Jesus.
And on this day I hear Scripture saying to us “God is with us, lets follow Him down the mountain!” God is with us, lets follow Him down the mountain!”
Let us pray:
Lord God, be with the preacher, be with the assembly, be with all of us here at St. John’s that my words and our meditations may move us to follow you son down the mountain. Amen.
Today both Jacob and Peter have a close call. A close call with God. They both have their own personal powerful Epiphany experience. They both are confronted with the fact that God is with us.
Jacob, escaping from family troubles, heading to far off Haran, finds himself, as it says in Genesis, “at a certain place” when the sun set. And so he takes a stone as a pillow and drifts off to sleep.
And soon enough he finds that he has in fact rested his head upon the escalator of angels.
It is in that place that he finds his father’s God standing beside him.
It is there that his father’s God speaks to him for the first time.
It is there that the magnificent promise of his ancestors—a promise that he has heard about, but never experienced, becomes solidified before his eyes—it became his own promise.
Yes, it is at that place, at Bethel, that Jacob hears loud and clear that “God is with us.”
He didn’t expect to meet God that night—he just wanted to get some shuteye for his long journey north—but God showed up.
And so too with Peter. This faithful disciple climbs a mountain with his teacher and manages to stay awake and see his master manifest
among the likes of Moses—the author of the Law
and among the likes of Elijah—the most famous of prophets
Further, right before his eyes his master was changed and was shown in glory.
In this transfiguration Peter sees the most awe inspiring, most full, biggest, example of “God is with us.”
Scripture doesn’t say what Peter was doing or thinking those eight days before he went up the mountain with his master—but I don’t think he expected the terror of transformation—none the less God showed up.
And St. John’s, I want to tell you the very same thing. God is with us—God shows up.
This Valentines Day God is with us—like a Valentine from a secret admirer, God just shows up. While we may write poems, buy candy and flowers, and make cards to woo our beloved God doesn’t need wooing.
God is wooing us. God is with us.
I’m here to remind you and remind you again that God comes down Jacob’s ladder to us.
God chooses us.
God woos us.
God is with us.
God shows up.
But do you know one of the dangers of God being with us?
Do you know what we, in our human sinfulness, want to do when God shows up?
We want trap God for ourselves.
We want to confine God in the act of Grace.
We want to domesticate God.
We want to tame God.
We want to snow God in!
Look at Jacob—he tries to snow God in. The LORD, hovering over him like a mighty pillar assures him, “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”
Yet Jacob responds, “Surely the LORD is in this place… How awesome is this place!”
He gives the place a name, “Beth-el,” that is house of God. He declares the place of this experience of God showing up the house of God and the very “gate of heaven.”
God says I’m with you wherever you go and he respondes, “How awesome is this place.” He has transformed “wherever you go” into “right here.”
Likewise Peter tries to snow God in. Like Jacob he tries to make a beth-el, a house of God, up there on the mountain.
Even as Moses and Elijah are talking about Jesus’ impending departure—Peter overcome by his experience of glory—suggests that they make dwelling places for the three men.
He tries to snow in his present experience of God in Jesus!
(pause) Yet even as I admonish these pillars of the faith I can understand their taste for snowing God in.
We too—like Peter and Jacob try to snow God in.
We too attempt to lock ourselves in with God—fit ourselves in a particular place of faith.
We too try to seal our faith in a box, a building, a place, or a space.
We try to make God comfortable for us.
I think of my time in the Holy Land a few years back. I went to do research at the Albright Institute in East Jerusalem, but I mixed pleasure with business as I went during Easter so I could see the sights and sounds and smells of Holy week in the Holy Land.
I remember all the gilding and gold, all the buildings and bustling surrounding the places where Jesus had done things.
Shrines where Jesus was flogged,
monuments where his body had been laid, churches… everywhere. –I bristled at it—this was an attempt to snow God in.
I also remember this serene church on a Mountain in Galilee.
Its olive green roof blended in with the natural world around it.
Architecturally it was humble yet glorious.
You could look down and see the Sea of Galilee stretching out before you.
It was magnificent, and… and so right!
You could see that this was the kind of place where Jesus would want to hang out.
And in fact it was where Jesus preached the beatitudes—his blessings to the poor, the meek, the mourning, the hungry, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted.
I remember saying to myself, “finally a building and a place worthy of my Lord.”
I finally found a comfortable house for my God.
