Mountains, Valleys and Plains
Once upon a time,
there was a bunny rabbit by the name of Mr. Hopewell. Mr. Hopewell
had the unfortunate experience of being born in Minnesota. That is,
it was very cold, cold, cold and very white, white, white during
wintertime. Mr. Hopewell, this bunny rabbit, had never seen anything
but the white of snow.
When this bunny
rabbit talked to other bunny rabbits, the other rabbits always
talked about spring. How magnificent and beautiful spring was. So
the Mr. Hopewell, the bunny rabbit, was really looking forward to
meeting Mr. Spring. Mr. Hopewell erroneously thought that spring was
a person, and so he said to the other rabbits that he was really
looking forward to meeting Mr. Spring. All the other rabbits laughed
and laughed and laughed at Mr. Hopewell and his foolishness to think
of such a thing. Mr. Hopewell did not dare to ask the rabbits any
more about this Mr. Spring character because he did not want to make
a fool of himself.
Time passed and
soon it got warmer and warmer and warmer in Minnesota. As it got
warmer and warmer and warmer, all the snow melted. So Mr. Hopewell
went out and said that it was time to go looking for Mr. Spring. He
wanted to personally meet that person called Mr. Spring.
So the bunny
rabbit, Mr. Hopewell, came up to a daffodil and he said to the
beautiful daffodil, “Are you spring?” The daffodil laughed and
laughed and said, “Of course I am not spring. But I would not have
come out if spring wasn’t here.”
Mr. Hopewell went
hopping along, being rather embarrassed that he did not know what
spring was, and he came upon a mushroom. It was a large, beautiful
mushroom and he asked, “Mushroom, are you Mr. Spring?” The
mushroom laughed and laughed and said, “Of course I am not spring.
But I would not have come out if spring was not here.” Hmmm. What
So Mr. Rabbit
hopped on and came to a big fuzzy ball there in northern Minnesota.
Mr. Rabbit said to the fuzzy big ball, “Are you Mr. Spring?” And
the bear growled in a roaring voice, “Of course I am not spring,
but I would not have woken up if spring was not here.” Hmmmm.
This rabbit could
not find Mr. Spring anyplace. Mr. Spring started to cry and cry, his
tears running down his rabbit face. About that time a robin came by
and the robin said, “What is wrong with you?” Mr. Hopewell
replied, “Well, I have been looking for spring. Are you Mr.
Spring?” The robin, being a kinder soul, said, “O no, spring is
aaaaalllll around you. You are living in the middle of spring.”
Time passed. He was
no longer a little bitty bunny rabbit but he was a human being whose
name was Mr. Hopewell. Mr. Hopewell was looking for the Presence and
glory of God. Mr.
Hopewell did not know who God really was or where to find God. Mr.
Hopewell went walking through the woods one day, and he came to this
large forest of old growth fir trees. These trees had giant limbs
like arms and they pointed right up at the heavens. Mr. Hopewell
said to the trees, “Are you God? Are you the Presence of God?”
And the giant trees in nature’s majestic cathedral smiled and
said, “O no, we are not God. But we wouldn’t be alive if God was
not here.” Hmmm.
Mr. Hopewell was
confused and he went and sat down on the banks of Puget Sound. It
was beautiful that day and the sun was just setting. There was no
movement of wind and it was perfectly still. The water was like
glass and the reflections of the clouds were perfectly silhouetted
in the water. The sun went down and made a sunbeam as golden as the
clouds that gleamed in the sky. It was incredibly gorgeous and Mr.
Hopewell said to the sun as it went down to set behind the
mountains, “Sun, are you God?” The sun smiled as it faded
underneath the mountains in the west and said, “O no, I am not
God. But God is here and all around you, in the beauty of my golden
Mr. Hopewell was
perplexed. He thought to himself, “Where can I go to find God, to
find the Presence of God, the glory of God?”
For some reason or
another, Mr. Hopewell went to a hospital and up to the maternity
ward and saw a friend’s new born baby. The baby was crying and
cooing and the mother and father were glowing with happiness and joy
at the birth of their child. They had never been so happy in their
whole lives and the baby cooed and gurgled. Mr. Hopewell said,
“Are you God? Are you the Presence of God?” The baby just
continued to coo and gurgle. Hmmm.
finally came to a church one day. It was a majestic church with high
vaulting ceilings, and there was a majestic stained glass window in
the front of this church, looking like the visions of heaven from
the book of Isaiah. Music filled the rafters of this church with the
sounds of the magnificent choir and organ. The music cast a majestic
spell over his soul. Then it all stopped. The organ stopped. The
choir stopped. The movement of the bodies stopped. It was perfectly
silent, and the silence was even more powerful than the music. Mr.
