Friday, February 13, 2015

Losing the Heights to Gain the Way (RCL Last Sunday after Epiphany, 15 February 2015)

RCL Last Sunday after Epiphany
15 February 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

         Of all the things I lost when I left Colorado to pursue the dream of a doctorate and a teaching career, I miss the clear mountain air.  Above the tree line the air grows thinner and your lungs struggle to breathe in what oxygen is on offer.  But what you receive in return for the struggle is the air that filled the lungs of our earliest ancestors.  Crisp.  Carrying the aromas of the trees below.  Air worth the struggle.  Air that says, ‘This is life.’

         There is more than just the breathing.  There is the seeing.  The light is brighter.  Objects in the distance seem clearer.  Everything is in sharper focus.  Even in a cloudless sky you see the wind as well as feel it on your face.

         God called me away from that air above the tree line.  But I have been shaped by that air; I have been changed by it.  From time to time I will catch a whiff of that air and I long to make my way up the slope of the mountain and leave everything else behind and below.

         They climbed the mountain with their teacher.  They were not mountain people but lake-dwellers.  Their world was defined by water and its depths not by thin air and heights.  But Moses had climbed the heights to see God and receive the tablets of the Law while the rest of the people remained below.  Elijah had challenged the priests of Baal on heights such as these and defeated them while the people watched to see what the outcome would be.  Perhaps these fishermen thoughts, as they were climbing, that it would have been better to wait below and find out later what happened on the heights.

         But Jesus had asked Peter, James and John to climb and so they did.  I wonder if they pondered how the air changed as they went higher.  No doubt years of fishing had given them strength, but their lungs were certainly aching as they approached the summit.

         And then the clarity they found when they reached the summit --- at least until the cloud came.  Even before Jesus was transfigured before their eyes, did Peter, James and John see the land lying below them in a new and clearer light?  Was there an ‘aha!’ moment when so much of their lives, before and after Jesus, were put in perspective?  I wonder.

         I understand full well Peter’s desire to leave some marker to show others that this was a place of revelation, of insight and, it must be said, of danger.  As they made their way down the mountain and followed Jesus on his way towards Jerusalem, did they ever catch a whiff of mountain air and say to themselves, ‘Oh, to be back on those heights again rather than on this dusty road’?

         But their loss led to a greater gain.  What they left on the mountain was more than compensated for in the glory of the resurrection and the wind of Pentecost.

         As we gather here today to celebrate the eucharist and then participate in our annual vestry, we may catch a whiff of the mountain air of our past.  We remember old friends who are no longer with us and we miss them.  We may wonder why many of neighbours fill our parking lot on the weekdays and avoid our pews on Sundays and festivals.  The voices of children fill the hall during the week but are very quiet today.  We can be excused for any desire to find a way to retrace our steps to the mountain top that was.

         But what I think Jesus saw on the mountain top was the dusty road towards Jerusalem and the way of cross.  After all, when Moses came down from the mountain with the tablets of the Law, there was still many years left on the journey from oppression in Egypt to freedom in Canaan, hard years, thirsty years.  When Elijah came down from the mountain after the defeat of the priests of Baal, he still faced the hostility of the political and religious establishment of his day.  Mountain tops are wonderful places to survey the way towards God’s future, but they are not meant to be dwelling places.  One loses the excitement of the summit to gain the experience of the pilgrim’s road.

         And this is where we are today.  We are on the pilgrim’s road towards God’s future.  It’s a dusty road and there are times when we find ourselves hungry and thirsty for the food and drink of clarity, clarity that shows us what we should be doing and how we should be doing it.  But on this road we find companions who share the joys and the sorrows.  We even find sources of refreshment and renewal on this road, even a mountain top or two from which we can catch of glimpse of where we are going.

         I take strength in the fact that Jesus chose to come down from the mountain and to walk the pilgrim’s road.  After all, it is below the mountain heights that most of the people are waiting.  They wait to hear from us what we have seen of the road ahead of us.  The road to Jerusalem, after all, does not stop at the cross; it continues on to the resurrection, to the gift of the Spirit and the promise of God’s coming reign of justice and peace.  It is a road that all are invited to walk in order to discover their true selves and their place in God’s loving purposes for the whole of creation.  Mountain tops are great places to see that road, but one must come down to walk it and find life.  Amen.

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