Worship Service, August 30, 2020 “The Magnificent Miracle on God’s Holy Mountain”
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The message for August 30, 2020 by Pastor Erik,
“The Magnificent Miracle on God’s Holy Mountain”
can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service on Sunday.
In July, our family rented a cabin in June Lake, California, just north of Mammoth. On our last day there, my son and I went for a hike in the mountains near where we were staying. It was a steep trail and it didn’t take us long to see amazing views of Silver lake. As we went higher, we could see even further. Before we turned around, we stopped at a point where we could see Gull Lake, June Lake, and out towards the mountains beyond highway 395 in the direction of Nevada.
There is something about being on a mountain that broadens our perspective. Looking out across miles and miles I was reminded that as we move about our days we often get so caught up with things just right where we are that we forget the bigger picture. We can forget the greater vision that God has in store for us.
Perhaps this is why mountains play such an important role in Scripture. It is up on the mountain that God’s leaders and prophets are often jolted out of despair and doubt with a renewed encounter with God. It is up on the mountain that they often receive guidance and a fresh reminder of the bigger picture they are a part of. They receive a fresh look at God’s vision leading towards a better future.
This summer we have been looking at some of the many stories about mountains in the Bible. We end our series on what might be called an imaginary mountain. It is a vision of the prophet Isaiah in which he sees the mountain of the Lord’s house. This could be referring to the temple in Jerusalem which would connect it to a real place. But then Isaiah goes on to say how this mountain will be established as the highest of the mountains which would put it above even Mount Everest. So, in this regard it is an image that Isaiah is using to capture the imagination of his listeners. It is an image of something that has not yet become a reality. It is a vision of what God intends for the future—a vision of the direction in which God wants to move the world.
What does this vision look like? Isaiah says that all the nations will stream towards this mountain. It is an image of diverse people coming together in unity.
The prophet continues to describe how on the mountain of the Lord they shall beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. They shall not learn war any more. Instruments of destruction become tools for growing food. Something that brings death is turned into something that brings life. Later on Isaiah paints a picture where the wolf shall lie down with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with kid.
The cow and the bear are grazing together, and a little child is leading them. Enemies in the animal kingdom become friends, including with a child. It is a vision of peace and harmony within the living things of our planet including humans. Isaiah continues and says, “They will not hurt or destroy on all God’s holy mountain. (Isaiah 11:9)
Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? It sounds like a nice dream or fantasy, but the cynical side of us might think it could never really happen. This is the problem sometimes with visions or vision statements. They can almost sound too idealistic. They can feel like something unattainable, so we don’t even try to get there. This is not the purpose of such a vision, however, especially one that comes from God. Isaiah is not just trying to appease the people with a false impression of something they could never really access. Rather he is giving them a glimpse of God’s destination of grace and peace so that they will be encouraged to keep climbing towards the Holy Mountain. We need those glimpses of grace if we are to see an alternative beyond the difficulties of the day. We need to be inspired by a hope for a better future so that we can begin to build a better world in the present.
At the same time we needed to be reminded of the destination, however, we also need to know the path of how to get there. This last couple of weeks both the Republican and Democratic parties held their national conventions. During the speeches and videos the candidates and their supporters tried to cast a vision for the country’s future. They attempt to get people to vote for them by describing where the country could go and how things could be. But while people want to be inspired and moved by our leader presentations, they also want to know the plan. They want to know about the policies and procedures a president would enact to help the country get where it wants to be. People need the vision, but they also need to see the steps of how they might begin to live into that vision.
Jesus knew this. So when he walked the earth, he not only talked about the coming kingdom of God and what that would look like, he actually showed people how to live into that vision through his words and actions. He interacted with people considered outcast in order to show them they were a part of the family of God. He cured people of illness to show that God wanted them to be healed. He spoke to people considered sinners to show that God wanted them to know they could be forgiven. He performed miracles to demonstrate a glimpse of how God intended things to be.
One of those miracles occurred on the second mountain in our readings today. Jesus is near the Sea of Galilee when a large crowd begins to follow him. The text says Jesus then went up a mountain with his disciples. In other versions of this story we get a specific number of people in the crowd which is why it is sometimes called the feeding of the 5,000. In any case, Jesus asks Philip where they will find food for the people and the only food Philip seems to find are a few loaves and a couple of fish from a young boy. That is all Jesus needs, however, and after he blesses the food, everyone has enough to eat and there are actually leftovers.
This is a wonderful miracle, isn’t it? It shows us a powerful vision of how God provides. It shows a vision of how God intends for there to be enough for everyone. But could that vision actually become a reality? Was the feeding of the 5,000 just a one-time event that happened a long time ago when Jesus simply showed off his magical powers?
I heard an interpretation of this story from a friend in college that helped me see the feeding miracle in a new light. Maybe some of you have heard it too. In this interpretation the miracle occurs not just with Jesus blessing the bread and magically multiplying it. It also occurs because the young boy sets off a chain reaction of sharing. When the people see Jesus blessing the fact that this young boy was willing to share the food he had, they too become inspired to share and because everyone ends up sharing even though they only had a little, soon everyone has enough.
Some people might not like this interpretation because it might seem like it takes away from the magical powers of Jesus—or because it takes away from the miraculous nature of the event. I believe it could have simply been a miracle only Jesus did, but I also believe that Jesus may have wanted his followers and those in the crowd to participate in the miracle. The Bible is very clear that Jesus did not perform miracles just to show off or prove he had magical powers. He performed miracles to help and heal people and to show signs of what the kingdom of God would look like. He performed miracles so that people might see that things didn’t always have to be the way they had always been. He presented a vision like Isaiah so that people might be called to a new way of life.
In the Gospel of John it actually says that Jesus asked Philip about where to buy food for the people because he was testing Philip. He was challenging Philip to see if there could be enough resources for everyone. It was like he wanted to see if Philip could have faith that somehow God might provide. In Mark’s version of the story the disciples actually want to send the crowd away to go get food, but Jesus tells them, “You get them something to eat.” It seems that Jesus wants them to participate in the miracle by engaging with the crowd—by seeing what food is available. He is inviting them to be a part of the blessing that he is going to provide. That’s when they find the boy.
Remember how Isaiah said that a little child will lead them? Here we have a little child leading the way from selfishness to sharing. A little boy willing to share his loaves and fish, and Jesus blesses that sharing. A crowd of people who may have been afraid to share their resources because they weren’t sure there would be enough are moved from fear to faith from a sense of scarcity to abundance. That kind of transformation is miraculous.
We need this kind of transformation if we are going to face the difficulties of our day. We need the vision from Isaiah of God’s holy mountain and the invitation of how to get there that Jesus extends on the mountain in Galilee. When wildfires continue to rage in northern California and a hurricane batters the gulf coast, people need to see the vision of hope that homes and businesses can be built again and forests can have new growth. But people also need support from others to get through the day in order to see the steps in the re-building process. When a young black man and young protesters are shot in Wisconsin, people need a vision of how broken relationships can be reconciled and how resources can be shared so that all communities have what they need. But people also need the courage to turn from fear to trust so that conversations can occur that can transform attitudes.
We are called today not to lose sight of God’s holy mountain. We are invited to participate in the miracles that God is making happen. We are called to keep moving towards a destination of peace and healing, knowing that Christ has made a way and is walking beside us to get there.
-Pastor Erik Goehner
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