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Mountains Cry Out


This is the sermon I preached for the last Sunday of the Season of Creation: Mountain Sunday on 8/26/18 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was from Isaiah 65:17-25.
Ray and I are fans of science fiction. Many are familiar with is the apocalyptic style of science fiction. You know the type, death and destruction everywhere from a deadly disease or another kind of catastrophe. Humanity and the entire earth are on the verge of extinction. Only a few people remain and they must try to survive and eventually rebuild their broken world. That’s a negative type of apocalyptic story.

However, in Isaiah, we have apocalyptic literature full of joy and life. It is not about destruction, but rather about something altogether new that God is doing.

God had allowed destruction when God’s people were disobedient, exemplified in the people of Judah being exiled to Babylon for several generations. However, God brought them back from exile and promised not just a new Jerusalem, but a new heaven and earth as well!

Isaiah’s vision is huge. It’s cosmic in scope. But the “now” of the returnees from Babylon was anything but sweet. God's triumph was not self-evident to them. It was not clear that the faithful would be sated and blessed because it seemed like only the rebellious were filled and satisfied. 

Upon their return, the exiles had high expectations of what life would be like, fed by earlier prophecies in Isaiah (chapters 40-55). The realities failed to live up to their expectation.

Isaiah ups the ante in these verses. Essentially it is the promise of a new creation that envelopes the whole: a new heaven and a new earth (v. 17) which includes a peaceable kingdom, unlike anything that has been known since the Garden of Eden. The promise of peace between wild and domestic animals on God’s holy mountain echoes the earlier messianic promise in chapter eleven of the wolf living with the lamb and so on.

God calls the people to “be glad and rejoice forever…” (v. 12), a command because the verbs are in the imperative form. Gladness and rejoicing are the hallmarks of the new creation envisioned by Isaiah. The reason is that God is creating, and even that’s all about joy. God is creating Jerusalem as a joy and her people as a delight. 

God’s creating entails new heavens and a new earth, Jerusalem as a joy, God’s people as a delight. The form of the verb create in the first verse of this passage, suggests that creation is an on-going activity. God turns the profane world of the city into holy space, God’s territory. Every day God is recreating this cosmos: a world of harmony, prosperity and joy. 

This vision tells us that God’s new creation is not only for the people’s joy, but that God rejoices in it as well. “I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people” (v. 19). Have you ever thought of God laughing, delighting and rejoicing in you? 

Jerusalem is equated with God’s “holy mountain” (v. 25), explicitly connecting it with the temple. The focus is not on the city as the political capital, but its religious center.

As always, God is transforming and turning the world order upside down in his new creation.  At that time of high infant mortality and childhood disease, only about one in four live births made it to adulthood. Women were often left infertile or died from complications in childbirth (Carvalho). In the new creation, infant mortality is gone, long life will be the norm. If someone lives to less than a hundred, that will be unheard of. Of course, for those of us living on this side of Christ’s cross, there is the promise of the abundant life from the One who is the resurrection and the life.

Another aspect of such life that God creates is prayers being answered, but not in the way we would imagine. God says, “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear” (v. 24). It is like Paul says in Romans, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

This is a vision of true prosperity, which is not that of personal wealth, but one of It communal harmony. God’s blessings are seen when the poorest and most marginalized can live to a ripe old age

While at seminary in Gettysburg, we took the critters to the animal hospital in Emmitsburg, MD. In the waiting area was a huge banner-like picture with unlikely animal friends: the wolf and the lamb, oxen with long horns and children playing with them all. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it, no matter how many times I had seen it. It drew you in. The scene is called the Peaceful Kingdom. The new cosmic order in Isaiah reshapes the natural order.

As God’s people today, we know that all of these great promises in Isaiah’s vision are fulfilled in Christ, but even we don’t see the completed picture. We live in the now, but not yet of the kingdom of God. We get a glimpse and see some, but we will not experience it in its entirety until the end. 

We see this in the book of Revelation, echoing Isaiah’s scene, “[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4), just as Isaiah declared that the “former things shall not be remembered” (Isaiah 65:17). Those former things were the terror of the Babylonian invasion, destruction of the Jewish temple, the deportation of the Jewish leaders, perhaps the people’s own sinfulness (Isaiah 65:1-7). That’s all in the past and is to be forgotten. God’s new creation will be so spectacular that the Israelites will no longer remember “the former things” (v. 17).

In the new Jerusalem, there is no weeping or crying, because any potential cause for grief will be anticipated and answered before we can say it. The barrier of sin is overcome that prevented God’s previous response. If in our day we experience shortened life, grief, economic injustice and terror, then as believers we anticipate an unspeakable joy guaranteed by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (Bouzard). The reign of God is a party. 

