How do we come down from the mountain?
This is the time of year that this question seems especially important for us. Many of our young people are spending time away at camp during the summer. Many others will take a quick trip down to the lake or go on a longer vacation — sometimes near, sometimes far. Some people will even spend part of their summer doing service projects or going on mission trips. Most of these activities will take us up to a mountaintop.
Just a couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s, Triennial Youth Gathering. Our high school youth and adult leaders joined nearly 30,000 other youth and adults for five days of fellowship, speakers, music, worship, Bible study, and service projects around the city, all to deepen our calls as disciples of Jesus.
This year’s Gathering destination was Detroit, where the need for 30,000 pairs of hands working in service to the city was certainly welcomed, as well as being a place where 30,000 pairs of ears could hear and learn the stories of injustice, perseverance, and faith. I would bet that during that week there were 30,000 people who said they were on top of a mountain.
What’s on this mountain, you might ask?
Most would answer: God! It is in these mountaintop experiences where we seem to most deeply and vividly and powerfully experience God’s divine presence. I mean, how could you not experience God when 30,000 voices are raised together in praise of our Savior? How could you not experience the love of God in serving the vulnerable and forgotten? How could you not experience the unbelievable awe and wonder of our Creator when immersed in that great creation?
It is a breathtaking, tear-jerking, humbling experience to be on that mountain. Just like many of the crowds and disciples who followed Jesus during his ministry, it is hard to come down the mountain. “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” (Matthew 17:4, NRSV; i.e. ‘We don’t wanna leave!’)
So, how do we come down from the mountain?
I’ve heard that question asked. I’ve even asked that question myself. And I’ve heard others ask, ‘Why SHOULD we come down?’ But I really want to challenge us all to ask instead, ‘How can we bring the mountain down here?’
Yes, being up on the mountain is good. Jesus shows us often that retreating up the mountain for rest and Sabbath, experience and learning, is just what the doctor ordered. But he’s also quick to remind us that we can’t stay there. There is work to be done that the mountaintop prepares us for.
Is it not possible to experience God when we’re not up on the top of the mountain? Aren’t we called to bring those experiences of God into our normal, everyday lives? Shouldn’t we be in awe of God’s majesty and creativity and abundance when we look around us? Haven’t we learned that God truly does show up in the muck and mess, the dirt and filth, the suffering and death of our lives at the bottom of the mountain? Isn’t the good news of the gospel that God is in the mundane just as much (if not more!) than at the top of the mountain?
Our beloved and familiar prayer includes one of my favorite lines: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, NRSV). This kingdom that Jesus talks so much about is, in my understanding, the world that God desires for all of us. It can be realized among us – right here and right now. And someday it will be realized among us, just as we plead in that prayer. But it can only happen when we allow ourselves to see God’s presence in more places than just at the top of that mountain.
How do we come down from the mountain? Or how do we bring the mountain down here? Our excitement for the divine shouldn’t end when our bags get unpacked. Our praise of God shouldn’t quiet down when our voice isn’t surrounded by 29,999 other voices. Our vision of the kingdom, God’s kingdom brought to earth, should be big enough to include even the valleys of death and the least of these. Because God’s kingdom is bigger than a mountain!
So, will you help me bring the mountain here?