when you’re in step with Jesus, God’s in step with you.
"Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
All last week, as I drove the kids to school, I’ve enjoyed an unobstructed view of the San Gabriel Mountains. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Southern California, this is a massive and majestic mountain range that separates the Los Angeles basin with the rest of the country. You might say it’s our border wall.
If you watch the HBO series Game of Thrones, you know of the gigantic ice mountain that separates the living from the dead. And for as long as the people can remember this wall has provided a sense of security; believing its impossible to breach. But the season finale reveals, mountains can be deceiving.
On clear days, the San Gabriel’s can play tricks on you. You could drive for hours before you realize the jagged line of the horizon aren’t any closer than they were when you left.
Once you arrive, and breathe in the fresh mountain air, the place doesn’t seem that treacherous, until you decide to go for a hike… in an old pair of Converse All-Stars...sockless!
For example, she’s suffering in a mountain of pain; the kids are overwhelmed with a mountain of homework; that poor family has been buried under a mountain of debt, and so on.
In the bible, mountains often set the stage for crucial events. Noah lands his ark on Mount Ararat. Abraham almost kills Isaac on Mount Moriah. Moses brings down the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai. Jesus gives his inaugural sermon on a mount. Forty days after his Easter resurrection, the disciples will watch in awe from the top of a mountain as Jesus ascends to heaven.
In Mark’s telling of the Transfiguration, Jesus climbs up a high mountain, with only Peter, James, and John by his side. A cloud comes over them and Jesus begins to transform in front of their very eyes. The men react with normal fear and awe, as most of us might. But before they can piece together what’s going on, God enters the scene and confirms Jesus’ identity. “This is my Son the beloved” God declares before giving them the imperative, “Listen to him.”
Given all we have learned about Epiphany, the Transfiguration is one of the best revelations there is. Upon this mountain there is a dramatic and sudden manifestation of the divine truth as God reveals His eternal glory in and upon Jesus.
What I really love about this story is not the epiphany but how God invites us to be a part of it. “Listen to him,” God says, “Watch and learn.” Jesus calls us to follow him. And as we move towards Lent, God will reveal to us exactly what that entails.
It’s fitting we end our series on Epiphany with one of the greatest revelations of Christ’s glory. “The Mountain,” as Susan Butterworth writes, “is a bridge between heaven and earth.” Following Christ across this divide, we see God and all his divine glory. This is why it is so important to walk beside Jesus and listen to what he has to say.
The great mystics of every religion believe there are many paths up the mountain to meet God. Like life, those paths may be rough or smooth, steep or gentle, boring or colorful, tiring or exhilarating. Yet, they’re all on the same spiritual mountain, and ultimately they all converge at the very top where the Divine meets us in our humanity.
I do not deny this to be true, or doubt the fact that God can reveal God’s self to whomever God choses. What the mystics teach us is the truth that God is All-in-all. In all of us, in all places, always present, always ready to be with us, to rescue us from ourselves. If you believe that to be true, then that truth must be true in all ways.
The Bible tells us Jesus is God’s beloved. To walk with him, and follow in his footprints, is to walk with God Incarnate; the One who calls out to us and invites us to experience to the greatest epiphany called life. Jesus is my spiritual Sherpa – he guides me up and down the mountainside showing me my eternal glory.
As it is with any journey, life is bound to be tricky, slippery, filled with life threatening challenges and difficult obstacles. But never forget when you’re in step with Jesus, God’s in step with you.
The epiphanies we received these last few weeks remind us that God is bigger than any mountain, stronger than any struggle, more powerful than any demon. There is nothing in life that can overpower God or replace God’s love for you. You are the beloved child of God.
The only real obstacle that can get in your way... is you.
I have a cousin who was born and raised on an island (a metaphor all of its own). After reading Ernest Hemingway’s great story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Diane made a decision to face her fears and conquer that mountain Hemmingway so famously wrote about.
Up until this point, she had never flown on an airplane. She had never climbed anything beyond a tree or a treadmill. And the only thing she knew about Africa was what she read in books.
But that didn’t stop her. Something greater than her fear was tugging on her heart, and the only way to discover what it was would be to take the 24-hour flight, face her anxieties, and conquer that mountain.
Overwhelmed by the new life that surrounded her, Diane saw God not only on the mountaintop, but in the beautiful smiles of the African people, in the diversity of life that roamed the open plains around the Serengeti, and of course within herself.
By this one event, you might say, she was trans-figured; reshaped and renewed by the Spirit of God in Christ. All because she listened to the words that God spoke on her heart.
This is a great reminder that mountains, real or metaphorical, are natural. Some are born out of violent tectonic shifts, others out of messy volcanic eruptions or an unexpected earthquake. The wind, rain, floods or mankind might be able to beat them down and scar them up, but mountains will not go away. They just take on a new shape and form. As a part of God’s creation, so do we.
When you face trials and tribulations, when life comes at you hard and fast, when the world seems too big to handle, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who are weary and I will give you rest.” He tells us to lay our burdens on him, for his yoke is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
What a great way to begin our Lenten journey, than to walk with Christ, empty handed and burden-free towards the cross and resurrection.
There will always be tough times ahead, and plenty of twisting and rocky roads to climb, but they cannot break us, only strengthen us. The bumps and bruise we acquire along the way trans-figure us…so that we become human witness to God’s divine glory, here and now.
When we’re in step with Jesus, God is in step with us, moving through us, healing us, casting aside the demons and obstacles that seek to throw us off the path we’re on.
When you’re in step with Jesus, God is in step with you opening your eyes to the endless possibilities of joy and peace upon the mountain.
If we keep our senses of humor and our willingness to celebrate life fully and faithfully, the journey can enrapture us and transform our humanity into divinity. We just have to pick a path and start walking.
And from there, God will make us shine brightly with Jesus.