Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
1st Reading: Exodus 24:12-18
2nd Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21
When I was growing up, I loved the book "The Country Mouse and the City Mouse." I don't know if you remember the plot, so I'll give you a little of it. The city mouse goes to visit his cousin in the country and makes fun of his simple way of life. He invites his cousin to the city to experience all the delights the city offers. I remember pouring over that page where the two mice stand on the kitchen table full of food. There was a mountain of mashed potatoes, dinner rolls taller than the mice, a giant relish tray with olives and pickles, and who can forget the great chocolate cake. I remember discussing with the other kids what foods we’d eat first, a strategy to ensure we got to eat the best of what was there before the family came back who had strangely abandoned this table. Of course, you know what happens next, danger lurks in the form of a vicious cat, who peeks his eyes up over the edge of the table. The moral of the story is that the country is better than the city, even though the city offers many delights, because it is safer.
In the Gospel for this morning, we’ve got the country disciples and the city disciples. A few are invited up to the mountain with Jesus. Others are down in the city, continuing the ministry of Jesus among the people, healing, feeding, and sharing the Gospel. It might be fun to put ourselves in their shoes. Would you rather be a country disciple or a city disciple? Maybe the ones who stayed behind in the city were jealous that they didn’t get to go with Jesus up the mountain. Certainly they would have been once they learned what happened up there. Or maybe they were just as glad they didn’t go—maybe they were relieved not to have take that long hike. Maybe it didn’t matter so much where they were that day. Maybe both the country and the city have their place, the part in God’s story and God’s plan. Whether the disciples were up on the mountain standing before the glory of God, or down with the people building community and breaking the bonds that bind people, they were having an experience of God. Sometimes we think we have to choose between one or the other, that God is on one path but not another, when God is really with us whatever path we choose.
Peter thought that the mountain was the best place. That’s why he suggested building some dwellings. He wanted to stay there a good long time. Enough with all that city ministry. Let’s stay here and bask in the glory of God. Let’s stay here and listen to Moses and Elijah for a good long time. Let’s stay where it is safe. But God reminded Peter that the most important thing isn’t staying safe, it is listening to Jesus. Wherever you are, country or city, listen to Jesus. Whether you are rich or poor, listen to Jesus. Whether you are sick or well, listen to Jesus.
This question of city verses country and which is best, calls to mind other choices we sometimes think we have to make—false choices that really don’t have a right answer. Which is best, the country or city? Both are good in their own way. Another choice we sometimes debate in the Christian community is whether Jesus is human or divine. Many have come to the conclusion that he is both and this story illustrates that.
The Disciples had been with Jesus almost three years. They had eaten with him, seen him snoring in the boat, walked miles and miles with him, gone swimming and fishing with him, and seen his human side. Now this man they had come to know begins to glow with the light of God and the disciples hear the voice of God reminding them that Jesus is also divine, God’s own beloved Son. We need to know he is human, that he is just like us, so we can relate to him and know that God knows what we go through every day. We need him to be on our level and share our experiences. And we need to know that Jesus is Divine, that he has something more to offer than an ordinary human could. Because he is Divine, he has no beginning and no end. He was there at the beginning of creation and will be forever. Therefore death could not defeat him and he rose from the dead. Then he gave us new life as his brothers and sisters. Is Jesus human or divine? The answer is yes. He is both fully at the same time.
Another paradox that we hold is that we are simultaneously saint and sinner. We are both fully broken and rebellious, and welcomed into God’s family, one of God’s own. All we can do is turn away from God, but God keeps turning us back again, keeps coming to us and reaching out a hand for healing and relationship. At the same time that Peter makes a clueless comment about making some dwellings so they can stay put on the mountain, God is blessing him with God’s presence and showing him a better way. Isn’t it nice to know that as clueless as we often are, God is still there, blessing us with God’s glory, and showing us a better way.
Today is a mountain story. Think of the story this mountain would tell if it could. Mountains today also have a story to tell. The climbers of the giant peaks of the world tell us that the mountains are littered with what gets left behind—oxygen tanks and waste from thousands of climbers piling up. And they tell of melting glaciers—pictures that show the effects of climate change and quickly this earth is changing. We’ve been through large fluxuations in temperature before, but always much more slowly so plants and animals had time to adapt. This time, it is different. Sometimes we think that it is a choice between caring for the earth, the mountains, and caring for people. But we’re finding that if we care for the mountains, we also care for people—that our welfare is tied very closely to the earth’s. If we stop the coal trains from coming through here, we help keep our air clean and help kids with athsma. If we work to clean up our oceans and waterways, we ensure that people will be able to safely eat fish and enjoy recreation at the coast.
This is the last Sunday before Lent begins. Lent is often a time to either give something up that isn’t serving us well or take on a new practice to take us out of our comfort zone, and what we are used to and to try to live a more life-giving way. It is a time when Jesus takes us with him out in the wilderness to try to teach us something new about what makes for more abundant life for us and others. I invite you this lent to give something up—you might choose to give up a junk food that isn’t serving you well. You might choose not to purchase unnecessary items and give a little more for Backpack Buddies. You might choose to forgo pesticides in your yard. You might give up using your car one day a week. I invite you this lent to take something on—maybe a waterways clean up, maybe to serve in a ministry that you haven’t tried before, maybe to visit someone who is homebound.
Whether you are a country mouse or a city mouse, you are loved by God. We are standing here, shaking in our boots, having heard the word of God. Jesus reaches out a hand of comfort and touches us saying, "Get up and do not be afraid."