Wednesday, October 28, 2015

From the Mountain

Isaiah 65:17–25 and Psalm 48:1–11
Chatfield UMC
October 25, 2015
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Season of Creation Mountain Sunday

What is it like to stand on a mountain? To see over the valleys far in the distance?
We have a unique experience here in Bluff Country. We can drive our roads and have that experience of being at the top of the world, looking out over creation. I love the drive between Fountain and Lanesboro. 

At that one section of road you can look out over the valleys and see the farm fields laid out like a beautiful patchwork quilt.
I have been spending a few Thursdays this fall at Good Earth Village for conferences. The camp is situated on the top but not the topmost part of the bluff so you get a sense of being high up but also being able to look out over higher bluffs. Watching the colors change this year from month to month has been a balm to my soul.

Doesn’t it take your breath away? To take in the grand sweep of the land? We truly do live in a beautiful part of the world. And as beautiful as it is, I often wonder what it would have been like to come up over a hill and see vast expanses of the big woods spread out below.
It is said that a squirrel could travel from treetop to treetop, from here to New York without ever having to come to the earth when the big woods were still intact.

Have you ever had a sense when you were looking out across bluff country of the presence of God? That you could sense the mystery of life?
That you were in a wild world where everything was good, just as it should be, just as it was when God created the scene before you?

Frequently in the Bible, God’s prophets had visions of an ideal future, a world where the turmoil of war would cease, a world where the dreams of the past would be realised, a world where God would create peace and harmony throughout creation.

We have been exploring that period when the prophets had these visions through these weeks of the season of creation. We started with Genesis chapter one, with the writers setting down the words of creation in such a way that their hearers felt the comfort of order coming out of the chaos of captivity.
We have walked with the Israelites as they returned to their land from exile and found a land suffering from generations of foreign domination.  Over the years, the land had been abused and exploited by alien peoples. And the city of Zion, the mountain where their God once dwelled in splendour, was a shambles. The prophets reminded them over and over and over again that in the midst of the chaos God was there willing to help them restore order and peace and a sense of place. God says through the prophets: A shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse; I will not let this desolation become complete; still it won’t be the end of the world.
As I have watched Hurricane Patricia as it approaches Mexico. On the radar it is a frightening looking storm. While I shudder to think the damage the storm will do. I also know that UMCOR, we, will be there to help the people restore their land. Through our gifts to UMCOR people in pathways of destruction will find order coming out of the chaos because of the world of God’s people. This is how we become co-creators of God. Restoring order from chaos in the name of God’s work.

The dreams of the prophets are not wishful thinking. There is a return from chaos, land can be fertile again.

It is so easy to become so disheartened at the dire warnings. And become unable to think straight or do anything. As we have reflected in our Seasons of Creation we have to keep looking at all the good that is being done for our environment and planet in order to keep our focus on the creative process and not the chaos.

The people of God coming home from exile needed the same assurances. This is why I love the context of the bible so very much. The people about whom the book is written are living their lives in a relationship with God in very, very similar circumstances as we are.

As we say: The names may be different but the story is the same.

Chaos is created, either human made or naturally and God’s people struggle with faith and beliefs and truth and purpose.
The Word of God reminds us: God is in the business of creating order, hope and restoration out of chaos.

These are our stories.
The opening lines our passages from Isaiah speak of God ‘creating new heavens and a new Earth’.  First, we need to realise that the verb for ‘create’ is the same here as in Genesis One. Creation continues in the present and the future.  God did not create the world a long time ago and then retire.  And also that this is a new heaven and earth with actual cities, villages, mountains and bluff lands and great old forests. Not some far off distant place in eternity. The new creation imagined is a transformation of this creation by removing the curses that plagued the people.

I was with a young clergywoman at the Good Earth Village retreat who spoke so passionately about her love of the book of Isaiah. This is a woman who is going through some pretty catastrophic life changes. She told me on our walk together that she almost missed the fall leaves. But she was walking one day with her head down and smelled the unmistakable smell of fallen leaves being crushed by her boots. And she was able to remember. She was able to remember to pay attention to the creation that is continually being created even while she is in the midst of chaos. No wonder she loves Isaiah. It’s rich poetry and beautiful language which promises over and over again: God is about creating a new place of habitation, a new way of being.
No matter what destructive forces bear down upon us.
Besides the beauty of the bluffs and the wonderful conversation with colleagues, something else happened at the conference last week. I realized that the presenter knew someone from my past. Now, this is a part of my past that was destructive and chaotic. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to recover from the chaos. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be happy again.
Someone whom I respect even said to me: it is rare to recover from such a loss.

But as Brian, the speaker, and I shared about our past experiences and he said to me: aren’t you glad to be rid of these negative influences in your life: I could say with truth and joy, “yes” God brought me out on the other side and created something new.
God restored to me my name, my identity, my passion and my ability to love again.
And brought me here to you where we have been able to create some wonderfully new things.
A ministry of Food that brings health and wellness to the people and especially the children in town who live in hidden poverty.
A place where those with abundance can share with those who have less.
A ministry of caring for the elderly and providing medical equipment to any who need it.
(This medical equipment loan is not just for the elderly. The woman who was in the car accident on Sept 1 is using some of the equipment from our loan closet.)
A community VBS that reaches many, many children and gives them a connection with the faith community.
A ministry of caring for one another through hospitality at funerals and sewing of quilts, bundles of love, and banners.
As we live on God’s holy mountain and see before us all that is being created in God’s holy name, can we envision a new heaven and a new earth?
Can we share with one another the ways God has used us for a creative purpose? Can we share with our own hearts the way God has brought us into a place of wholeness and healing out of our own chaos?
Can we testify to our own beliefs that because God has done new things among us that God will do new things in the land.
That God’s holy mountain, where the whole earth is filled with the glory of God and where no one will hurt or destroy, can be a reality in our lives.
If this seems too utopian, can we at least share with each other those places where we see God creating new places in our lives.

Notice those places where God asks us to pay attention, even it is just walking shuffling through the leaves.

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