God in the Thin Places
These past few months we have busy with the story of Jesus and his journey from birth to baptism, from his first public appearance as Rabbi and teacher. It is a journey that ends in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday.
Today we read the story of Jesus and his three most beloved followers, Peter, James and John.
This is how it goes….
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
When we drive a long distance to get to a specific destination, road signs point out the direction and the distance we are from our destination.
A few events in Jesus life stand out as road signs pointing out the direction and destination of his life.
One of the first of these road signs was his baptism. This was God’s affirmation of who he was, remember the words; “You are my Beloved Son, with you I am well pleased”?
Today’s Gospel story is another such a road sign, this time pointing out the destination more clearly: Jerusalem!
The story begins with Jesus and three of his disciples ascending a mountain. A reminder that because of the worldview of people back then, when it was believed that God resided above the blue expanse.
To reach up toward the sky, such as climbing a high mountain, was believed to bring you to the “thin places” where the division between human and God becomes less accentuated. That is why the prophets and sages sought out the peaks of mountains. To experience God more clearly. That is why Moses had to climb Mt Sinai to receive the ten commandments. That is why the people of Babel built a tower that would reach God. That is why Jesus takes his three beloved disciples and climbs the mountain.
It is here in this elevated space that they experience God in a spectacular way.
We read: “And while [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
This road sign moment points to the fact that Jesus belongs among the great prophets of the past. He is more than the equal of two of the historical giants; Moses and Elijah.
So, here in the thin air of the mountain, an ecstatic vision offers these three disciples upon whom Jesus leaned so much, the opportunity to truly grasp what it was that they were a part of—and they miss it completely.
Instead of interpreting this for what it was, God’s affirmation, once again, of who Jesus was and what awaited him and where he fit into God’s story, all they think of is memorializing the moment.
With their cluelessness up there in the heights and the thin places where God spoke so clearly, they confirm their visionless and incomprehension by suggesting that they build three huts; one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. That way they could monopolize these three servants of God and they could live happily ever after.
Nothing Jesus had been teaching them seemed to have penetrated their visionlessness. Their reaction belied their cluelessness.
Jesus had not come to save Israel or rule Israel. Jesus had not come to create a new empire for the Jews, one that would drive out the Romans by force.
Jesus was on a journey to Jerusalem to confront the injustices of Jerusalem, the center of power, as Elijah and Hosea and Jeremiah and Amos and all the prophets of Israel had done over and over again.
His mission was not for everlasting glory through the violent confrontation of Israel’s enemies but by giving himself as a non-violent prophet for the redemption of his people through the restoration of a just society.
How often have we not longed for those thin places where we can encounter the holiness of God. Places of comfort and assurance that we are not forsaken, not forgotten, and always engaged by a loving God who brings light to our world and hope to our lives.
The question is, what do we do with those moments when we know we have are in the presence of something or someone much more than us and much more than our dreams or fears?
And no, it does not happen for us necessarily on the high mountain tops. It happens at times when we least expect it or at times when we intentionally seek it, but there are those moments when that which separates us from God grows thin and we know.
So, what is the path for your life? What is your destination? Have you ever noticed the road-signs showing you the direction affirming your journey?
When that happens, let us not be like these three disciples who wished to freeze that moment in time so they could live happily ever after, because life does not happen in those places where we discover the sacred—it happens in the rough and tumble of ordinary life.
Life did not happen on the mountain tops in Jesus’ time. It happened in the villages and on the hillsides where he taught. It happened at the sick beds of friends and at the roadside where the beggars lived. Ultimately it happened in Jerusalem where the empire conflicted God’s intention for God’s people and it happened for him, on the cross and at the empty tomb.
When we encounter those thin places, may we know, we have not reached our destination, we have only been affirmed to be on the right path to our ultimate destination.
So, dear friends, may we, on this journey together, share the clear moments of vision and inspiration as we journey together to our own Jerusalem where God needs us to represent God’s love and God’s justice by speaking truth to power, sharing what we have with those who have little, and embrace our destiny as God’s representatives and as Jesus’ 21st century disciples. Amen.