Rev. Andrew Cunnington
26th February 2017
Mountains are for Climbing and Not Carrying

The little village is set high in the mountains. If you climb up through its picturesque streets, a most wonderful view opens out before you.

You cannot drive through these streets. They are too steep. Too narrow. Too cobbled.

You have to climb up on foot and as you wind your way ever upwards you pass under narrow archways leading to small marbled terraces from which you can catch your breath and simply marvel at the view below.

Flowers grow round ancient stone doorways and there are little squares where neighbours might gather to pass the time of day. This is old Italy at its best.

But there is an eerie silence all around you as you climb because this village is completely deserted. The houses are empty and some are boarded up. Windows are smashed and doors have been removed. There are piles of rubble inside.

An earthquake struck here thirty years ago and the population fled from the mountainside down into the valley and although all has now been made safe, the people have never returned.

The mountainside village has become a ghost town. People rarely climb up through these streets.

Mountains are made for climbing. They are not made for carrying said some wise spiritual thinker.

Yet in many ways we have turned beauty into a burden.

I came home to a mountain of paperwork, we might say!

Crystal Palace have a mountain to climb if they are going to escape relegation from the Premier League.

And yet if we are to make anything of our faith we have to climb together so that we can see the broadest, widest vision of God’s love and then start applying it to our lives and the way we see others.

Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim, that was the organ piece that greeted my arrival in the pulpit just now and this sums up my theme, for it is in the raising up of Christ to the highest point, to the widest panorama, that we get the most beautiful perspective of his love. We are transfigured, not from some whim but from the hard reality of what his cross has come to mean to us.

It’s easy to score cheap points at the expense of President Trump. But don’t you find it embarrassing when he uses the faith as we hold dear as the basis upon which to make pronouncements we find alien.

For his is a tight, restricted view of faith where texts are twisted and turned to fit in with a political ideology.

In this day and age we have to muster the courage to climb the mountain to let God’s big picture of love take shape before us. We have to stand up and say why it is we see things differently.

People are kind when they say they love our church because everyone is welcome here, and I ask myself why that really is.

Is it that we have a loose anything goes approach to our faith. That we are far too liberal with our approach to the love of God. That where we should guard it more securely amidst regulations and expectations, we let it go far too easily.

I hope so. For the more I go on with this sort of life, the more I see it is the only way. If there are boundaries to place around one person being acceptable and another rejected, well I will let God do that judging, all I can do is proclaim his generous love, and for myself I have yet to discover where that generosity ends. I simply cannot draw circles of exclusion round people. And it is because of this, I can take no other stance than to take issue with the House of Bishop’s report at the recent synod.

Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim, let all the world adore his sacred name. This is what we should be working towards.

We climb the mountain and let God’s big picture of love take shape before us. We have to stand up and say why it is we see things differently. The cross rooted and planted at the highest point possible. Encompassing all.

Just yesterday I met two newcomers to our parish who have been in the UK for one month. Today is their second wedding anniversary. Their lives are rooted in the Hindu faith and they approached me to see if I would say prayers with them and bless their marriage. I asked them all sorts of questions to begin with, underlining that I can only offer a ministry from a Christian perspective.

They in turn told me they felt anxious about approaching a church as they might be deemed to have fallen short, but it was our website that gave them the feeling that they would be safe to approach us. I realised that they were further up the mountain than I was myself and that their notion of God was of a wider panorama than mine. We talked further and between the two services this morning I was delighted to bless them and pray with them.

This morning our Gospel reading takes us on a mountain trek and it was a lonely exhausting climb for Peter, James and John in the company of Jesus. And at the summit they saw the most spectacular view. Not just the beauty of that mountain, not just the countryside stretching for miles below them, but the view of Jesus transfigured and held between the twin images of Moses and Elijah. A view of Jesus that stretched him world wide and heaven wide. Into the past, across the present, and way into the future. A view that challenges us when we want to keep our Jesus safe and within confines we can understand.

A view that I think the church is called to make clear again in this day and age.

During this coming season of Lent we are going to do a new thing. Here in church on Wednesday evenings. We are going to read John’s Gospel in dramatic way to the backdrop of different parts of our church building. We are aiming to do this so that we can bring familiar stories to life, so that we can penetrate deeper into the heart of who Jesus is in that Gospel, and, seeing him afresh, we might be encouraged to refresh our sense of Him.

John’s Gospel written maybe a hundred years after the events they describe is a strange manuscript. There is no account of the birth of Jesus there. There is a Last Supper but bread and wine is not served. There is no parable of the Good Samaritan. No Prodigal Son and no sermon on the mount and it is the only Gospel with no story of the transfiguration, no mountain top experience like the one described in the Gospel. It’s all missed out and that’s because each chapter is about that sort of experience unfolding in someone’s life.

Every chapter is about some ordinary individual like you and me climbing up to the place where Jesus is and having their lives changed by him. Come and meet a dumbstruck wine waiter. A blind man and a lame man. A woman exhausted by her housekeeping. A boy with loaves and fishes. A woman about to be stoned. A family whose prayers were simply not answered. An unsettled scholar and some seasick fishermen. See how Jesus engages with this rag tag and bobtail gang and see how he might then engage with you and then you with others.

Climb these mountains, one after another, in this amazing Gospel and let God’s big picture of love take shape in us. We have to stand up and say why it is we see things differently.

The village I described at the start of this is Colliano in Southern Italy, the home town of my future son in law Michele. He was the first one to climb the mountain with me. As we climbed together I suddenly jumped out of my skin. For suddenly there was a dog barking. There were two children and a Mother. There was a house with curtains and a garden with flowers. Here was one family that had not fled, that climbed the mountain and lived on it, and not only were they safe, they were also happy.

It struck me that they were like the church needs to be. When everyone else has turned the mountain into a burden to carry or a place to flee from, they found it their pride and joy and from their vantage point have a unique and glorious outlook on life. That’s what we need to be and to do so we must stay as close to Jesus as Peter, James and John did, and let our lives be shaped by what we are brave enough to see, even if only a few might follow.

MATTHEW 17: 1-9 2 PETER1: 16-END