February 26, 2017

LastSundayEpiphany

Last Sunday of Epiphany - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M. Delinger

 

You will notice that both the Old Testament and the Gospel take stories take place on mountains. The context of Exodus is at Mount Sinai. The context of The Transfiguration is possibly Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon. Biblically, the idea of God being “up” makes the mountain the point where humanity meets or is closer to God.


During the Exodus, many significant events occurred on Mount Sinai. If you look on a map, you will see that what is believed to be have been Mount Sinai and Mount Horeb in the Old Testament, and which is currently called Mount Sinai, is nowhere near Egypt, and nowhere near Jerusalem. It is the southern point of what forms an upside down triangle, about the same distance from both Egypt and Jerusalem that Jerusalem if from Egypt – a bit further to Jerusalem. We know that the Israelites were lost, and boy, were they lost!


Since we’re not 100% sure of the mountains where these events took place, we can’t be sure of the effort to get to the tops of these mountains. Though, in Exodus, Moses went “into the clouds”. I’ve looked at current photos of Mount Sinai, Mount Tabor and Mount Hermon. If these were the mountains where these activities took place, it took Moses, Jesus, Peter, James and John considerable effort to get to the tops!


In both situations, there is an

encounter with God – like

YHWH God.


I know that Jesus is part of the Triune God, but the Holy Trinity wasn’t part of Peter, James and John’s understanding of the man Jesus standing in front of them. Their epiphany on that mountain was about the true relationship between the man Jesus and YHWH.


In both situations, the main characters faced enormous disappointment after their climb up the mountain. At The Transfiguration, Peter, James and John are gripped with fear. And then on the way down the mountain, Jesus tells them to not tell anyone about this amazing event that they witnessed. After climbing down from Mount Sinai, what does Moses discover? His brother Aaron is leading people in the worship the Golden Calf! (You can’t just turn the page to find that story – it’s 8 chapters later, after the description of the tabernacle that is to hold the 10 Commandments).


Moses, Peter, James and John endured what could have been nothing short of challenging hikes up these mountains. Wikipedia says that Mount Sinai can be ascended in 2 ½ hrs. I think the treks up Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon are a bit longer than that. A nice day out, but probably a bit of an effort.


I’m not much of a mountain climber. But I have a mountain climbing story to tell and a mountain top story of my own. Every Californian knows of Half Dome in Yosemite, and I’m sure some of you have been to the base or have climbed to the top.


In 2006, a priest friend came with me to California to see the wealth of beauty that this state has. As an avid outdoorsman, he wanted to go to Yosemite, and thought that we should attempt Half Dome. On his part, there were lots of mistakes, that probably aren’t particularly worthy of including in a sermon, but I will because of their entertainment value.


Our last night at my dad’s in Santa Maria was lush with wine at dinner and then drinks at the Santa Maria Inn, just around the corner, and about the only night life Santa Maria has to offer. Despite a fairly early night due to the Santa Maria Inn bar closing at 11pm, Ralph awoke the next day with a migraine. Now, what I know of Ralph’s migraines – and I have witnessed 3 – they are debilitating, involve repeated vomiting, and are brought on by mixing different alcohols...with me! For some reason, I’m a common denominator, because in the 15yrs I’ve known him, he hasn’t had a migraine that didn’t involve the two of us enjoying the both the grape and the grain. So...there was a delay in our departure while his migraine slowly turned into a hangover. There was no way that we were going to get to our motel at the edge of the Park by sundown. And we needed to hit the trailhead by 6am.


Another mistake Ralph made was to question my insistence that we each carry 8L of water. I had trained by carrying 12L of water on long walks around Manchester. And despite it being back-breaking, I knew that a sore back would be better than dehydration and death.


The 3rd mistake Ralph made was to ignore elevation. Actually, this was a fault on both our parts. We didn’t even factor it in.


As a result of these mistakes, Ralph was in pretty bad shape halfway down the mountain...we rested for about an hour, and he asked me for water.


None of Ralph’s foibles have anything to do with the point of my sermon. But I don’t get the opportunity to talk about my Half Dome trip very often. So, thank you!


The significance of my Half Dome trip in relation to today’s reading has to do with Half Dome itself. After 4 or 5hrs of hiking, Ralph and I made it to the base of Half Dome, having started at 4,000ft above sea level and hiking up 2,000ft. The Dome itself rises 1,800ft from the base to the top. We were ahead of schedule, and we were looking forward to having our lunch atop Half Dome, looking out across the majestic wonder of Yosemite, a jewel of God’s creating.


