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Archive for September, 2012

From the Mountain

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and it’s people as a delight.”  Isaiah 65:17-18 (NRSV)

Isaiah’s proclamation from God is that God is creating new heavens, new earth, a new Jerusalem.  What does that mean?  The Hebrew people have been in exile, taken away from their homeland of Israel.  Those who longed for their homeland and for Jerusalem where they believed God resided became homesick, feeling that God had abandoned them.  They had been separated from loved ones and brought to another country to be enslaved or intermingled with the population of that country (depending on which country was holding them captive).

God’s promise was that they would be renewed, restored, and transformed.  Their anguish at being taken away from their homeland would turn to joy and delight as they would return home and all nations would look up to them.  Jerusalem would also be restored, and people would once again look up to Jerusalem (sometimes called Zion).  In the midst of the wilderness, Jerusalem is on a hill, so all roads lead upward to get to the Holy City.  The reuniting of the people with their homeland was a promise and a gift from God, in spite of the ways in which the Hebrew people had turned away from God and stopped following in God’s ways.  The promise of renewal and restoration gave them another chance, another opportunity to set the relationship with their Creator right.

The mountain top reminds us of the presence of God.  In the Bible, it is often where the significant encounters with the divine happen, such as Moses receiving the ten commandments, Jesus being transfigured, and Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  Today, we speak of a significant spiritual awakening or experience as a “mountaintop” experience.  We need the mountaintop encounters with God in order to live in the valleys and plains of life.  We have both mountaintop and valleys, and we recognize the wonderful things of life because we have walked through the valleys and lived on places where things seem at times to level out.

For example, one of my most powerful mountaintop experiences (I’ve been blessed to have many) was being in the land of Israel on a tour designed for pastors.  At first I was disappointed that so many churches had been built on the traditional sites of the life of Jesus, but eventually I began to absorb the idea that I was walking where Jesus walked (our tour guide said that we “ran” where Jesus walked because the tour was crammed into seven days instead of ten).  My most moving experience there may have been at the west wall of the Temple when I crammed a little wad of paper that contained the deepest prayer of my heart into a little hole in the wall.  There was a strong connection with my spiritual ancestors as well as the presence of God.  The women were over in one place, the men in another, and we were not allowed to speak out of respect for others who were there to pray.

I can’t say that the experience necessarily change my life, but it touched my heart and reminded me that we don’t have to travel to Jerusalem to be moved by prayers to our God.  God hears our prayers no matter where we are.  A mountaintop experience reminds us of the great love and abiding presence of God in our lives and God’s promises to “make all things new.”  God can take the worst circumstances and bring something new or transformed out of them.  At the time we are going through them, it may not seem that way, but like the Hebrew people in exile, we can trust God’s promise to bring renewal and help us “come home” to God.  We can trust God’s promise to point us in the right direction and find blessings even when things haven’t gone so well.

May we trust God’s promises and may we have mountaintop experiences so we can make it through the valleys.  Amen.

The Sky’s the Limit!

God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.  Madame Day holds classes every morning; Professor Night lectures each evening.  Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, but their silence fills the earth, unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.”  Psalm 19:1-3 (Message)

“The sky is the limit” is an old saying meaning that whatever we want will be given to us in abundance.  It’s interesting that the sky can determine how we feel.  If it’s cloudy and raining, many people are dragging around and feeling down (I can relate to that).  When we have sunny skies, most folks feel cheerful and lighter (that hits home, as well).  Most of don’t think about the scientific explanations of dust and electronic particles that make the color of the sky blue or the atmospheric conditions that create clouds of all colors, sizes, shapes, and forms.  We take the sky and what it brings us for granted.

The Psalmist brings a new idea to us about the sky, though.  As Peterson translated or paraphrased it:  “unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.”  What does the sky reveal to us, not necessarily through science but through the spiritual connection we have with our Creator?  What are the unspoken truths about God that we can find in the sky?

I wonder if variety is one truth.  Think about the myriad of what happens in the skies above us.  Blue sky – often in varying colors, sunrise and sunset (usually with different hues), the rainbow (a reminder of God’s promises to us), light fluffy clouds, darker more ominous clouds that signal a storm, high thin clouds, or many types of clouds in one place.  Anyone who has been through a hurricane knows that the sky often seems yellow before the storm hits.  Of course, there are the winds that accompany the changes, and somehow these go together with the condition of the sky overhead.

In ancient days, the sky was symbolic of God.  The Biblical folks would look to the sky for some sign of God’s presence with them.  When the former Israelite slaves wandered in the wilderness, they were led by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.  Light and dark were considered equally important, and one was not better than the other.  Today, we often demonize the dark, and see the light as the “better” quality, but there isn’t anything that tells us such a thing.

I wonder if the truth we find in the sky with its varying shades of color, with the accompanying wind, and with the changes brought by light and dark tell us about God’s always consistent ability to be part of every aspect of our lives:  in good and bad, dark and light, calm and storm, despair and hope.  The sky can reveal a lot to us, and it is a precious part of our lives.  We would do well to find ways to care for it, since it has a lot to say about whether or not we will survive.  If the dome of the sky burns away, we will disappear because we can’t bear the heat of the sun.

If our God goes away, we will be nothing and have no hope.  Fortunately, God in Jesus Christ has promised that we will never be left alone and that we can count on God to be with us no matter what happens in our lives.  As stewards of God’s earth, we would do well to care for the dome overhead and trust that God will help us to find ways to be better stewards now and in the future.  Have a blessed week.

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