Readings: Exodus 24:12-18; :2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
If you stand at the back of the church, near the coffee machine, and look through the glass partition towards the pulpit, you are likely to see a reflection of two stained glass windows appearing as a pair of banners just hanging over top of the pews in mid air.
It’s been several years since we installed that partition, but I never noticed the reflection until Bob Bassett pointed it out a few weeks ago. Now I look for the virtual banners when I’m back there. For me, they are a good reminder of the glimpses we are given of God’s often surprising and unnoticed presence in our midst. Its a hint of what one writer calls the mystical in the midst of the mundane.
After crossing the Red Sea, being nourished by water and manna in the desert, Moses and the Israelites arrive at the wilderness of Sinai. That’s when God calls to Moses from the mountain and invites the people to enter into a covenant relationship. And the people reply as one: everything the Lord has spoken we will do.
God gives Moses three days to get the people ready for an appearance of the Divine on Mount Sinai. As the people wash their clothes in preparation for the 3rd day, Moses cautions them not to get too close to the mountain or they will die. And on the third day, there is thunder and lightening, a thick cloud covers the mountain and a loud trumpet blast makes the whole camp tremble.
Over the next few days Moses escorts several people up and down that mountain; first is Aaron to hear the Ten Commandments and ordinances; then its the seventy elders who are permitted to worship on the mountain but at a distance; and finally, its Moses’ assistant, Joshua. Then the glory of the Lord appears like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. And Moses enters the cloud and, leaving Joshua part way, ascends to the top of the mountain where he stays for forty days and forty nights. It’s a great story of our awesome God revealing a little of the divine self to the people. In it we can hear hints of our story of baptism.
But all of this isn’t enough to hold the people’s attention and pretty soon they get tired of waiting and ask Aaron to break the covenant by making a statue of a golden calf to worship – which causes Moses to drop and break the tablets – and they have to start the whole thing all over again.
Now, in fairness to the Israelite congregation, its hard being in a relationship with an invisible God. Humans like to have something concrete to hold on to, something we can see and touch. The good news is that God does not give up on that covenant relationship and we end up with the Ten Commandments which reveal how God wants us to live in a relationship of love and respect with God and each other.
Some 600 years after Moses, God speaks to and through Elijah, the greatest of the old-time prophets. Elijah stands before God on the same mountain. Its not in thunder, wind, earthquake or fire that Elijah encounters God, but in a still small voice amidst the sound of sheer silence. Some 800 years after Elijah, along comes Jesus. In contrast to the spectacular, transcendent God of the trembling mountain, Jesus reveals the healing love of God present in our midst.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, as the new Moses, interprets the Law and the Prophets, taking us to a whole new level of understanding. We’ve been listening to that challenging teaching for several weeks now.
Today, we are ready to join Peter, James and John as they accompany Jesus up the mountain to pray. And once there, we get to experience Jesus in a whole new way as we witness the glory of God shining through him, calling us to listen and follow. This moment is meant to be fuel for our faith.
The Israelites need that encounter with God on the mountain to get through the years in the wilderness on the way to the land of promise. Elijah needs his encounter with God on the mountain to give him courage in his struggle with Jezebel. And Peter, James and John need their mountain top experience to get them from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Day of Resurrection.
On Wednesday, we begin our journey into the Lenten wilderness where we are called to face our worst fears.
On this Vestry Sunday, we are all concerned as to what the future holds for St. Paul’s. Will we like the changes that come with trusting in God and moving forward? Will we be able to forsake at least some of what lies behind in order to embrace what lies ahead?
At the end of today’s reading, Jesus tells his disciples to, get up and do not be afraid. That sounds like pretty good advice.
Like our ancestors in faith, let us get up and continue our journey, trusting in God. Let us make the road by walking together, embracing God’s future for us.