Mountaintop Moments

All were astounded at the greatness of God.
They were astonished on the mountaintop,
where Jesus had taken a few disciples—
Peter, James, and John—
to pray after he had revealed
some terrible truths to them:
that he was going to have to suffer,
be rejected and killed
and that if they want to follow him
they’re going to have to take up their cross,
they’ve got to lose their lives to save them.

None of that was good news;
none of it was understandable.
None of it was
what they wanted to hear.
After all, they’d thought
they were following a Messiah,
that all their worries were over,
that the bully government in Rome
was about to be defeated.

I have to believe
that Jesus knew
they needed something
to get them through.

So they get a glimpse of the holy,
a vision of Jesus, transfigured,
the light of God shining forth
from his face,
surrounded by the prophets Moses and Elijah,
the voice of God announcing,
“This is my Son, my Chosen;
listen to him!”

Peter offers the hare-brained scheme
to put up three tents
so they can stay there.
Who can blame him?
But that’s not the point.
The point is to provide
a vision of the holy,
a literal mountaintop experience,
to get them through,
back down to real life,
back on the road to Jerusalem,
through the despair of crucifixion,
the joy and confusion of resurrection,
and, then, really, through the rest of their lives.

And don’t we all need this?
Don’t we all need hope,
a glimpse of glory,
a foretaste of the feast to come?

In this time, in all times,
we need to remember
our mountaintop experiences,
any joy we’ve known that points to God,
to sustain us in hard times.

And, surely, we’re in a hard time.
In the midst of a pandemic,
two years of exhaustion and fear,
disappointment and death;
a country roiling,
uncertain how to move forward together.
And, now, watching in shock and horror
as Russia invades Ukraine,
as women and children
flee for the borders
and radio stations broadcast
to Ukrainian citizens
how to make Molotov cocktails.
Madness.

We’re in a hard time;
perhaps we always are.
But what people of faith do,
in hard times, in all times,
is remember when
they were astounded by God,
tell stories about the mountaintop.

During Passover, Jews tell
the miraculous tale
of God delivering them
from slavery and making them a new nation.
The psalms are a long series of poems
of people giving thanks
for all God has done for them;
and every Sunday
we follow Jesus’ instructions
to remember him
whenever we gather
for the Eucharistic feast.

And I hope each one of you
has a mountaintop experience,
an experience of the holy,
to hold on to in hard times.

And of course, we do this,
together, and regularly,
at All Saints.
For what, after all,
is our Africa Bake Auction
than a mountaintop experience,
joy that points to the goodness of God?

This is our 22nd Africa Bake Auction,
and I remember the first one
I ever came to in 2004,
which must have have been
the third auction.
There was someone
wearing a cow costume
and bags of cookies for a few dollars
and cakes being sold
for outrageous amounts.
I don’t remember how much
we raised back then,
but what I DO remember
is the joy in the room,
the excitement of gathering
with a group of folks
who wanted to do good,
dreaming of a better world.

Over the years, I tracked
the development of the bake auction—
the cakes growing more elaborate,
more professional.
The amounts raised going from
stunning to eye-popping.
Our partners in Africa
growing from
the Diocese of Renk
to supporting tuition
for 66 students in Uganda,
many of whom are refugees from South Sudan;
to paying the salaries for a doctor and midwife
at a clinic in South Sudan;
to making sure that Abair Nak,
a teen girl in Kenya will complete high school;
to funding Water for South Sudan,
a charity founded by Sudanese Lost Boys;
to supporting teachers and the development
of curriculum to advance LGBTQ+ rights in Kenya.

There is more,
but you get the picture.

And we do this with joy.
We do it with ridiculous generosity.
We do it because we know
our neighbors are here in Ravenswood
and our neighbors are all across the world.
We do this because we want
our children to know
that all of us—kids, too!—
can make a difference in the world,
that we can help work towards
God’s dream for a world
where we’re all feasting together,
arms around one another’s necks.

I pray that when
our children face tough times,
wondering about the goodness
of people and this world,
that they tell stories about
this, today, even on Zoom,
of a community that
was so astounded
by the goodness of God
that they bid thousands
on cakes their kids had made,
that an entire parish
tried its hand at baking
Pinterest-worthy cakes,
that ALL baked goods
were welcome and celebrated,
from scones to cookies to quick bread,
from pies to fondant-covered cakes.

We NEED these mountaintop experiences;
they get us through.

We should enjoy every second,
But we don’t stay on the mountaintop.

We can’t and we shouldn’t.

Jesus doesn’t.

That’s not the kind of God we’ve got.

No. Jesus comes DOWN
from the mountain,
right down into the mess,
down where the crowds are,
down where the folks are struggling,
where people need healing and help.

Jesus comes down,
down here, with us,
and, frankly, he does his best work here.

After the mountaintop and the transfiguration,
Jesus heals a little boy,
and the crowd
is astounded
at the greatness of God there, too.

And you know what?

This is where we do great work, too.

For we don’t just create
moments of joy and glory
at the Africa Bake Auction
for their own sake,
for our own joy.

No, we do all of this
to make life better
right where it is lived—
here in Ravenswood,
in a high school in Kenya and Uganda,
schools and clinics and wells
in South Sudan.

We need mountaintop moments;
we need to hold on to the holy
to help us get through
the hard times,
but not just make it through.
To thrive.

But there’s astonishment here, too.
God’s on the mountaintop,
and God is right here,
here during the joy of the auction,
here in your kitchen when you’re baking,
here in our classrooms,
here with our masks on,
here when we’re worried about our children,
here when our kids dream up beautiful cakes,
here when their parents and their church
help kids make those dreams come true.

Hold on to the Holy, Friends.
We need it to go on.
And it’s right here, today.

Be astonished.

For God is great.