Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Pilgrim members, Karin and Craig Veatch, are not here today, but I have their permission to talk about them. They are celebrating their sixteenth wedding anniversary this weekend in the State of Oregon, but probably not in any way that most of us might expect.
Karin and Craig are two of twelve relay team members in “Hood to Coast,” which bills itself as the largest relay in the world, with 12,600 participants and 3,600 volunteers. Karin and Craig’s team is one of 1,050 which are entered this year.
“Hood to Coast” may also be one of the longest relays in the world, starting at legendary Mount Hood and going all the way to the Pacific Coast at Seaside, Oregon – a distance of 199 miles. Karin and Craig will each run three of thirty-six legs of the relay, with each leg varying in length from 3 ½ to 8 miles.
In many ways we humans are a lot alike – and in many ways we are very different. I have no worry at all that my wife will suggest that we enter the “Hood to Coast” relay next year!
But that comment may stimulate some thought about the appeal of such an event, and I think, at least for native Oregonians, a relay between two of that state’s most prominent features, its long, beautiful coastline and its highest mountain, if you were a runner, of course, might be an intriguing and enticing thought.
And, in truth, mountains, especially, have been intriguing and enticing to people throughout human history. Mountains, with their lofty grandeur, have represented the best of natural beauty and long before us American naturalists like Henry David Thoreau and John Muir extolled the wonders and majesty of mountains.
In fact, it was John Muir who once observed, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
Within the histories of peoples and cultures, mountains have even been seen as symbols of the presence of the divine – and this would be the case in our First Reading from Isaiah.
This prophetic vision is a beautiful account of new heavens and a new earth where the past things will be forgotten and will be no more. The dark days of Jerusalem’s destruction and God’s people being hauled off in chains and into forced exile are history. The cries of distress and the sounds of weeping will be gone.
This is an idyllic scene of God’s redemptive power issuing forth in a new creation where even animals with natural, inborn enmity will eat together in peace: the wolf and the lamb; the lion and the ox. The prophet Isaiah, as God’s spokesman, says this will all play out “on all my holy mountain” (Isaiah 65:25).
And this brings another John Muir quote to mind, though it’s more general in content, rather than fully spiritual – but still relevant: “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
Who wouldn’t want cares to drop away like that? And just as the mountains of our natural environment can have a soothing and calming, healthy and healing effect upon us, so, too, can entering into God’s holy presence, as we do in worship.
For people in Old Testament times, that meant climbing up Mount Zion and there pondering the “steadfast love” of God “in the midst of [the] temple,” just as our Psalm today suggests (Psalm 48:9).
But when you think of a “mountain-top experience,” do you really envision worshipping God in a temple as our Psalm today suggests?
My guess is that may have been the first inclination of at least some of our Biblical ancestors. Many of them were very attached to the temple on Mount Zion. But I would guess that today far more of us would think of a “mountain-top experience” as some spiritual and perhaps even mystical encounter with God in nature, in the beauty of creation.
But my real hope is that we all will understand that our God is too big to be confined to any one realm. God can and does indeed speak to us on the mountain, and in the beauty of creation. And God can and does indeed speak to us in worship, in God’s house, through Word and Sacrament, in prayer and praise, in song and sermon alike.
You may have noticed that neither our Second Reading from Romans, nor our Gospel from Mark, have any direct “mountain references,” though both texts are quite relevant, as they do speak of creation.
How powerful is God’s love for us? -- So powerful that nothing “in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). That’s the Apostle Paul’s striking proclamation in our Second Reading from Romans.
And Jesus’ command in our Gospel, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation,” is likely not a literal admonition to share the good news of God with birds and animals, with sky and mountain.
No, it’s likely not that at all, but it is a way of saying that God’s sending of Jesus was and is a part of the overall plan for the transformation of the whole creation.
This is a way of saying that Jesus, and his cross and resurrection, are of cosmic significance; that they are of enduring and everlasting consequence. What Jesus did was for everybody, for all time; what Jesus did was for you, right now. Amen.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus forever. Amen.
The two quotes in this sermon from John Muir (1838-1914), Scottish-born American naturalist, are from www.goodreads.com.