In my younger days I enjoyed mountain climbing. For a few years on every Monday holiday a group of us would get together and climb a mountain in New Hampshire. I was always the last one up the trail, and these were relatively easy trails requiring no special equipment. It didn’t matter how much I was in shape, I lost my breath quickly and tired easily. On the other hand, I always made it to the top. The views were always, always worth the effort. The beauty of Creation in full panoramic view that only God could design. Those mountain climbing days were good days.
Today I often find myself climbing more metaphoric mountains that are no less tiring. The vision God gave to Isaiah of a holy mountain filled with peace and justice rises in my imagination. It rises higher every time someone grasps their own privilege and sees the ways in which white supremacy are woven through society. Wolves get closer to lambs whenever someone begins to understand the need for gender inclusive pronouns, bathrooms, communities, and more. Those moments of awakening and justice-seeking that widen the doors of our churches make it more likely that the lion and the ox will share a feeding trough. Every act of loving kindness heightens God’s holy mountain, and increases the possibility that we might begin to climb it.
Last week I participated in the ordination of women who has physical disabilities and is open about her mental health challenges. This week the congregation where I am a pastor will celebrate gender diversity in worship. If you had told me thirty years ago that this would be happening in the denomination I serve, I would not have believed nor had I the courage to imagine. Not then. Yet now, is another story altogether.
Some days the changes are easy and the possibilities for a vital future seem endless. Other days, all this change leaves me breathless. I sometimes find myself lamenting the church as I experienced it in days gone by. I miss the formality of worship, the familiar, predictable structure of what will happen on Sunday mornings. Somedays I even miss the larger numbers of people who gathered together. But reality often knocks me right out of my nostalgic recollections into gratitude.
I am grateful that the days of universally practiced exclusion are over. Women can be ordained in at least the Mainline traditions, as can LGBTQ+ folx. Conversations and practices are forming around intentional inclusion of people who have physical disabilities and, also, those who have mental health challenges. This church with its gender inclusive restrooms and wheelchair access is worth giving up a few things that cause occasional laments. A church that literally means what its “All are Welcome” sign suggests is a church that is much closer to living on God’s holy mountain.
If we keep climbing this path of inclusion and welcome that God set before us long ago, we will have moments of exhaustion and breathlessness. Some of us will fall behind the group just as some of us will lead. The important thing is that we keep moving; the view from the top of this particular mountain promises to be spectacular beyond our imagining. Let’s keep envisioning church as the place where love, kindness, and peace are found. Let’s keep working for the day when hatred, war, and violence are a thing of the past. Won’t it be great when we all live on God’s holy mountain and all eat together and rest together without fear…
RCL – Year C – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – November 17, 2019
Isaiah 65:17-25 with Isaiah 12 or
Malachi 4:1-2a with Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13