Sermon preached on Exodus 24.12-18, Matthew 17.1-9 at St Albans Church, Bristol.
In both of our passages today, mountains were mentioned. Mountains are a big thing in the Bible. We hear about their creation in Genesis, the ark being stranded on it, we have Abraham climbing the mountain with Isaac. Then Of course Moses goes up and down the mountain a fair few times, and they are mentioned in the psalms.
Similarly in the gospels; with the most famous trek being the sermon on the mount. But Jesus has also healed the blind and lame on a mountain. Therefore it is not surprising that the disciples did not bat an eyelid climbing one with Jesus this time, because they had done it before, they possibly asked themselves what they would encounter today. But rather, I’d like to think they just followed Jesus, trusting that He would bring them where they needed to be.
Now, I don’t know how often you climb a mountain? But I happen to have climbed one a few weeks ago, when I was on holiday. I had left the city and I was standing at the foot of a steep climb, looking up, thinking, this is going to be a tough one. But up I went, powering on to not lose my footing and get to the top. On my way I passed an older gentleman with a fairly sized backpack; he also carried a little folding chair, a big flask, and in his hands were two walking sticks. Tick tick, they went, as he moved his way up, tick tick. I powered on, quickly leaving him behind. It wasn’t long until I needed a minute to catch my breath, and as I stood there, sipping my orange juice, I could hear the gentleman catching up with me. Tick tick, tick tick. He passed me as I had a bit of my sandwich. And when I felt ready, I powered on again, thinking I would catch up and overtake him soon enough. Instead I was forced to pause to catch my breath once again, accompanied by the consistent ticking of his sticks in the distance. Tick tick. Tick tick.
I realized he had not needed to stop because he had kept a lower pace and wasn’t burning himself out in an attempt to reach the top as quickly as one possibly could.
I decided to be guided by the ticks and slowed down. Instead of my heart beating in my ears, I could hear the birds. Instead of breathing heavily and feeling flustered, I could feel the breeze of the wind on my face. And instead of focusing on every step I had to take, I found my thoughts going quiet.
As Peter, James and John climbed the mountain with Jesus, they saw him being transfigured. Transformed. They probably did not fully understand what they were witnessing, and in good faith Peter proposed to put up shelters for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. To keep them safe, to care for them, to show their status. But his thoughts were interrupted, the voice of God quieted his proposal.
Sometimes we try so hard to make the conditions right, to try and reach a goal. For example in climbing a mountain, or caring for other people. We can be so busy with that, that there is no space for anything else. No space to listen. However when we slow down, when we quiet our thoughts, that is where we create the space for God to enter, for the world to Be, and for ourselves to become a witness. Like the disciples, we might not always understand what we experience, we might not understand our role in the bigger picture. Or we think that we do, by proposing to put up a shelter. Only to be told that that is in fact not our task. No, God tells the disciples and us to listen. However scary that might be, however confusing it might be. He introduces us to His son, even though the disciples don’t fully understand what it means yet. And as we journey towards Lent, I wonder if we do? Do we ever fully understand who Jesus is, how he is present in our lives? Or are we too busy chasing goals, climbing mountains and providing for others. For who has time to slow down? To stand still and listen to the birds? Let alone meditate on a mountain for forty days! We have got stuff to do people, the world doesn’t stop for us. We are busy, and it is not a choice. Or is it?
If I had powered on to the top, I hadn’t heard the birds. I would not have appreciated the climb. And I probably had been too tired and too out of breath to admire the view once I made it to the top. Because, I reached my goal. Ready to go home and chase the next best thing. Preventing myself, sabotaging myself, from seeing the beauty of the world and the present moment.
And that is not just applicable to climbing a mountain, but it matters in the entire journey of our life. Do we prevent ourselves to hear the voice of God? The whispers of his Son’s presence? Perhaps also preventing us from change. Because as I climbed that mountain, and as the disciples and Jesus climbed theirs. Jesus wasn’t the only one transformed. By listening to the ticks of the man walking in front of me, I learned the lesson of pacing myself and appreciating being in the present. By listening to God’s voice the disciples were introduced to Jesus, and his and their future. It changed them, they would take that experience with them even if they did not understand, even if they could not yet put it into words.
Not every change has to be noticeable, or life altering. But it might be nice to spend this next week, listening to the quiet, and asking yourself if you would allow yourself change if you were presented with the opportunity. And even though I joked that we don’t have time to meditate on a mountain for forty days, we are of course presented with another opportunity. To spend Lent, forty days, in fellowship with Christians all over the world. We can join in daily readings, we can join a home group. We can take a few minutes each day to pause and witness, whilst we look around as we slowly pace ourselves on our journey of life. Our journey through Lent, our journey with Jesus to the cross.