Yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday. In my setting, it was also Confirmation Sunday. I opted not to preach on the transfiguration itself, but rather from Exodus 34 where Moses comes down the mountain, his face glowing from being in God's presence for such an extended period of time and the Israelites unsure how to receive the sight of it.
For one reason or another, the story of the transfiguration shows up again in the lectionary the Second Sunday in Lent. This year, that also happens to be my first Sunday at the new church. So me and my Type A personality decided that that would be my focus text for that day, even if I didn't yet know the specifics. If nothing else, I figured that it would be some version of the Transfiguration Sunday sermon that pretty much every pastor has preached at least once: our experiences on the mountaintop inform our lives at the mountain's base. We can't stay on the mountain; we leave inspired to serve. I figured that some variation on that would be good to kick off a new era of ministry both for myself and for my new congregation.
A few nights ago, I had a dream where my family and I found ourselves in the sanctuary of my in-laws' church. There was no real rhyme or reason given for this, but of course in the dream it felt like being there made total sense. Anyway, while most of the family hung back in the narthex for some reason, Coffeeson actually led me down a side aisle, pointed to a pew near the front, and said, "Stay here."
I woke up shortly after this, trying to make sense of this dream. I didn't have much luck parsing its meaning, but I did experience some certainty that this was related to my upcoming sermon on the transfiguration. I couldn't see the full picture yet, but I knew that it was related somehow.
Yesterday morning, I clicked on the UCC Daily Devotional that I receive in my email, this one written by author Anthony Robinson, which focused on the transfiguration text from Luke 9:
Have you heard the sermon on this story? It goes like this: "We must not tarry on the mountaintops of spiritual ecstasy and encounter. We must return to the valleys of human need and suffering, there to serve." I've heard it. I've preached it.
It's a good sermon. But I've heard this sermon so often that I began to wonder why we were in such an all-fired hurry to get down the mountain. I began to wonder if a different question were the right question just now. "Have we been to the mountaintop?"
It's not of course an either/ or, not either mountaintop or valley. Not either encounter with God or service to others. It's a both/ and. But perhaps just now, we need to ask, "Have we been to the mountain?" Have we been in the presence of God, which as preacher Fred Craddock used to say, is where everyone wants to be and where everyone doesn't want to be.
Holy ground is not safe. It is full of mystery and magic and power. We aren't in control here on the mountain. But should you find yourself there, don't just do something, stand there. Don't speak. Listen. As the cloud swirls and the fog lifts, "This is my Son, listen to him." Let God be God.My first reaction was one of amazement: it was uncanny to me how well this tied into my dream. I couldn't make much sense of how "stay here" tied in with the transfiguration until I read this. And merely to have these tie into one another was incredible. So sermon themes aside, that was cool in its own right.
Sure, we have to come back down the mountain to serve and to make sense of our experiences in the context of our daily lives. But there's also something to be said for lingering a while. Once we're on the mountain communing with God, it may be that the Holy Spirit is telling us, "Stay here." At least for a little while. Listen, reflect, pray, be. Then eventually, when it's really time, go to serve.
I like it. I think I know what I'll say when I get to that point. But of course, there are some other things to do first.