- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2000

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Joan E. Beilstein at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Camp Springs, Md.

When the disciples Peter, James and John went with Jesus to the mountaintop, they weren't looking for a spiritual experience [Luke 9:28-36]. They went with their rabbi expecting the same as before: a time to pray, a time of quiet, perhaps a few winks of sleep.

What they experienced was the Transfiguration of Jesus. God revealed that Jesus was more than a man and teacher, but the Son of God. The disciples found a spiritual experience they had not been looking for. It inspired them to be preachers and healers and to carry on Christ's work.

Today, spiritual experiences and "mountaintop" events seem to be in hot demand. Everywhere I go I find people longing to know God more intimately, to feel God's shinning presence in their lives. I hear this yearning in my pastoral counseling, in my colleagues and in my family. We see it in a multitude of book titles, from "The Seat of the Soul" to "How to Know God."

Why is this happening? I believe this longing has something to do with our need to be delivered from the disquietude of this world. Could it be that we want God or a higher power to free our souls from the distress of daily demands and the pace of society? Free our souls from worry, anxiety, unrest and dissatisfaction?

On this Feast of the Transfiguration, the story of the disciples on the mountaintop can give us three spiritual truths about this search for God. First of all, it may be that the harder we try to find God, the more elusive God can be. It is often God who finds us, as when the Transfiguration came as a gift to the disciples.

God comes to us in ways that we least expect, which is a second part of the disciples' experience. In my experience, God comes most often in the mundane and routine moments, more often than in major events of my life. We must remain open and attentive, because God tends to find us. God can transform us in the stuff of our daily lives. In his second letter, Peter calls this being attentive "to the lamps shining in dark places."

Third, once God finds us, we must become servants in this world. Sacred experience should not isolate us or provide only enjoyment and edification. We cannot put "dwellings" around them, as Peter wanted to do at the site of the Transfiguration. We are called down off the mountaintop, renewed and strengthened, and given a higher calling that benefits all God's people everywhere.

This past week, I saw these three aspects of God's transforming power in the life of an admired friend. I had not known his story until attending his funeral. It was the story of my friend's own mountaintop experience.

Dave graduated from one of the most prestigious colleges in the country and held important jobs, one as a material control specialist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. He was a young man with a bright future. Then in 1984 he was diagnosed as HIV positive. His health declined, and in 1991 he decided to attend a spiritual retreat given by Episcopal Caring Response to AIDS and Damien Ministries, a Catholic group.

The retreat "changed his life." He volunteered on retreat teams and in 1996 became an employee, always a tireless caregiver to men, women, children and their families. His funeral celebrated his life and was attended by many.

Dave was not looking for a transforming experience, but God gave him one amid the darkness of illness. He found a new purpose for living, and he took a path of greater service, especially to those in dire need of hope and caring.

The next time we are looking for a spiritual experience to bring us close to God, to calm the disquietude, let us look close to home. The voice of God is in the stuff of our daily lives, in our hearts. In the face of every person we can see the radiant face of Jesus.

Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Paul D. Opsahl at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, Va.

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