Hopewell broke the silence when he whispered, “Are you God? Are
you the Presence, the Glory, the Majesty of God?” And his
questions echoed throughout the sanctuary, “Are you God? Are you
the Presence? The majesty? The glory?”
reverberated, echoing in the perfectly harmonious sanctuary.
Mr. Hopewell went
to the front of the sanctuary, and there was a Bible there on a
table there in the front of the sanctuary. Mr. Hopewell, becoming
somewhat desperate, asked the Bible, “Are you the Presence of
God?” And before there was an answer, a pastor started to preach
and told the congregation of the wonderful, glorious Presence of God
in Jesus Christ, that God was all around them on every side.
And Mr. Hopewell
came up to the pastor and foolishly asked him, “Are you God?”
The pastor laughed and said, “I have been called lots of things,
but I have never been called God before.”
finally left, heavily discouraged, trying to find the glory of God,
trying to find the Presence of God. Mr. Hopewell went out to a bus
stop in the front of the church, and there was an old man standing
at that bus stop. Mr. Hopewell, exhausted by his journey, finally
approached the old man and asked, “Sir, I have been looking for
God. I have been looking for the glory of God, for the glorious
Presence of God. Do you know where I could find God?” The old man
said, “Why you are living in the middle of God. God is aaaaallllll
around you … if you have the eyes to see.”
Today I would like
to talk with you about Christ, about the Presence of God and Glory
of God being all around us…if one has the eyes to see. I would
like to talk with you about God being in the mountaintops, down in
the valleys, and in the plains of life. That the glory of God, the
Presence of Christ, the goodness of the Spirit of Christ is found in
the mountaintops, down at the bottom of the valleys, and in the
plains of ordinary living.
First, Christ is
present with us in the mountaintop experiences of life. God is
present in the exotic times of life, those special moments when you
know for sure that there is a God. When you know for sure that
Christ has been talking with you.
In the Old
Testament, these experiences are called, theophanies. Theo meaning
God; epiphany meaning revelation. Revelation of God.
There is that old
story about Moses. Moses was walking along in the Sinai peninsula
and there was a burning bush. As Moses stood before this burning
bush, he heard the voice of God say, “Moses, take off your shoes
for you are on holy ground.” Moses knew. Moses knew that God had
spoken to him in that moment. Moses knew that there was God and that
God was real. It happened to him again a short time later. Moses had
gone up to the top of Mount Sinai. For six days and nights, Moses
had been up at the top of Mount Sinai. Suddenly, there was a
swirling cloud that surrounded the mountain. Moses knew that it was
the Presence of God and God spoke to him and gave him the Ten Moral
Laws, the Ten Commandments. Moses spoke with God. Moses knew. Moses
knew that God had spoken with him. He knew for sure that God was
with him, that God was real.
The gospel lesson
for today is a similar kind of story. Today’s gospel story is a
very similar story to the Old Testament story that was read. Peter,
James, and John were up on a mountain, Mount Tabor, an 1800 feet high, not far from the village of Nazareth.
They were up on the top of that mountain, and they too had been on
the top of that mountain for six days and six nights. Then, as with
Moses, a cloud came around them and in that moment, in that exotic
moment, in that theophany, in that special and sacred moment in
their life, they heard the voice of God say, “This is my beloved
Son, Jesus. Listen to him.” And they knew it was a rare moment, an
exotic moment; they believed that God had spoken. They knew it for
I would like to
suggest to us this morning that God comes to us in those rare and
exotic moments when you know for sure that God has been with you.
When you know that God has talked with you. When you know and feel
the intervention of God in your life.
Pastors often ask
their spouse for help when preparing a sermon so I asked my wife,
Jan, “Have you ever had any mountaintop experiences with God?
Where you know that God has been with you. When you really know it
and there was no doubt in your mind. When you felt that God was
communicating his goodness and love with you? Jan, have you ever had
such an experience or experiences?” She answered, “I have had so
many of them. Which one do you want to hear about?
The mountain top
experiences were many in my wife’s life. She went on, “Do you
remember that special time when we were up on Mount Rainier and
camped near Klapache Park. It was a clear night and the moon came up
behind Mount Rainier and the moon was so clear. It almost seemed
like it was a flying saucer. It was so gorgeous and we both felt the
nearness and the closeness of God in the beauty of the moment. …
Do you remember that time when we were down in Oregon in the Three
Sister’s Wilderness. We were camped that night near the North
Sister, and the whole field in front of us was covered with black
obsidian, that black rock that shines like shiny, shellacked hard
faced coal? The moon came up and the whole field in front of us
sparkled, like every piece of shiny rock in front of us had a flame
in it. It was on fire. The whole mountain in front of us seemed like
it was on fire with the moon glowing in the obsidian fragments of
rock. Do you remember how we felt the Presence of God?”
