St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (February 1, 2015)

Liturgical Color: Green

Marissa Tweed, Pastoral Intern


Down the Mountain

Have you ever had a moment or experience where you felt so close to God you could physically feel it?

Where it felt like the presence of the Holy Spirit was pressing in around you, or God's hand was resting on your shoulder, or you heard the still small voice of God ringing clear as a bell in your ears or your heart? Maybe it came through the words of a dear friend, or a prayer answered, or a child born.

Perhaps it was a longer than a moment, but a period of time or a certain chapter in your life.

One of those times for me was when I served as a camp counselor at Lutheridge Summer Camp. That summer was filled with so many unexpected joys: finally discerning my call to seminary, meeting my future husband, learning dozens of camp-worthy songs, games, prayers, and skits...

But what I remember most of all was the constant sense that God was near and that I was on holy ground: whether it was the 2nd grade camper who, full of wonder and yearning, asked me to tell him more about Jesus; or my high school girls who wrestled with deep questions of faith and purpose into the late hours of the night; or the meaningful, mutual, life-giving relationships that developed among my fellow counselors.

Lutheridge felt like a place away from it all — a true example of communal, Christ-centered living based on the virtues of love, forgiveness, respect, teamwork and good ol' fashion fun. Geographically it felt like a place away from it all — located on a mountain, nestled within the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina.

It's no wonder they've compared the camp experience to living in a bubble: a bubble of counter-cultural Christian community complete with nightly prayer time and daily nap time.

It's no wonder that at the end of each summer the counselors and staff go through a special training called Re-entry. This training is to prepare us to go back into the world, to get back to 'real' life, to take our life-changing experiences from the summer with us as we turn towards what's next and go down the mountain.

In today's gospel reading the disciples also find themselves in the presence of God on the top of a mountain. Jesus is transfigured before them dazzling brighter than anything they had ever seen. Elijah and Moses, central figures from Israel's history, also show up to signify the importance of this encounter, and God's voice is clear with instruction and revelation, "This is my Son. Listen to him."

This is the one you've waited for. This is the culmination of all the promises of old. This is the ultimate revelation of my glory and my love for you. Jesus is my son, my very presence on earth.

The disciples have this mountaintop encounter with the holy and the immortal and they know they are standing on holy ground. This mountaintop experience is so good that Peter exclaims, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us stay here".

It is good on the mountain — On the mountain it's bright and they can hear the voice of God. There is clarity of purpose and a tangible presence of the holy. They want to stay, but Jesus knows they cannot stay on the mountain. We are not called to stay on the mountain. We are called to take our holy experiences with us down the mountain to share with the world.

In many ways gathering together on Sunday mornings for worship and Monday evenings for bible study and Wednesday and Thursday evenings with campus ministry are all gatherings in which we encounter the holy. In these encounters we are connecting with God and connecting with one another, our purpose illumined and our souls strengthened: fed by water and word, bread and wine, and community as the body of Christ together.

All of these ways are examples of time spent on the mountain: times to reflect and rest in God's mercy, times to spiritually recharge, times to tangibly feel the love and grace of God where we feel healed, forgiven, understood, and redeemed.

It is good to be on the mountain in the palpable presence of the Lord. When one feels so close to God everything changes! We are changed, we are transformed, and we are sent out to transform the world in return.

At the congregation where my father serves as pastor there is a sign that hangs right above the exit doors to the church. The sign reads, Now that worship is over, the service begins.

We are gathered so that we may be filled with the Holy Spirit, refreshed and re-centered and renewed and reminded, and then sent out to proclaim the good news of this life-changing love of Jesus Christ.

Gathered and sent.

I attended an ELCA developer training last year that compared this pattern of gathering and sending to going to the gym, describing the church as a 'Spiritual Fitness Center' of sorts. The idea of the metaphor is that we gather to exercise and build up our faith muscles here so that we can use them out there.

Our experience of God's love and grace directly relates to and affects how we live when we leave. Here in this place we are forgiven of our sins, reminded of God's everlasting promises, and sent out, down the mountain, for the sake of the world.

Today we witnessed the baptism of Elaina Rose. Elaina, like all baptized children of God, has been transformed through her baptism into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Our baptism calls us to follow Christ out into the world, to partner with God in transforming the world as we have been transformed, to share this radical good news both in our actions and in our words as we enter back into our homes, workplaces, and classrooms.

This means moving out and beyond ourselves, carrying this life-giving message with us throughout the week: integrating it into the ways we live and talking about it with the words we say.

We are transformed by faith and we are called to go down the mountain to share it and live as changed, transformed, people of God.

And yet, all of that being said, there's this puzzling little line at the end of our Gospel reading for today that seems to contradict this entire message. Verse 9 says, "As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen..."

What is that about?

Many of you may already be familiar with the messianic secret of Mark's Gospel: Jesus' identity as the Son of God seems to be a secretive thing. The disciples never seem to fully get it when it comes to who Jesus is or what he is about...but the audience does.

This messianic secret has a literary function in Mark: the gospel writer is trying to get us as hearers of this story to do something.

We, as hearers of this story, know who Jesus is and it's difficult to sit there when we hear passages like this. Don't tell anyone? But it's so good! This is God's son! God is here with us in our very midst. This news is life-changing. How can we not tell anyone?!

This dynamic happens time and time again in Mark until finally we reach the ending of the gospel and encounter the ultimate cliff hanger: the women who find the tomb empty don't tell anyone. How can they hold it in? Death has been defeated! The tomb is empty! Someone has got to tell the world about this!

In the words of New Testament scholar David Rhoads, "Mark's ending cries out for a resolution, cries out for the hope that someone will proclaim the good news. Who is left at the end of the story to do this? Not Jesus, not the disciples [according to Mark], not the women who fled the grave. Only the readers are left to complete the story."

We talked about this very thing a few weeks ago when I led a series on the Synoptic Gospels with the Thursday evening LCM group. We talked about how each gospel writer has different goals for what they want their gospel to illustrate or move us to do.

Mark is trying to get us to do something — the cliffhanger ending and secrecy theme throughout the narrative is meant to move us to action.

We are the ones who are called to proclaim what happened, to take this message into the valleys of our everyday lives, to tell the story of the redeeming action of Jesus Christ and how this has transformed us, by how we live and by what we say.

On this Transfiguration Sunday and every single day, Jesus is calling us to follow him down the mountain to proclaim this story into the world.

Amen.

 

 

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