Summary: A dramatic monologue based on the Transfiguration story.
Style: Dramatic. Duration: 12min
Scriptures: Mark 9:2-8 / Luke 9: 28-36
Character: the disciple John
Have you ever been up a mountain? In the country where I live, there are lots of them.
Some people see mountains as obstacles to get around, things to be conquered.
But mountains are also special places. Holy or sacred, in a way. I don't know why, exactly. But God seems to have this thing about mountains. And we, God's people, have this thing about buildings. On a mountain, for goodness sake, anything can happen. In a building, however, you think you are safe.
God likes surprises. God sometimes likes us to visit places wild and free, with blowing winds and rolling thunder. Unstable places, where you might fall off. Places where you don't know your footing very well, and because you are off-center while you are there, God can speak to you.
People, on the other hand, tend to like things they can move into – to get away from those things that are unstable. Away from the storms and feel more – well, comfortable. Do you feel like that sometimes?
My ancestor Moses knew all about mountains. It was on a mountain called Sinai that God spoke to him. And there he got from the Creator the ten commandments. Fine, you might think, so he got the commandments from God, but why didn't God just write them out and put them in the mail? Why the mountain?
I bet Moses wondered the same question. But he was smart enough not to ask. And it was not enough for God to just hand out the holy words for the people to follow. The words were accompanied by the shaking of the very earth itself. The people at the bottom of the mountain felt as if the ground was moving. And there was poor Moses, all by himself with the Holy One, without even a raincoat, and God starts up this incredible thunder and lightning storm.
It wasn't done to scare Moses, although I imagine it did. It was done to impress on him, and those who were straining to see from the bottom, just how important those words which came down on two stone tablets really were.
I wasn't there on Sinai, of course. That happened a couple of thousand years before my time. But I sure heard the stories. Jews of my time have a great respect for those stories of our ancestors. We are always talking about them. And we are always waiting for the promises of God to Abraham and Moses and the others to come to pass.
Did I say before that people like buildings and God likes surprises? I hope you heard that, because it is true.
The promise God gave to Moses was to deliver the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt into a new land. God did not promise an easy trip, or an easy entry into the land. And they sure did not find it easy. For forty years our people wandered through the desert.
For forty years they gave Moses headache after headache. Grief after grief. Grumbling and complaining. When are we going to get there, Moses? Where did you say we were going, Moses? Did you lose your map, Moses? Have you lost your mind, Moses? What's for lunch, Moses? Why can't we just go back to our slavery in Egypt, Moses? At least there we had a roof over our heads, and food in the pot.
And Moses kept calling the people to have faith, reminding them of the promises of God, telling them that maybe the journey was more important than the destination. But that is a hard message to get across. Especially when the people are hungry, confused, and whose faith is tested to the limit.
And then, when at last they did conquer the land of Canaan, and Moses was dead, they became much like their neighbors, or their enemies. They had found their stability, but, in finding it, they often forgot about God. At times, they would worship other gods, in spite of saying there is only one God.
There were periods of greatness, and times of unfaithfulness.
Times when God blessed them and times they were cursed and punished.
The high point came when King Solomon built his temple. The greatest and most elaborate building the world has ever seen. Solomon was wise, and powerful. But he came to be too established. Too confident. Too forgetful about God. And his was the end of the line. After his death, the country fell apart. God broke it up. Scattered the people.
Solomon had built a house of bricks. And God dismantled it, brick by brick.
Do you, in your congregation, have a house of bricks? Be careful. Make sure that your house is not a monument to your comfort.
But back to my story. Back to this other mountain. As I said before, God likes to bring us to places where we are not encumbered by things.
Jesus brought me, my name is John, and my brother James and our fellow-disciple Peter, up a high mountain, just the four of us. We thought it was for a kind of retreat. A little campout in the wild, to get away and rest for a while.
Boy were we wrong! No sooner did we get there than strange things began to happen. It started happening with Jesus. To begin with, his clothes turned dazzling white. I can hardly explain what it looked like, only that he glowed. His clothes were whiter than snow. And then, as if that weren't enough, he was visited by two dead people (or I thought they were dead): Moses and Elijah. The great prophets. They took Jesus off for a while and were talking with him.
Peter and James and I just sat there, shaking our heads in wonder. What could this mean? Why were we there? Did Jesus want us to witness this? Did he even know it was going to happen? As we talked, we realized that this was a very sacred moment. It was something we wanted to preserve. Even if we could not explain it, the change in Jesus, the visit by the prophets, the mountain top experience had profoundly affected us.
Have you had something happen to you that you wish others could share? I'm sure you have. So when Jesus came back to us, Peter said what we were all feeling: "Jesus, we've been talking. And we want to build a monument here. We want buildings for the three of you. One for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."
Jesus never answered our request. Instead, a cloud came overhead and a voice spoke: "This is my beloved son. Listen to him." I can't begin to tell you how scared we were. We fell down on our knees. We cowered, our hands covering our eyes. Then Jesus came over, took us by the hands and told us not to be afraid. By the time we looked up, Jesus looked normal, and the others had left.
I've been thinking a lot about that incident. Talking it over with James and Peter. Putting it together with other stories of our ancestors. And here is what we figured out...
God doesn't want to be trapped in a building, as tempting as it may be to put God there. That's not to say that what we build cannot serve God. But bricks are not strong enough to hold God. And God won't be bound. Some of you have probably found spiritual experiences outside of the place where you worship. In the woods. By the sea shore. Maybe with someone who is sick or even dying. You could have found a sacred moment when you were praying alone, or in a crowd on the street. Maybe it was on a mountain top.
If you have, rejoice. For it goes to show that God is everywhere.
But when you gather to worship, and you bring all of those stories and celebrations with you, I hope that the place where you worship, amidst the bricks of the building, is a holy place.
What is important about a sacred building is not how it is built, or what it looks like, but what it does.
It should be a place where the community of faith gathers, to share their faith stories.
It should be a place where your personal prayers can be joined with the prayers of others.
It should be a place where the song of praise you have in your heart is blended in harmony with the voices of others.
Where you don't have to shout your amen alone.
It should be a place where your passion for justice, and your need for fellowship and laughter can find others who want the same thing.
It should be a place where the wider vision of the reign of God can challenge and shape your own life and the life of the whole community.
Those are all the reasons I joined Jesus in the first place.
I hope that, for you, the life you enjoy together in this building and outside of it, is full of joy, and celebrates God's life.
(c) Copyright Jim Hatherly.
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