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Edward F. Markquart

Series B
Visions on a Mountaintop


Have you ever been to the top of a mountain where it seems like you can see forever? Have you ever been to the top of a mountain and seen its sweeping beauty? You stand there and slowly rotate for 360 degrees, and no matter in which direction you look, you see pure beauty.

For many of you who are skiers, you have been up to Crystal Mountain and have see the sweeping panoramic magnificence from the top of the ski lift. Or you may have been to Mount Baldy over at Sun Valley, Idaho, and have seen the sweeping panoramic beauty of the Saw Tooth Mountains. Or still others of you have been to Mount Bachelor in Oregon, and have experienced the glorious view from the top of that mountain. There are certain places in this world where it seems as if you can see forever.

When I think of mountains like that, I think of a time way back in 1972 when we were living in Eugene, Oregon. My wife was seven months pregnant with our first biological child, and she was really physically big. Her belly was protruding like a big watermelon. We were vacationing at the Metolious River Valley in Oregon; the Metolious River Valley is right near the resort, named Black Butte. Now, on Black Butte itself, which looks like an inverted cone, juts right up from the ground in a perfect symmetry to the top of the mountain. On that mountaintop is a fire tower. From that fire tower, you can see more square miles of woodlands than from any other fire tower in the United States. I said to Jan, “Shall we climb the mountain? Shall we hike the path up to the top of Black Butte?” She said, “Why not.” So I telephoned the Forest Service to see if they had helicopter service that would be willing to pick up mountain climbers who were having trouble.” They said, “Yes.” I said, “Do you also pick up pregnant women?” He said, “This is ridiculous.” I said, “Well, the regulations say that you would have to come and pick her up in case of an emergency, correct?” “Yes, you are correct.” “Thanks.” … So away we went, up to the mountaintop, and I remember my wife, pregnant as could be, slowly hiking that trail, round and round the cone, ever so slowly up to the top of Black Butte. We got up to the top of the mountain and it was spectacular. It was one of those mornings in which there was no haze, no fog, no trees or obstructions of one’s view. On that morning, you could see all the way down to Mount Shasta in California. You could see the Three Sisters in Central Oregon, the South, Middle and North Sister. You could see Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood, and you could look north, way up to Mount Rainier in Washington. One of my favorite photographs of my wife is her sitting on the top of Black Butte, with the mountains down south into California, as a background, and she is sitting there, just posing in her pregnancy. Sometimes, when you are on top of a mountain, you can see forever. You can see visions of beauty in an unforgettable way. 360 degrees of pure beauty.

There are not only mountaintop experiences that happen on actual mountains; but there are what are called  “mountaintop religious experiences.” These are those special times when you see with utmost clarity who God is. When there is no fog, no haze, no trees, no obstructions, and there, for a moment, in that mountaintop religious experience, you see with utter clarity a vision of who God really is. You know for sure that the vision is true.

In the Bible, the fundamental mountaintop experience  in the Old Testament is called a  “theophany.” “Theo” meaning God in the Greek language; “epiphany” meaning revelation.

On the mountaintop, Moses saw this clear revelation of God. Moses was on a mountain; the mountain was named Mount Sinai; and there were ominous black clouds swirling around the mountain. There was flashing lightening, and the thunder was growling. In the lightning and the thundering, Moses was talking with God. When Moses came down from the mountain, it was like Moses faith shone like the son. His face was shining like the sun because Moses had had this mountaintop experience. Moses walked down the mountain with the Ten Commandments, the moral law for the human race. Moses had had this vision. He saw with utter clarity the moral law for the earth.

If Moses was on the mountain in the Old Testament, the New Testament also has a mountaintop story and the report of a mountaintop experience. On the mountaintop, a person sees with utter clarity the truth about God. In the New Testament, this mountaintop is called the Transfiguration. It is the mountaintop story for today.

