Those who go to the mountain
 come back changed

I lift up my eyes to the hillsó
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
           Psalm 121:1-2

Iíve always liked being near the mountains, maybe because I was raised in the Midwest, where the land is flat. You have to drive a long way before you bump into a mountain range. But now, when I sit out on my deck, I can look at our mountains, offering shelter and security. When I go to visit my aunt and uncle in Northern California, he lives up in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Now Ė those are mountains, towering as high as the eye can see! As we drive higher and higher, the air changesÖ It really does feel like you are closer to God.

So it doesnít surprise me that mountains are so important to the narrative of our faith. When God is ready to give the people the Law, Moses climbs high up the mountain. He stays there for 40 days, close to GodÖ literally in the presence of God. And when he climbs back down to the people, he carries with him the stone tablets that contain the laws to live byÖ all that the people needed to know in faith.

Jesus went to the mountain top too. " He took Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves." (Matthew 17:1). The disciples were weary as they started their trip up the mountain with Jesus. They were exhausted by the non-stop demands of the crowds. Just a short time ago, they had been simple fisherman, content with their simple lives. But, then they met Jesus and everything changed dramatically. Now they were people catchers! Jesus had taught them remarkable things and now they were given power and authority to go out into the needy crowds that followed Jesus everywhere: To go out into the crowds and heal... to cure... to proclaim. Now, no matter where they go, the crowds follow them, just like they follow Jesus.... pressing closer and closer, looking for a miracle. Finally, Jesus promises them some time alone, but even then the crowds press on, following them. The disciples beg Jesus to send them away. Enough is enough! But we know what happens next Ė fish and bread for thousands! Wonders and miracles everywhere, more than anyone could take in. The disciples need a break!

Finally, Jesus takes his three closest friends up to a quiet mountaintop to pray. Up high, away from the crowds, peace and quiet. It seems like, once on the mountaintop, Jesus is doing all the praying. Exhausted, the disciples can barely keep their eyes open. But before sleep overtakes them, something remarkable happens. In a time when miracles and healings seem to be daily occurrences, even this seems to be beyond any expectations. The disciples are startled awake by a sudden flash of radiance and the disciples behold the glory of God. And then, suddenly Jesus is not alone, surrounded by the radiance, he is accompanied by two men: Moses and Elijah (Matt. 17:2-3). Moses and Elijah are two of Israel's greatest heroes. Moses represents the Law and Elijah the prophets. Both Moses and Elijah were called to lead God's people in a new direction. Jesus shares this prophetic call with them. In Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, the disciples catch a glimpse of life in the reign of God to come. What could be more glorious than that?

Most of us do not have Mountaintop experiences like this. We do not come face to face with God. We do not get the opportunity to see long dead heroes of the faith. But we have faith, none the less.

But, can you imagine what it would be like to be up there, with Peter and his friends? Peter grasps helplessly to hold on to this awe-inspiring moment: "Let us build three tents, one for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, and stay here"(Matt. 17:4).

Peter wants to hold on to this moment and never let it go. Hold on to the beauty and the power. He doesnít understand that this is impossible. Faith can never be contained in a box or a tent. It is only when we accept itís presence as part of who we are, so we can move forward and live the lives that God calls us to. After hearing God proclaim: "This is my son with whom I am pleased. Listen to Him!" the disciples must leave the mountaintop and move on.

Leaving the mountaintop must have been so difficult. Leaving that beautiful, peace-filled, place where Godís glory shone... leaving to face the sweaty pushing crowds, always demanding a miracle.... leaving that moment of glory behind, knowing that Jesus had told them of his own suffering and death. Knowing the risks that each of them faced as they continued to do Godís work.

But they also were changed by that mountaintop experience. They received a better understanding of Godís plan: "This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased," (Matt. 17:5). God calls out, "Listen to him!" All the healings and cures and miracles were pieces of one beautiful puzzle. A puzzle when completed shows us the reign of God.

And with this vision of Godís reign, faith takes hold and grows.

Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous speech told us all about his mountaintop experience:

We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

And I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And Iíve looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!! (I have a dream speech, Aug. 28, 1963).

Martin went to the mountaintop and God opened his eyes. The light in his heart shone out into the darkness, just as Paul said, because he had faith.

Faith is what happens when God opens our eyes and we begin to see as God sees. And you remember how the Bible describes what God sees, don't you? No more children dying young, every person filling out his or her days. Every person enjoying the fruit of the vine, the shade of the fig tree. The lion and the lamb lying down together. Swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. No more mourning or crying or pain any more. A table spread with enough food for everyone; hunger forever banished. Perhaps if enough of us have enough faith that these things are possibleÖthat the world God sees is reality, then perhaps this world will be the one that everyone sees. Thatís the power of faith. That is our mountain top experience!

Martin Luther King told us that he had been to the mountain. Moses had been to the mountain. Jesus had been to the mountain. Those who go to the mountain come back changed and empowered. They come back ready to work for Godís vision: to make that vision a reality. That is Godís call to each of us, no matter how close to the summit we get. Mountain top experiences are carried in the heart and are sustained when we share what we have experienced with each other.

So, my prayer for each of you today is that you will go out and climb to the mountain top. Climb as high as you can go and when you arrive to the very top: rejoice and hear Godís voice call out: "This is my child with whom I am pleased. Listen to Him!"