Psalm 99:2-4 God is great in Zion; God is high above all peoples. Let them confess God’s Name, which is great and awesome; God is the Holy One. “O mighty [and royal], lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
Sometimes I wonder how often we include ourselves in the proclamation from the gospel of John: God so loved the world in this way, God sent God’s only son. We completely ignore that we are, have been, and will be invited in to the divine party we eagerly watch from outside, faces pressed against window panes, unable to hear the summons and invitation to the party because of the loud ruckus in our own heads. We can’t imagine hearing the summons and invitation. God loves the world, sure; but, does God love me?
I think we get trapped in our curiosity, wondering why God would love me? I mean, it makes sense that God would love you, you are just loveable. But me? Nah. I’m a huge bag of mess and not quite good enough to be truly and really loved by God. Even if I try to comprehend the idea that maybe God loves me, I will probably justify that potential love with some my productivity: maybe God loves me because I’m special in this way? maybe God loves me because of my talent? because I’m quite good at _______? Or, maybe God loves me because God has to…
Would I ever dare to think that God loves me just cuz? That God desires and wants me… just cuz? Love and desire untethered to a reason, a why, or wherefore. What the mystic Meister Eckhart (the mid 13th/early 14th century catholic theologian) calls the sunder warumbe: without a why or wherefore (as translated by Dorothee Sölle). We are hard wired to put justifications and reasons on why we do x and why we do z, because the world demands we justify our actions, our bodies, our being, our existence, and whom we love. But when it comes to love, to desire, to the lover being with the beloved these reasons and justifications fall flat. Love just loves. Love just is. Love loves the beloved (full stop).
Love wants to be with the beloved, close to the beloved, in all the profoundness and banality of the beloved, even when the beloved says silly things out of fear and reverence surrounded by bright light and dense cloud, accompanied by Moses and Elijah and two other disciples. Love goes with us, up the mountain and back down.
And behold! Moses appeared to them and Elijah was talking with him. And Peter took up the conversation and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will make here three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah…” Yet, while he was speaking, behold! a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold! a voice out from the cloud saying “This one is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well-pleased. You listen to him!”
The story of Jesus’s transfiguration is well known. It’s a powerful story, and Matthew does an excellent job demonstrating the intersection of divine glory and human frailty. The story of Jesus’s transfiguration as told by Matthew might be my favorite example of Peter being wonderfully Peter: totally human. In fact, the flow from chapter 16 to chapter 17 works well. These two chapters demonstrate the variability of Peter’s humanity, from profound insight that is a near mountain-top experience, to being chastised for rebuking Jesus’s prophetic utterances about the trajectory of his ministry that is like an experience of being dropped down the backside of the mountain. So it goes for the one on whom Jesus will build his church: full of both great and not so great moments. Not everything Peter does is infallible—at least not at this point in church history!
In Chapter 17, Peter is one of the three who go with Jesus up the high-mountain, to the heights of the intersection of heaven and earth; maybe Peter wondered if something divine would happen, wasn’t his religious history replete with stories of divine encounter on such mountaintops? The reader probably has more information than Peter does considering that Matthew makes frequent overlapping references between Moses and Jesus, leading the reader to draw the connection between Moses and Jesus’s authority to interpret the law.And even hints that Jesus might even be better than Moses.
But for Peter and his two friends, this is all unfolding before them. As they ascend the mountain, they witness Jesus transfigured by bright light and his clothes radiated the same bright light (Jesus doesn’t change forms, he remains the same Jesus). And as they are taking in Jesus’s divine glowing transfiguration, Moses and Elijah show up! And Elijah is talking with Moses and then… Peter. Peter literally inserts himself, he “took up the conversation” and asks Jesus if he should build some tents. Far from being ridiculous request, it made sense; the glory of God shines about him and two of God’s divine prophets show up and why not make tents? Isn’t that where the glory of God dwells? In tents and tabernacles? And then, just as he took hold of the conversation, God takes it back and declares that this one, Jesus, is God’s son and all should listen to him. Immediately, the event is over. God does not dwell high up on the mountain, but among God’s people; the disciples and Jesus will go back down to proceed with God’s mission of divine love for the beloved; Jesus and the disciples will minister in the valleys and not be secluded up high on the mountain tops.