Yes, God forever is
coming to us, in those exotic mountaintop moments where we feel the
Presence of God, when we know for sure that God is with us, that God
has spoken to us. We sleep better and more comfortably that night.
God comes to us in
those special moments, and those special moments may be in the form
of a healing. It may be in that exotic moment that we have been
convinced that we have been healed by God or our child has been
healed or our grandchild has been healed. And our hearts are
convinced that God has given us healing.
Do you have any
idea how many people I talk to in this parish who are absolutely
convinced that God has healed them? Numerous folks. I talk to old
Oscar Ringdahl, some eighty-six years old. He tells me that his
doctor from the University Hospital tells him that he, Oscar, was
totally cured of prostate cancer and the doctor cannot explain how
this all happened. Oscar is convinced that he has an angel living in
his house. This angel talks to Oscar on a regular basis, and why is
it that I, a skeptic, believe him? Why is it that I think that Oscar
is telling the truth? Because Oscar has told me the truth about
things that I have been thinking and dreaming about, and his sharing
about me and my personal life has made me nervous sometimes, how
Oscar knows such things.
Kenn Duley, our
organist, walked in my office the other day and said matter of
factly that his son, Andrew, had been healed. Sixty per cent of
Andrew’s hearing was gone. Andrew could not hear very well and
everybody around knew that. Andrew went to see the doctor yesterday
and the doctor reported that his hearing his one hundred percent.
Why? Nobody knows why. The doctor could not explain it. Andrew’s
hearing just got better; that is all. Kenn then said, “We know
why, don’t we?” Kenn said it in such a way that I knew that he
believed that God has been with him in a special way. It was a
special, exotic healing.
So many of you
report that you are absolutely convinced that you have experience a
medical miracle from God, that you know for sure that the healing is
a gift from God.
happens on a mountaintop and sometimes it happens at a healing and
sometimes it happens at a worship service. It can happen at one of
those special worship services. Any kid or adult who was up at Camp
Norwester two years ago, at the edge of the beach, as the stories
were told, most everybody will remember that worship service until
their dying day. I know that every child and adult who were present
will remember that night. They will remember the Presence of God,
that God was there.
You see, God comes
to us on the mountaintop. God comes to us through healings. God
comes to us in those special worship services that touch us deeply.
Sometimes God comes to us in a special way when we feel like we have
been sent some place. When my wife was in Rochester, Minnesota, and
her father was facing a nasty cancer and death, she felt a
compulsion to be in a chapel one day, and what was said that one day
was perfect for her ears and heart to hear. It is as if God wanted
her to be in that chapel that day and to hear God’s Word for her
Years ago, 1967, I
was driving down the road on the way to Hastings State Mental
Hospital to work as a chaplain. I turned on the radio station to
hear my beloved mentor, Dr. Morris Wee, preach his Sunday morning
sermon. And my wife and I were struggling with infertility in those
days but we had told no one about it, and we were both hurting
something fierce. I turned on that car radio that morning and it was
the voice of God speaking directly to our situation. It was the
voice of God for me that day, and I heard what I needed to hear. I
remember that moment clearly, although it was a long time ago.
those moments in life in which God clearly speaks to us. On a
mountaintop. In a healing. In a worship service. Over a radio
broadcast. In the birth of a child.
In those moments, God speaks to you and you know, you know
there is God.
where is God?” God is all around. You are living in the middle of
But God never meant
us to live on the mountaintop. I wish the gospel story told you the
next Biblical story after the Transfiguration. This next Biblical
story is never included in the lectionary series, and I feel badly
about that. Because the next story is the key to the transfiguration
story. The disciples and Jesus came off the mountain, and they came
right down to the bottom of the valley. They came off the mountain
and they came down into the valley and they found a boy who was
having epileptic seizures. The mother and father were enormously
upset and worried about the desperately sick boy, and the little boy
fell into a fire and burned himself. In other words, the disciples
came down off that mountaintop right into the problems of real life.
Home from a mountaintop vacation and into the real world at home.
And the disciples discovered that God is also down in the valley and
does not live only or even primarily on the mountaintop.
I like the
quotation by Henry Drummond, the Scottish theologian when he said,
“God does not make the mountains in order to be inhabited. God
does not make the mountaintops for us to live on the mountaintops.