Peter, James and John were on the mountaintop with Jesus. The name of the mountaintop is not given but most scholars think that it was Mount Tabor which is 1800 feet tall which is a tall mountain not far from Nazareth. While on that mountain, the eyes of the disciples were dazzled with visionary ecstasy. Jesus was transfigured before them. He was utterly changed before their eyes. Transfigured. Transformed. The Greek word is “metamorphosis.” “Meta” means change;  “morphis” means form. Jesus’ form was totally changed. … Like a cocoon is transfigured into a butterfly. Like a flower bulb is transfigured into a lovely spring daffodil. Where the human Jesus of Nazareth was transfigured into this divine Christ of glory.

In the children’s sermon for today, I used a sparkler from the fourth of July. The sparkler itself was a bland piece of gray wire with some material coated on it. The sparkler was dormant, apparently dead. And suddenly, with fire, the sparkler came alive and sparkled intensely. The sparkles were so alive and sparkling compared to the bland piece of gray wire. So it was with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus came alive, as if he was shining with sparkles.

That is what literally happened in the Transfiguration. In this story, Jesus went through this enormous transformation. And on this mountaintop, the disciples had a vision and in that vision, they could truly see who Jesus really was. The Son of God. The very Presence of God in Divine Form. Glorious. Bright. A dazzling shining light. Like an angel.

Remember: all of this is a vision. Are you remembering that? The gospel of Luke says that “when they went down from the mountain, Jesus said for his disciples to tell no one this vision.”  This is a vision. This is not history. This is not a historical episode that I am telling. This is a vision where people see clearly.

In this vision, there was Moses, the great lawgiver of the Old Testament, the founder of the universal law of the Ten Commandments. In this vision, there was Elijah, and he was the greatest of the Jewish prophets. The Law and the Prophets, which were the two divisions of the Jewish Old Testament. All Jews knew about the Law and the Prophets.

Peter also was there, and Peter saw Jesus sparkling; Peter saw Jesus’ face glistening and radiantly bright like the sun. Peter was there to see it all, and we like Peter being there because Peter often said the wrong thing at the right time. Peter had “foot in mouth” disease and we like Peter having “foot and mouth” disease because we often have the same sickness as well. Peter said something stupid like, “I have a good idea. I will build three huts. One for Jesus; one for Moses; and one for Elijah.” He implied, “Let’s make this experience last a little bit longer.” Suddenly, a voice thundered from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” This is my Son who is greater than all the laws of the Old Testament. This is my Son who is greater than all of the prophets of the Old Testament. This is my Son, Jesus, the Son of God. Listen to him. He is the voice of God for you. Don’t center your attention on the laws of the Old Testament. Don’t center your attention on the prophecies of the Old Testament. Far more important than the laws of the Old Testament and far more important than the prophets of the Old Testament, is the importance of my Son, Jesus. Listen to him.

Suddenly, it was all gone. The vision was all gone. And there was Jesus.

Visions. Visions are those rare moments in life when there is no fog, no haze, no trees, no obstructions, where you clearly see the truth about God and the truth about Jesus Christ.

Let’s talk about visions. Visions are those moments of clarity where you know something is true. Visions are not hallucinations. Hallucinations usually happen to unstable people who are going through a time of instability in their lives. For example, an alcoholic will have DTs, delirium tremors, after he or she has been drunk for a long time. The alcoholic will often have hallucinations as he goes through his delirium tremors. Of if a person is on drugs such as LSD, that person has hallucinations. Also, if you are on drugs during a hospitalization, you may have hallucinations. Visions are not hallucinations.

Nor are visions fantasies. Fantasies occur when you cannot deal with the real world, and so a person creates this imaginary, pretend world, as an escape from the real world.

Visions are not hallucinations. Visions are not fantasies. Visions are those special moments in life when you see something with utter clarity, and you know that it is absolutely true.

Visions still happen today. Let me give you three illustrations. For example, I knew a man by the name of Erling Wold. He was a fine Lutheran pastor, down in California, and married to Marge Wold. One day, when Erling was down there in Southern California, he was out surfing in the ocean and suddenly, he was hit down by a wave and he was smashed into the sand. He broke his neck. He was upside down, and was drowning, and he said in his book, DO I HAVE TO BREAK MY NECK, “Then and there, something very important happened to me. It was not a hallucination. My senses were totally alive. In that moment, there was an inrush of light and filled me as I floated. The light was on my right side, and the light took shape, pulsating with an invitation to come into the light, into the center of the light.” Wold recognized this light as the Presence of the Risen Christ. He continued,  “I was swept up into an unspeakable exhilaration of glory and I had an intense longing to let go of everything. I welcomed anything. Death. Paralysis. As long as I could be part of that light. I was filled with a light born ecstasy, and my exhilaration continued for what seemed like an eternity.” … This was a vision. All these years, Pastor Erling Wold had been preaching that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and was the glorious light of God. And then, for a moment, in that exotic, rare moment of breaking his neck and nearly drowning, he truly believed what he had been preaching for all those years. And if you had the privilege of personally talking to Erling Wold as I did, he would tell you that this vision was a benchmark moment in his life. He had a  moment of clarity. He had a moment of truth.  This is true what I have  been preaching, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. This is true, that Jesus Christ is the light of God. This is true, that someday I will be welcomed into the glorious light of the Presence of God.

Another story. Dag Hammarskjold. Many of us have read about the United Nations. One of my favorite stories about the United Nations is the story about Dag Hammarskjold, who was Secretary General of the UN many years ago in about 1961. Many of us like his book entitled, MARKINGS. MARKINGS is Hammarskjold’s notes of his life as Secretary General of the United Nations but it is also a spiritual diary of his spiritual journey. Hammarskjold was a mystic, believing in the mystery of life and the mysteriousness of God. In his diary, he wrote the following words:

“Summoned to carry it; alone to assay it; chosen to suffer it; free to deny it. I saw for one moment the sail in the sun storm, far off on a wave crest, bearing from land. For one moment, I saw….”  I love those words, “From that moment, I saw the sail in the sun storm, I saw.” And he continued, “From that moment, when I said Yes to Someone, I knew for sure that my life, in self surrender, had meaning and had a goal.” 

Hammarskjold could not necessarily name that moment. That may be true for you as well. Where you had a visionary moment in your life, and you cannot pinpoint the exactness of the time of that moment, but you knew that you life, in self surrender, had a meaning and a goal. You know that God has called you for a purpose, for a destiny in this world, and that you surrendered yourself to a purpose larger than yourself.

For example. Little Eddie Markquart was twelve years old. Maybe it was eleven. I can’t remember exactly when it was. My pastor, Fred Sommers, called me up one day and he said, “Little Eddie Markquart. I want you to give a temple talk on using your talents for Christ.” I was scared to death, but for some unknown reason, I said yes to his request. I got up into the lectern on that autumn Sunday morning, on the right side of the chancel. I can see the moment with clarity as if it were yesterday. I had ninety seconds to give this temple talk, and I got up and… for one moment, I saw the sail in the sun storm…and I knew. I knew that I had a God-given destiny in this world. It was a visionary moment when I knew for sure that my life, in self surrender, had a God given purpose and goal. In that moment, I knew that I was to surrender to God and God’s purpose for my life. In that moment, I knew that God was calling me to be a pastor and a preacher for the Lord. I fought that vision for a while, but the truth of the vision of that moment was larger than my resistance. I am talking to you today because of that destiny that was part of my life.

And so it is with you. God has put you on this earth for a reason. You have a purpose and you perhaps have surrendered yourself to that purpose. Or maybe it is several purposes. To love that child. To raise that family. To take care of that mother, that father. To be that teacher. To be that plumber. To be that engineer. You perhaps have had that moment where somewhere in your life you know for sure that God has given you a destiny. For one moment, I saw the sail in the sun storm.

Visions. Moments of truth. When there is no fog and no haze and no trees and no obstructions, when you see your God-given destiny.

