Scripture Reading for March 6

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Texts:    Exodus 24:12-18
                Matthew 17:1-9

Comments:   The last Sunday before Lent is known as Transfiguration Sunday, which commemorates the transfiguration of Jesus on a mountaintop (usually thought to be Mount Tabor), a story that is told in Matthew 17.   To be transfigured is to temporarily have the appearance of one who is divine.   Jesus goes with Peter, James, and John up on the mountain, where Moses and Elijah appear to them, conversisng with Jesus.

In the passage from Exodus, we have a similar story, although this time it is Moses who goes up on the mountain, and this is where he receives the tablets of the Law.  

Questions to think about    

Why are mountaintops often associated with religious experience?

Both the Matthew and Exodus texts mention “clouds” that cover the mountains.   Why do you suppose this is?

What is one “mountaintop” experience you can relate from your own life?

Why do you suppose that Jesus’ disciples were afraid when they heard a  voice saying that he was God’s son, and that God was pleased with him?

Does fear play any role in your spiritual/religious life?

 Rev. Dr. James  Gertmenian 

Read Jim’s Sermon delivered March 6 entitled “Down is UP; UP is Down” 

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7 Responses to Scripture Reading for March 6

  1. Chris Bohnhoff says:

    For me, the defining characteristic of a mountaintop experience involves an extreme broadening of perspective: not just in terms of the distance you can see, but also the passage of time that is manifested in geologic formations.

    I get the same feeling whether I’m looking across mountain peaks, or in the red rock desert, or looking through layers of rock in the Boundary Waters – a sense of, Wow, this land has been slowly changing to get to this point for millions of years, and will continue for millions more. It’s a sense of my smallness, and the largeness of the history of our home. The chance to disconnect, not only with day to day concerns, but also with the scale of a human lifetime, is somehow so liberating and calming. And since my conception of God is that of a presence that transcends any one perspective, the mountaintop is as close as I can get to that sacred escape from time and singular vantage point.

    The thought of God communicating to me in such a place becomes much more powerful, as if the message is, In all the vastness of this planet and all of time, I am giving *this* message to *you*.

  2. Calley Ordoyne says:

    I think the difficulty of getting there is part of what makes mountaintops so conducive to feeling close to God – think of the difference between driving up a mountain, and hiking up a mountain of similar size. When you drive up, you can certainly appreciate the breathtaking view – but it doesn’t have the same emotional resonance as when you’ve just sweated and ached for four hours to get there. In life, I find I feel closest to God in the hard times, particularly when I’ve struggled through some necessary but difficult process or situation. The “clouds on the mountain” to me reflects that being close to God doesn’t necessarily translate into putting you in a happy or safe place – the top of the mountain is the most exposed and climatically dangerous place to be. It might be beautiful and sunny, but that might change at any moment – it’s the least protected place in the area. It’s a vulnerable place, but even if there’s a storm blowing in, you’re closer to the elements, closer to the essence of things than down-mountain.

  3. Tom Anderson says:

    I thought of ML King and his speech shortly before he was killed where he talks about having been to the mountain top and seeing a day when equality will be the way we do our relationships.
    I think many of us 12 step people would call our accepting of the first three steps as mountain top experiences: We admitted we were powerless over ____, that our lives had become unmanageable, Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity and Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.
    As a Minnesota native I don’t really relate to mountaintops, I am more in touch with ‘deep in the forest…’, or ‘after a long paddle across a huge lake we stopped on a small island…’ as the place where an important encounter with God may occur.
    Have I had a mountain top experience? Nothing so dramatic as described in the scripture. I suppose the message I have received has been about my being in charge of my own life, about it being ok to do something with my life, even if I didn’t know what it was I was supposed to do.
    Other puzzles: Both Moses and Jesus go to the mountain top with others. I’m enough of an introvert that this seems very odd. If I’m going to have a direct encounter with God, I really don’t want anyone else around.

  4. Diane Mountford says:

    My first thought about mountaintops is the perspective and broad view they afford … but if the mountaintop is covered with cloud, that can’t be it.

    I’m reminded of a Kenyan guest on Krista Tippett’s show that said in her native folk religion, the people believed that God lived on Mt. Kenya, so I wonder if the allure of mountaintops is a holdover from some earlier religious beliefs.

    The mountain is there. We can all see it. But getting to the top is going to be very, very difficult. And there aren’t many that make the choice to go. The rest of us rely on them to tell us about it when they get back (which I suppose means that I would have rather been a follower of Moses, since Jesus and his disciples didn’t tell their story).

    One side comment: I’ve very confused by the timeline of the Moses story, since he goes up to the mountain twice. Does he go to the foothills and is waiting there for a week for the clouds to clear, to make his journey easier … but then the fire appeared and the voice of God called out and he presses on? Or is he already at the top when the Israelites see the consuming fire (do they think Moses is dead)?

  5. Paul Price says:

    Why are mountaintops often associated with religious experience?

