2 Corinthians 4:3-10

Mark 9:2-9

We love mountains. Not just for sliding down on little fiberglass boards, but for surveying the landscape, for getting our perspective, for being with God. It’s not perfectly universal, but people have always been drawn to the mountains in their spiritual quest. We put temples and cathedrals on top of mountains. Pierre L’Enfant put the Capitol building on top of the highest hill in Washington, DC because our highest ideals seem like they belong on top of mountains.

Picture the caricature of the “Eastern guru” sitting on top of the mountain, meditating. What I notice about this is that we don’t really talk about the guru when we talk about this. We always picture the spiritual quester, the one who went on the long journey and climbed the mountain to find the guru. We suspect, deep down, that wisdom is out there, on top of a mountain, waiting for us to find it.

Jesus does it right, just like Moses and Elijah had done it right before him: he goes up the mountain. It’s distinctive that he takes his disciples with him (remember that Moses didn’t even let people touch the mountain, let alone climb it), but what’s more distinctive is what happens while he’s up there. He goes up the mountain with Peter, James, and John, but he doesn’t have the experience that Moses and Elijah had. It’s Peter, James, and John who have the experience. They’re the ones who experience the presence of God on top of this unknown high mountain.

Jesus is their guide up the mountain, but he’s also the one they find once they get to the top. Our reading tells us that “a change came over Jesus.” His clothes became radiant white. More, he was transformed, he took on a new shape. I don’t know if he grew wings or stood 50 feet tall, but he changed shape. He transformed. A deep reality of who he was became visible to the disciples, and they recognized more about Jesus than they had seen before. They saw Moses and Elijah passing their roles on to him, and they saw even the presence of God filling him. It was an experience beyond words for the disciples.

So if we put ourselves in their shoes, what would we do next? We’d probably do what Peter did, which is to think we should stay. If we’ve spent our whole lives searching for answers, for God, wouldn’t we want to stay where we find them? Wouldn’t we want to just set up camp on top of that mountain and hang out in God’s presence forever? Not out of a lack of sympathy for the rest of the people who live down in the valley below, but because what we’ve found is so great and awesome by itself.

People have tried to do this ever since people have been searching for God on top of mountains. We’ve found our truth and decided to set up shop right there, to build a community based on holy teachings or a new order for life. At first, everything goes great: we’re energized about this new venture, we’re guided by the clarity of our vision, we’re all getting along great because this is so obviously where God is and what we’re supposed to be doing.

Before long, that vision always fades. The energy always runs out. Both of the people who keep everyone else balanced have a bad day at the same time. We learn that the holy people we’ve put our trust in are just as human as the rest of us, and it looks like maybe God isn’t here after all. It doesn’t matter how fantastic our community is, it always gets broken. The ideals that underlie our lives lose traction or start to be hidden behind our imperfections in living them out.

This decline always happens. It happened at least four times in ancient Israel before Jesus’ time. It has happened time and again in the history of the Christian church. It happened to Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Britain. In retrospect, we can always see the ways that people and systems failed in allowing this to happen, but blame is too easy. This decline was always going to happen, because we can’t live out our ideals perfectly

This decline is happening right now in our economy, as we felt yet again this week. There may be ways to blame one another for voting or spending ourselves into this mess, but I’m convinced that the fundamentals are beyond what we can blame people for. Beyond legislation or corporate behavior, the basic fact that’s forcing the economy to restructure is that money doesn’t come for nothing: we can’t generate wealth without producing value. It’s perverse that this fact always seems to hit hardest the people who do produce value for a living, but it’s a fact none the less. We can’t just make money by loaning each other money anymore.

So, where is God in this? Where is God in our community that we have built up here on this mountain? After the cloud descends and the heavenly voice speaks, then what? Then, the disciples look up and they can see nobody but Jesus, the same human form that led them up the mountain in the first place. But he’s not the same anymore. He has the same shape, but he’s not only that shape. The disciples know, in a way that words can’t encompass, that the human being before them holds all the reality of God.

Whether we come disappointed back down the mountain or feel the mountain crumbling beneath us, we look around for the truth we’ve been seeking all along, the God we’ve been following beyond the limits of sight, and there it is. We can’t see it, we can’t put words on it, but it’s there inside the person next to us, like a priceless treasure hidden in an ordinary clay pot. We can’t put words on that reality until we’ve joined our neighbors on the long walk that’s ahead of us, for 40 days or months or years.

That’s where God is today, as we work our way back down the mountain. God is with us, in the help and support we offer each other. In our neighbors, whether they’re inside the church or elsewhere, who are feeling the pain of this reorganization in our life. In our community, where it’s time for our ideals, our commitments to each other, to find themselves again. God is with us. The Christ whom we follow to find God is the very image of the God we seek. So with that strength, let’s serve God in one another, because God is with us.