Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 29, 2015

2015.09.27 “Season of Creation: Mountain Sunday” – Isaiah 65: 17 – 25; Psalm 48; Matthew 28: 16 – 20

 

Central United Methodist Church
Season of Creation: Mountain Sunday
Pastor David L. Haley
Isaiah 65: 17 – 25; Psalm 48; Matthew 28: 16 – 20
September 27th, 2015

mountain

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord —
and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”

– Isaiah 65: 17 – 25, NRSV

[Note: Again for the Children’s Message for Mountain Sunday, we took a trip to Himalayas, the highest mountains on earth, as viewed from 20,000 ft. You can see it here]

It’s hard to know where to begin today, leaving us to wonder if our Season of Creation series is well-timed or not. On a day when we expect a blood moon (last seen in 1982 and not again until 2033), perhaps I should be preaching about moons rather than mountains. On the other hand, with a new movie – Everest – just opening in theaters, talking about mountains may be well-timed. And then, there was the spectacular visit of our new favorite Pope, Francis, to the U.S. this week; unfortunately, the Season of Creation doesn’t talk about Popes, although this Pope does talk about Creation, and also the dangers of climate change. The only way I tie in the Pope’s visit to mountains is to say that his spectacular address to Congress – as amazing as it was – is like trying to move a mountain. Perhaps you saw the picture on Facebook of the Pope addressing Congress, with the caption, “Pope Francis visits the sick.”

Our theme today for the fourth and final Sunday in Season of Creation this year is Mountains. Despite the fact that we are sitting here in the Midwest where there are no mountains, there is so much to say about them. For the fact is, whether we grew up near mountains or only visited them in our travels, mountains are right up there with oceans and sky as awesome, beautiful, inspiring – and yes, dangerous – natural wonders of our planet.  Apart from being natural wonders, mountains have influenced our language, our religious imagination, even our dreams for a more just and perfect society.

As natural wonders, what mountains we have in the U.S. are some of our most popular national parks. In July, I was in the Smokies, even hiked to the top of the highest mountain in the Smokies, Clingman’s Dome (6,643 ft.) for my birthday.  Unfortunately, I barely found a place to park, and had to share my trek to the mountaintop with about a thousand other people. As we drove through the mountains, we regularly followed bands of aging Harley riders, you could tell by their whiskers blowing out the side of their helmets. One day as we left, the main access road to the Smokies through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge was backed up about 10 miles, bumper to bumper. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the Rockies, but I understand it’s the same; depending upon when you go, reservations are required months in advance. Nothing like the peace and solitude of the mountains.

And – before we leave the Appalachians, you might think that mountains – being what they are – cannot be devastated. In the Appalachians, however coal mining companies have found a way: it’s called “mountaintop removal,” a form of strip mining. Using explosives, they blow the top off a mountain, to get at a seam of coal underneath. Apart from the blight it causes on the landscape, leading to erosion, the blasts cracks the foundations of houses in nearby communities, and the resulting debris deposited in the valleys either dries up or contaminates local wells, waters, and rivers. If there is a way to devastate even mountains, we humans (through corporate greed) will find a way to do it.

Despite all this, the experiences we can have in the mountains can be unforgettable. I remember visiting the Rockies many years ago, and hiking up, through the changing vegetation, such as the tiny fragile alpine flowers, up to finally stand on the continental divide.  Imagine, raindrops falling on this side flow to the Gulf or Atlantic; on that side to the Pacific.

I have often mentioned one of the greatest adventures of my life (apart from raising four kids): a trek in the Himalayas, in 1998. I was talking to a man in my church, who said it was a dream of his to go there. I said, “Mine too!” Another man, a retired airline pilot, said the same thing. So we decided to do it. We did many unforgettable things on the trek, like get sick with diarrhea and walk rope bridges, but we didn’t make it all the way to the Everest base camp (which I understand is incredibly polluted.) We did take the easy way to see Everest up close, which was to take a jet flight over it, seeing what you just saw in the video a short while ago.  That’s as close as I got, and as close as I will ever get.

I’m sure most of you have had your experiences in mountains; perhaps some of your favorite experiences in life.  Given this, should it be any surprise how much mountains have affected our language and imagery, including our religious imagination?

Think of the language we use: “Another mountain to climb,” or “to move.” “Mountains” are what we make out of “molehills.” And what about “mountaintop experiences,” which is not only what happens when we make it to mountaintops, but descriptive of those times in life when we have transcendent religious experiences. The Bible, of course, is filled not only with holy mountains, but mountaintop experiences, as when Moses encountered God on Mt. Sinai, or when Jesus was transformed before his disciples on top of Mt. Tabor. As you know, given our religious heritage and the topography of the Holy Land, we often talk about mountains and mountaintop experiences here in worship.

And of course it’s not just in the Bible that mountains have inspired our religious imagination. The mountain is the symbol of the prime axis of the world (Mt. Meru); mountains are sacred places around the planet (think of the Black Hills, or Bear Butte, in S.D., sacred to the Lakota Sioux); mountains were often thought to be the dwelling place of the gods on earth (think of Mt. Olympus); mountains were the place where spiritual leaders like Moses encountered God and receives the commandments and covenant (Mt. Sinai)

Even in our prayer and meditation practices, mountains can be inspirational.  Do you know the Mountain pose in Yoga, or the Mountain meditation? (You can do it sitting or standing.) Picture the most beautiful mountain you know or can imagine.  Note how massive it is, unmoving, how beautiful whether seen from afar or close up. Imagine bringing this mountain into your body: Your head becomes the peak, you shoulders and arms the sides; your bottom and legs the base of the mountain. As the sun crosses the sky from dawn to dusk, the mountain sits, unchanged. As the fog rolls in, storms come and rain falls and winds blow, the mountain sits undisturbed. As the seasons change and the snow falls, the mountain is unmoved. Like a mountain, in our lives and through our prayers, we too experience the changing nature of mind, body, and outward circumstances. Even our appearance changes, as we– like the mountain – experience a weathering of our own. But like the mountain, we learn to live in strength, stability, even serenity.

Finally, mountains can inspire our religious imagination not only for ourselves, but towards a more just and perfect society. Did you hear that incredible vision that the prophet Isaiah described for us earlier?

It was written after the Babylonian Exile, when Judah had been conquered and Jerusalem and the Temple destroyed, and the people taken off to Babylon in captivity. Finally, after a period of about 40 years, after the fall of the Babylonians to the Persian King, Cyrus the Great, Jews were allowed to return to Judah, to their homeland. The country was devastated, pathetic; likely their lifespans were short and infant mortality great.

In the face of this, one of the greatest preachers in the history of the human race, the Prophet Isaiah wrote Isaiah 65: 17 – 25 (see above).

EdwardHicks-PeaceableKingdomIt was Isaiah’s vision that led the 19th century Quaker preacher and painter Edward Hicks to paint his famous painting, The Peaceable Kingdom, around 1833.

Isaiah, and Edward Hicks after him, dared dream a world transformed, a world where not only the turmoil of war would cease, but where there would be peace and harmony throughout all creation. This new heaven and new earth is the old creation, not replaced, but transformed, grounded in the details of domestic life: shelter, sustenance, family, and community. And though the dreamers of such a society die (and often are killed), the dream of a better world lives.

Thomas Merton-dorothy-dayWho would have imagined we would hear it so eloquently articulated, as it was this week by Pope Francis – to of all people – the United States Congress. Many Christian leaders remain stunned, as I do, that we would hear not only two well-known saints of civil society lifted up, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., but two less-known ones, Catholic worker Dorothy Day and Trappist monk Thomas Merton.

In his soft but imploring voice – still uncomfortable with English – Pope Francis said many important things that needed to be said about immigration, the poor, and climate change, but he ended with this:

“A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”

Did Pope Francis “move mountains?”  We shall see.

I don’t know when your next trip to the mountains is scheduled, but until then, may we be inspired by mountains, not only as places for adventure and retreat and inspiration, but as visions of life lifted up, a place where the lion and the lamb shall dwell together, a vision of a more just and perfect society. “Come,” let us say, “Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.”

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