The October 2, 1998, edition of the Baltimore Sun carried a story about Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain on the North American continent. Recent research has apparently proven that a mountain expedition which claimed in 1906 to have in fact mounted Mt. McKinley, in fact, fabricated their figures. They never really completely climbed the mountain. The mountain, in fact, is over 20,000 feet high. Climbing it was no easy feat. After reading that, I was struck by the realization which may sound simple, but it dawned on me that mountains really are hard to climb. The religious imagination has long known this. That's why mountains have long come to symbolize the hardships and difficulties of life, whether it's Roger and Hammerstein's "Climb every mountain till you find your dream..." from the "Sound of Music" or whether it's Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell's "Ain't no mountain high enough to keep me from getting to you, babe...." Mountains have long represented problems to be solved, obstacles to be overcome, crosses to be carried, burdens to be borne, troubles to be triumphed over, and difficulties to be dealt with. Mountains are problems. Death is a mountain. Sickness is a mountain. Troubles are mountains. Hardships are mountains. Family crises are mountains. Scott Peck, in his book "The Road Less Traveled" says life's a problem. The truth of the matter is life is filled with mountains, but my Jesus says if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, "Move from here to there," and it will obey you.
Let me tell you why. First, faith may not always change the outer circumstances of life, but it always changes the inner landscape of life. Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 1, says, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." And, frankly, that makes all the difference. It's not always what's on the outside that matters, but what's on the inside that really makes the difference. When I was a little kid, my mother gave me a little book about the African Carthaginian General Hannibal. You probably remember the great story of Hannibal crossing the Alps, and in this little book, I remember the pictures of the elephants and the donkeys and the army of Hannibal from Africa crossing the Alps to Italy. This was a great feat of military conquest. In fact, it was one of the greatest acts of military courage in human history. In my little book, whether this part is fact or fiction I don't know, but there was a story that went along with the various pictures. And according to the story in my child book, it said that Hannibal, when he got to the Alps with his army, was about to cross when the army began to rebel. The soldiers saw these prodigious mountains before them. They saw this incredible barrier in front of them. They were afraid to move. They were ready to turn around and go home. But according to my children's story book, Hannibal rallied his troops and his armies by standing before them pointing toward the Alps and declaring, "Forward march, we see no Alps!" And with those words the army of Hannibal went forth. Now it may not always be that easy, but the truth of the matter is sometimes you got to go into life and just declare, "Forward march, I see no Alps! Forward march, I don't see that problem. Forward march, I don't see that obstacle. Forward march, I don't see that hardship. Forward march, I don't see that cancer. Forward march, I don't see forward march!"
Faith can change the inner landscape. And if the inner landscape has been changed, it doesn?t matter what's on the outer horizon. In 2 Corinthians 5, St. Paul was dealing, I think with his own sense of death, and in this context he says and I quote, "We walk by faith, not by sight." Faith changes the inner landscape. That's why St. Thomas Aquinas said in that great hymn, "Faith our outward sense befriending makes our inward vision clear." A 19th century poem said it this way, "Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered and there was no one there." Faith can move mountains because faith can transform the inner landscapes of life and it doesn?t matter what's on the outer horizon.
Secondly, faith can move mountains because faith enlarges the possibilities of life. It's sometimes helpful to compare how one verse is translated or spoken in one gospel and how it's looked at in another, when Jesus sometimes says the same thing in a different place in a different way. In Luke's version of this saying, Jesus says our text this way. "The apostle said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith.' And the Lord replied, 'If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and planted in the sea," and it would obey you.'" The image there now is taking up a tree and planting it in a new location and creating a new kind of tree. The idea is that faith can create new possibilities that did not exist in the previous context before there was faith. Faith enlarges the possibilities of life. Faith enlarges the options because faith brings God directly to bear in the situation. And if I remember my mathematics correctly, when you have an equation and you change one variable in the equation, you change the outcome of the equation. Well, when God is factored into the equation of your life by faith, then the outcome is going to change.
