Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.
When I lived in Tennessee, one of my favorite pastimes was hiking in the mountains. Where the highway went through the town at the bottom of the mountain, it wasn’t too exciting. But, standing at the top of our hill, it seemed you could see forever. It was an exhilarating experience. There were green pastures that stretched out for miles in the valleys below, but you didn’t notice them so much standing at the bottom of the mountain in the middle of the road. If you took a foot path down the mountain, there was a hidden cove, alive with soft ferns, a bubbling stream, and gentle light that danced as the tops of the trees blew in the wind. Before hiking up the mountain, I saw the trailer houses with the broken down cars parked on the side. I saw the pot holes in the pavement. I saw the fence that needed to be painted. Afterward, I still saw those things, but I also saw the beauty and potential in the area and in the people. Life can be like that sometimes. When we spend too much time in the valley on the highway, we lose sight of the magnificence of God’s creation around us. On the mountain, we can regain that vision, but we must return to the valley and look for the hidden treasures around us.
Jesus and his disciples had been working in the valley for a long time. Jesus has done a lot of good work, but the Scribes and Pharisees constantly seem to be trying to undermine his work and twist his words. He had tried to explain to the disciples what lay ahead of them, but they just didn’t seem to get it. He had fed a multitude with 5 loaves and 2 fish and they were still fretting over having forgotten to bring bread when he cautioned about the leaven of the Pharisees. He thought Peter understood when he declared “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” but right after having that epiphany he refused to accept that a cross came with that statement and Jesus was saying to him “Get behind me Satan.” The road that lay ahead was going to be difficult. Jesus knew that others must continue on without him in the near future. He needed some leaders with a larger vision to get through the difficult and uncertain times that lay ahead.
Jesus selected Peter, James and John and took them on a hike up a nearby mountain. Now hiking uphill literally or figuratively is difficult work. Where I lived in Texas it was pretty flat, it took me a little while to realize how much effort it can take to walk uphill, but now I don’t think much about it walking around my neighborhood. Sometimes we have to do the difficult work of hiking uphill to overcome some difficulty in our personal lives or our lives together in community, but eventually we look back and wonder why it ever seemed challenging.
I imagine, when they first set out, Jesus’ three companions were pretty excited about being chosen for the trip. They were curious about where they were going and what Jesus had planned. But as the journey continued, I can hear them saying, “My feet hurt.” “I’m hot.” “Can’t we just stop here?” Perhaps one of them started complaining, “We’re never going to make it.” But they did make it and just for a few moments, they got a glimpse of heaven as Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes and Moses and Elijah appeared talking with him. Sore feet were suddenly forgotten. Peter was ready to get back to work and volunteered to build three tents for Jesus and his companions. The presence of God was so tangible at that moment it was like a bright cloud that overshadowed them and the disciples fell to their knees as they heard the voice of God proclaim, “This is my Son, my beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Then, as suddenly as the vision had appeared, it was gone. But the experience stayed with them. As Jesus gently assists them back to their feet, he tells them to speak of it to no one until the proper time. But they never forgot. Their vision was forever altered. But they didn’t stay upon the mountain either. They came back down and immediately got back to work healing the sick and feeding the hungry.
We have been working in the valley for a long time. COVID has caused all sorts of challenges we never expected or asked for. Even in the middle of these challenging times, a lot of good work has been done, but there is still a lot of work left to be done in our parish, in our community, and in our diocese. Perhaps you are beginning to lose sight of the lush green pastures and see only the fence that needs painting or the broken down car. Jesus is ready and willing to lead us up the mountain for that glimpse of heaven and that encounter with God. It is going to require hard work. It takes a bit of faith just to begin the journey. It will require a staff of prayer to steady us on the rocky path and upon which we must lean when we feel we are too tired to go on. It will require a compass of knowledge gained by studying the scriptures and other writings by those that have taken the trail before us to help us find the way. And it will take a backpack full of love and compassion to feed and strengthen each other during the journey for it is not a journey we take alone. It is a journey for companions who will work together long after the mountaintop experience. At the top of the mountain, there is a little glimpse of heaven, just enough to fill us with hope and give us strength to complete our task. We mustn’t forget that Jesus is our ultimate guide leading the way up the mountain. And Jesus will be with us all the way back down the mountain. For the fields awaiting harvest are not on the mountain top, they are in the valley below. They are where we are standing right now, even if it may seem we have lost sight of them.
So how do we begin this journey up the mountain? Many of the supplies we need for the trip are already before us. Our Bible, Prayer Book, Eucharist, weekly group Bible studies are a place to start. The diocese also offers a number of retreats and study opportunities. There a numerous spiritual disciplines that can lead us to a closer relationship with God and develop us into faithful disciples. We all have different personalities and different forms of prayer, worship, and study work better for some people than for others. Many have already begun the journey, some have been up and down the mountain a couple of times and are willing to share their experiences. But if you feel like you are standing in the middle of the highway, unsure which path to take, come talk me or one of congregational leaders. If you feel like you are sitting on rock a little way up the trail, rubbing your sore feet, find one or more companions to study and pray with you. The journey is easier when we walk together. It can be a difficult climb, but we will never reach the summit without doing the spiritual work necessary to get to the top. The purpose of allowing ourselves to be overshadowed with God’s Spirit, is that we might be vessels that will spill over onto others watering their souls with the living waters of Christ. We are in the midst of difficult times, and there are probably more to come. Let us journey together up the mountain, recapture the vision of the lush green fields around us, allow God to overshadow us and journey together back down to get to work in God’s fields.