Sermon: A Mountain Top Experience

A Mountain Top Experience
Mark 9:2-9
February 11, 2018
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

In today’s gospel text, the Apostles Peter, James and John had the most amazing mountain top experience; Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes. As a result, it forever defined who they were, and they were never the same.

When we truly experience the Lord in our hearts, it can be like a mountain top experience which will keep us going as we face those valleys of life that come our way. My text is Mark 9:2-9.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus. 9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.

On Monday Feb 19, I will be taking a 9 day sabbatical trip to the Holy Land with Bishop Devadhar and other clergy. While Janet and I have been there before, it seems to have a magnetic effect on me, and I will return once again. Janet prefers to stay home this time.

On a previous trip our tour visited the 1900 foot Mt Tabor, which was the scene of the Transfiguration. I vividly remember our tour bus slowly winding its way around the mountain. Once we got to top, we could see the bluish/green Sea of Galilee, the long windy Jordan River, thousands of olive trees that dotted the landscape. The same view that Jesus saw.

And it was here on this very mountain, our Lord’s appearance changed. His face shone like the brightness of the noonday sun. His clothes reflected the brilliance of the white light. Also present were two other celestial visitors: Moses, who represented the Old Testament law, and Elijah, who represented the prophets.

Even today, as we live in this postmodern and secular world filled with skepticism, the story of the Transfiguration is one that confirms my belief in the Lord Jesus.

The Transfiguration is like a movie entitled “Life after Life.” None of us will ever have an encounter exactly like this, but the next best thing is to experience the Lord in our hearts and see him through the eyes of faith.

Like I mentioned before, the promise of heaven gets us through the valleys. On Friday, February 2, Merilee Thomas died, and it is the promise of heaven and eternal life that is keeps her husband Harry hopeful that he will see his wife once again. Those who have gone through medical issues and suffering, those hard times will be a distant memory once we reach the other side.

One of the well-known painters of the French Impressionist School was a man named August Renoir. As his health began to fail, Renoir was housebound for the final ten years of his life. His good friend and fellow artist, Henry Matisse, would visit daily. Although Renoir was almost crippled with painful arthritis, he continued to paint. His friend saw the struggle said, “August, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?” With Renoir’s eyes fixed on the canvass, he said, “The beauty remains, the pain passes.”

Renoir’s statement reminds me of the scripture passage, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard the wonderful things God has prepared for his children.”

In the Transfiguration, we are assured there is much more in the beyond waiting for us. But to keep that hope fresh, we need that mountain top experience of Christ fresh in our hearts. Periodically read about it so that our spiritual lives do not become stagnant. With the Transfiguration as a reality in our lives, our perspective changes; the fog is lifted and we see more clearly.

The Serendipity Bible has a series of questions that I would like us to consider:

  1. When was your most recent mountain top experience? A. Years ago. B. Quite recently. C. Right now. D. It hasn’t happened yet.
  2. What helps you feel close to God? A. Nature. B. Music. C. Being Alone With Christ. D. Real Christian Fellowship. E. The Lord’s Supper. F. Remembering His Love for Me.
  3. How do you feel when you are on top? A. Like being awed. B. Like the other shoe is about to drop. C. Like nothing else matters. D. Like conquering the World. E. Like staying forever.
  4. How would you describe your relationship with God now? A. On a mountain top. B. Down off the mountain. C. In the valley. D. In a quandary. E. In the desert. F. In the mid climb.

In my life I have had what I would call spiritual mountain top experiences, but today I still need those times of worship in order to feel refreshed and renewed.

Let me close. Using a movie term, the Transfiguration is a sneak preview of better things to come. In the meantime, let us keep our spiritual lives refreshed. As we enter the other side, we will be ready for the good things that God has prepared for us.

Sermon: Why Should We Go to the House of the Lord

Why Should We Go To the House of the Lord?
Psalm 122
27 November 2016

One day the telephone rang in the rector’s office at Christ’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia; it was the church where President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended. On the telephone line, an eager voice asked.  “Tell me, do you expect the President to be in church this Sunday?”  The Rector answered, “I cannot promise that, but we expect God to be here and we believe that will be incentive enough for a reasonably large attendance.”

Here at Rockville United Methodist Church, we believe God is with us and there is an assurance that he is in our lives. That is why we attend church every Sunday morning.

My text for this morning is Psalm 122 and it is about the love a believer has for a place of worship.
1 I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together. 4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. 5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David. 6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you. 7 Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.” 8 For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” 9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.”
This is the Word of God.  Thanks be to God.

Psalm 122 was a song sung by Jewish pilgrims when they got into view of the temple. As they began to walk up the slight incline into the city, they began to sing in preparation for worship in the temple.

In February of 2014, I went to Israel with about 40 ministers and Bishop Devadhar. When we arrived in Jerusalem, I found that once we began to walk up the gradual incline to the old temple area, it was not an easy climb.  You had to be in somewhat good shape to walk those long and hilly slopes.

