The following service was streamed live via Zoom on September 26th at 10:30am.
The entire text for the service is printed below for home use by those who are not ready to return to public gatherings or who are otherwise not able to be at church on the day. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church.
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“Wonder is the basis of worship”
CALL TO CELEBRATION
We worship this Sunday with the mountains. We sing with the rocks and hills. We enjoy the wonders of the wild. We connect with the mystery of the mountains through majestic rocks that grace our sanctuary. We celebrate in the mountain of God.
L: We invite the mountains to worship with us:
R: mighty boulders and deep forests, sliding glaciers and swirling snow.
L: We invite the wild to join us in wonder:
R: gliding eagles and rock wallabies, mysterious moths and magic mushrooms.
L: We join with the mountain creatures in praising God:
L: We call the depths of the mountains to celebrate:
R: precious gems and sparkling stones, volcanic lava and rich red ore.
L: We enter the mountain of God today:
R: and we worship in God’s presence, a sacred place on our planet.
L: We celebrate the song of the mountain!
R: Sing! Mountain! Sing!
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
We remember the mountains where God chose to reveal a special presence, mount Sinai and mount Zion, a presence that also fills our planet.
Was there ever a moment in your life when you were on a mountain or hill and could see far into the distance. Have you ever has a sense that you were in God’s presence, that the mountain was the centre of the world, that you could sense the mystery of life?
Away from the busyness of life, and in the silence of this time, remember a mountain experience, and let us give thanks for it and the gift of one another!
(at least 30 seconds of silence)
L: We remember and confess that we have become alienated from Earth and viewed mountains as little more tourist spots, hills for mining uranium and riches, or a wild beast to be tamed.
R: We are sorry. We have polluted rivers with waste from mountain mines. We have turned the wonders of the wild into a commodity. We have killed creatures in the wild with chemicals. We are sorry. We are sorry.
L: We are sorry.
R: We are sorry. We are sorry.
R: Christ, teach us to love Earth as our home and mountains as gifts for wonder.
L: I speak for Christ: I invite you to come home to Earth. By rejoicing in our mountains, on which the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Shalom! Shalom! We are coming home!
GLORY TO GOD
L: Glory to God in the highest!
R: And on Earth peace with our kin in creation!
COLLECT FOR THE DAY
God, our Creator, as we descend from the mountains, we celebrate the wonders of the wild that surround us.Help us to see in the surrounding landscape the places where the planet has been polluted and to empathise with the groaning of creation beneath us.Teach us to recognise that the hills are alive with your Spirit and to rejoice with all our kin, especially the creatures of the wild. In the name of Christ who reconciles and renews all things in creation. Amen.
SCRIPTURE READINGS FOR MOUNTAIN SUNDAY
Old Testament: Isaiah 65:17-25 ‘Good News from a Holy Mountain’
The prophet dreams of Mount Zion being transformed into a ‘peace mountain’, an ecosystem where humans and animals live in harmony.
17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
and her people a joy.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people;
The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,
nor the voice of crying.
20 “No more shall an infant from there live but a few days,
Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days;
For the child shall die one hundred years old,
But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
For as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people,
And My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain,
nor bring forth children for trouble;
For they shall be the descendants of the blessed of the Lord,
And their offspring with them.
24 “It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer;
And while they are still speaking, I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
The lion shall eat straw like the ox,
And dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,”
says the Lord.
Psalms – Ps. 48.1-11 ‘Mount Zion, God’s holy mountain’
The Psalmist hails Mount Zion as the ‘city of God’ that rejoices in God’s presence.
1 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised
In the city of our God, in His holy mountain.
2 Beautiful in elevation,
The joy of the whole earth,
Is Mount Zion on the sides of the north,
The city of the great King.
3 God is in her palaces;
He is known as her refuge.
4 For behold, the kings assembled,
They passed by together.
5 They saw it, and so they marvelled;
They were troubled, they hastened away.
6 Fear took hold of them there,
And pain, as of a woman in birth pangs,
7 As when You break the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.
8 As we have heard, so we have seen
In the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God:
God will establish it forever.
9 We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness,
In the midst of Your temple.
10 According to Your name, O God,
So is Your praise to the ends of the earth;
Your right hand is full of righteousness.
11 Let Mount Zion rejoice; let the daughters of Judah be glad,
Because of Your judgments.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Rocky Mountain High”
You will all have heard the phrase, “mountain top experience.” Certainly the Bible is full of them. Moses met God in the burning bush on the mountain, Elijah heard the still small voice of God on a mountain, the disciples saw Jesus transfigured on a mountain. The experience of the mountain top has become the term for peak experiences of all sorts, regardless of altitude. Have you ever had the feeling in a mountain, far from the traffic and pollution of the cities, 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?
At least a good part of the joy of that comes from being on a mountain top is the view. One can see forever, or so it seems. The extension of our sight in space is indeed glorious, often awe inspiring, so it is not surprising that the mountain is also the place where our vision extends in time, also, into the previously unseen future. Frequently in the Bible, and often on mountains, 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.
One such period was when the people of God returned 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.
In that context, the people faced the harsh reality that life in their land would be difficult, the future would be uncertain, the land itself would be infertile and the God they knew would be less evident than the mighty one who had liberated them from Egypt.
This background also includes those people left behind in Judah who did not go into exile but seemed to be abandoned by their God. The prophet Ezekiel said that God left the land and went into exile with the exiled Israelites. Now the ‘returned’ exiles and abandoned ‘ones’ are facing a bleak future together.
When human beings dream about their world, what kinds of things tend to emerge? Does the land itself have a voice, or are our dreams only the wishful thinking of humans?
In our reading from Isaiah the opening lines 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, chapter 1. Creation continues in the present and the future. God did not create the world a long time ago and then retire. Here the prophet announces another of God’s continuing creations.
The expression ‘new heavens and new Earth’ could just as readily be translated ‘new skies and new land’. The prophet is talking about the physical world, not some distant dream world or spiritual world. The world envisaged by the prophet includes everyday houses, vineyards and vegetables gardens. The new creation envisaged is a transformation of this creation by removing the curses that plagued the people.
This transformed world will also include special blessings for human beings. None of them will die young; they will all live long and enjoy the labour of their hands. They will be blessed as will their descendants. The vision is not necessarily to be understood literally, but is a way of promising that God will not abandon his people but eventually bring peace and security?
As the last verse indicates (65.25) all of this transformation happens on ‘my holy mountain’. The holy mountain is the term used to describe the place where God dwells and, in this context, to identify Mount Zion in particular. The holy mountain is the sacred place where God chooses to be present in a special way, and result will be joy. Even the mountain will celebrate says the prophet.
The final image of peace in that mountain is similar to the scene we hear in the Advent reading of Isaiah 11.6-7 where ‘the wolf and the lamb’ live together. In both passages, wild creatures live at peace with weaker creatures. Lions and oxen are found eating straw. And the snake eats dust, not live animals.
The key point of the imagery is in the last line: ‘They shall not hurt or destroy in my holy mountain’ (Isa. 65.25). The world of God’s holy mountain will be transformed into one of peace between all creatures that once harmed each other. This mountain is ‘peace mountain’. Again, let’s not get bogged down with a literal interpretation that imagines that the nature of animals will change; rather that the animals here are metaphors for human parties that fight each other?
Psalm 48 offers a magnificent poetic image of Mount Zion, what we know as the location where God dwells in the Jerusalem temple. This is the location where all the world should assemble to praise God whose name extends to the ends of Earth. This is the central location where God’s wondrous love is to be found.
But the hill on which the temple was built is only that: a hill. The imagery used to portray Mount Zion, however, reveals an appreciation of Zion as more than a humble hill in Palestine. Mount Zion is called ‘his holy mountain’ which is ‘beautiful in elevation.’ As the symbol of God’s presence, Mount Zion is not merely a hill with a temple on it in Jerusalem. Mount Zion is a high point in creation that all peoples can see and admire.
Moreover, it is ‘the joy of all of Earth’. Zion is the centre of creation, the place from which God’s presence, power and love emanate. All of Earth, not only the peoples of Earth, rejoice in Zion, in the spiritual presence that vitalises creation.
