The Mountain Top


Here is the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC for Transfiguration Sunday, 25 February 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday are Exodus 34: 29 – 35, 2 Corinthians 3: 12 – 4: 2, and Luke 6: 28 – 36 (37 – 43a).

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The view from a mountaintop can be a most spectacular site. When I was living in Whitesburg, it was always a joy when I had to drive over the mountain to Cumberland or through Pound Gap into Virginia and down to Knoxville. To get from Whitesburg to Cumberland meant having to drive a two-lane highway literally up the side of Pine Mountain using a variety of switchbacks.

But at the top of the mountain, you had a chance to pull over (you didn’t dare stop on the highway anywhere else) and look westward across the hills and valleys of eastern Kentucky. Similarly, when I had to drive over to Virginia, the view of western Virginia was one beyond words.

(see “The View From The Mountain Top”).

Another thing that gave a surreal beauty to the area was the fact that many times the cloud cover was at 1,400 feet. What added to the beauty was that Whitesburg was at 1250 feet and so driving over the mountain took you through the clouds. And when you were at the summit of Pine Mountain and look at the valleys below, they seemed filled with clouds. It was also interesting walking to work on days like that because you knew you were in the clouds.

It is this beauty and the vistas that the mountaintops hold that are the reason people want to come and visit eastern Kentucky and western Virginia. But the problem with such wonderful views is that though you can see for great distances and the beauty is so wonderful, you can’t see the details. You can’t see the people walking in the streets and you can just barely make out the cars as they go by. Nor is it possible to see the poverty, the unemployment, the illiteracy that make Letcher County one of the poorest counties in Appalachia and the country.

When you come down from the mountaintop, you might see the straight pipes that take the sewage and household wastes from the various cabins, shacks, and houses in the hollers and dump it in the creeks that feed the headwaters of the Kentucky, Cumberland, and Big Sandy rivers. And if you know where to look, you can see the effect years of strip-mining coal have had on the environment.

It is an interesting experience to relate the beauty and spectacular views of the mountaintop with the reality of life that exists in the valleys and hollows of eastern Kentucky.

As a covenant people, ours is a history of mountaintop experiences, where we rededicated our lives to the one whom "in his might loves justice" and who "established equity." Mountaintops are an important part of our own faith journey, for it is there that we have access to the kingdom perspective and can see clearly God’s loving and just plan for humanity. Mountaintops, though, are not ends in themselves; they are only the means by which we are better prepared to embody the covenant in the valleys of history.

The transfiguration account, as written in Luke, comes between two episodes that emphasize the day-to-day reality of Jesus’ ministry. Before Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to the mountaintop, he has spent time revealing that His Messiahship is embodied not in political revolution nor religious power but in His suffering, death, and resurrection. In the second passage, following the transfiguration, Jesus must exorcise a demon from a suffering child because his apostles could not do so, reportedly because of their own lack of faith.

The ecstasy of the transfiguration is thus grounded by and rooted in the reality of the Christ who suffers for and who is incarnately present with those who also suffer. Luke emphasizes that our covenant is fulfilled or broken not on mountaintops but in our daily commitment to more fully embody the love of Christ.

One thing that I took from reading the Epistle today was that we cannot hide the glory of God. When Moses returned from having gone up on the mountain and talked with God, his face glowed from having been in the presence of God. The veil that Moses wore served two purposes. First, it allayed the fears of the people who still saw God in terms of power and not love. For all they had heard, they had reason to fear what had happened to Moses. And second, as Paul pointed out, it was a temporary glow that faded because of the imperfect glory.

Paul also pointed out that when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Our understanding and our ability to reach out come from the presence of the Lord in our lives.

As we come to this season of Lent, I hope that you will take time to go to the mountaintop, to renew your own covenant with God and the covenant you made when you joined this church, to support it with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service. Take a few moments to reach out to those in your area who are members of this church but haven’t been here for awhile and encourage them to come back and renew their covenant.

As Christians we, like Peter, face the temptation of becoming entrenched in our mountaintop experiences, wanting to live safely apart from the struggle and desperation of those who seek justice in an unjust world. As tempting as it is, we cannot get comfortable on the mountaintop, for we are just passing through. We can enjoy the view from the top but sooner or latter we must come down from the top. But having been to the mountaintop, having been with God, we can more easily face the day-to-day difficulties of trying to live the Gospel in a broken world.

The road to Cumberland over the top of Pine Mountain was a narrow, two-lane highway, full of twists and hairpin turns. You never knew what might be coming from the other direction around the corner, but it was just about the only way that you could go. Such is the same with life. But when we go to the mountaintop and come closer to God, through Jesus Christ, we are better prepared to make that trip back down the mountain.

1 thought on “The Mountain Top

  1. Pingback: Notes on Transfiguration Sunday | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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