[Texts: I Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41]
O Lord, take my lips and speak through them;
Take our minds and think through them;
Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for Thee. Amen.
A couple of weeks ago, just before Lent began, we read the story of the Transfiguration. Remember? Jesus took three of his disciples– Peter, James, and John– up onto a high mountain, and they had an amazing experience. The three apostles saw Jesus transfigured before them, and his robes were “white as the light”, as the text says. They were awestruck, beholding Christ in all His glory.
Have you ever heard somebody talk about having a “mountaintop experience”? That’s sort of a “Christian-ese” term that people sometimes use as shorthand for a really profound experience with God. The reason it’s called a “mountaintop experience” is because a lot of important encounters with God in Scripture did happen on top of mountains.
There’s the Transfiguration, of course– that’s probably the big one– but then, of course, you have Moses receiving the Ten Commandments; that was on Mount Sinai. Going back a bit further, the Mount of Ararat was where the Ark finally came to rest after the Flood, and God made a covenant with Noah there.
And the Temple of Jerusalem– that beautiful, holy place where God dwelled with His people– was on top of a hill, too; it was up on Mount Zion. In Greek, when you talk about going to Jerusalem, the Biblical text always uses the verb that means “I go up”. It didn’t matter if you were coming from the north, south, east, or west; you always went up to Jerusalem.
As you can see, God often chose mountaintops and high places to meet with His people. And it is often on metaphorical mountaintops where we encounter God– these joyful, often euphoric moments in which we behold the dazzling glory of God, revealed to us in a way that inspires and transforms us.
Thanks be to God for those “mountaintop experiences”.
We must be careful, though, to remember that life’s mountaintop aren’t the only places we can encounter God.
Nor are they necessarily where we have the most profound experiences of Him.
A healthy and mature Christian faith cannot simply run from hilltop to hilltop like a junkie in search of the next fix. Nor can we give up on the business of seeking after God every time the landscape changes.
The God we worship is a God whose desire is always to be revealed to us– to be stumbled upon and found– and who delights in being made known to us. And He is always present with us, not only on high mountains, but in the valleys, and in the wilderness, and in the depths of our despair.
Much of how God reveals Himself to us is through our lived experience. When Jesus called St. Peter and St. Andrew to be disciples, they asked Him where they could find Him. His response was “Come and see.”
The call to discipleship is, in many ways, a call to suffer. Taking up your cross is about as pleasant as it sounds.
We were never promised that our time on this Earth would be without pain, trauma, grief, or suffering; quite the opposite, in fact.
But we were also promised that God would be with us.
And those valley experiences, those wilderness experiences, those times in which we cry out from the depths of agony, can be the canvas on which God paints us a picture of who He is just as much– if not more so– than the mountaintops.
There is a quote from one of C. S. Lewis’s books, called The Weight of Glory, that says something like, “When by grief the entire universe is emptied, there is God.”
And my friend Dan Edwards, in God of Our Silent Tears, put it like this:
“For purposes of finding God in suffering, we start by giving up the notion that God is a Being ‘up there’ somewhere safe, while we are suffering here in the danger zone, pleading with God to jump in and help. God is already here.”
God is with us on the Mount of Transfiguration, yes.
But He is also with us in the valley of the shadow of death.