Hills and Valleys

Matthew 17:1-9

In much of Scripture the valleys are where the common occurs, where the are the work-a-day. The mountains are special, saved for holy experiences. It doesn’t matter if its Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the 10 Commandments, the places of worship at Dan and Bethel, or even the Temple in Jerusalem.

I think that there folk fall, generally, into one of two groups. Either the mountain-top experiences are where you feel more comfortable or the valleys are where you feel more at home. And how you respond to today’s Gospel lesson gives a hint of where you might lean.

I have a hunch, though, that for many of us, the valley’s are where we feel more comfortable. The valleys of life are where most folk congregate. Its where find meaning in our work, we are familiar with the surroundings, or maybe we say, “you know, I don’t have time to venture up that mountain. There’s so much work to do.” There are people to feed, folk to visit, injustices to confront, people to tell the story of Jesus to. There’s no time to stop.

And I will not contradict that observation. There’s is a lot to do in the name of Jesus. With violence continuing, Ukraine seeming to over-boil, and indicators like the reporting coming out showing that Atlanta is tops in the nation when it comes to disparity between the richest and the poorest in our city, we better no rest too easily. And even if we do all we can and more it seems like there’s still more to be done. And it just seems like its exactly at the times when we feel like that we must adhere to our tasks in the valley with all our efforts that this is the time when we are called to ascend the mountain.

When that call comes, or when we find ourselves summiting a mountain lets not resist. While the work remains and will not go away, sometimes we have to go up the mountain.

I know how difficult this can be. But we must go to the mountains

  1. to remind ourselves that its not “all about me”. It helps to remember and experience that things will not fall apart if we step away from good and important work.
  2. But it also helps to step away to remember that there’s a subtle difference between me doing what I do on behalf of Jesus and the church and me doing this for myself. The key is what’s in the middle AND is there any difference between outcomes if you “get your way” vs “what’s God’s vision”
  3. to remember why we do what we do when we are in the valley. The fields are ripe but the laborers are few. This is the language used in agrarian times. We get a sense that there’s this almost overwhelming sense of task to be done. Coming away to the mountain tops staves off burn-out and dissolution

It reminds us why we do what we do. We don’t do what we do as a church simply because we are great, interesting people (which we like to think we are) Peter, James and John experienced something Holy and this gave them a sense of purpose, even if they only understood on the other side of Easter.

What we do is holy work and it is work that we do because we, too, have experienced something holy. And these mountain top experiences give a sense of meaning, purpose, trajectory.

Radical Love sounds like a great centering thought but it takes on a completely different shape when we remind each other that we practice radical hospitality and radical love because tof the radical nature of Jesus’ ministry and Jesus’ life.

Finally, we go on the mountain to be changed ourselves. Surely Peter James and John were not transfigured as Jesus was but they cannot have come down from that mountain the same persons they were when they went up. They experienced something powerful, beautiful, and they could not be the same.

So how do we find mountain top experiences because its not like we go find Jesus, Elijah, and Moses hanging out just everywhere, right?

  1. The first way we can is to do what we will do today later in the service… participate in Holy Communion as frequently as we can.
  2. But then find some practices and spiritual disciplines that invite you to take some time away from your daily routine and daily work in order to not always be in the valley… alway be about the task, always be at work.

A few practices to consider maybe just for Lent that begins next week:

  • Place a basket by your door. Leave your smartphone in the basket once you walk in the door. Don’t pick it up until the next day. If that just isn’t possible, set a time in the evening after which you won’t plug into the various screens in our house.
  • Find time to prepare a meal and invite friends over for that meal. This is so important… from sharing table fellowship with others to practice of spending enough time to slow down to prepare and share in a meal.  Maybe we can’t do this every night but try to do this at least once.
  • Give yourself permission to find recreation. A walk in the morning. Go to the gym in the afternoon. Go for a run at night (if your community is well lit). Get out of town and even head to a mountain
  • Grab a Lenten Calendar and do what is suggested for each day.

These kind of practices are great, they create a space, which was part of the mountain experience. But they also experienced the holy while they were on that mountain:

  • Participate in one of the studies we’re offering during Lent
  • Adopt some pattern of engaging Scripture and prayer throughout this season of Lent. Upper Room is great (they’re here at the church, available on your tablet or smartphone)
  • Pray the daily office… a regular pattern of morning and evening prayer (reflection on district retreat).
  • Try to see if you can pray all 150 Psalms during Lent.
  • Read the scripture for the upcoming Sunday before coming to worship- this will change your expectations

It doesn’t matter what you do, ultimately, but try something. I promise you, you will at some point experience God, and your life will be changed.

If you do this, then the work that we are more comfortable with in the valley, those work a day tasks, that holy work that gives dignity to many who consider themselves unworthy, the work that sustains so many will become not just important, not just vital, not just life-giving but sacramental because what we experience on the mountain means what we do in the valleys in some ways conveys and expresses something about God’s great love for us.

Image: S.K. Lo