Two weeks ago my Mom and I made our way to Folly Beach for a little rest and recreation. In the sermon before my departure, I mentioned that the beach has a restorative effect on my soul. Well, this time, things were different. We arrived early but our room was ready which I took to be a good omen. We were so excited to be there that we didn’t even unpack our things. We headed straight for the beach and had a nice, long walk along the shoreline. Then we went back to the car, got our luggage, and took a nice relaxing power nap. The ocean has that effect on you!
After another beach excursion, we headed out to dinner. In one of the shops we visited afterward we learned that the governor of South Carolina had issued a mandatory evacuation of all the costal counties due to Hurricane Florence. This evacuation was for tourists and residents alike. We were surprised to hear this news considering they didn’t expect the Hurricane to make land until Friday. When we got back to the hotel, we learned that it was closing the next morning everyone had to be gone by 11:00am.
So we decided to head out early in order to beat the evacuation traffic. we also booked a room at my favorite hotel in Gatlinburg to try and salvage our vacation. Long LONG story short, it took us 9 hours to get back home, which is twice as long as usual. We had some supper and called it a night.
The next morning we put our repacked bags in the car and headed for Gatlinburg. We were both road weary at this point. My Mom even considered staying at home and giving up all hope of a relaxing vacation. But as soon as we hit the Pigeon River Gorge we both began to relax.
Those of you who have driven this stretch of I-40 know exactly what I’m talking about. The mountains cradle your car on both sides. Everything is lush and green and soothing and beautiful. By the time we reached Gatlinburg our attitudes had greatly improved. We had a fun vacation in spite of our evacuation from the hurricane.
What is it about the mountains that speaks to our souls? All of us are fortunate enough to live in Asheville where the Blue Ridge Mountains surround us on every side. Most people in this room are only a 15-20 minute drive from paradise. Sometimes we take this for granted. But driving through the Pigeon River Gorge reminded me how blessed we are to live in this part of the country.
Today is Mountain Sunday. It’s the last Sunday of the Season of Creation. Not surprisingly, mountains play important roles from Genesis to Jesus.
This morning I’d like to look at two of the roles mountains play in the Bible. Hopefully, it will give us a deeper appreciation for these gifts from God. In Genesis 1, God gathers the waters under the sky into one place, and dry land appears on the third day of creation. The dry land, of course, includes the mountains. In the ancient understanding of the cosmos, it was believed that the mountains were the pillars that held the dome of Heaven in place. Because of this, they were considered to be meeting places where we could commune with God.
Moses encountered God though the burning bush on Mount Horeb. Then, again, he met God on Mount Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments. Before Moses died, God led him to Mount Nebo where the Almighty showed him the vast territory of the Promised Land. The prophet Elijah heard God speak to him through a still small voice after witnessing a wind storm, earthquake and fire on Mount Horeb. [1 Kings 19] Jesus’ transfiguration took place on a high mountain, where the disciples witnessed the appearance of Moses and Elijah wrapped in a light-radiant cloud. Jesus, prayed for God to take away his cup of suffering while on the Mount of Olives, the night of his arrest.
These are just some of the mountain stories we find in the Bible. In each of these encounters, the mountains are one of the places where we can experience the holy. Granted, we don’t believe in a three-tiered universe anymore, but I would argue that the mountains still have this kind of power in our lives. Looking out at the world around us while standing on a high mountain peak, puts our lives into perspective. We not only see the world around us, but it also allows us to look within, and examine our thoughts and intentions. Most of us feel God’s presence strongly when we are on a mountaintop, and this has not changed since the first human being saw the spectacular view the mountains provide.
When I was attending seminary in Gettysburg, PA, my favorite place to be was a rocky hill known as Little Round Top. It was the highest peak one could find on the battlefield. I called it my “thinking rock”, and went out there any time I needed to commune with God and work through whatever problem I needed to work through. It overlooked the battlefield and it never failed to deliver the goods.
So, friends in Christ, I offer this word of encouragement: the next time you need to feel close to God, or work through a difficult situation you are facing, make a beeline for one of our mountaintops that are so readily available in our area. Follow the examples of the saints such as Moss, Elijah, Jesus and the Disciples. You will not regret it!
The second ole mountain’s play in the scriptures is as a place of rest and refuge. Psalm 121 says “I lift up my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” If you know anything about the geography of Israel, Lake Galilee is surrounded by mountains. It’s a bit like Asheville except the mountains are closer to the lake than they are to our city. These mountaintops offer spectacular views of the lake and the towns below.
In the gospels, we read that Jesus sometimes went to a “lonely” or “deserted” place to rest and pray. Based on the geography of the area, the only logical conclusion is that these deserted places were located in the mountains which surrounded Lake Galilee. Therefore, mountains are not only places that provide an opportunity for us to commune with God. They are also places where we can rest and recharge.
I doubt there is anyone here who would argue with me about that. It’s why we chose to live here in these beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. And if you’re anything like me, you breathe a sigh of relief when you’re coming west toward Asheville on I-40 and you reach the summit of the mountain near Ridgecrest and begin your descent into the valley. It feels like a big hug from nature. I know, without a doubt, I’m home.
You might think I’m crazy but there is something about the energy of the place where we live that is nurturing and soothing to the soul. These mountains protect us from lots of bad weather, that often goes around us. They may get snow storms or heavy rain down below us in South Carolina or above us beyond Sam’s Gap near the Tennessee border, but we are usually shielded from these storms. Perhaps it’s why the ancient Cherokee people chose to settle here. They sensed what we sense about this very special place.
As I bring my thoughts to a close, I don’t have to tell you it’s been a rough week for our church. On Thursday, we said good-bye to our beloved friend and Council Vice-President, Harold Sweiter who has taken from us way too soon. I’m pretty certain that you’re feeling as weary as I am feeling. Perhaps, we should all follow Jesus’ lead and head to the mountains to pray, to grieve and to recharge our tired souls. I know God will meet us wherever we are this week, but there is something about those mountains that speaks to us like no other place on the face of the earth. As John Muir once famously said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” Take some time to head out to the mountains this week. You’ll be glad you did! Amen.
Copyright ©2018 by David Eck