I'm not much of a world traveler. I have been to Vienna and Switzerland though. I was on a trip with our high school orchestra. Back then, 35 mm cameras were pretty spiffy. Back then we used actual film. Back then, the main rule in our house was, “Don't touch Dad's stuff!” But for this trip, he let me take his new Nikon 35mm camera! What's the first thing to get stolen or damaged on a major trip – a camera. So I had it in its own special bag, separate lens, wrapped in something or other maybe a towel. There we were, a bunch of 17 and 18 year olds on a couple of busses tooling along some major, super fast road, and all of a sudden there were these mountains! I mean MOUNTAINS! It felt like the bus might tip over because everyone from one side of the bus rushed over to the side where the mountains were in view! Click click click went everyone's instant cameras! These were the Alps! One thing the Midwest is, is flat, so this was the first time I saw anything like a big hill, or a mountain, but these were beyond my imagination. They were huge, they were bright white covered in snow, and they went on and on. It was so beautiful. Everyone had about 20 pictures before I ever got the camera out of its “safe” place covered in soft towels or something, and assembled the lens sure to take the lens cap off, adjusted the F-stop, tried to focus, forward the film after each shot. Fumbling my way. When I got home I had two rolls (of film, silly) of what could have been the same shot because they all looked the same! So. Many. Mountains.
Those of you who do travel and have seen landscapes like this can picture it. Anyone who climbs will know of the awe of life from that perspective. Yes, we did go to the top in a ski-lift the size of a bus, and like any normal 17 year old does in the snow, we had a snowball fight.
Having a snow ball fight on such holy ground! That trip was probably the first time I had the feeling that I was doing something pretty amazing, and I knew I needed take in all of the experiences as fully as I could.
It makes perfect sense that in the Bible, mountains are places where God and humans meet. Mountains are places of religious transformation. I think even the snowball fight was part of a religious experience for me, although I wouldn't have used that language then.
Although mountains are present throughout scripture given the landscape of the place, the full phrase, “on this mountain” is only present four times in the Hebrew Scriptures, the old testament. Once in Deuteronomy and the other three are here in our few verses from Isaiah for today.
There are four chapters in Isaiah that are referred to as the Isaiah Apocalypse. Chapters 24-27. In order to get the full effect of this reading from Isaiah 25, let me read a portion of Isaiah 24.
Now the Lord is about to lay waste the earth and make it desolate,
and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.
And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest;
as with the slave, so with his master;
as with the maid, so with her mistress;
as with the buyer, so with the seller;
as with the lender, so with the borrower;
as with the creditor, so with the debtor.
The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled;
for the Lord has spoken this word.
The earth dries up and withers,
the world languishes and withers;
the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth lies polluted
under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
violated the statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the earth,
and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled,
and few people are left.
The wine dries up,
the vine languishes,
all the merry-hearted sigh.
The mirth of the timbrels is stilled,
the noise of the jubilant has ceased,
the mirth of the lyre is stilled.
No longer do they drink wine with singing;
strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.
The city of chaos is broken down,
every house is shut up so that no one can enter.
There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine;
all joy has reached its eventide;
the gladness of the earth is banished.
Desolation is left in the city,
the gates are battered into ruins.
For thus it shall be on the earth
and among the nations,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is ended.
Terror, and the pit, and the snare
are upon you, O inhabitant of the earth!
Whoever flees at the sound of the terror
shall fall into the pit;
and whoever climbs out of the pit
shall be caught in the snare.
For the windows of heaven are opened,
and the foundations of the earth tremble.
The earth is utterly broken,
the earth is torn asunder,
the earth is violently shaken.
The earth staggers like a drunkard,
it sways like a hut;
its transgression lies heavy upon it,
and it falls, and will not rise again.
On that day the Lord will punish
the host of heaven in heaven,
and on earth the kings of the earth.
Then the moon will be abashed,
and the sun ashamed;
You can see why the word apocalypse comes to mind. Everything will be destroyed, punished, even the sun will be ashamed. Remember back a few weeks when we experienced that orange sky, that only got darker not brighter as the sun was not even thinking about shining through. Everyone said it looked apocalyptic. Given everything else in 2020, that was kind of funny not funny. There have been locusts; genocide; fires; starvation; wars; and now even a pandemic. Our country in particular is bursting with divisiveness and hate, some say for the last four years, but it didn't start there. It was simmering. What is a good person to do?
It is into this darkness that Isaiah 25 begins to tell us that God will act. God will give life and God will destroy.
On this mountain, God will bring life sustenance – a feast, with not just rich food, but rich food with marrow, the best part of the meat; not just well-aged wines, but strained clear. God will provide better than enough.
On this mountain, God will destroy any shroud that is cast over us, and sheet that is spread over all nations, and God will swallow up death forever.
What shroud is over us as individuals or in our particular communities right now? Distrust? Exhaustion? Anger? Illness, self-destruction, hopelessness, fear? A shroud is anything that keeps you from your life in your relationship with God. What keeps you from God? From hope? From love? Whatever it is for us individually, we can be sure that God will destroy that shroud.
What is the sheet that is over all nations? Greed? Ambition? Isolation instead of partnership? Fear? Discontent? God will destroy that sheet too.
God will even swallow up death itself.
“Then the Lord God will wipe way the tears from all faces.” What image comes to mind when you think of wiping away tears? A loving adult sweetly wiping the tear of a child, or a loved one, with tenderness? Or maybe a child wiping their own tears away, alone, in defiance? Children who suffer without food, suffer at the hands of those in their own household, suffer from the relentlessness of poverty; trafficking; perhaps many of the 545 children that the US lost when they were separated from their parents at the border. Just think about those parents who would give anything to be able to wipe the tear of their child. Shameful.
“…and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”
“For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.”
It is important to remember that what is most important to us as individuals is not necessarily the same priority for someone else. There is always a life behind every face that we see, that we know nothing about. God will destroy the shroud that is cast over them too.
In two days we face an election. In the midst of a pandemic. In the midst of a world where life and death circumstances are happening for people every day, that have nothing to do with our election. This feels like a giant moment, and yet insignificant to those who suffer at the most basic level. I wonder how God will be part of our future? What will we pray for? Isaiah tells us that on this mountain, God will act. This is the Lord for whom we have waited. How will we use our abilities, our privilege, our voices to be a part of what God is doing next? As far as voting, what if we go to the polls, imagining that you are going to this mountain? We can participate as citizens, feeling as if we can be a part of the apocalypse or part of the better future God has in store for us.
Whatever our particular stance, Tuesday will be a pivotal moment for us. Will enough people be able to vote? Will we get results uncontested? What will fill people's hearts after the results are in? I invite us to remember all of the promises from Isaiah in today's scripture as we go through these next few days and weeks. This is the Lord for whom we have waited, and his promises are true.
Let us pray…
"On This Mountain"
Reverend Debra McGuire
November 1, 2020