I remember awhile back taking communion to a dear parishioner who was in the hospital, a woman who had been battling cancer, she was a cancer survivor, and she had been battling with it for a long time. And she was going through one of those periods where the illness came back and we didn't know how it was gonna all go. So I went to the hospital and took her Holy Communion and we were talking for awhile and about to have communion when a nurse came in with bags and I guess an IV for the chemotherapy and I invited the nurse to share communion with us if she would like, and she said yes. And so she sat down with us and while we were talking, she asked me if I would bless the IV bag and the medicine. And it kind of gave me pause because I've been asked to bless many things, bless people, bless homes, even sometimes I suppose people have asked to bless a car. But nobody had ever asked me to bless medicine before. It just never had occurred to me to bless the medicine. And so I laid my hands on the IV bag and the medicine and prayed, "Bless, O Lord, these means made use for the cure and the healing of your children." It occurred to me that that made a great deal of sense because the truth of the matter is you want God's grace to move through that IV bag. You want God's grace to move through those medicines. You want God's grace to move through the skilled hands of surgeons, doctors and nurses, but you also want God's grace to move through anointing oils, you want God's grace to move through the prayers of God's people. You want God's grace to move through any means and modality that is necessary to bring about the end that God would have for us. See, faith is not about constricting the possibilities. Faith enlarges the possibilities and creates new possibilities. See, a problem is only a problem as long as there is no solution. If there is even a hint of a possibility of a solution, you don't have the same problem. I would submit to you that if you've got God in your life, you'll have problems, but with God in your life there's always another possibility. Because, you see, God is the author of another possibility. Before creation, there was nothing but God created another possibility and called creation into being. For Israel and Egypt, there was no hope. Slaves have no hope, but God created another possibility and set the Red Sea and parted it into and set a slave free. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin unable to conceive but God created another possibility and Jesus was conceived and born. Jesus on the cross died, but God created another possibility and raised him to new life. Theologian Paul Tillich once said that "The providence of God means that there is a creative and saving possibility in every situation." Faith, you see, can move mountains because faith enlarges the possibilities of life.
Lastly, faith can move mountains because by faith in God we are connected to the maker, the master, and the mover of mountains. Have you ever noticed that the God of the Bible is a mountain God? God is frequently revealed on the mountain top. Isaac is saved from sacrifice by the angel of God on Mt. Moriah "where the Lord will provide." Moses meets God in the burning bush on the mount called Sinai. The great novelist Zora Neal Hurston wrote of God's revelation to Moses in a novel that she called "Moses, Man of the Mountain." The prophet Isaiah envisioned the rule of God with these words, "They will not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain for the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters covered the sea." Jesus is transfigured on a mountain. Calvary is a mountain. The God of the Bible is a mountain God. El Shaddai. God of the mountain. Our God can make a mountain. Our God can move a mountain. Ours is a mountain God. Faith connects us to the God of the mountain. And when that happens, your life and mine becomes part of a greater whole and mountains move.
You may remember Alex Haley's great works "Roots," both the book and later the film. In the film version, there was a scene when the slave Kunte Kinte after having come to this country against his will, eventually met a woman he married, and eventually they had a child born in slavery. The old African Kunte Kinte never resigned himself to his servitude, never accepted it. And when his little daughter was born, he resigned that she would know her heritage, that she would know her history, and that though a slave, she would never be a slave. And so, soon after the little baby girl was born, he took her from her mother's arms and in the midnight sky amidst the auction block and slave pen, he took her out of the little slave cabin, walked outside, climbed a little mole hill. There atop a mole hill, he lifted up the little baby girl to the sky with nothing but twinkling stars above and he whispered in her ear, "Behold, the only thing greater than yourself." And as that girl grew up, and as the story was told, as long as she understood that she was part of a greater whole, that there was a God greater than the auction block, a God greater than the slave pen, a God who is greater than any problem, a God who is greater than any difficulty, a God who is greater than any hardship, as long as she lived into that, she could make it, and though she was a slave, she was not a slave. She was free. Oh, freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me and before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.
My friends, faith can move mountains. It can change your inner landscape. It can create new possibilities. But above all, faith connects us to the God of mountains. "Ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough to keep God from getting to you."
God of the mountain. God of Mt. Sinai. God of Mt. Zion. Come down and hear the prayers of your people. Where we hurt, heal us. Where we are weak, strengthen us, where we are confused, guide us. Lift us up to your lofty place where we may be still to know that you alone are God. Amen.