Sermon Matthew 17:1-9 “A Light amid the Clouds” March 2, 2014
There’s a wonderful devotion in one of my Bibles by a woman named Ruth Senter. I say wonderful because Senter, in her words, captures the ambivalence and reluctance we have all experienced to come off a high moment and return to our everyday, normal lives. She entitles her devotion “The Road down the Mountain” and this is what she says:
Paths to the top of this mountain should be one way. No one ever wants to go down. This path leads to the sun – a place of peace and tranquility.
The glory of the Lord breathes in every lodge pole pine and giant fir up here. We have climbed so far I feel almost celestial. Viewed from this pinnacle of majesty, life below takes on different meaning. Why do humans rush to and fro, frantically chasing their tails?
Life in the clouds gives perspective. Authenticity. Simplicity. A log cabin provides our shelter, and a helicopter delivers our daily bread. We fill our cups from glacier runoff and breathe deeply nature’s pure air. No one wears a watch; there’s no reason to look at one. We feed the ground creatures – the chipmunks and the marmots – and talk to the white-breasted grosbeak that sits on our table.
Surely this is hallowed ground. I can worship in this place.
“Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings’” (v. 4). But Jesus pointed Peter to the path down the mountain. As they went, Jesus instructed them about his suffering, which was soon to come.
Once home I find a friend in the hospital, a neighbor who is dying, and a man who is drunk, depressed and reaching out for help. “God is a presence, not a place,” I say to myself. And so I look at the photographs of my moments on the mountain, remember what God did for me there, but reluctantly agree to live life on the plains.
All of us have had those highly charged, energized moments on the mountaintop. We’ve experienced the joy of escaping from our daily routines. We’ve sensed in those electrical moments God’s presence in the clearer air which surrounds a time away, a vacation in an exotic place, a hot air balloon ride flying high about the quiet, calmed earth on a wind-stilled morning. All of us have some moment in our lives when the peaks of life have called us away and all of us have experienced reluctance, the ambivalent tug to return to our life given tasks and responsibilities. We can identify with Peter, with his desire to construct something solid, unmovable, something, which will shelter these rare and wondrous moments when God feels so real to us.
And those moments should be treasured though they may feel fleeting. Like Peter, we may want to capture these God – me exchanges, but also like Peter, we hopefully will come to an understanding that God is presence, not place. God is in the daily interchanges in which we are engaged. We find God in places of pain, fear, poverty, and despair not just in the exhilaration of highly intense spiritual experiences. We find God in neighbors who co-exist with us but are too often ignored or misjudged. God is presence, not place. God is within us not above us or beyond us. God is here, there and in all the places we work, walk and live. We find God on the path, which lead us to our high moments and on the path, which might very well bring us to the realities of another’s need, another’s hope for a God experience too, in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Like Peter, we may want to stay on the mountaintop, but Jesus points to the path, which leads us to our assigned work. There may be other visits to those high places where God is present, but we don’t have to wait to know how truly close God is to us. We don’t have to wait for a special time or a special place or a special prayer to sense God’s presence. It’s here, right now in each one of us. We simply need to embrace what is already a part of us, recognize in ourselves, and find it in those God points out to us. The path leading down may be fraught with life and life’s challenges, but we never travel alone. God is presence and in us. Amen.
 NRSV Women’s Devotional Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, (Ruth Senter, p. 1082)