"... and went up on the mountain to pray ..."
Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday. I'll be preaching and was reminded of this sermon from three years ago - a transfiguration throwback!
See you Sunday for a continuing proclamation on what it means to pray ... listen ... and heal.
We all probably know a little something about the rain forests and how important they are to our global ecosystem.
But did you know there are also cloud forests around the world?
"Cloudforests are rainforests that are found at elevations higher than 1,000 feet above sea level. They are cool, misty and filled with brilliantly hued orchids, bromeliads and hundreds of species of wildlife. In Central Africa, cloudforests are home to mountain gorillas, and in Central America, these special ecosystems safeguard the crimson-breasted, emerald-plumed resplendent quetzal, which many believe to be the most beautiful bird in the world."
I have sadly never seen a "resplendent quetzal" in the wild,
but I actually did get to visit a cloud forest.
Steve, Tommy and I all got to do that at the end of our mission trip to Nicaragua last fall.
"One of Nicaragua's most important cloudforests drapes the slopes of the inactive Mombacho Volcano, southwest of the capital city of Managua and near the shores of Lake Nicaragua .... Mombacho is a 2,500-acre reserve, surrounded by coffee plantations and small farms. The park has an amazing variety of orchids and birds and is home to howler monkeys, along with the Mombacho Salamander and Mombacho butterfly, two species found nowhere else on Earth."
Last fall, on our mission trip to Nicaragua, when our very full and very fruitful clinic days were complete, we had an excursion day. Much of this day was spent near the city of Granada, the oldest colonial city in Nicaragua.
We did a little shopping and a little eating. But much of our time was spent on Mombacho, still by some sources classified as an active volcano, although it has not erupted since 1570.
So, we felt fairly safe zip lining across the lush canopy it now hosts, and hiking along the top.
The hike was beautiful, taking us along breathtaking overlooks and through narrow rocky passages.
And when we reached the top, something really cool but kind of unnerving happened.
As we were looking out over the landscape below we could see the weather shifting and could see the clouds rolling in.
Before we knew it we were enveloped in the mist.
It was beautiful, mystical even. But kind of scary.
Suddenly our view of the valley was totally obstructed, and even the pathway beneath our feet could barely be seen.
It was definitely a moment of trusting that each step, one step at a time, would lead us back along the trail to our destination below.
It was a very damp but exhilarating experience.
And one I was reminded of as I pondered our gospel text this week.
A cloud came over the mountain where Jesus went to pray, along with a few of his disciples.
A cloud came over the mountain where Jesus was transfigured before them, his face changed, his clothes dazzling white as he spoke with Moses and with Elijah, as they spoke of Jesus' impending departure.
A cloud came over the mountain, and the disciples were terrified.
Who can blame them? Not me.
I've already admitted to being unnerved by a cloud experience.
The disciples were dealing with much more than just the cloud.
In Luke's gospel we have a transfigured Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Peter trying to figure out what to do, and then the cloud rolls in, and a voice says
"this is my son, my chosen; listen to him,"
"this is my son, my chosen; listen to him,"
Listen to him.
I was thinking that I had recently preached on this text, so I looked back and sure enough I had the privilege of preaching on Transfiguration Sunday two years ago.
It was the Matthew text, but the versions are very similar.
For a minute I considered preaching that sermon again to see if anyone would notice. : )
But I will share that the basic proclamation, the core understanding I gleaned from the text then is similar to what I hear in Luke's version now:
mountain top experiences matter greatly (perhaps volcano - top experiences as well).
But we cannot stay on top of the mountain.
Our moments of spiritual high, whether they come in worship or in times of meditation, whether they come through revival or church camp or Sabbath rest, our moments of a spiritual high point are not meant to last.
Those moments are meant to fill us up, to carry us forward, to prepare us for coming down the mountain and getting to the work at hand.
I will say that two years down the road, this story has me pondering a little more what it means to live a life grounded in prayer.
That's what started this whole mystical encounter.
Jesus went up on the mountain to pray.
Time and time again in scripture we find Jesus taking time apart to pray.
And I can testify that when I take time apart to pray, when my prayer life is mindful, intentional, and consistent, then mountain top experiences are much more likely to come my way.
When my prayer life is neglected or just shallow, something I do out of duty and obligation rather that deep abiding joy and love for God, then I am less likely to experience God's presence with me and in me.
Hear me clearly.
God is never absent.
God is faithful and present and true.
But I am sometimes absent from God.
The Transfiguration story is big and dramatic and awe inspiring.
It is mystical and cosmic and mysterious.
It's something to celebrate - the glory of God shining through Jesus, the voice of God affirming once again who Jesus is and commanding the disciples, and us, to listen to him.
But in a few short days we will enter a new season in the church.
Once again we will honor and observe the season of lent. Let us enter this season with the example of Jesus firmly planted in our minds and in our hearts.
Many of us will be fasting, giving something up for lent, or perhaps taking something on as a way to strengthen our spiritual disciplines.
Whatever you do, let me encourage us all to choose something that strengthens our prayer life.
If you do not currently practice daily prayer, maybe you could commit to 5, 10, 15 minutes a day to communicate with God.
If you already pray daily, maybe you could add a time of silence and meditation.
Or you may want to add a new way of praying - maybe journaling your prayers,
adding a prayer walk to your day so you can strengthen both body and spirit,
or praying through art or some other creative process.
Use your prayer time to let go of negative thoughts, to let go of feelings of despair, to practice forgiveness for yourself and for others.
And use your prayer time to not say or think anything at all, just be in God's presence, knowing, trusting fully that you are loved, that you really are God's beloved.
Know that I will be practicing the discipline (and joy) of prayer right along with you.
It helps to be in covenant with someone about your spiritual practices, someone with whom you can share some mutual accountability.
You can do this by phone or email, but if possible try to talk in person along the way.
These are holy conversations and are richer when body language and facial expressions add to the dialogue.
There is a reason we remember the transfiguration every year.
Big, amazing, mountain top experiences are part of our faith life, or at least I hope they are part of our faith lives.
There is also a reason we observe the season of lent each year.
We need the reminder to repent, to turn away from the things that separate us from God, and to turn once again toward God.
We also need the reminder to practice our faith, to not only talk the talk but walk the walk,
to go deep and to strengthen the spiritual disciplines that sustain us.
The power of prayer.
The practice of prayer.
It may not cause us to glow and to dazzle, but then again it might.
Time with God will transform us.
Deep practices of prayer will ground us, anchor us, strengthen us so that whatever comes, mountain top or the deepest valley, we will be ready.
Even if we don't feel ready, we will know we are not alone.
Thanks be to God.