160918 – Seek My Wisdom (Creation 2)

Yr C ~ Creation 2 ~ Mark 9:2-8

Have you ever had a mountain-top spiritual experience? I hope so! They’re those times that you can feel every single part of your body tingle with an overwhelming sense that you are in the presence of something holy, something sacred, something More.
It might take the form of a vision of Jesus, or a dazzling light, or a powerful sense of warmth and peace, or a million other possible forms. The common factor is the uncommon factor of really deeply feeling that your experience of God in that moment is the most real and true thing you’ve ever experienced.seek-my-wisdom

I’m sure that Jesus had many of those experiences of God’s Presence. Heck, that may well have been his constant state of being for all I know.
The most famous mountain-top experience of Jesus is called the transfiguration. I find it fascinating that Jesus’ transfiguration is all about blinding light and dazzling white clarity – but then moments later three of his disciples have their own mountain-top experience and it is marked not by clarity but by being enveloped by a cloud.
The Presence of God in a cloud represents both the fog of confusion and the profound sense of being surrounded and enfolded and permeated by this holiness. That pretty much sounds like my experience of God – part utter confusion and part utter bliss!

But the purpose of our discussion today is not just to encourage you to seek out mountain-top experiences for how good they make you feel, it’s to encourage you to do what the disciples were encouraged to do while they were in that terrible-beautiful cloud – to listen. It’s not just the spiritual moment that’s important (and, to be sure, those moments are vitally important) it’s the listening that goes on within those moments.

Jesus is transfigured and the figures of Moses and Elijah appear – representing the Law and the Prophets, or in other words all the spiritual wisdom of Israel – and what does Jesus do? Verse 4 says he was talking with them – dialogue, conversation, give and take, talking and listening.
The purpose of the mountain-top is deep communion with God’s Presence AND to receive God’s wisdom.

When it’s the disciples’ turn to be immersed in God’s Presence they too experience communion with God AND they receive a fantastic bit of wisdom: they’re told to listen to Jesus (Mark 9:7). Don’t just go to the mountain – listen for the wisdom.

Now, why did this scene not take place in a house, or on the road?
Why is it on a mountain top?
Why do we have that phrase “a mountain-top experience?”
What’s so special about mountains?

Well, in the ancient world they thought they lived in a three-tiered universe. There were the heavens above (where God lived), the earth around us (where humans lived), and the depths below (where you went upon death). Because God lived “up there” it logically held that if you wanted to be close to God you needed to get as physically close to the heavens as possible. Hence the spirituality of mountains!

References to mountains and hills are made over 200 times in the Bible. Mountains offer safety and refuge for sure, but they also offer wisdom and insight.

Isaiah 2:3 ~ Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that [God] may teach us [God’s] ways and that we may walk in [God’s] paths.

Exodus 19:20 ~ When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up (and received the 10 Commandments).

Mountains were (and are) considered “thin places.”
That’s a term we get from Celtic Christian spirituality that means that for them God’s Presence is all around us but it’s like there is a veil or curtain separating us from noticing that Presence most of the time. For the Celts, thin places are physical locations where that veil is somehow thinner and God’s Presence can be sensed more easily.
Perhaps you’ve been walking along and suddenly felt very spiritually connected and aware and then it passes after a time. They’d say you were walking through a thin place.

So, mountains are spiritual, and are thin places.
Was that true for Jesus too?
What do you know about Jesus and mountains?

Jesus is transfigured on a mountain, feeds the 5000 on a mountainside, regularly gets away to pray on a mountain, and teaches on the mountainside.

Luke 6:12 – Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer.

Do you know what Jesus did the next day?
Following that day and night in prayer, on the mountain, Jesus preached The Beatitudes.
He taught them as part of his Sermon on the… (Mount)!

Was the mountain a source of quiet reflection and calling for him?
Did he receive the wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount while on a mount?

Now, think about this. This is really critical, and it was true for Jesus and it’s true for me and you. It may seem obvious when I say it but it needs saying. If Jesus received God’s wisdom on the mountain, before he could receive it he had to seek it. Obvious right?
But sometimes I wonder if we sit around wondering why God hasn’t lit us up spiritually when we haven’t really done much to facilitate it. The title of this message isn’t “Here’s my wisdom” or “Receive my wisdom” it’s “SEEK my wisdom!”

What are you doing to actively, intentionally seek out God’s wisdom, Christ’s teaching, the Spirit’s power, Creation’s wonders?

It’s not enough to just sit and wait for yourself to accidentally wander through a “thin place” and have an “aha” moment. Those are lovely when they happen (I experienced one in the little Irish town of Ardmore in July) – a beautiful little awakening, a noticing, a reminder of God’s Presence – but the passive approach is not very effective at real spiritual transformation and deepening.

