2 Peter 1:16-21
Do you have a period in your life that was just better than the others? Some call it their glory days. For some, it’s college. For some, it’s high school. For some, it’s the time they hitch-hiked across the country, or played on the winning football team, or sang in an awesome choir, or when they were showing their favorite horse. Can you think of other glory days?
For some of you, you still have your glory days ahead of you. Usually you don’t realize they’re the glory days until you’re in a whole different place and wish you could go back—back to that time when…
For me, it was being in the college choir. Of course, looking through the rearview mirror always makes the past look better than it really was. Yes, I had some great times singing with the choir, but it really wasn’t as great as I remember it. I didn’t really feel extremely close to the people in choir—I meshed better with the band. I was exhausted, burning the candle at both ends. There were some songs that were really not fun to sing—and some that were so powerful.
When we look back on our glory days, we tend to think only about the greatest parts and forget about the more negative parts. We often wish we could recreate the glory days—go back in time, or bring them into our current realities. But no matter how hard we try, it’s impossible. It’s impossible because that was then. It’s impossible because we aren’t who we once were. But most importantly, it’s impossible because our memories about the glory days are only partial truths.
Glory days are an illusion. But that doesn’t take away their value. In fact, having those rose-colored memories serve a really great purpose—to remind us where we’ve been and who we are now—to give us strength and vision as we enter the valley.
I can relate to Peter’s sentiment in today’s gospel reading about wanting to build dwellings for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. I remember going to summer camp, and the last day or so, I’d start behaving poorly. And when mom came to pick me up, I became a real snot. I didn’t want to leave. The week at camp was always the best part of summer. I made new friends, learned new things, and had the freedom to become more than I was before. I hated going back to the real world—the world in which I was unpopular, the world in which I had to practice, the world where my sister pestered me. I wanted camp to last forever.
Peter wanted his mountaintop experience to last forever, too. He wanted to stay in the glow of glory and promise, history and future. You’d have to be crazy to want to go back down into the valley where people were sick, poor, hungry, scared. Why not stay in the heavenly rapture before him and never face the brokenness of the world again?
But Jesus doesn’t offer that as an option. Moses and Elijah were only there for a fleeting moment, and then the cloud descends and the voice of God speaks. It’s the voice that spoke over Jesus at his baptism, making his identity known through his anointing with water. It’s the voice that will remain silent on the mountain of Golgotha as Jesus dies on the cross, seemingly alone. The voice that says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I delight. Listen to him.”
And then, Jesus leads them down into the valley of sickness, poverty, hunger, and fear. They have to go back. But they go back armed with that mountaintop experience—with the memory of that glory day when Jesus was revealed in a whole new way. That memory will give them strength in the days and weeks to come, as Jesus continues down—down the road to Jerusalem, down the road to the cross, down the road to death.
You see, God’s presence isn’t just on the mountaintop; it’s in the valley, too.
I bet you all can think of glory days in the church. I remember when I was first called here and attendance was so large that we were challenged over how to implement a third Sunday morning service. I know that the reason this Sanctuary was built is because there simply was no room in worship or for fellowship in the old building. I know the education wing was added because there were so many kids in Sunday school that they couldn’t be accommodated.
Our building tells the history of our glory days. And, of course, there are the stories of how our members did so much of the work of renovating parts of the building—laying tile in the basement, building the seats in the balcony, laying carpet in the Chapel and community room. It’s easy to get caught up in what things used to be like. And when we do that, we get a little disenchanted by how things are now.
I receive a daily devotional from the Center for Action and Contemplation, led by Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr. Recently, he has had colleagues sharing about how to engage more deeply in contemplation and prayer, and one of them offered this imagery:
Imagine that you have a dream in which you are climbing a high mountain. The valley below is where you grew up, where you experienced pain and made many mistakes. You are trying to transcend and leave this place by reaching the summit, on which you will be sublimely holy and one with God.
As the summit comes into view, the wind rising from the valley brings with it the sound of a child crying out in distress. You realize that there is no real choice but to go down the mountain to find and help the hurting child. Turning back, you descend into the valley. Following the child’s cries, you arrive at the very home you tried to leave behind.
You gently open the door and look inside. Sitting in the corner on the floor is your own wounded child-self, that part of you that holds feelings of powerlessness and shame. You sit down next to the child on the floor. For a long time you say nothing. Then a most amazing thing happens. As you are putting your arms around this child, you suddenly realize you are on the lofty summit of union with God!
God’ presence isn’t just on the mountaintop; it’s in the valley, too.
God’s presence is wherever the people of God are doing the work of God. It can’t be measured by numbers or success or programs. It can’t be encompassed only by sentimental emotions of well-being and joy. It isn’t defined by how good things are or how blessed we feel. God’s presence is in all of that and so much more.
God’s presence is at the bedside of a dying loved one; it’s in the crestfallen young person who was just dumped; it’s in the exhaustion of a frazzled new mom; it’s in the empty chair beside the lonely; it’s in the daily challenges of the displaced; it’s in the painful grumbles of an empty belly. God is present in the glory. But more importantly, God is present in the suffering. And if we hope to catch a glimpse of God at work, then it’s into the valley we go.
No longer ensnared by nostalgia of the glory days, we cling to them as a vision of what could be in the midst of what is. We don’t look back but ahead. And we watch for God’s glory today, shining from the least expected places and people, bringing forth a whole new hope of abundant life.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church