What is it about mountain tops in scripture? Why is it that when people have encounters with God – Moses, Elijah, this morning’s transfiguration – it always happens – up there and set apart?
Some of you may be familiar with a foundational concept in psychology – the hierarchy of needs. Abraham Maslow in the 1960s – picture a pyramid – at the bottom – our basic needs – food, shelter, clothing, then comes safety, security – next up belongingness and love, followed by accomplishment, self-worth – and at the top of the pyramid – the apex – is self-actualization.
Self-actualization is the awareness of our purpose. It’s when we’re engaged in a task, a moment, a team effort, a solitary effort – when we know we are doing what we were created to do. A self-actualizing experience is when this insight comes upon us – maybe even surprises us with our potential, what we are capable of.
Maslow labeled these “peak experiences.” He associated peak experiences with what we in the spiritual/religious tradition called mysticism – or even how we use the terms awe, wonder, transcendence – in union, interconnected, words fail – contemplation is better.
Maslow believed anyone was capable of these experiences – but self-actualized people – were able to experience them more often. They cultivate capacities that enable them to do so. And this is a mutually beneficial life – whereby the gifts and capabilities a person was created to share – feed not only their soul – but transform the people and systems and shared spaces of our world.
Martin Luther – long before Maslow said – the glory of God is a human being fully alive. This morning we see the glory of God in two stories – and we are told – that one of the most important capacities for us to cultivate towards our own self-actualization is to – Listen.
You don’t need to be on a mountain top to see the glory of God. Which is why Jesus tells Peter – yeah, no, we’re not staying up here. But mountain peaks – have a purpose – everything else is down there – when you’re up there – so attention is focused.
The events in both stories the big event takes place at the end of a long journey. Elijah and Elisha are traveling – and it takes six days for Jesus to bring the disciples to that mountain top. If you want to know more of the details of Elijah and Elisha’s journey then by all means, read 1 Kings - I’m not going to summarize – I’m just going to tell you – it’s been a long road – and it’s been a hard road.
It’s a journey these two prophets have to take because they are in a crucial time of transition for their people – that connects with political realities of their time. So are Jesus and the disciples – although I don’t believe the disciples understand yet, how important it is they pay attention to Jesus in their travels.
One of the characteristics of self-actualized people, by the way – is that they fully enjoy the journey – not just the destination. Now if your journey is part of a fabulous vacation – or a pilgrimage – where you know the pilgrimage is the point – well, that’s a journey easier to enjoy, we’re prepared for it.
What about when those journeys and transitions that you don’t want – or haven’t planned for? Maybe even were thrust upon you, no choice.
That’s what we’re all experiencing right? We’re in a transition time we don’t want to be in. We keep wanting to get to the other side – anything from “going back to work” to “going back to school” to “going back to church” to “going to visit our families” – everything that falls under this vague category of “going back to normal.”
The thing is – Jesus never talks about going back – it’s always forward – in Christ we are a new creation – every day – God is making all things new.
Elisha cannot possibly want to get to where he and Elijah are going. “Do you know that today is the day?” Elijah asks Elisha repeatedly. Yes – I know – Elisha stays – be quiet and stop reminding me. They aren’t related – but they are like father and son – prophets called by God in a time when things weren’t going very well.
And their job – was to get people to pay attention – when they would rather look away. We know what that’s like, right? There are realities in our world we have a hard time seeing.
But seeing is exactly what Elisha will have to do. Elisha asks – give me a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit. Meaning, help me do what you do, help me bear witness to God’s people. That is a hard thing – Elijah replies. Prophets aren’t polite. As St. Paul wrote – if I were in this to please people, I wouldn’t be a follower of Jesus. Prophets talk about what we don’t want to listen to at the dinner table – or sometimes – the pulpit.
So Elijah kind of gives Elisha a test – of bearing witness. He has to watch Elijah leave him – or ascend in that whirlwind. And he does. It sounds like he is the only one who sees this incredible glorious event. And I wonder – if part of the reason is because he had been paying attention on his journey the whole time?
A long time ago I told a story in sermon that parishioners have reminded me of many times. I shared a story of being a chaplain when a wise older counselor told us how he started with every new crop of patients on their first day in a 28-day rehab.
When you open your eyes in the morning – he would say, say – Good morning, God. Connect with your higher power first thing every day so you know you are not alone – and will help you pay attention to what you need.
My friends, I have taken this advice fully to heart as we journey through this pandemic – good morning God, it’s Sunday February 14th – I’m hear and I’m listening.
That’s all God asks those disciples to do. That’s what prophets try and get us to do. Sounds easy – it’s not. Listening is not passive – that’s hearing. Listening is active, engaged – and needs silence.
Once those disciples have witnessed the transfiguration – the glory of God in a human being fully alive. God instructs them to listen to everything Jesus is going to tell them – some of which is hard to hear – but all of which leads to new life, new creation – to making all things new.
Are we listening for what will enable us – as a human being to become fully alive? Are we listening for how we can enable other human beings to become fully alive?
Are we listening for how we engage with the work God calls us to do?
We are on a journey going forward – not going back. What are we paying attention to on the journey? What is God asking you to listen to?
Thank God for the witness of all the prophets who have gone before us – who are examples of seeing and listening – who had the courage to leave their peak experiences – and walk among us – and with love, encourage us, to pay attention.