And yet, we have a paradox because unless you stop trying so hard, and instead drop your guard and allow the Spirit to work within you transformation cannot happen.
The paradox is that deepening faith requires us to be active and passive at the same time – active seeking and then passive prayer!
That’s the rhythm.

So, knowing that once we’re “there” our posture needs to be passive – what are you doing to “get there”, to actively seek God’s wisdom?

What are your seeking strategies?
Where do you find God’s wisdom?
Where are your mountain-tops?
Where are your thin places?

I asked that at the Monday morning bible study that we call The Porch (and yes, you are very much invited to join us!) and the people gathered there were positively aglow as they shared their own personal mountain-tops.
And by the way, your mountain doesn’t have to be a mountain!

Maybe you like to sit by a lake, or walk in the forest, or sit on your deck, or sit in the church sanctuary when no one’s around, or walk a labyrinth, or practice deep breathing or yoga, or whatever.
What’s common to all those practices?

Three things.

First is that they are intentional. You plan to do it, you seek it out, you carve out the time, you put yourself in that place on purpose – for the purpose of communion with the Holy. That is active seeking.

Second is that they feature solitude. There is a ‘getting away from everything and everyone’ in it. It’s looking for ‘me time’. Or more accurately ‘me and God time’. They are typically quiet activities withdrawn from the noise and busyness of life.

Third is that they are generally passive in nature. You go to the lake or the forest or the deck or the church or the labyrinth or the mountain – why? – to LET GO of things. It’s a release, a deep breath out, an unwinding. If you carry your busyness into your time apart you defeat the purpose.

Intentionally seek. Embrace solitude. Let go.
That is how you enable yourself or position yourself to receive God’s wisdom.

God’s wisdom doesn’t just happen, you have to seek it out – like Jesus. But it’s not as hard as you think. In fact, you’re doing it right now!
What are you doing here this morning? You’re seeking God’s wisdom through the act of worship – through the hymns, through the prayers, through the scripture, through my message, through the silence. You have climbed the mountain of waking up and getting yourself here. (And for some of you that’s a pretty big mountain!)
Welcome to Mount Faith! Enjoy the cloud! And listen for God’s wisdom!

Ok. We’re pretty comfortable with the wisdom of the mountain or the thin place. That’s an attractive and engaging spiritual idea.
But what about when you’re not on a mountain, when you’re not experiencing the ‘high life’?
What about the wisdom of the Valley? Is there such a thing?

We affirm that God is everywhere and always. That means there should be absolutely no difference in the Presence of God no matter where you are or what you’re doing.
So why all this focus on the mountain?
God is just as Present in the darkest valley too. Everywhere and always, remember?
So what’s the difference? The difference is us.

When we climb the metaphorical mountain – when we carve out our prayer time and intentionally focus on our Spirit – we are consciously and purposefully seeking God’s wisdom.
We are open to it, looking for it, expecting it, welcoming it.

But when we find ourselves in the metaphorical valley, besieged by challenges, stress, illness, pain, failure, frustration, and suffering (which means that we are not in control) – when we’re in the valley we’re so focused on ourselves and our own immediate problem that we’re probably not thinking about God’s wisdom – because it probably feels like we’re being abandoned by God – which is crazy because we KNOW that God is always Present – but it doesn’t feel that way to us in the valley.

And because we’re so inwardly focused on our distress we are probably not open to God’s wisdom in that moment, not looking for it, not expecting it, and not welcoming it.

And that’s too bad because the valley has much to teach us, and God’s wisdom is particularly powerful there.
God’s wisdom speaks of hope, of trust, of our not being alone, of the power of prayer, of the gift of relying on a power beyond your own, of forgiveness, of grace, of mercy, of love.

Nobody wants to seek the valley, but when we find ourselves there, and we all will from time to time, it’s good to know that God’s wisdom is waiting, if we seek it.
Perhaps when we’re in the valley it’s even more important for us to draw on our habits and rhythms of seeking God’s wisdom on the mountain.
Perhaps our valley time needs to include a trip to the water’s edge, or a favourite tree, or a familiar quiet place – and perhaps while there we’ll discover a thinning of what seems to be separating us from God.

Wherever we may find ourselves, in the valley or on a mountain, or maybe just wandering up and down – we know that we journey in the Presence of God. And if we actively seek God’s Presence, quietly immerse ourselves in solitude, and passively let go of the things that we’re clinging so tightly to that they’re stealing all our joy, then we won’t just discover a thin place but a place with no barrier whatsoever to the love and light and heart of God.
And in that awesome place of terrible beauty and sacredness we can practice the key to spiritual transformation – we can listen.

Intentionally seek the wisdom of the mountain, and the wisdom of the valley.
Embrace solitude.
Let go.

God’s wisdom awaits.

Amen.