Summary: "Arise, Shine" was our Epiphany 2018 Series. This was the final installment (Transfiguration Sunday). In short, as Christ radiantly revealed His glory to the disciples, we radiate the light, the life, and the love of Jesus to all the world.
The whole week had been one big mountaintop experience for us all. It was July, 2008, and there were about 30 of us—both high school youth and adults from Redeemer and Immanuel Lutheran Churches from my hometown of Seymour, Indiana. We had been on a servant event trip all week at Lutheran Valley Retreat (a summer camp) in Colorado. I was a chaperone, and I’ve got to say—from the Bible studies, to the devotions, to the hard work from all the youth, to the worship with communion on the side of a mountain—it was a transformational experience for everyone! But how could it not be so transformational when you’re in the midst of God’s creation, serving alongside His people, unplugged from the world, tucked away in the middle of the Pike National Forest.
But the greatest, literal mountaintop experience of the week was just hours before we hopped on the bus and headed home. See, some of us woke up at about 4 am. It was cold. It was dark. We were exhausted. And I didn’t have any coffee. But, we were going to climb the small mountain, there!
We had climbed it one morning a few days before—so the terrain wasn’t entirely foreign. We helped each other along the way—especially on the narrow paths, and the occasional bouldering. And when we got to the top, over an hour later, we just sat there. I laid down and looked up at the stars. It was like God had poked a few holes in the canvas of heaven, allowing us to get a glimpse of His glory. And then, suddenly, there appeared in the distance an outline of mountains, hills and valleys, spotted with trees—as if God’s creative hand was tracing them for the first time with His heavenly light. And, within minutes, the sky lit up with an extraordinary palette of color: various hues of orange, yellow, red, pink as a luminous ball of light steadily scrolled upward over the distant mountains in the horizon.
I remember Brian, one of the adult chaperones, standing just a few feet away from me. And, he said something that captured the moment so perfectly; something so profound—and all of us on that mountaintop we were so caught up in the experience, so moved...that none of us can remember a single word of what Brian actually said. But I remember Brian reaching out to his son, Andrew, tears streaming down both of their faces. And they hugged, and I heard a father say to his child, “I love you, son!” It was a powerful, transformational mountaintop experience.
But the thing is, it didn’t last long, because we had to get back down the mountain, grab breakfast—and coffee—and get on the bus to go home. And as we made our descent, we were mostly silent at the time, still in awe and wonder at what we had witnessed. But we told everyone on the bus who didn’t go up with us that morning; we told everyone about it at home. Because, how could you not, after such an experience, witnessing God’s glorious creative work unfolding?! It was a powerful, transformational mountaintop experience for everyone.
But now, I look at Facebook, at some of those youth and where they are now, and I can’t help but think: “You should have known better!” Sure, one of those youth went on to seminary—he’s actually a vicar this year—which is fantastic. That’s an effect of that mountaintop experience, I'd say! A number of them are at least still Lutheran—and, in this day and age, I’d say that in itself is a win! That’s part of that mountaintop experience, too! But then the others…a few had a baby out of wedlock. A few moved in with their significant other, without getting married. A couple of them share awful, lude posts on social media constantly. A couple have already married and divorced. And one is currently undergoing another “transformation,” having surgery so that his anatomy matches the gender he feels like inside. And in all of this, I can’t help but think, “You should’ve known better!”
Have you ever found yourself thinking that? It’s easy to do. We look around and we can easily identify people who just should have known better. The girl who goes through the mountaintop experience of Confirmation; publicly declares she will stand in this faith even unto death—but she won’t step foot in the church again, because she thinks it hateful and hypocritical, and that culture should transform doctrine. The man who stands at the altar in the mountaintop experience of marriage, takes the vow “to have and to hold, to love and to cherish”--but then abuses his bride verbally, emotionally, physically. The foster parents who go out of their way, almost moving mountains, to have children entrusted to their care through adoption--only to neglect them, cruelly restrain them, not feed them. The doctor who goes through years of medical school, and takes an oath to “do no harm,” but inappropriately touches over 200 of his young female patients. Those are some big examples. But it’s easy for us to find the examples of people with great mountaintop experiences in life. All those who just should have known better.