It is not God’s desire that we live on the mountaintops. We only
ascend to the heights to catch a broader vision of the earthly
surroundings below. But we don’t live there. We don’t tarry
there. The streams begin in the uplands, but these streams descend
quickly to gladden the valleys below.” The streams start in the
mountaintops, but they come down to gladden the valleys below.
You and I
experience the valleys of life. You and I both know what happens the
next day coming down from the mountain. It is the real world and the
real life. After Sundays of life, there are always Mondays. You
know, the tough ones of life. God is with us there.
I would like to
tell you a favorite story. One time, we pastors were talking with
each other about many things, and we were having some arguments with
each other, as we normally do and did. We were discussing what was
more important, Easter or Good Friday. I bet none of you laity have
that kind of discussion but preachers do.
We were arguing which was more important, Easter or Good
Friday. Finally, one particular pastor became emotional and he said
simply, “Good Friday.” “Good Friday is the most beautiful day
for me. Every day is Good Friday for me.” We asked, “Why do you
say that, Lee?”
And he told the
following story. Lee had been in the Korean War, and he was a CIA
agent. He and a group of CIA agents had been flown up into North
Korea, and had been dropped there for a landing. They went secretly
into North Korea, blown up some ammunition dumps, made a raid on a
secret installation and after that, they were coming back to their
point of pick up. They were going to rhondevous and be flown back to
their ship. On the way back, Lee, this friend of mine, made a
mistake and he got separated from the other CIA agents. He made a
mistake; he was clear about it. It was his dumb fault. Lee got
caught in this sniper fire. He jumped behind a rock and there were a
group of enemy soldiers up above him, shooting at him below as he
was hiding behind a large rock. The bullets were pecking against
this rock and making the rock smaller. Every time that a flick of
the rock would hit him in the back, Lee thought that he was dead. He
would roll over in panic, thinking that he had been shot in the
back. It was a petrifying experience for him. His mouth was dry,
white mouthed, dehydrated. Suddenly, his fellow agents came back to
rescue him. It was like the cavalry had come in the old west movies.
The cavalry had come back to save him, to cover up his mistake.
But…six of his fellow agents, his good friends, were then
killed…because of the mistake that he had made. As he told this
story, he said, “Yes. I have carried this guilt with me for a long
time now, and Good Friday will always been the most important day
for me because Good Friday was that day that God came down to die
for us, to pay for the enormous mistakes that we have made. I will
always preach a Good Friday sermon because every sermon for me is
about the cross. That God came to die for us in our mess. I believe
Whoa. We were
speechless and silent.
I believe that God
is with us, not only on the mountaintops, but God is with us the
next day at the very bottom of the mountain. You know what it is
like down at the bottom of the mountain. You know what it means to
experience the severe illness and death of children.
You know what it means to have trauma in your marriage. You
know what it means to have one of your friends die much too early
and much too painfully. You know what it is like to be down at the
bottom of the mountain. And you know that God is with you and you
know that God speaks to you there and gives you the words of hope
and strength for that time. For
God is with us both on the mountaintops and in the valleys.
And God is with us
in the plains, in the ordinariness of life. Being honest, we don’t
spend much time on the mountaintops nor do we spend a lot of time
down in the valley. Where we spend most of our time is living plain,
ordinary days. What I have found is that God is in the plain
ordinariness of life as well. Such as driving to work. Having
breakfast. Pouring the Cherios out of the box. Making a cup of
coffee. A cheese sandwich. Listening to the telephone as it rings.
Talking to a friend. Sitting at the kitchen table. Reading the
newspaper. Listening to television. Tuning in the stereo. Opening
the refrigerator door. Feeding the dog. Going for a walk. You know,
life. You know, everyday life. You stand underneath the flowering
plum tree in the spring time and you look up and see a million
miracles, a million flower blossoms. You know, the ordinariness of
life. And God is there with you as well.
Mr. Hopewell was
born in Minnesota and he was born when it was very cold. He asked
the question: “Where is spring?” Mr. Hopewell found a daffodil
and asked, “Are you Mr. Spring?” “No, but I always bloom when
spring is here.” Mr. Hopewell then found a large mushroom and
asked, “Are you Mr. Spring?” “No, but I always come out when
spring is here.” Mr. Hopewell went and found grizzly bear and
asked, “Are you spring?” “No, I am not spring but I always
waken when spring is here.” Mr. Hopewell was sad and finally a
robin came by and Mr. Hopewell asked, “Are you spring?” “O no.
Spring is aaaallllll around you. You are living in the middle of