Message for September 16, 2018
Speaker: Minister Vicki McPhee
Isaiah 65:17-25, Mark 16:14-16 Creation
On this second Sunday in the Season of Creation, we celebrate the beauty and grandeur of the mountains. There are many hills and high places in the world that are referred to as mountains such as Mount Tisdale, the sledding hill in the prairie town my dear spouse grew up in. And I’m told there are mountains under the ocean but since I really do not enjoy being in salt water at all, I’ll just trust that to be true and leave it at that. At the risk of sounding a little snobby here, those of us living in western Canada know what real mountains are. The Rocky Mountains range nearly 5000 kilometers from northern British Columbia south to New Mexico. Mount Robson in BC is nearly 4000 meters at its highest point and Mount Elbert in Colorado reaches just over 4400 meters. However, when compared to the growth chart that God keeps on the doorway to the kitchen in heaven, mountains like Everest and K2 seem to have had growth spurts like no other as they measure over 8000 meters. Nepal, Pakistan, India and China are home to over one hundred mountains that are over 7000 meters. So Robson measures in at 4000 meters and Everest is nearly 9000 meters—to put that into perspective for a minute cause, I know, measuring anything other than distance with metres is still a bit foreign so let me explain that 4000 metres is still very high (13,000 feet)…when I was in Peru a number of years ago, we flew from Lima on the coast to the mountain city of Cusco. In an hour and twenty minutes, we went from being at sea level to being 3400 meters above sea level. One woman in our tour group who was six months pregnant was forbidden to travel to Cusco because that sudden elevation would cause her and her baby distress. Going from 0 to 3400 meters in 80 minutes is no joke. As a very active person, I was sure I would be fine. I. WAS. NOT. FINE. I suffered headaches, lightheadedness and aches and pains. My mind had darkness envelope it if I took stairs of any sort. And I was by far not the worst in my group. It was a bit of a gong show as I would carry another woman’s bag along with mine as she crawled up stairs and I took one. step. at. a. time.
The mountains of God’s Creation are unmatched for strength and their imposing nature. The height and breadth of the mountains demand respect from anyone traveling through their peaks and valleys. As well from those who build and ride the railways, swaying along cliffs and climbing, climbing up and over the passes. And from those whose job it is to clear for roads and bridges. It still boggles my mind when I think of how much dynamite was required to create the break in the peak near Golden, BC. They changed the route of the highway from running along the river to going up and over or rather through the mountaintop. Instead of tunneling, they just blew a whole section of the peak away and then built this MASSIVE bridge that I call the Star Wars bridge because it reminds me of those bridges you see on other worlds in the Star Wars movies. Anyway, until humanity gets involved, the mountains are solid, stable and enduring features in our world. The very sight of them calls to mind God’s power and the strength of nature. Because we live right at the foothills of the Rockies, we might be forgiven if we forget once in a while, that not everyone experiences the breath-taking beauty of seeing the mountains on the distant horizon each and every clear sky day. Bella, a member of my youth group at GC in ON in July was a member of the Youth Pilgrimage that was to make its way across Canada through the summer. The journey in Newfoundland, meandered their way to General Council and then continued travelling west, with Victoria being their destination. They were stopping and visiting with United Church folks all along the way. I asked her what she was looking forward to after they left Ontario, which is her home province. She was so excited to see the Rockies. Her face just lit up when she spoke about it.
Mountains are essential in the telling of the story of God’s People. Moses climbed Mount Sinai more than once so that God could speak directly to him. Moses stood at the top of Mount Nebo overlooking the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the desert. He saw where the former slaves he led from Egypt would reside, but he would not, himself, descend into the valley and cross the River Jordan. Jesus gave his Beatitudes sermon on the side of a mountain, he miraculously fed four thousand people on the side of a mountain. It is said Jesus was on retreat on a high mountain with James, John and Peter when he was transfigured into shining light. Moses and Elijah appeared there alongside him at that moment. In the Bible, mountains are sacred, they are set apart. The wonder of looking up at a mountain still exists today. Climbing a mountain, being on a mountaintop draws us closer to the Divine. Blessings and God are revealed when one can look down upon all of Creation from the top of a mountain. Those things in our lives that are big and overwhelming in our everyday lives are made small, even insignificant when perspective is gained from the mountaintop.
The prophet Isaiah used the sacredness of the mountain to get the attention of his fellow Jews. Remember last week that I told you that Jeremiah was warning the people that God was not pleased with their selfish behaviour and that there would be consequences? Jeremiah was warning that the Babylonians were on the doorstep to Judah, ready to take them into exile, far away from their homes and the Temple. Today’s scripture is from many years later and the people have been released from captivity. The first of the former exiles are returning to the city of Jerusalem and have found it to be a mess. Everything in the city needs to be rebuilt and Isaiah is saying there is no better time than right then to reimagine a new way of living so as not to get themselves into another situation in which God would allow God’s people to be overtaken by another hostile force. Isaiah uses the image of the mountain to call to mind what is sacred and powerful in the history of God’s people and to encourage the people to work towards a peace that is beyond anything they have ever experienced. No one will die young, the wolf and lamb will eat alongside one another, the lion will dine on straw, snakes will vanish as they did from Ireland and no one will be hurt and no one will destroy anything again. On the mountain, the former things of violence, death, greed, threat and exile are forgotten, and new possibility thrives. The true expansiveness of God’s vision for our world is known. Upon God’s peaceful mountain, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
And then, to fast forward from the time of the ancient Israelites to the time of earliest Christians and Jesus tells his disciples, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” Jesus has been crucified and raised and yet his disciples do not believe. He arrives into their presence, gives them a lecture on their lack of faith and then sends them out into the world to make a difference. To make the change they know God wants for the world. To walk the talk they have been teaching for the past three years. To go and be the hands and feet of the very Christ who stands before them. Go! Go and proclaim the good news for all of creation. Not just good news for humanity but for ALL OF CREATION. Go, be the love of God for people, for animals, for plants, for the watersheds, for the plains, the mountains, for the grain fields and the forests. Proclaim the good news to everyone and everything within God’s great and awesome Creation.
There are many days that we can look to the west and take joy in witnessing God’s great and awesome Creation in the distant ribbon of mountains that create the very horizon that receives the setting of the sun each and every evening. And we do not worry too much about what Creation needs from us. But then there are days, days and days of such smoke making its way over those very mountains and hanging low over our province that we cannot even see those rock steady, forever standing there mountains, the mountains of which we reside at their very feet. We could not see them this August. Do you remember Bella, the pilgrim who was so excited to finally see the Rocky Mountains? Well, she didn’t have the chance. There was too much smoke. In fact, once the Pilgrims arrived in Calgary, the leaders decided to cancel the final portion of the Pilgrimage due to health concerns. They didn’t make it to BC at all. Our climate is changing. It was forest fires in August and now it’s hurricanes this month. While there are many reasons for more aggressive wild fires and hurricanes in recent years, there is an overwhelming understanding that humanity has not respected the natural world and we are now paying the price. We are living the consequences of paving over the earth that absorbs rainfall, for taking down forest to plant corn, to feed cows, the cows that add crazy amounts of methane into our air, we build expensive places near flood plains and then expect the water to be contained. It’s hard to imagine God’s peaceful mountain when we cannot even see the mountain to begin with.
The Bible is our foundational text. We read the Bible despite it being an ancient document. We read it and learn from it because it is not a dead set of books. It is a living document. The wisdom given to God’s people over two thousand years ago has truth for us today. There are any number of prophets walking this earth today but the words Isaiah spoke to his fellow citizens ring as true today as they did then. We live with war, with cancer, with ALS and MS, we live with suicide, we live with poverty, hunger, with bigotry and racism, with past hurts that are deep and painful, we live with ancestors whose bad behaviour impacts us yet today, we live with greed that has no regard for other people’s well-being, for the environment, for world peace. Where Jeremiah gave words of dire warning last week, Isaiah reminds us that it is up to us to reimagine, to reorganize ourselves so that violence, hatred, disregard will become former things and God’s vision for reality, for heaven to exist on earth, is a living possibility. Isaiah tells us that in God, there is always hope. There is hope because we are not done living, we are done having faith, we are not done working, done striving for a better world. If not for us but our children.
MLK used the image of the mountain as a call for hope. King calls for unity, economic actions, boycotts, and nonviolent protest, while challenging the United States to live up to its ideals. (Memphis TN, April 3, 1968).
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.
As Moses and Martin Luther King Jr understood, we may only have the opportunity to look into the Promised Land of a healthy environment and a world without war and hate, we may not make it there ourselves, we know very well it is for our children, our community’s children and grandchildren that we must continue to heed the demand to work towards healing for all of Creation. The United Church of Canada’s A Song of Faith, our most recent statement of faith that was written in 2006, says:
In grateful response to God’s abundant love,
we bear in mind our integral connection
to the earth and one another;
we participate in God’s work of healing and mending creation.
Divine creation does not cease
until all things have found wholeness, union, and integration
with the common ground of all being.
Upon God’s peaceful mountain, All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. It can be a hard and arduous journey up to the top of that peaceful mountain but God promises us that the view will be amazing once we get there.