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The Mountaintop…

February 14, 2015

I wrote this poem during a humanitarian deployment to Grenada in the summer of 2000 while I was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. One of the “jobs” this Padre had was working along side of the Airmen, Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers on the job sites and in the compound where we lived. It was an amazing time for me personally and spiritually as I walked with our troops and with the citizens of Grenada.

Often times, I would serve at least one meal a day with our Airmen who kept the dining tent running smoothly and the military members well fed. From my position in the “chow line” I had a view through the triangular opening at the top of the tent flap. This picture captures the view that I looked at daily and the poem captures my thoughts as I would look upwards during breaks in the serving of meals.

image

View From A Window
Michael A. Moore (13 Jul 00)

From the serving line
I look to the window
A small opening, really
Above the doorway
A ventilation flap
Looking to the hill
A pathway leads up
To a view of the sea
It looks so inviting
This place on the hill
While I serve workers
Their evening meal
The thought, the view
Mesmerizing
If I climb that hill
Can I touch the sky?

As I reflected upon the Gospel lesson from Mark 9:2-9, this picture and moment came to my mind. Tomorrow is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before we enter the season of Lent. Jesus had taken his inner circle of leadership up to the mountain for a “leadership retreat” of sorts. Jesus often went off by himself to pray, be with God, and discern the next step in his journey. What happened next would not be found in any leadership refreshment or development retreat! “His clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” (Mark 9:3) And as if that wasn’t enough, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus!

As I put myself into the scene and reflect, perhaps through the eyes of Peter (my favorite of the disciples, quick to speak with a passion before thinking things through), I find myself amazed! Holy Smokes! It is Moses and Elijah, two of the super heroes of our faith! And they are talking with Jesus in my presence! And what’s up with Jesus? He has been transformed!

So what did Peter do? Peter blurted out without thinking–Hey Lord, let’s set up camp! Let’s set up a tabernacle like Moses had in the wilderness and somehow keep Moses and Elijah here! Just think of what we could learn from them on this mountaintop! Let’s leave all of that crazy talk about Jerusalem and death behind… Let’s stay here and learn! They had it all in front of them! Their history and the legends of their faith before them, and Jesus transformed before them! What more do you need? Your glorious past and Jesus! We can just stay on the mountain forever!

Well, Peter’s hopes of hanging onto the past and staying on the mountaintop were quickly dashed. “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.” (Mark 9:7-8)

In that moment, all hope of hanging on to the experience was gone. However, before Moses and Elijah left, Peter and James and John heard a very important revelation from God. The same words which Jesus heard at his baptism were heard by the three disciples. This is my Son, the Beloved… Followed by the command, Listen to Him! Listen to Him!

This mountaintop experience was not to be held on to by the three disciples. It was not a personal revelatory experience for them to keep to themselves. Yes, they were supposed to keep it quiet upon orders of Jesus for the moment, but this moment would help transform them just as they had seen Jesus transformed. This moment would forever change their lives. Remembering their past, they would walk boldly in faith into an unknown future. Blessed by the presence of Moses and Elijah, and with the voice of God ringing in their ears, they would go with Jesus into the future.

Earlier this week I was reading Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech, “I See the Promised Land”, delivered the night before he was assassinated. He used the story of Moses as an analogy when he spoke of the Promised Land which the African American community was marching towards. Dr. King said he may not get there with them, but he knew that they would get to the Promised Land. King saw a vision from his mountaintop experience, yet he knew that he had to go back down into the Valley of the Shadows. Little did he know that he would be in that valley the very next morning!

Jesus knew that Peter, James, and John had to come down from the mountaintop and walk into the Valley of the Shadow of Death just as Jesus had to. They couldn’t stay on the mountaintop and bask in the glow of the glory days of old with their heroes of the faith. They had to go back down to the valley… Back to the messiness of life in First Century Palestine… Back to the real possibility of suffering and death….. But they would go with the remembrance of that vision and the remembrance of the voice of God telling them to listen to Jesus.

I have had a number of mountaintop experiences in my own life. Yet each time I have had to come back down into the valley of the messiness of life. But when I come down, I come down with a renewed sense of vision and God’s calling in my life. I never did walk up that pathway on the hill in Grenada all those years ago. While part of me regrets that, I do know that God spoke to me down in the valley. Because God has always called me to work in the messiness of life as a Padre, Pastor, Shepherd, and Friend.

Dear reader, God calls you as well to the messiness of life. God doesn’t want you to cling to the “heroes” of the past or build tabernacles as though you could hang onto the past forever. God calls you to follow God’s own Beloved Son wherever he may lead you. Walk with me as we seek to serve our Risen Lord, right hear and right now.

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