I to the hills will lift mine eyes from whence doth come mine aid.
I love hills and mountains. We are very lucky here on Arran to be surrounded by such wonderful scenery and to have hills and mountains, to look at, to enjoy walking in and climbing. Having grown up in the west of Scotland and holidayed on Arran I hadn’t realised how much I enjoyed hilly landscapes until my husband and I moved to York and I found the very flat landscape around there very troubling! It just didn’t seem right.
Mountains are not only good for us physically but I think mountains are good for our souls. And mountains feature widely in the Bible.
Important Biblical events include:
• Mount Ararat, after the flood, the ark of Noah rested here till the waters subsided.
• Mount Moriah the place Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice.
• Mount Sinai where God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses.
• Mount Carmel- the site of the showdown between
Elijah (the prophet of God) and Baal’s prophets.
• And the Mount of Olives or Olivet where lots of events in Jesus earthly ministry occurred and Jesus ascended back to heaven.
A kind of Bible rule of thumb is if a mountain is mentioned something important is going to happen.
So let’s look at today’s story about the transfiguration. Matthew tells us that Jesus led 3 disciples, Peter, James and John up a high mountain. And it is the impact of that experience on the disciples that I want to think about today. Now we started the reading at Matthew 16 to put this expedition into context. This important and pivotal event happened at a point in Jesus ministry when he had been with his three disciples for quite a while, they had given up their old lives to follow him, they had heard him teach, they had seen him perform many miracles; healings, walking on water, feeding crowds of people. And then there were two important happenings, firstly Peters realisation that Jesus was the Christ, as Matthew puts it in answer to Jesus question, who do YOU say I am Peter answered ‘you are the Christ, the son of the living God’. And then closely following on from that Jesus made it clear to the disciples what was going to happen,
that his continued confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees would lead to his arrest, trial and his crucifixion and that after three days he would come back from the dead. This was all very heavy stuff that the disciples did not understand, that they did not want to hear and that they couldn’t begin to get to grips with. And it was soon after and in the light of these events that Jesus led the three disciples up the mount of transfiguration.
As I said earlier we often use metaphors like race and journey to describe our lives and in the three years they had known him the disciples had been on a journey with Jesus, and on a journey it is not all the same terrain that we cover, there may be mountains we need to climb.
Climbing a mountain is tough, yes you need to be fairly fit but climbing a mountain requires more than physical strength it also requires emotional strength it requires determination, motivation, and commitment somebody said to me that you climb a mountain with your head not your legs. It is hard and there can be a great temptation to give up. The disciples needed to be committed and determined to follow Jesus, others had started out and fallen by the wayside. The things that Jesus had told them and what was to come were going to try the disciples’ commitment and determination.
In our lives too there are mountains to climb, tough times in all areas of our lives. And we need a great deal of determination to get through all that we have to do, resisting the impulse to give up when things get difficult. We all experience difficulties and setbacks in all areas of our lives in our relationships and in our work and health issues, all kinds of mountains to climb. Sometimes being a follower of Christ can seem very hard, we know that being a Christian certainly does not guarantee an easy path through life but at times it can all seem just too hard. Like the disciples we don’t understand God’s plan. And it is at these difficult times we need to be determined; we need to fix our eyes on the goal, on the mountain top.
The disciples had a mountain ahead of them in the days and weeks, months and years to come and they needed a goal to fix their eyes on and it may have been for this reason, to try and help them with what was ahead that Jesus took these three disciples to the top of the mountain and there for the first time they saw Jesus transformed, transfigured, they saw and really understood that Jesus was the Christ and that all that he had told them was true, that he was the Son of God and that he was following God’s plan, the appearance of Moses and Elijah connected Jesus with two of Israel’s major prophetic figures adding more depth to their understanding of who he was. And as if all this wasn’t enough they heard the voice of God telling them who Jesus was and commanding them to listen to him. This experience, must have been the greatest experience these men had ever had, it must have remained one of the high points of their life, a moment to look back on, a moment that made sense of all that was to come.
