As I was thinking about the sermon this week I was also feeling a little wistful. More on that in a short moment. In the Gospel today Peter and John and James are with Jesus on the mountaintop and they have, literally and figuratively, a mountaintop experience. In the here and now they experience God and the grace of God and the love of God and the light of God, and as Christ is transfigured they are transfixed. During that beautiful moment of spiritual and emotional catharsis Peter, sensing it would not last forever says, “Master, it is good for us to be here, let us stay”. My dear friends in Christ, without any hesitation or any concern that I am in any way misrepresenting or minimizing the meaning of the Gospel passage, I say to you I know exactly what Peter is talking about. Here comes the wistful bit I was talking about. This coming September I will have been at St John’s for five years and I can honestly say I have been transfixed by this Holy place, I have been witness to the grace of God and the love of God and the light of God in this sacred space and I can emphatically say to you, “it is good for me to be here, and I love all of you very much”.
I find it more than just a coincidence that the very first sermon I ever gave was on this very Gospel passage. As a first year student in my first semester at The Vancouver School of Theology I was a guest preacher at St Anne’s in Steveston. I preached on this Gospel and as I recall my message then was that while we have these mountain top experiences in life and while they are important, we must always remember that there is also important work to be done down in the valley. I said that these mountain top experiences are as fleeting as they are exhilarating, but it is valuable - perhaps even vital - to remember that these experiences energize us to do what is needed down in the valley. That is why Jesus leads Peter, John and James to go back down the mountain. The valley is where we march for justice, the valley is where we plan for peace, the valley is where we find The Hot Senior’s Lunches, the valley is where the Choir To Go performs for care facilities and the valley is where we welcome immigrants and help them learn English to name just a few of the things that we do. My message then was that the mountain top experience we hopefully receive in our Sunday service, or wherever we absorb it, works to help us through the hard slogging of our service to humanity in the week and time ahead. For a rookie preacher not a bad message I think, but I have broadened my view since then.
One of the recurring moments here at St John’s that I find incredibly moving and immensely meaningful on so many levels is our collective singing of the Lord’s Prayer. It is for me an earthly encounter with God’s grace. When this is sung I have at times imagined this very church roof opening up and revealing the face of God. At certain moments I have also felt the same way when we have reached out to our community in recognizing First Responders and the Long, Long night of Hope for just two examples. It is through these moments, these earthly gifts from our heavenly Creator, and other moments like them, that I have come to believe as we walk further into the journey that is our lives the peak experiences are more and more found in the common. As we mature in our faith and mature in our love for God and for each other, God provides for us glimpses and perhaps even panoramas of the mountaintop even in the darkest part of the valley. It is as if Jesus said to Peter, John and James, “Come with me off this mountain and I will show you the glorious beauty you have seen here in the mix and muddle and even the mud of humanity - and you will say again, ‘Lord, it is good to be here”. As we walk in faith and life God provides us more and more peak experiences, but She leads us to find them in the jumble of human nature, in the maelstrom of life’s struggles and sometimes in the least of all places. ‘You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth lying in a dirty and dusty manger in Bethlehem’.
From the prophet Isaiah and from the Gospel of Luke announcing the coming of the Lord we hear this, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken”. As we all mature in our faith and mature in our love for God and for each other I do believe the justice and peace and love and joy we find in the heavenly places disrupts and changes the injustice and war and hatred and misery we find in the dark places. And a truly remarkable consequence of this is as we ourselves confront the dark places with our love and the love of God, we receive grace upon grace, light upon light. As we walk in our life journey with God and put faith and trust in His love, we are given peak experiences when we strive to make this world a better place. As we walk in our life journey and put our faith and trust in God’s Love, the valleys before us are lifted up and the mountains and hills are made low because it is God’s plan to make this world more like heaven and who better to that work than all of us.
There is a twentieth century ballad, a show tune really, that I am sure most if not all of you have heard many times before. The song is “Over The Rainbow’ and was of course made popular by the late and great Judy Garland. As many of you know this song is particularly important to my family and me because it was my Mother’s favourite song. It has been played at our clan’s weddings and other such ceremonies including my induction here in memory of her and for what the song represents. What does this song represent? Some find it a melancholy song, about wonderful dreams dreamed, but that never really come true for us. I personally find this song full of real hope. The key lyric for me is and for my Mother was, “The dreams that you dare to dream, Really do come true”.
When Rosa Parks was just a little girl, someone influential in her life must have, must have told her never to be afraid to do the right thing. Years later her act of courage on her local level launched a movement that would over time liberate countless lives, bring justice and equality where it was in sparse supply, and eventually allow a small boy born in Hawaii to dare to dream his dream and become the first African American to hold the office of President of the United States. Make no mistake, that movement from Rosa to Obama was a long one full of pain, setbacks, despair, violence and duplicity. But we also know that her daring to dream did make straight a desert highway for our Lord, her daring to dream did lift up valleys and did make low hills and mountains and in her daring to dream the glory of God was revealed to her and to many. And along that way while fighting that good fight there were setbacks, but it was the remarkable peak experiences while still in the valley that kept them going - “I have a dream today, I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today”. You cloud at that moment almost feel the leveling power of God’s almighty hand.
I believe Over The Rainbow represents the struggles and aspirations and successes of this time, but there is one more element to the song I would like to share with you. In the movie, to whom exactly is Dorothy singing? I believe she is singing to God; she is singing to God and this song is her prayer. And if you remember her prayers are answered. She does go over the rainbow and back and discovers through her peak experience that there is no place like home. She discovers it is good for her to be here, to be home and she wants to stay. God answers her prayer by letting her know that her life’s journey starts from where she finds true love and that this love will sustain her and guide her until the end of days.
In the world today there are literally millions of people aching to find meaning in this life. As Christians we should never pretend we have all the answers, but we do know one truth: God loves us, God came to us, God continues to come to us and that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God. There has never been a better time to be a Christian because the need for love today is huge and if we dare to dream, if we dare to give our love to all others we will move mountains and we will lift valleys. And along the way let us rejoice in the peak experiences our wondrous Creator will provide. God almighty, God almighty, it is really good to be here. Amen.