Sunday, May 24, 2015

Going up, Coming Down

Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.’
 So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. The people all answered as one: ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.
 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. 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. - Exodus 19:3-8, 16-20.

 I remember, as a small kid,  how I loved to hear Mama read and tell stories. I was sick fairly often so she spent a lot of time doing those. They captivated me, kept my mind occupied, and often sent me in to dreams where the words Mama read and spoke came to life.

Stories also serve as vehicles to convey information: the history of the people, important events, hero stories. the Bible is full of those stories conveying that kind of information in a way that people could learn from and pass on to the next generation. The reading today is only part of a much longer story, the story of the exodus from Egypt, but even part of a story can have a lesson in it.

There are a lot of stories in the saga of the exodus. This one is part of the run-up to the giving of the Ten Commandments; it sets the scene. The journey has taken them to the base of Mount Sinai, where God will give them the Law, but first God has a few words with Moses about a message to be given to the Israelites about what God had done for them and would do for them if they agreed to obey God and keep God's covenant. They had been freed from Egypt and could be God's chosen people if they just agreed to do as God wanted.

Three days after that, God woke the people with a rather spectacular reveille that certainly got their attention. They gathered at the very foot of the mountain and there they watched as Moses talked with God and God replying with thunder and trumpets. Then God summoned Moses to the top of the mountain.

Whether or not we have ever climbed a real mountain or not, we use metaphoric mountains to describe stages of our lives. Any worker who began at the bottom and has worked his or her way up the corporate ladder could just as easily have said they climbed the corporate mountain. Same with sports figures and performers of all kinds. Climbing the mountain is work, hard work, but the view from the top is breathtaking. Often intensely spiritual experiences are called "mountain-top experiences."  Jesus had several mountain-top experiences beginning with his temptation in the wilderness and probably culminating with the meeting with Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration.

Moses surely had a mountain-top experience as he climbed to meet God. There seem to have been several such journeys up and down, going between God and the people, hearing God's words and taking them down to the Israelites below. It must have been a sort of physical elevator ride, the constant going up and coming down, but it was necessary.

Reaching the mountain top is a feeling like none other.  It's exhilarating, energizing, perhaps reverential. From the mountain top a person feels like they can see what seems like the whole world and they own it. There's a closeness to heaven in that place, whether one is actively seeking a closeness to and with God or not.

One thing is certain, though. No one can stay at the top of the mountain forever. Like Moses, the person must come down and go about the daily life they had left when they began their ascent. Chances are, though, there is a bit of change in them somewhere as a result of the journey, something that remains with them that they could share with the world, like Moses' bringing the words of God to the people. He had to come down the mountain to do the work he was given to do; he couldn't do it from the top.

We all have work to do, especially after we visit the mountain top. We have a new perspective, a new job description, a new calling that needs our attention, study, and sharing. Perhaps we found our faith a bit deeper and richer, perhaps we found God a lot closer, perhaps we found some answers to questions we didn't even know we had. But just think -- what if we had never gone up that mountain?

As Newton once said, "What goes up, must come down."  We all need trips to the mountain top now and again, but we also need to remember that our work is done on the plain below, or perhaps in some valley that has needs we can fill. God doesn't always speak with thunder, lightning, and trumpets. Sometimes God speaks in a breeze that rifles the hair or in the wide vista from the mountain.

Moses went up and came down, once with a glow that was so bright he had to wear a veil so that people wouldn't be blinded. We may never encounter that phenomenon, but we can be so changed inside that people can see it. Or, better yet, we can see it in ourselves and our actions reflect it.

I think it's time for a mountain-top experience. There are enough mountains, literal and figurative, around for everyone to go up, experience and come down renewed.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, May 23, 2015.

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