Then I read a pamphlet about the Church of the Beatitudes only to find that it was built at the behest of the fascist Italian dictator Benito Mucilini.
It was then I realized I’d tried to snow God in.
But God won’t let us do that.
You can snow in your Vicar, you can snow in your Pastor. You can snow in your Mayor and your Governor. Heck, you can snow in the whole Federal Government if you try hard enough!
but you can’t snow in God.
No, God is with us.
And when I say that I mean all of us.
God is with us on the mountain and with us at the base of the mountain.
God is with church people and God is with the unchurch.
God works in the life of saint and sinner, holy man and heathen.
God’s with us… and God’s with THOSE PEOPLE
God’s with our household… and with our neighbor.
God’s here…and God’s there.
God’s there in the rapture of religious ecstasy… and in the doldrums of everyday need.
God’s in the church…and in the snowed in apartment.
God’s in the transfiguration…and down the mountain with father and son.
So lets follow him down the mountain.
God says to Jacob, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”
And boy does Jacob go with God to some strange places, from Cannan to Harran—or to say it another way from Modern day Israel to Modern day Turkey—wrestling at the river Jabbok and amongst messy family squabbles.
God is with Jacob beyond Bethel, and with people other than Jacob.
So lets follow God down the mountain.
And so too Peter with Jesus. After Peter’s suggestion of creating dwelling places for Moses and Elijah clouds rumble in.
A front of epic proportion—more low pressure systems and high pressure systems crashing together than we’ve ever seen—gathers
and from the depths of the storm comes the words, “this is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”
Now what does this have to do with following him down the mountain? you might ask.
1) The last thing Jesus had said to Peter before the transfiguration was that he was going to be killed and raised. You can’t be killed and raised if you’re stuck on top of a mountain!
2) The next words Jesus speaks, kind of scary words at that, are the words, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” Jesus isn’t just up in the mountain at the zenith and the heights of faith and power—he is also down with us at the base of the mountain where there is faithlessness and perversity.
On the mountain we get a clear picture of Jesus in his glory. In the riveting and rolling clouds and thunderous voice we witness the greatness of God. We even hear that Jesus is God’s Chosen son.
But we get a clear picture of Jesus and of God down here at the base of the mountain too! In restoring an only son to his father—by healing the boy—we are astonished at the greatness of God.
Lets follow him down the mountain to see that too!
As important as the mountaintop is—as important as the realization that God is with us is, we can’t stay there—God is with us all—so let’s follow him down the mountain.
Two weeks ago Monday I was at the funeral of Mrs. Ezra Cole of Tabernacle Lutheran Church in West Philly where I did my Field Education last year.
Now I didn’t know Mrs. Cole particularly well—I just thought of her as the nice well-dressed lady who sang on the choir.
But when I arrived at Tabernacle it was obvious she was much more than that—she was Lutheran royalty.
Three generations deep of pastors—including St. John’s own Pastor Rosa Key—as well as one of Tabernacle’s Vicars from 1973, were all in attendance to say a few words.
The place was packed!
It turns out Mrs. Cole was quite a woman—that day we heard stories about her faith, her sense of style, and her singing, and on more than one occasion, humorous stories were told at the expense of her husband.
But that’s not what caught my attention.
What caught my attention was that Mrs. Cole was the first African American member of Tabernacle—then an exclusively German church now a mainly African American one…and even more interesting was that she had become a member in the 1950’s.
The Coles had moved into West Philly just as they had their third child. And having three children under the age of 2 can be a hand full—or so I’ve heard.
And one of the Cole’s neighbors—a little old German lady—came up to her one Sunday and said,
“Dear, three children are too many to have without a church family to support you.”
And that very day she drug Mrs. Cole and her three children down Spruce street to Tabernacle.
And two weeks ago—well over half a century and multiple pastors later there she was, surrounded by her three children and so many people who she had touched—and loved—and had loved her—still at Tabernacle.
And I can’t help but think--What if that little German Lady hadn’t been confident that God was with her.
What if that little German Lady had tried to snow God in.
What if that Little German Lady hadn’t realized God was with Mrs. Cole too?
What if that Little German Lady hadn’t followed Jesus down the mountain and next door to her neighbor?
I don’t know the answer—but I fear both Tabernacle and West Philly would be a poorer place for it.
And I’m just so glad she knew God is with us and that she followed God down the mountain. A+A