Peter follows Jesus when he is called; Peter follows Jesus up the mountain; Peter will also follow Jesus down the mountain.  But this relationship is not one-sided. Jesus called Peter because Jesus loved Peter; Jesus lifted up Peter when he fell on his face in fear on the mountain top because he loved him; and, Jesus will accompany him down into the valley because he loved him. Be raised up, says Jesus, and be not afraid…because I am with you, now and always, up on the mountain and down low in the valley, and where you go I will go too, now and always.
This event that merely altered Jesus’s appearance ultimately changed Peter inside and out; Peter (and the other disciples with him) come to know that Love goes with them, up the mountain and back down.
Beloved, make note that Jesus did not stay up on the mountain, kicking it with Elijah and Moses. Peter was not able to build those tents, let alone finish his thought before God sent everyone back down. God is known among God’s people, not up high and separated from them. Jesus shows us the love of God by descending the mountain to be with us even if it means he goes to his demise. Yes, there is great glory and affirmation at the top of the mountain, but what would any of it mean if it stayed there? God comes low: in spirit hovering over the darkness, in creative words bursting forth in life and light, in fire and clouds, in the law, through the prophets, and in the love of Christ.
So, beloved, God so loved the world and you! that God came back down the mountain. God so loves you that you are beckoned to ascend the mountain so that you can come back down with Christ and share in the divine summons and mission of spreading love and life in the world to those who are deprived of such love and life. You are so called to be changed by this encounter with God in Christ that you can do nothing else but follow Jesus up the mountain and back down.
 Translation mine unless otherwise noted.
 Anna Case-Winters Matthew Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible Eds Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2015. 212. “The vision (v. 9) we call the transfiguration takes place on the ‘high mountain’ which has traditionally been associated with revelation and profound religions experience. Symbolically, it is a place where heaven touches earth.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 212. Tons of overlap with Moses and Jesus in Matthew, “This association is made more prominent in chapter 17 where there are at least seven points of parallel between Jesus in the transfiguration and Moses at Sinai.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 213. “These multiple associations reinforce identity of Jesus with Moses and affirm Jesus’ role as the authoritative interpreter of the law.”
 R. T. France The Gospel of Matthew The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Gen. Ed Joel B. Green. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007. 645. “But this pericope reinforces the perception of the careful reader of ch. 2 that Jesus comes, as Moses did long ago, to fulfill God’s purpose of deliverance for his people. At the same time, he is also clearly marked out as a greater than Moses, both by the heavenly voice which speaks of him alone in terms never used of Moses, and by the fact that Moses and Elijah soon disappear, leaving Jesus alone to carry Out the final act of deliverance.”
 France, Matthew, 647. “The visual ‘transformation’ is not so much a physical alteration an added dimension of glory; it is the same Jesus, but now with an awesome brightness ‘like the sun’ and ‘like light.’ Or, one might better say, with the of earthly conditions temporarily stripped away, so that the true nature of God’s ‘beloved Son’ (v. 5) can for once be seen.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 213. “’There is an association with the tents or tabernacles that housed the ark of the covenant in the wilderness wanderings. God’s presence in the Holy of Holies in the Temple was also identified is the shekinah.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 214. “Peters proposal, however, is wrong-footed on several counts, as what follows his offer will make clear. There will be no dwelling upon the mountain top in ‘spiritual retreat’ from the world. Jesus and the disciples are very soon thereafter called to come down from the high places and minister in the valley where great need awaits them.”
 Case-Winters, Matthew, 215. “In this story the ascent to the heights of the mountain and “peak” experiences of encounter with God is followed by descent into suffering and service in the valley of need where God’s calling beckons. Ascent and descent are inextricably bound for the followers of Jesus. Just as they were for him.”
 France, Matthew, 643. “If what happened there provided Jesus himself with reassurance for his coming mission, we are told nothing of this; it is the disciples’ Christological understanding which is being enhanced, and the discussion as they return down the mountain (vv. 10-13) similarly focuses entirely on their grasp of the eschatological timetable.”