Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
January 30, 2005
The Gospel: Matthew 5: 1-12
Sermon: "We are Called to Be mountain People"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Matthew 5: 1-12
We are Called to Be mountain People
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany - January 30, 2005
In November I was at an afternoon Eucharist at The Summit. Bishop Curry was there and he was preaching on the a text from Isaiah. He shared with the people gathered that mountains held great significance in scripture. He stated that one of the significant ways mountains were viewed was as obstacles. Valleys were also seen somewhat as obstacles as well. The passage from Isaiah stated that with the coming of the Messiah the mountains would be laid low, the valleys lifted up and the pathways made straight. In other words, the coming of the Messiah meant the way would be easier.
When I heard him speaking of mountains in this manner I could relate to what he was saying. I have been to Colorado twice. Both times I was in awe of the size of the mountains. They were beautiful. They had snow at the higher elevations. Some of them had beautiful evergreens and others had wonderful forests of aspen. Yet, others were stark, gray stone, with very little vegetation. These mountains appeared ominous and somewhat foreboding. They looked to be difficult if not impossible to climb or traverse. I even had one very scary moment on one of the mountains near where I was staying. My friend and I had gone out walking. It was cold and there was snow on the ground. After we had been out about an hour it started to snow again. As the snow became heavier we got lost on the top of a ridge. Finally, we came to the end of the ridge and we saw a road at the bottom. To get down to the road we had to go down the side of the mountain. As we started down the side which was very steep, we hit ice beneath a thin layer of snow. Before we knew what was happening we were sliding down the face of the cliff and gaining speed. I grabbed at every tree that went by and I finally managed to grab one and stop my descent. My buddy slid past me and finally caught a small tree about ten feet farther down. It was a very scary time for both of us. I remember going back to the cabin very humbled by the experience. Yes, mountains do have the connotation of being obstacles in our lives and in the scriptures.
However, mountains have another connotation in scripture. They are holy places. At times, they are places where the veil between heaven and earth is very thin. God's presence is found on the mountains in scripture in powerful ways. Jesus is transfigured on a mountain. Moses sees the promised land from the top of a mountain as he speaks to God. Moses leads the people to the mountain of God from slavery in Egypt. Mountains are indeed considered holy at these times.
As I thought about the mountains being these wonderful thin places, I was struck by a difference in our understanding of holy places as I read the gospel for today. This difference is brought about by the action of God and not by our own doing. To see the difference I want to take us back to the Moses and the Exodus. Moses is told to be the messenger of God to pharaoh in order that God's people would be freed from slavery. The people are indeed freed and travel through the desert. They are brought at God's command to the foot of the holy mountain in Sinai. When they reach the mountain Moses goes up alone. He is given instructions concerning purification of the people. He learns the people of Israel are to be God's people. God says he will come down on the mountain so the people will know Moses' words are true. God also tells Moses to inform the people that they are to stay off the mountain. They can not even touch the edge of it according to Exodus 19. If they do they will surely die. Later Moses will go up the mountain and be allowed to take Aaron with him. God will give him the Ten Commandments. I know we all remember the writing of the Ten Commandments according to Cecil B. Demille.
Notice that the people, the people whom God rescues are not allowed on the mountain. God does not have a complex. God is not shy. God knows the only reason they would come up on the mountain is to satisfy their own curiosity. They would try and see God. But no one can see the face of God and live.
Yet, today, in Matthew's Gospel, something different and miraculous happens. Jesus has been traveling through Galilee. He has been teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God. He has been curing diseases and illness. He has cured paralytics, demoniacs, and epileptics. Crowds of people are following him. The crowds of people are following him just as the crowds followed Moses. Jesus goes up the mountain. This time the people follow. There is no command for the people to stop. When Jesus sits down his disciples gather in close to him. The people are all around him. They are with God, in the presence of God, seated with God Incarnate, on the mountain. The veil between heaven and earth is indeed very thin at this time.
We can see how thin the veil is by what Jesus begins to teach. With Moses the people were given ten commandments for living. Jesus confers blessings upon the people. God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, blesses the people who are seated with him. Each blessing begins in the present and moves into the future. Jesus says "blessed are..." meaning the people are blessed at this time. Then he says "for they will." which confers the blessing into the future. Jesus blesses the entire community of God. The blessings will be given freely to all who believe in him, trust in him, and follow him. Furthermore, the blessing is not given to a single individual as their own personal blessing. The blessings are for the entire community. In each community of Christ there are people who exhibit meekness, who work for peace, and minister to people in mercy and love. It is also true that many of us exhibit several of these qualities at different times in our lives. When we visit someone in the hospital we are exhibiting mercy. When we stand up for those who are hurting we are working for justice. When we cry out for those in trials, and tribulations and suffer in war we are the peacemakers. The entire community gathered has all of the blessings conferred on them by Jesus Christ. Any true community of Jesus exhibits these blessings amongst its members, both giving and receiving.
The bottom line is that we are a mountain people. We are called to sit with Christ God Incarnate. We are blessed by God, and then we are to share the blessing with others. We share the blessing with others as we live into the characteristics of the community of God; meekness, thirsting for righteousness, being merciful, living with a pure heart, working for peace, and standing up for the Gospel. We do all of these things because we are responding to the God who first loved us. We are responding to God who invited us to come and sit on the mountain. AMEN.