In the opening sequence of the Sound of Music Julie Andrews sings about the hills of Austria and how they are alive with the sound of music. You can almost hear the ancient, ancestral voices filled with history and the majesty of God in the stirring notes of a song that springs from the earth. In each note there is glory, there is beauty and there is a vision of a life that is joyous and free. And these are just the hills! The mountains the family eventually have to cross to reach freedom come much later in the story.
The view from a mountaintop can extend for miles. Looking out over the vast landscape one has a sense of what eternity is and what it means to have a place in the great beyond. The grandeur of the view, the vision itself, provides a perspective about what it means to have everlasting life. Despite wars, natural disasters and the impact of humans the rhythm of life goes on and on. The hills and mountains sing songs of the majesty of God each and every day regardless of what you and I are doing. The mountaintop experience is a blessing and there is always something transformational about having been there and having communed with God. Sooner or later however, one always has to leave the mountaintop. Moses had to leave, Elijah had to leave, Jesus had to leave and if and when you and I get there, you and I will have to leave too. We will have to go back down the mountain with whatever tools God has given us and face the life that awaits us. Life with its challenges, mistakes, frailties and difficulties. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that life is all about hardship and tragedy. Life can be and often is very good. What I am trying to say is that the mountaintop experience is designed to be a temporary experience. No one gets to stay on the mountaintop. No one, not even Jesus. But I am getting ahead of myself.
At this point you might be asking yourself, how do I know if I will have a mountaintop experience? Or, if you have had one already, will I ever have another one? Let’s take the first question. I don’t know about you but I have always been intrigued by these stories: God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden in the evening, God talking with Moses on the mountain about the unruly, cranky people below, Jesus’ baptism and God’s voice proudly proclaiming to all present, a special bond with Jesus. It is pretty clear to me that God wants to be in relationship with us, has an interest in what we are doing and, I think, enjoys our company. God is not remote or distant. God is always seeking to engage us, to co-create with us, to plan and scheme and dream with us. And each time this happens there is transformation, enlightenment and a way forward. A vision for how to get through life whatever the choices and challenges are that lay ahead. So to be honest, yes, there is a part of me that always wanted a mountaintop experience. Not the shining face or brilliant light stuff, just the knowledge that my conversations with God would guide me through life in such a way that I would be prepared for whatever I needed to do or go through.
It was a long time before I realized that the mountaintop experience is also dangerous. It is dangerous because when God provides a vision, a vision that is so compelling, so wonderful, so enlightening about what can be that I want to shout YES. Not just say it, shout it, YES! YES, God that is how things should be! I learn that I will now have to play a role in making the vision a reality. Moses had to play a role. Moses was asked to lead that ungrateful band of people to a place that he could never enter. Jesus had to play a role. He was asked to sacrifice his life for a people who still struggle to live into the lives that God envisions for us.
In the centuries and decades that followed others have had their personal mountaintop experience with God and they also were asked to take on roles and tasks that included sacrifices in order to achieve a greater good. Some were martyrs, some were ordinary people and some lived in our lifetime. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On the day before he died, he gave a speech in Memphis, Tennessee that included this famous quote, “We got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…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.” Less than 24 hours after these prophetic words, King was assassinated by James Earl Ray. The mountaintop experience can be dangerous because God asks us to trust and to do on faith never knowing what the outcome will be or whether or not we will share in the rewards.
If you have already had a mountaintop experience you know that the memory of that experience is what sustains you on life’s journey. It is the nourishment that feeds your soul and fans the flames of your faith. The mountaintop experience is what brings you to church on Sunday, it is what helps you to get out of bed before sunrise on a cold morning to come to help feed the homeless and less fortunate. The mountaintop experience is what fuels your desire to volunteer to save God’s creation and protect God’s creatures. The mountaintop experience is what drives your passion to be a servant for God and to stay the course especially when the going is rough and uncertain. And while their faces may not shine with brilliant luminescence, all of us know when we meet someone who has been to the mountaintop. We see the light in their eyes, the centeredness of their being, their faith that “all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well” (Julian of Norwich).
So I leave you with these thoughts. If you are climbing the mountain and hoping to have that mountaintop experience, be patient. It will come when God knows you are ready for it because a lot will be asked of you. Stay the course, be persistent, stay hopeful and trust that God will know when the time is right. When you have the mountaintop experience, let it envelope you, enjoy the cloud, bask in the light, open your heart and mind to whatever God offers. And, if you have had a mountaintop experience, keep the vision in the forefront of your life. Keep your eyes on the prize and your feet on the path of enlightenment. Stay the course for the promise land awaits.
At the 8:00 a.m. service, this is where the sermon ended. However, since this service (9:15/11:15 a.m.) has people who sing…. I think that having begun this sermon with a thought of a song from the Sound of Music it might be a good idea to end that way as well. Want to sing “Climb Every Mountain?” Let’s go for it and sing a stanza:
“Climb every mountain, Search high and low, Follow every byway, Every path you know. Climb every mountain, Ford every stream, Follow every rainbow, ‘Till you find your dream.”
(“Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is a show tune from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. Here it is sung at the close of the first act by the Mother Abbess. It is themed as an inspirational piece, to encourage people to take every step towards attaining their dreams.)
Have a blessed Lent. Amen.