Rev. Andrew Cunnington
5th March 2014
Climb Every Mountain (Ash Wednesday)

“Climb every mountain! Ford every stream! Follow every rainbow! Till you find your dream!

Although I quite like “The Sound of Music”, that is not my favourite song, I’m more of a lonely goat sort of person myself, or at a pinch, sixteen going on seventeen. But it cuts to the heart of what I would like to share now.

If you know the seafront a Littlehampton going back years, there was a place there called Smarts Amusements and on the roof of the building was the dreaded “Wild Mouse”, a noisy, rusting clanking switchback ride, which would certainly fail health and safety today.

I worked nearby and the highlight of every Friday was that we would go on it in our lunch hour. I only did it to impress the girls in the office, truth be told, I hated every minute of it. From the moment you set off you were never on the flat. It was like going up and down a series of mountaintops with no break at the summit to admire the view. Stomach churning. Head spinning. Just when you thought it was over off you went clattering up the rails for one more terrible ascent and then down you would crash all the way down again at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour.

I was glad to leave the Wild Mouse behind when I entered the church, little realising that I was simply replacing one switchback ride for another.

For the Christian life is never lived on the flat, there are always mountains to climb, twists and turns to surprise you and challenge you. But the great thing to keep in mind, is that where it all leads is simply glory.

I think Jesus’ disciples were hoodwinked! He called them to follow him by the shores of the Sea Of Galilee. They laid down their nets beside a flat beautiful lake and followed him mesmerised into the towns and villages nearby, captivated by his stories and miracles. They did not know they would be climbing one mountain after another for the next three years.

Similarly for us, the Christian way may have initially attracted us by its beauty and peace and the love of the saviour. With the knowledge that with Jesus as our strength and guide we would never be tested beyond our means, only to find the reality of tough mountain climbing discipleship was as much our way as it was for Peter, James and John and the rest.

Jesus warns us in our Gospel reading about parading our piety before others, and it is a salutary warning, but if your piety is based on the way Jesus showed his disciples, you will find it a gritty pathway, and you will look to the world both weather beaten and windswept.

“Climb every mountain! Ford every stream! Follow every rainbow! Till you find your dream!

I want to quickly pinpoint four important mountain climbs in the life of Jesus and suggest that we have to follow him up those craggy paths, if we are to be true disciples, and I want to show how those mountains are reflected in the shape of our Communion liturgy here.

Before he has even met his disciples, immediately after his baptism, Jesus is driven out by the spirit into the mount of temptation. There, he is assailed by the devil, who does all he can to prevent Jesus from being the person he was meant to be. Our temptation is similar I think. It’s not about too much chocolate or red wine, it is about those insistences within us that we don’t add up to much, that we can’t possibly be a real part of the Body of Christ, because of our shortcomings. It’s about looking up at the wild mouse and deciding to settle for the fruit machines instead.

In our liturgy, we have our time of confession, when we bring the wrestling of these thoughts and feelings into a single common prayer, and just as for Jesus at the end of the forty days, angels ministered to him, so with the absolutions and the Gloria we literally sing the angels song, of freedom and healing.

The second mountain follows hot on the heels of this first one. Jesus call his disciples and leads them up to the Mount of the Beatitudes, where he teaches them everything. It is wonderful teaching. It is like poetry to their ears, and ours, but it is a teaching that we can only aspire to.

It is like the top of a mountain we will never reach this side of heaven, but whose pathway we must continually ascend, sometimes joyfully, sometimes painstakingly. Jesus’ teaching is wonderful because it meets us where we long to be ,merciful, peacemakers, not judging anyone, loving our enemies, but like a path without good footholds, we slide back on the scree and stones through our daily living.

In our liturgy we have the ministry of the word, when we hear this teaching again and apply it to the mountain range upon which we currently find ourselves. It inspires us to keep going. It challenges us.

The third mountain is where we were on Sunday. Jesus takes three of his friends to the top of the Mount of the Transfiguration, and there he shines with glory and there, for a brief moment, they find themselves caught up in that glory too.

Peter James and John, at one with Moses and Elijah and our Lord, and although all singing, all dancing mobile phones had not been invented, they have the same instinct as those who always have their phones out recording things, rather than live in the moment, they want to capture the moment, and they cannot.

In our liturgy we have the ministry of the sacrament, where we receive into ourselves his spiritual presence in bread and wine. We think of the cross and see it as the moment of our transfiguration. Where the love of God steps down into our most painful place and redeems us there and it is the moment of Transfiguration for us, when his sacrifice turns itself into love for us, when his giving becomes our nourishment. At this altar, this mountaintop, we bathe in his light and take it into ourselves.

The fourth mountain is the Mount of the Ascension, where Jesus, risen from the dead, calls his disciples to him and shares his authority with them and he promises to be with them for ever. Some of them wonder, some of them doubt, because how could the likes of fishermen and tax collectors become a part of something like this, and then he sends them out.

In our liturgy, we have the blessing and dismissal and this mirrors our sending out from this church to be as those disciples were, to live and work to his praise and glory. To address tasks that would be impossible for us, were he not with us.

Climb every mountain! Ford every stream! Follow every rainbow! Till you find your dream.

We are never on the flat you and I. We are always climbing or descending. That is what is exciting and daunting about being a follower of Jesus, and the mountain range I’ve described is the way to our redemption.

MATTHEW 4:8 5:1 6:1-6 17:1 28:17