As I meditated on Psalm 122, I thought of the routine that many family members use on a Sunday morning when they are about to leave their homes. This expression will sound familiar to many of us as we have all called something like, “It is time to go to church” to get the family moving.  Let me suggest a phrase with a richer meaning, verse 1 of this psalm. “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

As you entered the doors of this sanctuary this morning, it is my hope and prayer that each of us felt God’s presence. I hope as we spend time together in service, we will each experience the presence of God, the holy, the divine, the peace and assurance of God.  That is why we come.

As a child, I was fortunate to have parents who instilled in me a desire to be in God’s House. As I look back on it, that provided me with the framework for me to find Jesus as my Savior and a foundation to go into the ministry.  In those early years, I got into the habit of attending worship services on Sunday.  Even today, if I am not in the house of the Lord on Sunday, I feel incomplete and as I get older, I don’t ever want to get in the habit of staying away for whatever reason.

Hebrews 10:25:  Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 

Incidentally, the church I attended as a youth, Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church in Quincy, MA closed its doors a couple of years ago. It was sold this past year to a developer who had it demolished on Columbus Day weekend.  Prior to the demolition, I contacted the developer and received permission to go into the church one final time.  When I went inside, the church was just a hollow building with most of its sacred items removed, but in my mind it still felt like the house of God.

For those who do not have a personal relationship with the Lord, a church is a building where nice people go on a Sunday. But for those who have Christ in their hearts, a church building is more than that.  It is a sacred place to meet God and hear his word.

I have great respect for the people needing a cane or walker who come to church. Sometimes they come in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank.  I know it is an effort for these people to be here and I appreciate their faithfulness.

I remember in the first United Methodist Church that I pastored we held a Saturday afternoon worship service. A 96 year old church member would have his health aide drive him, and they would sit together.  On one Saturday afternoon, I saw that the health aide was alone.  After the service, I asked where the man was and she said the parking lot.  He had a bad cough and didn’t want to disturb anyone.  I gave him a one minute sermon and served him communion.

Looking at American history, George Washington’s pastor once said, “No company or visitor ever kept him away from church. The pastor went on.  “I have often been at his breakfast table which was filled with guests.  But to him, there was no excuse for neglecting his God and losing the satisfaction of setting a good example.  Instead of staying at home out of imaginary courtesy to them, he used to constantly invite them to accompany him to church.”  President Theodore Roosevelt, in spite of all of his duties and responsibilities, did everything in his power to never miss a church service.  He took the promise he made at his confirmation seriously when he pledged that he would be faithful.  If Roosevelt could not attend a worship service, he sent a letter to his pastor and explained why he had to be absent.

Unfortunately for today’s society, we have had at least two, maybe three, generations where the parents were not as faithful in raising their children in the Christian faith or bringing them to church.  For faith to work, parents have to teach, to set the example and bring their children to the house of God.  Otherwise, if you let a child make the choice, most likely they won’t.

When I look at Psalm 122, there is something else that jumps out at me. It is verse 1 which says.  I was glad when they said to me. Let us go to the house of the Lord.  Notice there is no hint of reluctance, nor is there a sense of duty or obligation.  The psalmist is glad and looks forward to the experience.  I hope that is our experience as well.

Have you ever seen the Olympic ice sport of curling? Curling is like watching shuffleboard on ice with brooms.  It is not terribly exciting except to those who have a genuine interest.  To me it doesn’t exactly get the blood flowing, but if you are a true fan, you are passionate and it is exciting.  When it comes to worship, if a person does not have Christ in their life or does very little to nurture their spiritual life, church worship could be like curling.  It will become irrelevant, and people would rather stay home.

However when a person’s spiritual life becomes renewed and that person becomes born from above, church becomes the House of the Lord, and worship takes on new meaning.

A good worship experience requires some concentration and preparation. In Biblical times, when Jewish pilgrims came within sight of the temple, they began to sing 15 of the Psalm of the Ascents; Psalm 122 is one of them.  As they sang, they began to prepare themselves for worship in the temple.

I think our worship experience would go much better if we had some preparation when we get up on Sunday mornings. Perhaps we should keep the TV off and hold off checking our messages on the computer.  We can listen to some type of spiritual music in the car as we ride to church.  With the proper preparation, when we arrive in the parking lot we can say, “I am glad when they said to me.  Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

In many third world countries, people who have to walk to church have rich worship experiences. It does take an effort to get there, but when they arrive the songs are sweeter, the prayers are richer, and the meditation is life enriching.  On that same trip to Israel with the Bishop, we were given a chance to do anything we wanted on the Sunday in the middle of our tour.  I decided to attend the English speaking St. George’s Anglican Service in East Jerusalem.  To get there I walked from my hotel, which gave me time to think and prepare my heart for worship.  When I arrived, I discovered that there were many similarities to our United Methodist worship service.  But this time, because of my spiritual preparation as I walked to the church, I was more than ready for worship.  After the service was over, I walked back to the hotel and I found myself deep in the thought of what I had heard and experienced.  It was rich.  Normally when I come to the House of the Lord, I just jump in the car and within minutes I am here.  But when I had to walk, what a difference it made.

Let me close with this thought. When you come to worship, I encourage you to prepare yourselves.  Then you can say, “I was glad when they said to me. Let us go to the house of the Lord.”