Brilliant Peaks and Foggy Bottoms

Traditional Sermon Transfiguration Sunday

Today we get to hear about mountain top moments. Those mountain top moments where all seems right. God’s presence is right before you. It all fits. There’s no doubt that you’re meant to be there.

We read about a mountain top moment from the first reading (Exodus 34:29-35) where Moses encounters God and his face is transformed by God’s glory. There’s a mountain top moment for the disciples in our Gospel reading (Luke 9:28-36) as God’s glory transforms Jesus right before their eyes. And you can breathe in the moment, the joy, the very essence of God.

Maybe you’ve had a mountain top moment.
Maybe on a literal mountain when you finished a hike and made it to the top!

Perhaps it was graduation day when you did it!

Or the peak of emotion the first time you held your child and the love you have seems to overwhelm the whole room.

I could see the mountain in my father’s eyes a few months ago when he celebrated his 80th birthday–and the glory of the Lord shined all around him as he looked as his kids and grandkids all around him in one place and one time.

Those special moments when all is right.

I had a mountain top moment. It happened August 1, 2010. The day of my ordination.

Now when a pastor is ordained or a deacon is consecrated, it’s a special event. Leaders and churches from all over gather together to celebrate this person who is being chosen to be a shepherd and leader within the church of Christ.

For me, it represented the top of an insurmountable mountainous journey.
A journey that began when I was a teenager and had whispers of the Holy Spirit pointing me in the direction of being a church leader.
A journey that got majorly sidetracked as I totally IGNORED the Holy Spirit’s call.
A journey filled with doubt and discernment, but one that introduced me to important mentors and guides.

And it was a journey that measured miles of distance trod–starting in the woods of New Hampshire and traveling to the battlefields of Pennsylvania and the seminary in Gettysburg and continuing this journey to an intern site in the subtropics of Florida and slingshotting me to the plains of northern Ohio.

And here I was–this precipitous day–August 1, 2010.
The day where I was called forth and knelt down before pastors, deacons, and Bishops alike. The Bishop laid hands on my head and colleagues and family alike placed hands on my shoulders–the weight of their witness and hope bearing down upon me and their prayers lifting me up. The entire assembly singing the praise of God.

AND I looked good doing it! I looked brilliant at this mountain top moment! I had my best black power suit on with spicy red high-heeled shoes and a brand new red stole around my shoulders. I was transformed from Sarah Teichmann to the Right Reverend Sarah Teichmann!

What a mountain of clarity to be on!
I hadn’t yet started my call at my church, but I knew God’s spirit was with me. I knew I could be their pastor and they could be the people of God. I knew that together we would change the community. I knew it! I was certain of it!

Then came the next day.

August 2, 2010.

Being so new to the community, I was still using my map to get from my house to the church. Took at least 2 wrong turns–drove PAST the church, and had to double back to get there.

My key got stuck in the church door and wouldn’t turn.
Some people in the church took pity on the hapless pastor and let me in.

Enthusiastically, the 3 folks at the church introduced themselves to me, but I IMMEDIATELY forgot 2 of the people’s names and got the other person’s name wrong!

Eventually, the church folks left…probably wondering what they had done wrong to call this hapless pastor into their midst.

And I was left alone. Alone in my office. Alone in the church.
And it hit me. I was not prepared to be a pastor.
What was I supposed to do first?
I couldn’t figure if I should unpack my stuff or hightail it out of there and call it quits.
All that discerning. All that schooling. All that moving from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania to Florida to Ohio. All of it felt so lost on me.

What happened?!

I was at the pinnacle 24 hours before! Feeling not only shined on by God, but brilliant shining my own abilities. I had been on cloud 9. But sitting in that office–I felt like my head was in a fog. Alone, uncertain, not knowing what to do next.
I felt like an imposter. In over my head. Not blessed.

Oh those transformational moments.
They stay with you, don’t they.
I can still feel the high and low of those two days in my gut.

For me it is reminiscent of the Gospel reading we hear for this Transfiguration Sunday. One moment everything is brilliant. God’s voice is brilliant, the images of Moses and Elijah are brilliant, even Jesus’ clothes are described as brilliant.

And Peter, James, and John get to be part of the brilliance.
It all makes sense.
It’s a great day.
Like that graduation day or 80th birthday or the day you could hold your small child in your arms and the whole world seemed to shine.

But Peter, James, and John had to leave the mountain.

Yeah, they felt so much certainty and assurance on the top of that mountain, and then a short trip down to the valley below and all the certainty seems to vanish.

Faced with a crisis the disciples go into action.
A boy is in need, a father is beside himself, the disciples are called upon to respond. And do….something…anything…to make it better.

And what happens?
They flounder, they trip. Hapless. Hopeless!
How things were so much better on top of the mountain.

Just like we need to take off the graduation robes and find a job…which may be hard to find.
The birthday party guests leave, and you toss out the uneaten birthday cake and have to be reminded to take your heart medicine.
And the glow of the newly anointed parent seems to dim after the 100th soiled diaper.
Or face the first day as a pastor with doubt and uncertainty.

We all have to leave that brilliant moment of certainty and go into those valley moments that are not great.

We all have to leave the mountain.

But here’s the thing with God’s work in the world.
God isn’t confined to mountains.
God isn’t exclusively in churches and tabernacles.
God isn’t simply in the moments where we feel brilliant.

Those just happen to be the moments that we may see God more clearly. The shiny moments.
But the good news for you and I is that God’s saving work is not just found in the high holy places. God’s blessing upon you is not exclusively found on the awesome days of brilliance.

God’s presence is with us when we get lost on the way, when doors seemed locked to us, when fog seems to confound us, when we can’t seem to get anything right.

And one would argue–it’s those days–where we seem to drop the ball and mess up, when life kicks us in the teeth–it’s those days that our God is ever close. Holding us and walking with us through those valleys we rather not be in…lifting us up in those downward doubts…and offering a loving certainty when we may not feel certain of anything.

St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, reminds us that God is not done with us. Our mountain top moment isn’t the only time God is at work in us or the world. It doesn’t end at our birth or our baptism either, but is a life-long. As Paul notes,

We see “the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, [and] are being transformed into the same image.”

2 Corinthians 3:18

We are being transformed every day.
Whether it is a mountain top high or the foggy valley below, the Lord is transforming you.

When it is a day of brilliance, the Lord is urging you to use it for the good of the world.

Even those valley days when you feel like the world is against you, I promise you friends that the Lord is using that too. Inviting you to grow from those valley moments, urging you to trust and lean into God’s embrace, and encouraging you to offer compassion when you encounter another who is in their own dark valley.

Being transformed beings–that is who we are.
Days with foggy lows, but filled with holy hope arising.
Grace given and second chances offered to once again be who God calls you to be.

Friends, you are blessed, you are brilliant, because Christ is in you–shining.

So reflect and shine the image of Christ into the world.


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Rev. Sarah Teichmann

Pastor of Christian Formation

Pastor Sarah served as Pastor of Christian Formation at St. Peter’s from 2014 – 2021. She now serves the wider church as a partner at Kirby-Smith Associates.

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