Magic Mountains and Transformed Valleys

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Mark 9:2-9

I know, If I had been with Peter, James and John with Jesus on that mountain of transfiguration… that magic mountain… if I had been there… I know exactly what I would have done on the way down.

I would have picked up a rock. Ever since going to Iona in Scotland during the sabbatical—spending a week with other Christian pilgrims – hiking along the hills and beaches… attending some of the most moving worship I’ve ever experienced in my life… ever since going to Iona, I have been making a Cairn—a Scottish word for a pile of rocks – that have come to represent a special place or holy experience. We have a Cairn in our columbarium.

So, I started with rocks from the beach at St. Columba’s bay in Iona. A holy place where the ancient saint first landed on Iona… whose vision is the inspiration for that sacred place.

I’ve added to that Cairn rocks from Montreat— that Presbyterian Mecca filled with holy memories of youth conferences, Worship and Music Conferences…

I’ve added rocks from a Catholic Monastery in the mountains of Colorado where I will long remember a silent, prayer-filled hike that was the culmination of a week of learning and prayer…

I added rocks from our mission in Guatemala… I’m looking for rocks from the YMCA Camp of my youth—Camp Greenville.

All have the same thing in common: in some way—it was time set apart from the normal patterns of life—down in the valley so to speak… where for a moment… the holy touched the ordinary.

So, I know what I would have done if I had been with them on that magic mountain- I would not have built tents… but I would have brought home a rock.

I wonder where you would be collecting your rocks.

I’m privileged to hear you talk about them—some of you have been on Cursillo or Walk to Emmaus weekends where you’ve encountered a holy experience full of grace in the midst of Christian community. I’ve heard others speak to me of the New Wilmington Missionary conference…

Warren goes to the monastery as do many of my friends… away from the normal work of ministry and work… in order just to be… to be… with God and with others.

I wonder what those places and times where you have made a connection with the holy? What rocks would be on your Cairn?  And if you have not had that experience yet, no worries—they are just waiting for you!

There is a spiritual name often given for such places in our lives—they are called “thin places”—Years before traveling to Iona, Scotland to the Abbey… I had heard many people talk about Iona as one of those thin places. That’s why so many pilgrims from all over the world travel there taking 6 hours of ferries, trains and buses to get there from Glasgow— to travel the “thin place”  called Iona.

Thin places are the soft, porous, permeable places where the veil between this world and the next is so sheer that it is easy to see through them and perhaps get a glimpse of the power of Jesus’ life transforming ours.”

Today, in this story I think we are witnessing a very thin place—a moment in the memory of the disciples when heaven touched earth… when the past and the present all came together into one holy moment.

When Moses and Elijah—representing the best of the past—who had their own special moments with God… who met with God and spoke for God—they now join Jesus—who now, transfigured before our eyes… is revealed as the next one—who is close to the heart and mind of God.

Imagine the scene for James, John and Peter—watching the three of them… then hearing the voice:

 “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!”

Yeah, I’d like to have a rock from that mountain! Like Peter, I’d like to build a booth to hold onto that moment. Can you blame him?

But as I’ve lived with this story— I’ve come to understand why Jesus didn’t encourage him to build those booths. Do you know the most important thing that happened that day? What made that day so special!

It is not what happened to Jesus–  seeing his clothes shining brighter than Clorox bleach could ever hope to brighten anything… him being transformed or transfigured before their eyes… appearing with Elijah and Moses…

That is amazing… but I don’t think it is the point of the story. The point of the story is not so much for us to stare and gaze at the spotlight shining on Jesus as for us to realize the transformation God wants to work in us…

We are invited in this story to climb that mountain with Jesus in order that we might be transformed… so that his brilliance might shine into our lives… and prepare us to come down that mountain in order that we might live our lives more faithfully.

This seems to me to be faithful to the movement of the text. Up to now, the disciples have been living life down in the valley— watching Jesus confront all sorts of hurting people. The crowds are overwhelming… most looking for healing. This is demanding work. They can never get away from the pressure of the crowd!They have watched and helped Jesus feed 5000 people on one day and 4000 people on another.

Following Jesus is no walk in the park… it is more like walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

To make matters worse, Jesus and his followers are under attack—from their own religious leaders—Jesus being questioned about violating Sabbath law…

Then Jesus doesn’t make it any easier to follow him… he says things like:

 “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”

Welcome to the new member class? That doesn’t sound like a very good church growth strategy to me.

We often soften the requirements to follow Jesus out of fear that people may not want to join the church. Not Jesus! If anything, he would make it harder to join the church. Following Jesus is tough work.

And disciples like Peter keep missing the point- when Jesus says that the Messiah has to suffer….” Peter says, “No way”—Jesus says, “way”

Read Mark and life in the valley with Jesus is hard work… long and hard work.

It is the work many of you know as you have sacrificed money, time and talent to do the work of the church—which is to carry on the ministry of Jesus in our time and place—that’s why it is hard to follow Jesus. Those of you active in the church know this. Not every meeting or event is fun and games. You have to sacrifice to do the work of Jesus in the church.You know how hard life is down in the valley!

Then, just when they may need it most, Jesus seems to do something special for them… he takes up that mountain, out of the valley… not to do something for him… rather he wants to do something for them.

He invites them to climb that magic mountain for an experience of the holy… to see him in a whole new light…to see him for who he really was and to discern what that would mean for them.

There was an ad that appeared in a British newspaper years ago that said,

“Leave behind the beaten path to find happiness. Take your mind over uncharted terrain- it might just change your life for ever.”

I think this is one of those moments when they left the beaten path and it changed them.

Then, they had to come down from the mountain as we all must.

But not the same.

Over the years, I’ve come to treasure those magic mountains… and I hope to experience some more… but I’ve learned something very important—the purpose of those experiences was not only to bring you into the presence of God and Christ in new and powerful ways… the purpose of those experiences was to prepare you for life in the valley. It may be just the experience that, as you continue to listen to Jesus (as the voice told us to do)—will transform your life in the valley!

They get this at Iona.

One thing is very clear on the Island of Iona as you spend your week there. That as wonderful as it is, as holy as it is… we are led to those experiences in order to return to the valley—not the same… but transformed by the grace of God… transformed by Christ… re-committed to Christ… and his life and ministry… recommitted to his work… ready, perhaps to see that God is not just on the magic mountains… but with the eyes of faith… with the eyes of Christ.. – guess what—you’ll find God there too! With you!

This was put beautifully in a poem written by a pilgrim to Iona. She wrote:

How will I find you?

Lord, on this sacred and beautiful isle, it seems so easy to find You.
But how will I find You when I am gone from here, back to my world?

How will I find You?
When the children plague me?
When work seems hard, mechanical, soulless?

How will I find You
When tiredness and opposition
Smother my resolves?

How will I find You?
When sin and oppression stifle my spirit?

Child- dear, most beloved- do you still not understand?
You will find me because I am with you;|
We are together;
My life entwines in yours.
Your world IS my world.

Open your eyes;
Open your ears;
Open your heart.
I am with you always”[1]

Remember what God said on the magic mountain?—“This is my beloved son, listen to him!”    Listen to him… so that when you return to the valley… you will know you are not alone… listen to him… so that when life in the valley becomes difficult, you may here him whisper— “Come to me all you who labor and are heaven laden, and I will give you rest…”  Hear him say-  “Remember, I am with you always… I am with you always… even to the end of the age.” Hear him say, as you live your life out in the valley_ “Peace, I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives, give I unto you.”

Listen to him. Listen to him. Your life will never be the same.


[1] From Iona Devotion book


Leave a Reply