Mountains and Valleys – February 7, 2016

“Mountains and Valleys”

2 Kings 2:1-12 Mark 9:2-9


Just imagine that you were on that mountain top that day with Peter, James and John. You had gone there with Jesus…the one you believed was the messiah…the one who you believed had come with the power of almighty God to release you from the rule of the Romans. You had gone there to pray with him after he had told you a most unbelievable thing. He said he had to go on to Jerusalem to be killed at the hands of those who were the religious leaders. He had told you that he would die and rise from the dead on the third day. You had been thinking about this for six days…and it still wasn’t any clearer. How could someone who wasn’t leading a mighty army…who was going to be killed shortly…really be the messiah? You’ve climbed the mountain top. You’re tired. You’re still trying to figure it out. Jesus’ face glows in a way that words can’t come close to describing. His robe seems to do the same thing. It becomes whiter than any white you’ve ever seen. As you’re there with your eyes wide open and your mouth open even wider… Moses and Elijah appear. They talk with Jesus. You become as astounded and dumbfounded as Peter when he suggested building shelters. There you are…in the presence of Moses…the great law-giver…the presence of Elijah…the greatest prophet to tell of the coming of the messiah…and Jesus…the one who told you he was the messiah…but not a messiah who would lead a mighty army to crush the oppressors. Then a cloud descends and covers everything and everyone. For the Jews of that time a cloud meant the presence of God. And…out of that cloud…you hear a voice…a voice that tells you, “This is my beloved Son.” The message is clear to you. God is telling you that Jesus is indeed His Son. The voice gives you a command. “Listen to him.” What would you do? I’m not asking what you would do right at that moment. My guess is that no one here today would have acted with clarity any greater than that of Peter. Mark tells us all of the men were terribly frightened and didn’t know what to say. What would you do after you had come down from that mountain top? Clearly none of us was with the three disciples that day. That particular experience will likely never be repeated for anyone…here or elsewhere. But…reflecting back on our lives we can all probably identify some kind of similar mountain top experience…a time when we felt so close to God that we didn’t know what to say…that we felt so close to God that we were almost delirious with joy…hope…comfort…and peace. For some it might have been a special Sunday in worship…the music was moving…the message was uplifting…and you felt especially close to God. For others the mountain top experience was a wedding…perhaps a baptism…a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It might have been an experience at a Christian youth camp. It might have been a time alone…alone with God. I vividly remember one of my mountain top experiences. I had been struggling for a year with real challenges in both my personal and business life…trying to establish a business while trying to keep a weakening marriage together. I took a business trip to Phoenix, Arizona. It was the second or third time I had been to Phoenix. It was the first time I stayed in a hotel close to Squaw Peak. Phoenix is a city that is built in a valley in the Rocky Mountains. All around it are mountains that are close to two miles high. The valley is rather large…known as the Valley of the Sun. However…in the middle of this valley…near the heart of the city…is Squaw Peak. It’s a small mountain….about 4-thousand feet high. It has a hiking trail to the top that’s a little over a mile long. I like to hike…on the easy mountain trails…and that’s what attracted me to the trail at Squaw Peak early one spring morning. It was about an hour before dawn. I climbed the trail to the top of the peak. I got there before the sun rose. What I saw was the street lights and house lights of the city below me…twinkling like small stars. Above me…I saw the stars. I felt I was surrounded by stars…below me and above me. “My goodness,” I thought. “I have walked away from earth and all of its challenges…and walked straight into heaven.” I sat on a rock at the top of the peak and looked up and looked down…stars twinkling all around. I became lost in God’s presence. I sat there for about a half hour. I watched as God turned off the stars above me… He replaced them with the glow of red from the sun shining on the wispy clouds above my head…. All around me God had created the jagged black outlines of the mountains in the distance. They hadn’t been there just a few minutes earlier. I had feelings that must have been similar to those of Peter, James and John. No words could describe them. I was in a lost reverie until I heard the voices of other hikers coming up the trail. You’ve all probably had some kind of mountain top experience. Reflect back on it and be refreshed and rejuvenated by it. Know that more will come. The real question is what to do in the valleys that we all must encounter between the mountain top experiences. Valleys like difficulty in business…trouble in the family…changes in health…the loss of a friend or loved one…hurt in your community…untruths or detrimental actions by those who we have chosen to lead us. The valleys don’t have to be that deep. Valleys are found in everyday life. Do as the disciples did. Follow Jesus. While he may not be here in the flesh today…his Word is here…the Spirit that he sent to us is here. It’s that burning in your stomach or the twinge you feel when you’re about to do or say something Jesus would not want you to do or say. Elisha…too…had his valleys. He followed the teachings of Elijah…and the leading of God…through the valleys of his life…more than a couple thousand years ago. Following God has been working for more than two thousand years. For each of us…there will be valleys. Some will be deep. Let us not be among those who suffer from Biblical amnesia. Yes there are parts of the Bible that promise good things. But…Jesus also asked us to make sacrifices…told us that we would suffer…and told us that…like him…we would have a cross to bear. Too many Christians want to skip Suffering 101 and go to the advanced placement class called Glory 909. Mark’s gospel told us differently. The Messiah had to shoulder a cross…embrace humility…and renounce brute force. His disciples…you and I… must do the same. I encourage you to seek and enjoy new mountaintop experiences…time alone with God…to glorify in reflecting on those mountain top experiences you have already had. But…don’t think that’s the way the game will be all of the time. And…let us not think that the game is over. We who call ourselves Christians cannot be like the football player who recovered a fumble in the last minute of the Super Bowl. As he neared the goal line…he began to go into a victory dance. He held the football out in a taunting gesture. Out of nowhere an opposing player raced toward him. The opponent knocked the ball from his hands on the two-yard line. Instead of crossing the goal line for a game winning touchdown…the kind of glorious moment rarely achieved by an interior lineman…he blew his opportunity by his premature merriment and celebration…thinking that his mountain top experience was all there was to consider…that it would always be with him. Mark makes it clear that glory is to come. The final mountain top experience will be ours. In the meantime we must be prepared to live and serve in the valleys of a hostile world bent on destroying God’s messengers and God’s servants. Let us be as the disciples….be in awe and wonderment when on the mountain tops. When we are in the valleys…walk with Jesus to the very end through each of them… sharing his love with all through our words and deeds…and relying on Him to lead the way…through the valleys…to the final mountain top. In fact…this very morning Jesus invites us to follow Him…to the Lord’s Table…where…in fellowship with our sisters and brothers…we are rejuvenated and encouraged….remembering He is with us always…as we experience the difficult valleys and the glorious mountain tops.