    I have memories of when I hiked, camped and skied in the Rocky Mountains (“years ago”). In some ways, I have never felt “higher” above the earth than after I had hiked to a summit or the top of a pass-seemingly higher than in an airplane. Perhaps because I was gasping to offset the lesser oxygen, or I still retained some sense of body to ground (albeit very, very small to very, very large, though I saw it), which is evolutionarily attenuated in an airplane at 30,000 feet. At the edge of a cliff, or driving along a switchback going over a pass, with what seemed like a pretty flimsy guardrail between me, my car and a drop of maybe a couple of thousand feet, vertiginous, tightening of hands on the wheel, and fear. Mountains take lung emptying, leg weakening, “why am I doing this” effort to climb-at least in my experience. When I am aware of my vague definitions of “God” I feel analogous sensations and quail. This may be related to why many cultures have projected “Gods” onto mountains. Yet, the view is beautiful, awe arousing, and seen with my two little eyes.

    Both the Matthew and Exodus texts mention “clouds” that cover the mountains. Why do you suppose this is?

    Mystery, separation, otherness, obscuring, filtering of divine light, conceding an inability to describe, the impenetrable, but perhaps the cognitive mystery of seeing the mystery. “You will really only know God as described by the shifting, roiling vague contours of the clouds that surround God.”-sounds like a B-movie. I read Mircea Eliade a lot when I was younger (can’t remember much of it and I have now read he had some very regressive political associations in Romania), and how he thought many traditions wanted to communicate the perception/feeling of the wholly other quality of the divine-that stuck.

    What is one “mountaintop” experience you can relate from your own life?

    Sometimes when I can “see” a really good painting, I feel an intense, but quiet, existentially calming sense of “otherness,” yet joinder, which may seem to contradict what I have said before. I think of it as an otherness made a little more palpable because of the extraordinary human care and intelligence that went into it.

    Why do you suppose that Jesus’ disciples were afraid when they heard a voice saying that he was God’s son, and that God was pleased with him?

    If there were ever a crossing of the “wholly other” into my ear canal I might feel startled, probably afraid (again sort of b-movie quality, yet many traditions have well-considered thoughts on the subject). At the same time, I think “God’s” voice is heard in Jesus’s direction to forgive ‘seventy times seven times over’-or something like that-and I feel fearfully unable, but there it is.

    Does fear play any role in your spiritual/religious life?

    Yes, but it is not of hell, but of paying too little attention and not doing enough. Would I have had, do I have the guts or faith, as a christian, to help . . . . . and still pay the rent, my electricity bill, take a vacation . . .

  6. rostfeld says:

    I have always loved mountains. When I used to live in Boston, I would periodically drive up to the White Mountains by myself and take a day hike up to the top of one of the mountains. I knew how strenuous the hike would be, I knew that I had to make sure I had enough time to get before it got dark, I knew how rough some of the terrain would be, I knew how hungry and thirsty I would be, and I knew how alone I would be and yet I so wanted to get to the top and see the world at my feet in all directions. The feeling of making to the top of one of these mountains is one of the best feelings I have had in the world and one I sorely miss.

    To me the mountain is a metaphor for faith. The journey is rough, there are far easier things to with my leisure time, and there is the risk that I won’t make it back. However, the journey helped me to learn so much about myself and allowed me to reflect upon what I needed to do with my life and the goal is so wonderful that you can’t stop trying to get to the top once you get going. The discoveries and the end goal are worth all of the hardship. I wonder if that is why it is often a part of a religious experience. The mountain seems to represent all that is hard, exciting, and challenging about faith and all that is wonderful about the destination.

  7. Annette Cummings says:

    Quite a few years ago I attended a massage seminar in Sedona, AZ. I was not one to seek out a Vortex or find the right crystals to balance my chakras but the beauty of the red rocks, and a chance to put my new hiking boots to work, was a terrific lure.
    I will say that heights can have an irrational effect on me. I don’t mind flying but standing on a ladder takes some courage that I usually bluff my way through. I didn’t think the hills in Sedona were high. The climbs were gradual, more horizontal than vertical. On my way to my “mountain top experience” I did spend some time weeping and clutching the side of a rock.
    This final climb was around a hill/mountain not just up one side. Maybe that is what allowed me to enjoy it more than fear it. When we got to a plateau I stood for a few minutes to catch my breath and take in the view. This vista was more extensive and vast than some others. We could see beyond the hills we were climbing and beyond the limits of the red rocks.
    But what I felt was the space behind me. I tried to explain to my friends that I was feeling 360* not just what my vision let me see. Thinking about it now I realize that I felt in the middle of something instead of at the edge. I was a part of it. Powerful and humbling and comforting.

    Mountains, for us city dwellers or those desert dwellers, take us away from the daily grind. No mortgages to pay, no sheep to herd, no school conferences to schedule, no olives to press. They are distant and beautiful. It is hard to think about what to cook for dinner when you see Mt. Rainier rising out of the clouds like a painting on the ceiling of the Seattle sky. It must have been considered very special to climb out of their daily routine and go above their normal life. I see it as an unknown like the red rock hills were to me. I could look at the places I was but from up the mountain they appeared so different, small and just a tiny piece of the bigger picture.

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