July 23rd, 2018 was one of the saddest days in my life. On that day, I was on my vacation in Acadia National Park in Maine until I got the shocking news. The news was about a South Korean politician and activist whom I had admired for a long time; he took his own life. I was devasted. I couldn’t believe it. He was a person of integrity who dedicated himself to making a better society for the working class, for the poor, and for the marginalized. He graduated prestigious schools; in the past, it was a ticket to an affluent elite-class life. But he chose to live as a welder in a steel factory sharing his life with manual workers until he became a politician. I deeply respected him. I even met him a few times as a member of his party. He was my hope for South Korean politics. But that hope was completely lost that day.
Broken hearted and saddened, I went out to Cadillac Mountain in Acadia next morning. I just tried to compose myself watching over the sea from the summit. But the mountaintop was surrounded by thick cloud and fog. So as getting to the top, I couldn’t see anything. It was frustrating. But as soon as driving down the mountain, I could see some sunlight gradually coming through and the cloud and fog began to clear away. Right then, this wonderful view caught my eyes. The cloud was passing by the islands around Bar Harbor. To me, it felt like the cloud was comforting the islands struggling in a sea of suffering. It felt like the cloud was consolingly patting the islands on their shoulders and saying, “it’s alright. It’s okay. Carry on.” While I was looking at the view, there was one Taize song playing in my car. It was Da Pacem Domine, which means, “Give peace, oh Lord.” The song played, “Da pacem domine…give peace, oh Lord, give peace, oh Lord…” At that moment, I felt the Spirit moving in my heart and mending my wound. It was an extraordinary moment of profound comfort and peace beyond words.
As we live our lives in faith, we sometimes experience small extraordinary moments when we feel God is with us, comforts us, and guides us. We may sense this presence of God in our prayers or worship services, when reflecting on the Scripture and having holy communion, in the love and care from our family and friends, or at some unexpected events. Life sometimes knocks us down on our knees like it does to anybody else. But we Christians can somehow muddle through sufferings and pains in our lives and keep on living in faith, because we have those inspiring and spirit-filled moments, and because those small extraordinary moments lead us to this simple assurance: our living God is with us always in our ordinary lives.
From today’s Hebrew Bible and Gospel stories, we see Moses and the disciples experience not just small but huge extraordinary moments on the mountaintops. They directly encounter God and the divine epiphany. Moses was on his way down from the Mount Sinai after he personally met God and received the two tablets of the covenant. His face was shining because he was with God and in the direct presence of God’s glory, so he had to put a veil on his face. It’s incredible.
How about the disciples of Jesus? Peter, John, and James went up to the mountain with Jesus. While Jesus was praying, they were sleepy but suddenly, their eyes got opened up wide. They saw the appearance of Jesus change and his clothes become dazzling white. And they saw Moses and Elijah talking to Jesusabout his upcoming passion. Peter, trying to stay in this ecstatic moment a little longer, said he will make three tents for them. But then a cloud came and overshadowed the disciples. And from the cloud, they heard a voice saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)
The mountaintop experiences of Moses and the disciples…these are truly extra-extraordinary moments of divine wonder. Although they are so amazing, Moses and the disciples cannot stay there forever. They need to come down from the mountaintop. And they have to go back to their ordinary lives and face their reality full of challenges. When Moses comes down from the mountain, the people of Israel are waiting for him in the valley with weary and tired hearts. On their long journey to the promised land, they have been complaining all the time and recently, they even made an idol, a golden calf, and worshipped it. Moses knows well. Still, it’s going to be hard to lead them.
When the disciples of Jesus come down from the mountain, they face a great crowd in the valley with a child seized by an unclean spirit. The disciples struggle and fail to cast it out. So Jesus has to do it. Even it is right after they experienced the divine glory revealed in Jesus on the mountaintop, the disciples are still unable to bring good news to the crowd in the valley. They still are the same humans with doubts and fears. And the reality before them is still tough to deal with.
The mountaintop experiences were of divine majesty. But as soon as Moses and the disciples come down, they face their mundane reality. But, needless to say, that’s where they belong to and that’s where their lives and ministry go on. So what should they do? They should keep on muddling through the valley of agony with the assurance they have from the mountaintop of glory. Our Christian life is exactly the same. We should keep on living our lives in faith, keep on our journey of salvation through our messy ordinary life as we faithfully remember small extraordinary moments that we experienced our God of Immanuel, God with us. Then, only then, we will be gradually transformed and transfigured by the Spirit and become more like Jesus day by day.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, today, I hope we may remember and even newly experience another small extraordinary moment of God’s presence here and now. Therefore, as we continue to worship and share holy communion, it is my prayer that we may be deeply mindful of the Spirit moving in our hearts and filling us with the grace and glory of the mountaintop. So as we leave this place, we may be inspired and empowered to keep muddling through the valleys in our lives. Until we reach the glory of Jesus through our journey of transformation and transfiguration, may the light and joy of Christ be in our hearts always and enable us to keep on muddling through any shadow or brokenness of the world. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim