September 26, 2021 Mountain Sunday: The Call of Creation to the Compassion of the Creator, by Pastor David
Mark 9:38-50 John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
42 "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 5 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. 49 "For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Imagine yourself on the top of a mountain, looking out over a beautiful valley of autumn colored trees as far as you can see. Take a moment now to hold that Earth and the beauty of all of life in your heart in praise and thanksgiving.
September 26, 2021 Mountain Sunday:
The Call of Creation to the Compassion of the Creator
Mountains can be holy places for real, can’t they? I’ve walked up mountains, often with my brother her - because he likes to climb mountains - and the view, the air, the fact that you can see and smell and feel the earth around you - somehow it makes it feel like a sacred place. One can have a sense of God’s presence. Sometimes in my meditations, like the one this morning, I remember going to a place like that just to help me connect with the divine in the present moment. I want us to think a little bit this morning about what God’s sacred places are like - particularly in relation to mountains.
As I was thinking about mountains this week, I recalled playing King of the Mountain. Mostly of us have probably played that game at some time - especially the guys. King of the Mountain. It doesn’t matter how big the mountain it is - It can be a hill. It can be couch. It can be, as it was for me this summer - a raft in a lake.
I watched two young guys in the lake -who were brothers, one younger and smaller than the other (much smaller than the guys in this picture). They were playing on a large blue piece of foam that floated easily in the lake like a raft. The bigger one says the smaller, “Let’s play king of the mountain.” The little one knows what this means. It means he’s going to get tossed off the raft, and he says so. “OK,” he says, I’ll play. I know you’re going to win.” But he was game. King of the mountain is fun - sort of, even if you fall.
The young guy went to it. He stayed low, and scrambled into his brother. He pushed his hardest. His brother moved, a little. That was a small victory for him. He didn’t make it easy. But a few seconds later, the younger brother went over the side. So, I swam to the the raft and climbed up and I said, “Can I play?” The bigger brother looked at me - twice again as big as him, just as he was with his younger brother. He kind of gulped, like he was thinking what his little brother had been thinking, and said “OK,” King of the mountain is fun- sort of, even if you fall.
I got his younger brother back up on the raft too and encouraged them to work together. I held my own for a while. I gave it a good go. I didn’t let it look easy. I stayed low and pushed back. And after a while, I let them push me off into the water - with an appropriate yelp and dismay at losing, king of mountain.
The disciples, in our passage for this morning, are playing king of the mountain. They want exclusive access to Jesus and the holy mountain he represents. They say to Jesus “ We saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” Not following us - we’re the kings. We get to say who’s in and who’s out, right? Jesus is not about being king, despite what we say about him.
He says, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”
Now Jesus is not playing though. The next set of things he says are shocking. Clearly he means them to be shocking. "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” He goes on to talk about cutting off a hand,, or foot or even an eye, if they are a “stumbling block” Stumbling block in Greek has a same root as for our word “scandal.” Jesus is challenging the disciples to do whatever it takes not to cause harm or scandal.
Progressive pastors like to use this passage against people who take the Bible literally. We say, ‘are you going to literally cut off your arm or your leg?” And Bible believers say rightly, “no, that’s not what that means.” You see, progressive folks get caught in trying to play king of mountain as much as anybody - to try to prove I’m better than you.
Jesus was challenging that tendency in his disciples and in us, to want to claim exclusive rights to the high ground. That’s the way we do - we buy houses on a hill and call them exclusive property. We claim exclusive rights, put a gate around and call it a gated community. We are figuring out how to do it in fact with our whole country. We don’t want to risk letting Haitians into our country, or other immigrants, even when they are desperate and in trouble. We have to find ways a people of faith to find a balance between needing to have some boundaries and needing to have a heart.
Jesus challenges us to have a heart - to be as compassionate as the One who really owns the mountain, The Living God who created the earth and all that’s in it. Moses went up the mountain to commune with that God. Elijah went up the mountain to listen to that still small voice. Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount - enjoining people of God to love their enemies and learn compassion, to care for the creation and all of us created ones.
I invite you today to think about one place in your life where you where you have been playing king of the mountain where you could let someone else win for a change, one place where can open a gate to your particular mountain, - to the protected mountain of your heart. Who might you open to and allow a little closer? God’s mountain invites and includes all God people. God’s mountain is not an exclusive resort or a gated community. God’s voice from the mountain calls for all us to live in peace with one another. This is God’s good news.
Responsive Song: The Earth is the Lord’s (Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise)
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette