Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Growing up just north of Los Angeles, I was hyper-aware of the San Fernando Valley. Neither suburban nor Hollywood-cool, the Valley boasted its own style of dress and peculiar language. Like, fer shure. Living in the Valley had its difficulties: stop-and-go freeway traffic during many hours of the day and an oppressive layer of smog bearing down upon the residents most of the year.
Our denomination had nine summer camps scattered all over southern California, and all of them were located in the mountains. Kids from that Valley and the one I grew up in (the San Gabriel Valley) could get away for a week to find God and a little fresh air. We hiked among towering pines, sat on rocks to sing songs around a fire, and when we did give in to sleep, did so in log cabins. Lasting relationships were forged for campers, both among themselves and between them and God.
We’ve all heard (and possibly preached) plenty of sermons on Transfiguration Sunday which point fingers at Peter’s booth-building malady, which use God’s booming “Listen to him!” as to legitimize all the stuff in the Sermon on the Mount that we’ve just preached on, and which inform us that at some point we have to get off that mountain to go back to the valley and do all the work that Jesus told us to do. I don’t need to hear that sermon. My life is lived in the valley: classes to prepare, people to visit, sermons to write, streams to swim up. Being reared in the United Methodist Church, I’m super-committed to works of mercy. I want to talk to the church about what we need to DO, how we can be engaged in social justice, and how this will be a witness to the world.
Those of us who find ourselves deeply engaged with valley life need to balance the ecclesial concern about who we are with a willingness to linger with the great I AM. Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t shy away from the works of piety. I begin each morning with an extended time of Scripture reading and prayer. I journal. I retreat. I’m part of an accountable discipleship group. But sometimes, when I get out of whack and let the busy-ness of the everyday Christian life overtake me, I reduce those practices to items on a to-do list. I’m sure some of you know what I’m talking about. So the word from the psalm jumps out at me: “Extol the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain.”
This year I hear God saying to us valley girls and guys, “It’s okay to leave the valley to come up on the mountain for awhile!” Certainly we can see God at work in the valley, but that work is sustained by the seeing of the brilliance of Christ and the hearing of God’s voice. For some, it’s harder to go up on the mountain than it is to go the way of the cross.