We have all experienced high points in our life, times when it is all going well for us. Times perhaps when having endured some tough times and struggles it seems as if things are working out right for us. And it is important that we recognise these times that we celebrate them and make the most of them. That we feel blessed and grateful and that we thank God for all the good things that he has given us. Christians should never be seen as joyless people, on the contrary we should be full of joy, we have a lot to be thankful for and we shouldn’t be afraid of making the most of the high points in our lives. Because it seems to me that in taking those disciples to the mountain top and sharing that wonderful experience with them that Jesus is telling them and us that life does have its high points and that they are there to be enjoyed, they are times to thank God for, they are there as goals to work for and they are there are times to look back on when things are not going so well. For the disciples and for us Mountain top experiences are a gift from God.
And then there is the inevitable third mountain experience, we have had the struggle to the top, the elation of the pinnacle and then we have to get back down again. I know when I am climbing up a mountain, gasping for breath; legs aching I always think that going down will be easy. But the descent has its challenges too, sore knees, tiredness, the feeling of having done it and just wanting to get home. Apparently more climbing accidents happen on descents than on ascents.
We read that Peter said, teacher it is good for us to be here. Let us make three booths one for you one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ I think what he was saying was ‘let’s stay here a bit longer, let’s try and make this wonderful experience last as long as we can. Life was so much better; they were so much nearer to God on the mountain top. But it is the very essence of life that we must come down. After Christmas as we driving back to Nursery and work my grandson Fraser said, ‘granny why can’t it be Christmas every dayT and I tried to explain to him and maybe to myself too that we can only enjoy Christmas because it is not every day, because it an exciting event that only happens once a year. After the mountain top Peter and the others had to come down to business as usual, back to ‘Auld claes a parritch!’ porridge
and old clothes, back to the humdrum. I found this short poem on the internet and I thought it might interest you as it mentions some local areas.
Parritch and Auld Claes
From Douglas to Ardrossan light The churning screw repeats the tune; From London in the deeps of night The engine sings it to the moon; The paddle beating from Dunoon In every ear the music plays
The requiem of holiday, “Parritch and auld claes.”
And so it is for us there are times in our lives which contrast severely with the high point on the mountain, and it’s not even as if they are tough times it’s just that they are flat, dismal times, times when our lives just seem boring and mundane, times when God can seem very far away, when our devotions and prayers seem just like going through the motions, when our faith seems far from vibrant and real.
Disciples and Jesus going down to Jesus death.
For the disciples in their journey with Jesus and in our lives, in our journey of faith there will be mountains to climb, tough times, times when we feel tempted to give up, times that take all our determination, motivation and commitment to get through. There will be high points, times when we everything is going well and we feel in tune with God the universe and everyone around us, times when we feel we can do no wrong. And there will be low points, times when we feel discouraged and depressed, when everything seems flat and dismal. When we seem to have nothing to look forward to and we fear for the future. But in their journey of faith three of the disciples experienced the Transfiguration event, an event which had meaning not only for Jesus as he moved forward towards Easter and all that would mean for him but, as we have particularly looked at today, for his disciples and of course also for us. because Jesus chose not to go on his own to the mountain top but to take some of his closest friends with him to prepare them for what was to come and to reassure them that though there were dark days to come God was in charge and in the end all would be well.
And this event can reassure us too because Just as Jesus went through his journey on earth with his disciples, we too journey with our fellow Christians, with our church family to support us and to help and guide us. People who are there for us through the tough times, who celebrate with us in the good times and who support is in the low times. And just as God was with Jesus every step of his way we also have God with us, not just on the mountain top but wherever we are on our journey, and just as Jesus was able to rely on God to support him in all that he had to do so can we be sure that when we ask we will receive the strength and determination that we require for our journey of faith. And finally just as Jesus told the disciples not to be afraid so we too know that we do not need to be afraid because God is still in charge and in the end all will be well.