2 Corinthians 4:3-6 Mark 9:2-9
“Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.” Mountaintop experiences are something with which, I am very familiar having grown up in East Tennessee, in an area in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. Often, on family vacations, weekend getaways, or camping trips, I enjoyed the glorious experience of traversing those lofty mountain heights that overlooked the valleys below. From those pristine vantage points, I always seemed to see things in a new light. The troubles of life found in the valley below seemed so small, so diminished, so insignificant. Up on the mountain, I experienced Holy Ground and it was there I felt nearest to God. It was no surprise that when it came to choosing a seminary at which, I would I work on my Masters of Divinity, that I would once again be called to a mountaintop for preparation as a priest. The University of the South at Sewanee is located on a beautiful peak near the Appalachian mountains, approximately 2000 feet above a valley filled with vast farms that produce corn, soybean, and cotton. There on that mountain, God called us to study and prepare, but the work there went well beyond mere classes and chapel. No, God invited us into a profound sort of reflection. We were challenged to go deeper, to explore our brokenness, our uncertainties, and our fears. We were invited to get to know Jesus in new ways and in so doing, we became acquainted with our authentic selves. The mountaintop was where I came to accept fully Jesus as the authentic 100% Real Deal, God in flesh, Savior, Redeemer of my life. The mountaintop was where I clearly saw Jesus and in him, I came to really know myself.
As Jesus traveled the valleys of Galilee, he brought the message of hope, the good news of “freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, release of the oppressed, and a proclamation of the Lord’s favor.” (NIV Luke 4:18-19). For some of the people who met Jesus, they found in him a great teacher, a healer, and a rabbi, but others had expectations of him that were not in line with his authentic self. The people sought a savior yes, but not one who was willing to lay down his life for his friends. No, the people he often encountered wanted a powerful, revolutionary, “overturning the tables” kind of leader who would set them free from Roman oppression. Jesus remained true to his calling, despite the fact that the expectations of others often became potential entanglements, which often tried to hinder him from living into his true self.
From the low country of Galilee Jesus healed, taught, and preached, but the disciples did not clearly understand who he was. Many rejected his teaching, many of the apostles still did not get it even near the very end, and eventually because of this misunderstanding, Jesus would face ultimate rejection; crucifixion. For many of Jesus’ followers, they were unable to perceive his “100% Real Deal” authenticity from the vantage point of his low country ministry, so Jesus took a select group up the mountain. This event “can best be understood as a ‘christophany,’ a moment when we see ‘who Jesus Christ really is.’ What gets transfigured though, is not Jesus, but our perception of him. through the transfiguration, our vision changes; we see Jesus for real.” (Long, Thomas G. “Reality Show.” Christian Century 123.5 (2006): 16-22. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 16 Feb. 2012) In this moment of glory, the disciples witnessed an event that allowed them to see Christ for who he really was, God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer in the flesh; 100% the Real Deal. His glory shone through, “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” (NRSV Mark 9:3) The three disciples knew in that moment that the Jesus they had seen in the valley, truly was God with them on the mountain. This would not be the last time his glory would shine through. This would not be the last time that the authentic, unshaken, unwavering, true, solid, and good nature of God would be revealed. Soon, the heart of God would be exposed through an act of unimaginable love; self-giving authentic love.
Authenticity for Christ was costly and it is costly for us as well. We all spend a great deal of our lives dealing with the expectations placed on us by our bosses, customers, friends, family, or peers. These expectations placed on us by others, have the potential to hinder us from living into our true selves, the beloved of God. Back in the day, I worked with a business colleague that one day was asked by her Senior Vice President to negotiate with one of her suppliers, a questionable markdown allowance for a large inventory purchase. I did not know the full details of the transaction, but it was obvious to me and my friend that it was an unethical request. It was apparent too that my friend was struggling with a dilemma by which her authenticity was being challenged. Deep down, my friend wrestled with an admirable desire to please her boss and to be a successful executive. At the same time, in her soul, in that “Authentic, 100% Real Deal” place called her soul, she was a person of deep integrity and honesty; she was a beloved one of God. Living authentically is never easy and sometimes the cost to do so may be beyond our imagine. For my friend, the cost to live authentically was the choice whether to keep her job or her risk losing her soul. She chose to follow her soul, that place from where the Spirit calls us to live, and by the grace of God, she found wholeness.
If in this journey to be authentically “100% the Real Deal” we succumb to the whispers and unrealistic labels and demands placed on us, then we will surely find ourselves ultimately wearing a mask of a false self. That mask covers up soul and the resultant internal conflict that surely will be the result, will keep us from being fully that person, whom God so richly and lovingly made us; that beautiful person whom we find when we live out of our soul. We are created for ongoing growth and transformation and at our core; we will find our soul unshaken, unwavering, true, solid, and good. Here we find the grace of God, and here we can embrace the beauty of who we are; the beloved of God. On that mountain John, James, and Peter saw Jesus for who he really was, and for us who follow Jesus, we see in Christ a glimpse of who we really are as well. The voice from heaven said to Jesus, “This is my Son, the Beloved.” We disciples of Jesus, hear in the echoes of these words from that mountaintop God’s portrayal of who we are, “You are my Son; You are my daughter, my beloved.” It is when we live out of our authentic self, out of our God given soul, we come to see ourselves as God sees us; beloved, accepted, loved, unshaken, unwavering, true, solid, and good .
When we live out of our vulnerable soul, when we with our integrity are lead and guided by the Spirit, our masks are removed, the false covering of our soul is torn away. When we begin to trust our soul, even in the midst of life’s tragedies, the Holy Spirit connects with us there. I am currently reading a book, “A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward the Undivided Life” by Parker Palmer. In this beautiful work, Palmer discusses how we might embrace the authentic life to which we are called; a life of wholeness. He asserts, “Wholeness does not mean perfection; it means brokenness as an integral part of life.” He adds, “Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness- mine, yours, ours – need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.” My friend who chose to keep her soul despite the cost of losing the job of her dreams, decided to follow Spirit and in so doing, she was “100% The Real Deal.” Through her choices, she discovered a wholeness that became the seedbed for the life she was to lead from that day forward. When we live into the reality of our own brokenness, we come to know the freedom offered us in Christ. When we embrace our own junk and bring it before God for healing, we live authentically. When we can take off our masks and our soul is seen unshaken, unwavering, true, solid, and good, we can be “100% The Real Deal” before God and each other. When we can face the fear of being vulnerable before the great Lover God, we will surely hear the Holy Spirit as she removes the veil and declares whose we really are, “Your are my son, you are my daughter, you are my beloved.”