God is Here (and so are we)
Episode 17 – October 28, 2018
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AN EVENT THAT MAY BE OF INTEREST TO LISTENERS:
Shownotes – Mountain Sunday in the Season of Creation
Notes on the East Gwillimbury-Whitchurch Stouffville election for English Public School Board trustee:
When Xenophobia Wins an Election – October 23rd
Living Presence Ministry
No Time to Get Distracted – October 27th
Living Presence Ministry
Agency – “Senses of Insecurity”
Jessica Allossery – “Landslide”
(written by Stevie Nicks)
Reading No. 1
“Reading” No. 2
“Long Before the Night” by Carolyn McDade
(sung by Bri-anne)
[This reflection was originally offered as a sermon to Queensville Holland Landing United Church in East Gwillimbury, Ontario on September 23, 2018. They were celebrating Moutain Sunday within the season of Creation. Its format is slightly different than my regular reflections as its original audience was people who are part of a church congregation. It also draws on work by Rev. Doug Norris of Rosedale United Church in Toronto.]
I grew up about two hours north of Toronto, near a small village called Coldwater. Coldwater is about 20 minutes West of Orillia, or 20 minutes north of Barrie.
But for listeners who are from Central and Ontario, and are skiers, you may have a clearer understanding of where I lived if I tell you I grew up with a view of Mount St. Louis from my bedroom window. My family’s farm was in the valley, along the Coldwater River. Now my school…my school was in Moonstone…way at the top of the escarpment. In nice weather, I would ride the four kilometres to school, uphill…and it was literally four kilometres uphill the entire way. It took about 30 minutes, but man…it felt like an accomplishment! When I pulled into the school driveway, all sweaty and gross, I felt like Rocky Balboa, in one of the greatest montages of cinematic history, when he’s training to fight Russian boxer Drago and skips out on the KGB to run up A MOUNTAIN! This is also the movie where Rocky single-handedly ended the Cold War, but that’s a topic for another episode.
So it took 30 minutes to get to school…but only 10 minutes to get home. No peddling. Trying to stay under the speed limit. Being careful how ya brake in case you went flying over the handlebars.
For the first 16 years of my life, that escarpment was the closest I had ever been to a mountain. And then I went to live in Germany for a few months, in the town of Heidelberg…a wine region in the middle of a mountain range. These were real mountains, and they were stunning. They were an older mountain range though, and much of them were covered in vineyards. We’d take day trips and leisurely hikes to the top. We’d look out and see the Neckar River and die Alte Brucke – the old Bridge. These were not insurmountable mountains.
Now my husband, Jason, grew up in rural Saskatchewan, just south of Saskatoon. This area of the world is about as far away from mountains as you can get without living in a quarry. So, after Jason finished university, he did what many good Prairie kids did at the time and set out for Alberta. Jason lived for eight years in Canmore – smack in the middle of the Rockies. About 9 years ago, shortly after we started dating, Jason took me to visit friends in Canmore. I will never forget approaching those mountains, as they seemed to grow on the horizon. They grew and grew until…well, we were in them. They were all around, and I felt so tiny. There is a humility that comes from standing alongside something so majestic, so beautiful. It took my breath away. There is a Psalm in the Hebrew Scriptures which sings, Be Still and Know that I am God. Be still and know indeed. I remember looking up towards the sky and thinking to myself, “Oh yes…God is here.” I love nature, and often feel God in the earth and the trees more easily than in a sanctuary. Grizzly bears and wolves. Elk. Eagles. Spruce trees. Wilderness at its Canadiana best. God is here.
Mountains hold a special place in scripture. Mount Ararat, where Noah lands his ark after the flood. Moses receives the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai. The Transfiguration of Jesus happens on a mountain. There is a significance to the characters finding themselves at the precipice of their narratives while on the literal precipice of a mountain peak.
In our reading today, we are meeting Jesus and the 11 remaining disciples almost immediately after the resurrection. Now, this passage is pretty much the ending to the entire book of Mark, but it wasn’t intended to be. Mark was the first gospel to be written, about 40 years after Jesus’ death. He’s also the only Gospel writer who maybe, possibly, had even met Jesus as a boy. The scholarly consensus is that the section of Mark’s gospel which we read today was added later because the way Mark left his version of events was just wholly unsatisfying. Listen to this original ending:
“Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you. So the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Amen.”
Wait, what? That’s it!? It’s like Star Wars ending with Vader throwing the Emperor into the reactor chute. Or Harry Potter ending in the Forbidden Forest after Voldemort hurls the killing curse. If a hero falls in the forest, and nobody is around to carry on the work, have they made a sound?
Decades after Mark finished his Gospel, somebody else wrote a bit about Mary Magdalene finding the tomb empty and nobody believing her. Two more come across Jesus on a road, and nobody believes them. Then we come to our reading from today, and Jesus is super annoyed that the disciples haven’t believed what they had heard about Jesus. At least the writer got the tone right – Mark’s Jesus spends an awful lot of time being annoyed. But still, he has instructions.
“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole of creation.”
The other synoptic Gospels – Matthew and Luke – have their own version of this Great Commissioning. In fact, in Matthew, the instruction to “go and make disciples” happens on a mountain. It is the disciples’ precipice. This is dangerous work! They have already witnessed what it means to go out and proclaim good news to the oppressed, and hope to the broken. And yet – that is what they are called to do, what we are called to do, and where we are called to be. Called out into the wilderness. God is here.
Wilderness. Just as there is much talk of mountains in the scripture, there is also much talk of wilderness. But we’re not talking the Canadian kitsch version of wilderness from Roots clothing commercials here. This is not like the romanticized version of Canadian wilderness – moose and buffalo plaid vests with hipster beards and fuzzy toques. Rocky Mountains. Jesus didn’t spend 40 days in the wilderness, trekking around with a canoe and an MEC backpack.
A better word for the wilderness of the scriptures might be wildness. It’s where life is not tamed by the norms of civility. Where the unknown abounds. Where hunger is felt not only in the stomach but also in the heart. Where the mountains to be conquered are of faith and of spirit. God can live in the doubt. God is here too.
And this is where Jesus chooses to be. Jesus is always in the wildness. “Go out and proclaim the good news to the people who need to hear it most. Who need to be shown it most. Feed them. Love them, with an aching love that never ceases.
Rev. Doug Norris is the minister at my home congregation, Rosedale United Church. He once said something to me which I found very profound, and I share it with you now.
There is really only one story in the Bible.
Now, this may seem like a shock. I mean, there are rather a lot of pages in the Bible, but humour me just for a second – there is really only one story in the Bible. It is a story in four parts, and it goes like this:
We are so gloriously alive.
We are so weepingly lost.
And yet, an aching love rolls on…refuses not to go on…
And again, we are so gloriously alive.
We will hear about this aching love – a second reading of sorts – a little bit later.
Long before a chain was forged from the hillside
Long before a voice uttered freedom’s cry
As we wrap our healing arms to hold what her arms held
This ancient love, this aching love rolls on.
And the reason it moves on…we are not the only ones moving it along. The chain may be forged from the mountain, but we can use that chain to climb it and shout from the precipice –
God is here.
We are here.
Come with us.
Let’s climb this mountain together.
The Living Presence Ministry is a community ministry of the United Church of Canada