“On Top of Murray Hill”

Ex26, IIPet., Mt. 17

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

If you have ever walked westward on 35th Street from Third Avenue carrying a heavy bag of groceries, you will know that Murray Hill is indeed a HILL!

As hills go, it’s not a big one. The land has been leveled by the development of Manhattan in the 200 years since Robert and Mary Murray had their farm in this area.

We can imagine what they would have seen if they stood where we are today. There would have been no apartments or office buildings to block their view; they might have looked all the way across their fields to the East River and even to what is now Queens.

All three lessons today mention spiritual visions that occurred on high places. The first lesson from Exodus refers to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

Then, the second lesson from Second Letter of Peter mentions an event that Matthew describes in full in the third Gospel lesson.

In the gospel, Jesus and three disciples climb up a high mountain. When they reach the top, the disciples see Jesus clothed in white and talking to Moses and Elijah.

By their nature, “mountaintop” experiences don’t happen every day. They are so different from ordinary life that they can change people forever.

Moses was the leader of the nation of Israel; God’s revelation to him provided his people with a concise set of ethical rules for them to follow. These Ten Commandments not only became the bedrock of their law for centuries to come; they also became a pillar of the Western legal system.

In the disciples’ vision of Jesus, their Lord appeared in a dazzling brightness. As a result, that event became known in the church as “The Transfiguration.”

And not only was Jesus changed; his followers were transformed as well. After Christ’s disciples discerned his true, divine nature, they knew who he really was, and they realized that they could draw closer to God through him.

However I must admit that I have walked up 35th St thousands of times–and I can’t say that I have had many revelations along the way!

So am I making a mountain out of a Murray Hill? I don’t think so. For there are other sorts of visions besides the extraordinary events that we find in the Bible. In fact, if you or I had a religious vision like Moses or St. Peter had, and we went around telling people about them, they might think there was something wrong with us!

But that would be to miss the point of these stories, which is this: you can’t come into contact with the divine and not be changed. When God speaks, the way we see our lives is transformed.

Think of this for a moment just in secular terms. If you are starting a company, a “vision” of its future would allow the company’s employees to work together for a common goal. So, by analogy, a religious vision for yourself allows you a glimpse of what God is doing in your life.

And, paradoxically, one place to begin to discover God’s vision for your future is to look back! Peter was recalling his past when he wrote, “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” Reminding ourselves of what God has already done in our lives gives us clues for what the future might hold.

Think, for example, of the young professionals who are now flocking to apartments in Murray Hill and the neighborhoods south of here. If these people reviewed their lives so far, they would likely be thankful for support they received from their parents. They would remember with gratitude the help of particular teachers in school who encouraged them in their studies; they might also think of professors in college who steered them toward their ultimate careers.

Now something similar can happen if we stop to consider our religious heritage. Ask yourself, “How has God influenced my past life?”

When you were young, did God put religious people in your life who inspired you? I think myself of an elderly Methodist minister I knew when I was nine or ten years old.

The minister was kind and welcoming to me, and he used to give communion in the most reverent way. I contrast my thoughts of this minister with memories of other, less attractive pastors I met when I was growing up, I can’t help thinking that God put him in my life to direct me toward the ministry.

I might also see the hand of God in a casual conversation I once had with my college chaplain. The chaplain mentioned that New York Theological Seminary had just begun to reinvent itself; so it might be a good place for me to learn new ideas about urban ministry. If I hadn’t followed my chaplain’s advice, I might never have ended up basing my career and much of my life in New York City.

I should also note that if you profit from reflecting on your past from a spiritual perspective, you’ll enjoy this year’s Lent program! Beginning next week, we will be looking at various forms of religious experience.

Experience, after all, is what the 40 days of Lent are about. For they remind us of Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the wilderness before he began his ministry. They recall his temptation by the Devil, and what must have been countless worries about the future that lay before him.

So Lent shouldn’t simply be a time of deprivation. Anything that we do without—dessert or coffee or whatever—should contribute to our personal searches for vision.

Jesus entered the wilderness so that he could discern what God wanted him to do.

Far from towns and cities and other humans, Christ’s senses were sharpened by his discipline and his isolation. He could learn about himself – and he could see what God wanted him to do with his life.

I realize that real vision can be threatening. The Gospel reports that after the disciples saw the vision, “they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.” Vision—and the self-knowledge and need to change that come with it can lead to no end of trouble!

Yet, as with Peter, vision can also bring the keys to the Gates of Heaven!

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.


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