The Hills Are Alive!
It was just about eight years ago, back in 2013, that our church, Douglas UCC, established a search-and-call committee. And their job -- the purpose of that group -- was to search for a new pastor for this church. And the five people who were on that committee back then, Bud Baty, Bill Klatt, Barb Lucier, Jeff Spangler, and Marilyn Fox, did so much work in preparing for all of the interviews they did for potential candidates for this pastor’s position.
I know before they interviewed me, they really did their homework on me. And so they Googled my name, and they listened to sermons I had given at other churches in the area over the years. And during the interview, they said they were really impressed by what they heard. But they mentioned that there was one sermon that really concerned them. And it was the one in which I said that rocks were alive.
And I know, that's a really weird thing to say. But the sermon that I was giving at that church was for Palm Sunday. And if you know the Palm Sunday story, Jesus is coming down a mountain, on a donkey into Jerusalem. And the people are so excited to see him that they're making so much noise. And so the Pharisees, the religious authorities of Jesus's day, they tell Jesus to keep the people quiet. And Jesus says to them, “If they be silent, these stones will shout,” He is pointing to the mountains, saying that the mountains would shout, if the people were quiet, Jesus was saying that the mountain was alive.
And I know that's a weird thing for us. Because we do think of rocks as being inanimate objects. You know, the rest of God's creation, we seem to say that they're filled with God's spirit. We say human beings have spirits and souls. We think our animals, our pets, have spirits and souls. And many of us think that our plants have spirits. That's why research says that you should talk to your plants, that it helps them grow.
But when we think about rocks, we don't really think about them that way. But think about it. Who made the rocks? Who made the mountains? Did man create the mountains? No, they are part of God's creation, which means that they too, are infused with God's DNA with God-stuff. That is why many people today from various faith traditions, pray and meditate with rocks, they hold rocks, or agate stones or crystals in their hand as they pray. And in recent years, we know that stone massages have become really popular and that the stones are said to have healing energy.
Now, our indigenous ancestors understood this. They believe that the Earth on which we are standing is alive. And they believe that that the mountains and the hills are sacred and holy.
So today, we are celebrating the mountains. And I want to thank Barb Schipper from our Creation Justice Team for those wonderful words and that beautiful image that I have in my mind of those mountains. But you know, in our E-Pistle, our weekly church newsletter this week, I shared a quote from John Muir, the famous environmentalist, the founder of the Sierra Club. Muir was known as John of the Mountains. And the quote I shared, he said, “I'd rather be in the mountains, thinking about God than in a church, thinking about mountains.”
And of course, that's what we're doing this morning. We're in a church thinking about mountains. But there's another quote that I shared from the writer Aldous Huxley, who said, “My father said that a walk in the mountains is as equivalent as worshiping in church.” So I think what both John Muir and Huxley were trying to get at was that God's presence and power is felt in the mountains.
And I know that firsthand. You all gave me the gift of a sabbatical last year. And I shared how I spent one month alone, up in the mountains of Idyllwild California, at a place called Spirit Mountain. And I really strongly felt the Spirit while I was on that mountaintop. And then of course, some of you came with me back in 2016 when I led 20 of you to New Mexico, and we went on this kind of perilous journey up a mountain on this one winding road. We got to a place called “Christ in the Desert Monastery.” And there, the chapel had huge floor-to-ceiling windows. Not stained glass windows, but clear windows, looking out at those beautiful red rock formations there in New Mexico. When you sat in that chapel and prayed and meditated, you weren't staring at a cross or stained glass windows, you were staring at those beautiful red rock mountains. And boy, you really felt God's presence and power in those mountains.
Now, we heard in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning that throughout the Bible we see God appearing to people in the mountains, whether that be Noah, or Elijah, or Moses or Jesus. If you've been with us the past few Sundays, we've been talking about how the ancient people believed that God lived up in the sky. So it would make sense, they would think if I got to the top of a mountain, that's the closest I can get to where God is.
And we heard in our first reading from Exodus, that famous story of Moses and the burning bush. Moses had to go to the top of the mountain, and there he experienced God's presence and light in the burning bush. And here's God's voice.
And then we hear something very similar in the New Testament. Jesus also goes up to the mountain. And there again, we see the Light, and we hear the voice of God. So what does that mean for us? I mean, does that mean that if we want to hear God's voice, and we want to feel God's presence, do we have to literally go up to a mountaintop? Do we have to go to Idlewild or Colorado or someplace?
Well, I've shared with you before, that the stories in the Bible are really not meant to be understood at just a literal understanding. We're supposed to read them symbolically or spiritually, and I love how Barb talked about the mountaintop experience being something metaphorical that happens within us, because that's what the biblical stories are trying to get us to do. They're trying to get us to ascend, arise from our lower self, to our higher self. All of us have a lower self and a higher self. The lower self is concerned about worldly, earthly things, and it kind of dwells in worry and fear.
But in prayer and meditation, we can ascend the mountain, we can begin to see things from a higher perspective, from a higher consciousness. It's why Psalm 121:1 says, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains, from whence comes my help.”
When we go to prayer and meditation with our earthly concerns and worries, we can lift up our eyes, close our physical eyes, lift up our spiritual eyes to the mountain, so that we can begin to see people and situations from a higher place, a higher perspective, to see things the way God sees them.
Now Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, who was a Christian minister, he famously said, “I have been to the mountaintop. So which mountain did he climb? Well, again, he was talking spiritually, metaphorically. He said, “God called me to the mountain and I have been to the mountaintop, I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land.”
During prayer and meditation, Dr. King caught a vision of the Promised Land of what our worlds could look like. A place of equality and peace and oneness. And my friends, you can glimpse that very same thing. In prayer and meditation, you can ascend the mountain, I mean, yes, you can physically climb a mountain if you want. Or, you know, we have here in Saugatuck, Mount baldhead. It's 303 steps that you can climb. And of course, when you get to the top and have this incredible view of God's creation, you will feel God's presence there. But in prayer and meditation, we close our eyes and we ascend so that we can get a glimpse of vision of what our life could be, of what our what our worlds can be.
So I invite you to spend time this week, each and every day. ascending the mountain. I'd like to conclude my homily with the words from the prophet Isaiah chapter 2, verse 3, he said, “Come, my friends, let us go up the mountain, where God can teach us to walk more fully in God's path. Come, let us go up to the mountain of God.”
Reverend Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
by Patricia Izzo
In the English language, we have the expression “mountain-top experience.” This expression has originated from the Bible because of the dealings God had with people on various mountain tops. In the Bible, mountains often had a significant role in God’s dealings with people. So the phrase “mountain-top experience” has come to mean a moment of transcendence or epiphany; and, in particular, an experience of significant revelation given by God. It was on the Mountains of Ararat that Noah’s ark came to rest after the flood, and God made a covenant with Noah there. On Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. On Mount Horeb, God met Elijah in a “still small voice” and “gentle whisper.” Jesus taught his disciples on the Mount of Olives. Later, he was transfigured on a mountain, where Moses and Elijah (who both had their own mountain-top experiences) were seen talking with Jesus on that mountain. And, we must not forget Mount Zion – the place where King David built his city, later called Jerusalem. So mountains are symbolic of God's revelation to us. God gives the “mountain-top experience” in order to sustain us as we go down into the valley. This revelation is always intended to help us journey more closely with God on the road ahead. Let us “lift up our eyes unto the mountains” (Psalm 121) where God is still speaking.
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