Another image employed that seems to counter a tendency to identify Mount Zion with that mere hill in Palestine is the title ‘Mount Zion in the far North’. Geographically, of course, the Mt. Zion in Jerusalem was not in the North of Palestine, but in Judah, the southern Kingdom of Israel. In that part of the ancient Near East, it was common to believe that the mountain where God or the gods dwelt was a high mountain in the North. Here, the Psalmist claims that the traditional abode of God in the North is in fact Mount Zion.
Yes, Mount Zion, was and is a historical hill in Jerusalem. But it was named after the Mt. Zion of Hebrew mythology; the symbol of the renewing presence and compassionate love of God, which reaches from God at the centre of the universe into all corners of creation.
Is there something special about God’s presence in mountains for you? Given the meaning of Mount Zion here, perhaps it is appropriate for us to find that same sense of God’s presence in the You Yangs, for example, (slide) or in the Grampians or on Arthur’s Seat across the bay?
Of course, once you find God on the mountain, it is easier to recognise that same presence back on the plain, provided one stops to listen amid the noise of ads on TV, traffic, lawnmowers, chain saws and the like. We can revisit the mountain top in the quiet of our own bedrooms. More importantly, we can recapture the sense of God’s presence amid the tasks and choices of life, where its guidance is really needed.
You see, in order move beyond the distresses of life, beyond life’s trials, it first is necessary to have a vision, a dream. We must be able to climb the mountain and see the future that God wants for us, and the future we want for our children and grandchildren. We have to be able to look over the top of the seemingly intractable forces and immovable barriers that seem to stand in our way. When someone says, “No, your future is impractical or impossible,” we will be able to say, “You’re wrong, because we’ve seen it!”
We live in a world in which decisions are made by spiritually myopic leaders. We have been cursed by the presence of very small men in roles in which big men and women are needed. Bishop John Spong made reference to two examples a few years ago: President Bush and Pope Benedict: “pitifully small men with pitifully limited vision in positions which demand spiritual strong visionaries.” Imagine what he would say about the current president.
Are we in Australia any better off. We would be fools to believe the rubbish our politicians and business leaders try to feed us about the dangers of terrorism and the threats to the economy that stem from being moral. Why do we know better? Because, if we have followed the way of Jesus, we have been to the mountain, and God has shown us a world without war, a world where the environment does not suffer from human insecurity and greed, a world where no one is impoverished or hungry because all share the riches that God has bestowed. Once we have a vision, we can act accordingly to bring it about.
A CELEBRATION OF FAITH
R: our deaths are not the final word, our moments of crisis are part of eternal possibility, and our weakness is taken up into the courage of God.
L: As followers of Jesus of the Way,
R: our humanness is touched with divine life, our tears are mingled with longing love, and our solidarity with those who suffer is joined by divine presence.
L: In the Spirit of Creativity,
R: there are no boundaries on the dream, there is no end to hope, and we will never live beyond the cherishing of God.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Is this really the best possible world, Creator-God? Why are there devastating viruses and pernicious bacteria? Why are there so many natural disasters? Why do you put up with individual and corporate evil? Why do you tolerate the arrogance of the strong and the humiliation of the weak? Why do your permit abuse and war to rage across the planet?
Loving God, even as we ask these questions we know there will be no answer, except the one you have given in the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Help us to trust that declaration of your utter commitment to us, and to turn our questions into the effective practice of love for one another. May every “why” engender not frustration but a deeper sharing in your compassion for this world.
Wherever sin abounds, please let grace abound all the more.
Whenever people are despised and abused, let justice and mercy restore self respect.
Where little children weep, mothers and fathers lament, and even strong believers are tempted by despair, let comfort and hope proliferate.
While some fight demons of the mind, and others fight against diseases of the body, let all the powers and skills of healing be focused on those who need them most.
When the sinned-against folk are deeply bruised, and some brood on their anger and plot revenge, send the spirit of reconciliation among your people.
Redeeming Friend, enable each person in the many churches scattered among the nations, to tighten their faith, heighten their hope, and widen their love, to your honour and praise. Amen.
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name;
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us in the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory
are yours now and forever. Amen.
L: Christ calls you to be his disciples, to come down the mountain and serve him by caring for creation, especially the mountains where we celebrate God’s presence with our kin. Will you care for creation?
R: We will care for creation!
We will rejoice in the mountains.
We will celebrate God’s presence!