Another story. Martin Luther King, Junior. When I think of this Biblical story for today about the vision on the mountaintop, I cannot help but think of Dr. Martin Luther King. I have his most famous sermon, on tape, and I wish I could imitate his words from that great sermon, but I am not able. But Martin Luther King Jr. says it this way, “I have been to the mountain.” He then swells in that crescendoing voice, ‘I have beeeeen to the mountain. I have seeeeeen the Promised Land.” King had this vision of the Promised Land where black and white would live together in peace, where black and white would live together as family, as brothers and sisters, a vision of God’s creation between the races.” I have beeen to the mountain and seeeen the Promised Land. Dr. King had a vision; he believed the vision; he gave his life for the vision.

Visions. You usually need visions to see the possibilities in life, to see beyond the problems and past the haze and past the fog and past the trees and past the obstructions. You need to see past the hindrances and to the possibilities. You need to see visions for your marriage, visions for your kids, visions for your own life. You need to be above the fog and haze. Visions are moments of truth. Where you know for sure about God and his destiny for your life.

I would like to tell you three little visions, moments when there was no fog, not haze, no trees and no obstructions, but I knew for sure. Little visions. Small visions. Tiny visions.

One was a year ago, Easter Sunday. Last Easter Sunday, somebody had given me that children’s story, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I am living, my baby, my children you’ll be.”  Last Easter Sunday, I walked with you through this book and I came to the end of the book, the climax of the book, and I shouted in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I live, my children you will be.” And I believed. I believed that the vision was and is true. There was no fog, no haze, no trees, no obstructions. But with fundamental clarity of vision, it is true. “My children you’ll be.”

Another small vision. It is vision that remains with me every day even though it happened years ago. The vision is so clear. Visions have great clarity, you know. One day that I went over to see one of the oldest members of our church, old Al Lunde who later died in his early nineties. But this particular day that I am remembering he was much younger, perhaps in his early eighties. Al was over at the retirement center, the Good Samaritan, with his wife Cora, demented through Alzheimer’s. Old Man Lunde, as I affectionately called him, would come over to the retirement center every day with a bowl of ice cream to give to his wife of many decades, Cora. By the time that Al drove from his home over to the retirement center, the ice cream would be melted. I watched Old Man Lunde take that melted ice cream on a spoon and feed Cora as if he were a newborn baby bird. As he put the melted ice cream into her mouth and patted her on the cheek, I saw. There was no haze, no fog, no trees. I saw for sure the genuine love of God between a man and a woman. I knew that love was true and I knew that quality of love was from God and I was totally convinced of the truth of that moment. It was a vision. I had seen true love…in the flesh…right before my eyes. Holiness. Pure holiness.  Goodness. Pure goodness. I had seen a love that I wanted in my marriage to Jan.

A third small vision.  Irving and Jennie Birk were an elderly couple in our church years ago. Irving, the body man from North Dakota. Jennie, who had diabetes years ago and had been blinded by the disease. Jennie had been blind for many, many years. So I would visit them on a monthly basis, giving them Holy Communion. I would visit them every spring, and in the spring, there was a giant rhododendron and it was located right outside the kitchen window and kitchen table where we shared coffee and cookies and Holy Communion. Jennie would always say to me every spring, “Pastor, isn’t the rhododendron especially beautiful this spring.” I would say, “O Jennie, that is the most beautiful rhododendron I have seen for a long, long time.” Later and often, I witnessed Irving and Jennie walking arm in arm through the streets of Des Moines, she being blind, he being her guide and stabilizer.  I thought to myself, “That is what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be that kind and quality of a loving person.” And I saw. I saw the sail in the sun storm. I saw that here was a man and woman who knew the Presence of God, who knew the beauty of God, who knew what the love of God could be for a man and a woman here on earth. That vision of Irving and Jennie guides my life to this day.

Have you been to the mountain? Have you had visions…where you know for sure that you are loved by God? Visions…that Jesus Christ is the mind of God, the heart of God, the Son of God, the truth about God. Have you caught that vision? Visions of what it means to love one another. Have you caught the vision of God’s kind of love? Have you been to the mountain? With Martin Luther King Jr., have you beeeeeeen to the mountain and have you seeeeeeen the Promised Land.

It is true. If you go to a mountaintop, you just may see forever. Amen. 

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