Half Dome has been made “easy” for even the novice hiker like me. There are a set of metal cables to grip on either side of the hiker, with boards attached to the stone like ladder rungs, which are set at about 4ft intervals up the Dome. Hikers leave their climbing gloves in a huge pile so that unprepared climbers, like Ralph and me, can use the gloves to grip the cables and scurry up Half Dome.


Now at 7,000ft, we discover that the air acts differently. While it was still all along the hike up, it was windy and bitter cold at the base of Half Dome. That meant that, as any meteorologist will tell you, it was just going to get windier as we climbed the Dome. That didn’t really deter us. There was a steady stream of people climbing the Dome.


Ralph went first. He got about 4 rungs up when he turned to me and said, “I’m not going any further. I’m coming down.” I’m below him about 10ft, and I am determined to get to the top. But he has to come down. That’s not too much of a problem, because part of the climbing adventure is that people going up accommodate people coming down, and vice versa. It’s a delicate ballet between two metal cables about 3ft apart.


As Ralph comes down, we briefly make plans for me to get to the top while he waits for me. I get to about the 8th rung, and I panic! Something in my brain and in my soul told my entire body, “You can’t do this!” I yelled to Ralph that I was coming down. Of course, with the wind and the distance apart we were, he probably couldn’t hear me.


Like many people, I find coming down a ladder scarier than going up! That’s because, I don’t have a fear of heights; I have a fear of falling, which are two different things. Going down a ladder, when you can’t see where you are going, can be scary. Going down a makeshift ladder, with 20mph winds, 40F temperatures, people trying to get around you both going up and going down, and when you can’t see where you are going is, was, and remains the most frightening activity I have ever done. I wasn’t going to go up, and I didn’t know how in the world I was going to get down!


Then I heard above me, “Don’t worry, buddy. I’ll help you.” A much more experienced climber was on his way down, and he grabbed my hand, and helped me down. He held onto me, and he coached me down for what seemed like an hour, but was probably only 4 or 5min. It wasn’t important the he was more experienced at climbing; that actually never crossed my mind. What was important was that he was confident, he was compassionate, and he held onto me to take away my fear. It was at the bottom, when reunited with Ralph, that I also found out that he was a fireman.


Ralph and my agenda was a failure; we did not accomplish our goal of reaching the top of Half Dome. We will only be able to experience through pictures the awesomeness of being at the top. Like Moses, Peter, James and John our mountain top experience didn’t go as planned, and we were faced with some disappointment. And like Peter, James and John, we were gripped with fear.


The mountain top stories we hear today have many facets to them, and the disappointment is just part of it.


The other is that very human
element of touch that we find
Jesus utilizing so frequently in
the Gospels. In the story of The
Transfiguration, “Jesus came
and touched them, saying, “Get
up and do not be afraid””.


There is something about being touched that calms a person: the cuddling of a crying baby, the hug given to a grief-stricken evacuee, the elbow given to an unsteady pedestrian crossing the street, when someone offers water when you are dehydrated and suffering from altitude sickness and residual hangover, and even the slightest touch of the hand of someone who just received bad news. When the fireman grabbed my hand, when he touched me, much of my fear went away. Jesus’ touch takes away our fear.


Sometimes it is through our
failure that we come closer to
God, when we see God, and feel
God’s touch.


We are often looking for God in the dazzling white or the devouring fire – we look for God in the theatrical drama. Often, and probably more often, God is in our disappointment and in the kind touch of a friend.


Sometimes it’s through the effort, rather than in the accomplishment, that we are transfigured. If we are to be changed into the likeness of Jesus, as is the plea of the Collect of the Day, if we are become God’s New Creation, as we say in the Eucharist, then there will be mountains that we have to climb. When we do climb those mountains, it is then that we will see God’s full Glory.


We know that the mountain isn’t the actual meeting place for God, and we each have our own special places where we feel closest to God. What we do know is that Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth, between God and humanity.


The Sacrament of Holy
Communion is our union with
Christ, that mountain-top
moment when Jesus touches us.


And like with Peter, James and John, when “Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid,” we come to be touched by the Jesus in the Eucharist so that our fear of life’s challenges can be transfigured into hope.

© 2017 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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