Don’t we sometimes like to get away from it all to enjoy “mountaintop experiences?” God wants to do this for us. We might actually go to the mountains for our escape. In Isaiah, we have seen a grand narrative of faith, from creation to consummation. No matter how great our own “mountaintop experiences” may be, they are all swept up into the vision of God’s history with the whole creation, whose final stage is ushered in with the coming of Jesus Christ. 

“How might we embody God’s creative joy in our midst, as we live into the reality of new heavens and a new earth?” (Cardozo-Orlando). Perhaps this can be seen as we exercise our ability to be co-creators with God as stewards of God’s good creation. 

Whenever I have traveled to West Virginia, I have been amazed at the beauty of the mountains that appear suddenly, as soon as you cross the state line. However, industry has viewed nature and these mountains as simply “the means of production” and do not hesitate to move whole mountains in search of coal. 

And God weeps.

There is an old nursery rhyme that I bet you know. Maybe you can say it with me:

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king's horses and all the king's men 
Couldn't put Humpty together again.”
That is the way it is for the mountains of Appalachia that have experienced mountaintop removal mining. They are decapitated and cannot be restored to their former beauty, as you can see from the examples on the screen, despite what the owners of the coal companies try to tell us. 

More than a million acres have been scarred by decades of this type of mining. Over 500 mountains in one of the most diverse forests in America—the same kind of mountains that garner protection and preservation status in other regions—have now been eliminated from our maps (Jeff Biggers). Although a handful of sites have been sufficiently reclaimed, many are still wastelands, continuing to pollute waterways with acid mine drainage—moisture that seeps through the mines, picking up acidic contaminants along the way.

Do we wonder what all this means to us? After all, it’s not Chautauqua Lake that’s being polluted. We don’t have mountaintop mining here. If we think of creation like a web, it is all interconnected and we are part of that web of life. The bad results of such mining affect those who are our brothers and sisters in the faith, as Paul wrote, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). 

When the mountains are destroyed, people suffer from diseases at an exponentially higher rate because of proximity to mountaintop removal sites. This type of coal mining contributes to significantly higher rates of birth defects, cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases among individuals living in the region where it occurs.

“In 2014, researchers demonstrated that toxic dust from mountaintop removal promotes the growth of lung cancer cells in people living nearby. It is the first time a direct link has been established…thereby supporting the previous science that mountaintop removal is harmful to human health” (Appalachian Voices). West Virginia and Kentucky lead the nation in deaths per capita from cancer. Greater exposure to pollution from coal-mining activity increases the risk for cancer and other fatal diseases. 60,000 cases of cancer in Appalachia have been directly linked to mountaintop removal

Will you advocate for and celebrate the sacredness of the mountains without being caught up in an American cultural schizophrenia—on the one hand, to adore mountains at the expense of social justice elsewhere, or, on the other hand, to celebrate the progress of civilization at the expense of desecrating nature and mountains in particular? We must find a third way between these trends and it is a huge challenge.

There are organizations working to help the people of Appalachia such as The Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and others. They work along with local residents to turn such scarred landscapes into healthy, vibrant ecosystems. They are also attempting to transform abandoned mines into future sites of sustainable economic development.

We are not there and we may wonder what we in Chautauqua County can do to help the situation, to eventually prevent the practice of mountaintop removal mining. For one thing, we can be involved in media and online work that supports the goals of organizations working on behalf of God’s creation. We can stay informed no matter where we live. We can raise awareness about the impacts of this destructive activity. 

But don’t we need the coal for energy? As long as the high demand for energy persists, the coal companies will employ the most efficient and destructive means of extracting it from the mountains. 

If the demand for coal-fueled energy decreases, eventually that would impact the industry. On our part, we can be more energy efficient. There are many opportunities for energy efficiency. Individual and commercial consumers could reduce the annual amount of energy used by far more than the energy that’s produced in Appalachian coal fields, which is estimated at 5%-10% of coal produced annually. 

In our homes, we can take an energy audit of each room. Turn off lights when not in use. Up the temperature for air conditioners in the summer and lower the temperature on your thermostat when its cold. 

We can invest in renewable energy. Rather than worrying about where we will find more fossil fuels for energy needs, we should start investing in renewable energy alternatives. Energy efficiency and development of renewable energy would create new jobs in the energy sector. 

We are made in the image and likeness of God. God called all of creation good and calls us to be caregivers of this world. Let us not contribute to its destruction. God is making a new heaven and a new earth. May we use and not abuse God's gifts. Let us be co-creators with God! 

Sources

Appalachian Voices, appvoices.org

Jeff Biggers, quoted in thenation.com, 3/17/09 

Walter C. Bouzard, workingpreacher.org

Corrine Carvalho, workingpreacher.org

Carlos F. Cardozo-Orlandi, Kevin A. Wilson, Feasting On the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide

H. Paul Santmire, The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary

Carolyn J. Sharp, workingpreacher.org




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