Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor Alan Watt
Many years ago, I met a
man who planned his life around what we might call mountaintop experiences.
Growing up in Chicago, he moved to Colorado as a young adult, where he skied so
often he became a fulltime instructor at a ski resort. But after a few years of
that, he decided on something new. He moved to New Mexico to take up the sport
of hot-air ballooning, even competing in the race held every year in
Albuquerque. After that, moved to Florida so he could get into boating, scuba
diving, and other water sports. He was a person who centered his life around
what, again, we could call special experiences or adventures or, at the very
least, challenging pastimes.
“mountaintop” experiences that we sometimes plan and live into, there also
are those that come unannounced, unexpectedly or that we react to in unexpected
ways. For example, when my oldest brother, Tom, was born. At the time, my dad
was thirty years old and had never before been a father. In those days husbands
were not allowed in the delivery room—to do things like give their wives
massages or help them do their breathing in the right way, or, if nothing else,
at least provide moral support. So when my brother was born, the doctor came out
to give my dad the good news. And right there, in the middle of the hallway, my
father proceeded to pass out, falling straight to the floor! That
“mountaintop” experience affected my dad in a way he did not expect, that he
did not plan.
So it was with Peter,
James, and John—although, of course, multiplied many, many times over. The day
they accompanied Jesus up that mountain, they had no idea they would witness
something very, very different—something both extraordinary and frightening.
They had probably gone with him other times—leaving the crowds for an isolated
place where he could pray without interruption. Then it happened. The disciples
saw his robe suddenly shining, as if it were almost as bright as the sun.
And—out of nowhere—two other men appeared. Peter managed to say
something—something about making a shelter for each one of them. Not that he
had anything to make them with. The words just came out, which is more than
could be said for James and John. And that wasn’t all of it. There also was
the cloud, and, finally, the voice. Then, as quickly as these things had
happened, they were over with. Gone. Once again it became quiet. Jesus looked
just as he had before. Afterwards—after all the excitement had subsided, after
their heart rates and blood pressure had returned to normal—what did they
think about all of it? What did it mean? What kind of sign was it? Was it maybe
a dream? Certainly they did not yet understand.
Actually, that’s not
surprising. In the Gospel of Mark, the disciples hardly ever know what’s going
on. In most situations, they’re virtually clueless. Yet they do see something
in Jesus they’ve never seen before in anyone else. At one point, Peter is even
bold enough to say: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Even
then Peter doesn’t get it right. His idea of Jesus as Messiah isn’t at all
what God has in mind. Not until the Easter do all the pieces of the puzzle
finally come together. And even then the disciples do not at first accept the
testimony of others, but believe and comprehend only when they themselves see
the risen Lord.
At times, a number of
us experience events beyond our ability to understand. Only later in life may
they make sense and, sometimes, not even then. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:
“Now we see in a mirror dimly; then [that is, in the life to come, we will see
him] face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall fully understand…”
Each of us encounters
God in special ways—or rather God encounters us—most of us not often, but
more likely on rare occasions. Maybe they happen as spiritual mountaintop
experiences. Maybe they come upon us in ways that are rather mundane, rather
Regardless, they can
make all the difference in our lives. They can give us that extra push we need
to get from one point in life to another. They can provide the momentum, the
energy we need to live between the mountaintops. They can give us what we need to act with
courage and faith wherever it is we find ourselves—whether going up or down a
metaphorical mountain, being stuck on some plateau, or even descending into a
dark, deep valley. Much of his own time of earth, Jesus himself lived between
So I try to remember
no matter what we are experiencing at
any given time or where we are
experiencing it, Jesus is present.
He’s with us during times of crisis or at least of some risk, as
in undergoing surgery—that he is in the operating room, and for loved ones,
also in the waiting room.
He’s with us during the milestones of our lives:
Recognition for years of dedicated service.
Special wedding anniversaries.
He’s with us during the blood, sweat, and tears we expend the
rest of the time—before and between such events. For example, after the births
of my own children—and then the dozens and dozens of diapers to be changed and
everything else that comes with caring for young, and sometimes not so young,
Jesus is especially with us in times of loss, depression, even
what seems to be abandonment—he who himself struggled to pray in the garden
and who cried out when hands and feet were nailed to beams of wood, which were
then raised up high enough so the body began sagging and the lungs could no
longer draw in any more air.
It’s like the words
once written by Erasmus, a Renaissance scholar and priest in the Netherlands. He
wrote them in Latin: Vocatusatque non vocatus, Deus aderit. Centuries later the famous
psychologist Carl Jung adopted this saying, which he hung on the front door of
his house and had carved on his tombstone. Translated into English, it means:
“Bidden or not bidden, God is present.” In all times
and in all places, may we never forget that.