The first week of advent on the church calendar, so Happy New Year to all my brothers and sisters in Christ! Not exactly an advent message today, but maybe a little talk of mountain climbing…
“The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
Isaiah 2:1-5 ESV
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…”
Hebrews 12:22 ESV
What Isaiah anticipates, the writer of Hebrews announces as gospel, that in Christ we have come to the mountain of god. The great mountain that is the mountain of god. Jesus claims the first ascent, he has led the way, fixed the ropes, established the route, that we might enter into the experience of the living God.
But we still have to climb it.
Mountains are very prominent in bible It’s amazing how many important episodes occur on mountains. There is Noah on Mt. Ararat, Abraham on Mt. Moriah. We have Moses on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. We see Deborah and Barak on Mt. Tabor, Elisha with his sword on Mt. Carmel.
Much of Jesus’ ministry also occurs on mountains. In His story alone we have the mount of temptation, the mountain of transfiguration (also Tabor), the Mount of Beatitudes, the Mount of Olives, the Mount of Ascension. The Bible is seemingly overflowing with mountains.
Mountains in the Bible sometimes represent God Himself, as is very often in the psalms – “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore.” Psalms 125:2 ESV.
Oftentimes climbing mountain is a picture of entering into a deep experience of god. Think of Moses on Sinai, or Elijah on Mt. Horeb being restored as a prophet.
Most ancient cultures have held certain mountains to be sacred. The Greeks had Mt. Olympus, Japan had Mt. Fuji, Mt. Kanchenjunga in Nepal (3rd highest peak in the world), Mt Vesuvius, Long’s Peak (known as “Nesotaieux” to the Native American’s long before we ever got here). Yes, these and many other peaks have been worshipped by people as sacred for thousands of years. Ancient people could not help but stand in awe and wonder at the majesty of these mountains. But if worshipping the creation instead of the creator is a sin (and it is), then so is the secular idea that nothing is sacred. Because, for example, if it’s idolatry to worship a mountain as God, it’s also idolatrous to destroy a mountain through mountain top removal mining for the idol of greed. Let that one sink in for a minute…
Sometimes when we are in or near the mountains, we just want to stay on the lower slopes. We don’t really want to climb them, we are just as happy to admire them from the comfort and safety of the valley below.
But sometimes, we want to climb that mountain. Sometimes, we feel driven to go higher, to get above the clouds. I feel that way about God. I am still relatively new in Christ (I believe), still in many ways very immature in my faith. But I do not want to stay on the lower slopes of the mountain of God. I am not satisfied with simply telling you that Christ died for my sins, I said a sinners prayer and got baptized and now I’m going to heaven when I die. I don’t know how to express this, but that just feels kind of empty. Of course I want to go to heaven and not hell when I die (whatever that really means), but is that really all there is? Is the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ, his life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension, his suffering, his teaching, “love your enemies” and the golden rule, all this is just about being “in” or “out”? Pardon me for being so bold to say, I think we are missing something.
So I want to climb that mountain. I want to go above the tree line, get past “in” or “out” theology. I want to go higher on the mountain than just knowing that Jesus died for my sins (as beautiful as that truly is). I want to climb higher on the mountain, get closer to what the apostle John saw when he so daringly told us, not once but twice, that “God is Love!” And I say to all who are reading this, “come with me”. Let’s begin to climb this mountain, the mountain of God, together.
You can do it. It won’t be easy, but you can do it. But you can’t do it alone. Novice mountain climbers who want to go it alone can get lost, go astray, and even perish, even in the mountain of a God.
Mountains, if you approach them from different directions, or different perspectives, can give you many different pictures. Long’s Peak in the Rocky Mountains can appear to be a completely different mountain depending on the direction you approach it from, or even the season you are seeing it in. Again, God is like this. Depending on our perspective (and I’m only talking about Christian perspectives here), we can come to God from different perspectives and different places, and see God, differently.
We can get into trouble if we approach the mountain of God, think that the perspective we have is all there is to see, then declare to the world that “I’ve found God, and God is ____” If we do this, and become convinced that our perspective of God is all there is to see, we can become fundamentalist in our views. Fundamentalism is the belief that one perspective of God (our perspective) is all there is to see of God. But just as some of our great mountains are for too vast to take in from one perspective, so God is far too vast to see and comprehend from just one vantage point.
Now, God is not everything we make him up to be. He has definition. When I’m talking about God, I’m talking about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I’m talking about the God of Israel. The God and father of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, the true and loving God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
But we many different perspectives of our God, do we not? We have the Orthodox perspective, Catholic perspective, Anglican, Protestant, Evangelical, Charismatic, And Pentecostal perspectives. Each one of them can be fundamentalist. If a Catholic says “Our perspective of God is the only one that’s valid and if you see God from a different angle the you’re a heretic!”, that’s Catholic fundamentalism, and we must rise above that. It doesn’t matter if it’s Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Baptist, Anglican, we can all go the fundamentalist route. We must rise above that and learn to be contemplative.
Our great mountains are so big and so vast that we cannot see all of them from one perspective. So if we see a mountain like Long’s Peak in Colorado or Mt Fuji in Japan or Mt Rainer in Washington, but come at the The from the north side over and over again, but then come to them from the south instead, we might feel we are seeing a totally different mountain. If we don’t know it’s the same mountain before we see it, we can be completely fooled and not recognize it at all. It doesn’t mean it’s a different mountain, just that we’ve come to it from a different direction this time. We could be fundamentalist about the mountain – “If you don’t see the diamond face on Long’s Peak then it’s not Long’s Peak!” Yes, Long’s Peak has a diamond face if you look at it from the east, but from the West you don’t see it at all. It’s still Long’s Peak, just a different vantage point.
Though we can only see one vantage point at a time, we can go all around the mountain and learn all the different vantage points and get a fuller picture and understanding of the mountain. In the same way, we can learn to be contemplative as we approach the mountain of God, as we respectfully engage with other traditions who over the centuries have learned this angle, Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Southern Baptist. We can learn other traditions views of the living God, and get a much clearer, better, more true vision of the nature of God.
So this advent season, as we anticipate the coming of God, let’s understand God is coming. But while we may see his coming in many different ways, it doesn’t mean one is right (mine) and all the rest are wrong. But maybe, just maybe, if we can respectfully engage and contemplate another’s point of view, we might get a fuller picture of the God we love. We have our guides (which we need) on the mountain, maybe this advent season (and beyond) we can open up to another perspective and come to see a different trail, and climb just a little bit higher on the mountain of God.