Sunday, November 28, 2004

Isaiah 2:1-5 - "Climb Every Mountain"

First Sunday in Advent (Year A - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, November 27, and Sunday, November 28, 2004

Put up mountains with the names of the gods. Hang up on string (Saturday); have children help hang them during Children’s Message (Sunday). Based on Isaiah, Zion will be raised up higher than the others. Use pole to put it way up.

So having all of these mountains up here makes me think of a song. You’ve got the lyrics on the bulletin insert. Take a listen.

Ah, yes, Kate Smith’s over the top rendition of “Climb Every Mountain.” There’s a lot of people who might see what we’ve got up here today, all of these mountains with all of these gods, and they’d say that we’ve got to climb every mountain, that there’s truth to be found from each religion. They’d tell us to climb every mountain and then you’ll find your dream. In fact, they might even tell us that we shouldn’t have raised one mountain higher than the others, that no one religion is better than others. Climb every mountain.

That’s what many people might say, but that’s not what God, Yahweh, says. Through the prophet Isaiah, we’ve heard what He says. Take a look at verses 2 and 3 on your bulletin insert, the verses I’ve titled "Climb Every Mountain", these verses put an end to the idea that all mountains, all religions lead to the same place. Isaiah says, “It shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come.” God’s mountain will be the highest. Yahweh will be seen as the true God. All peoples will come to Yahweh. Salvation, peace, love, forgiveness, and life will only come from the true God. Climb every mountain—cross that out. Climb one mountain, the mountain of Yahweh, the mountain of our God who saves us as a gift.

No other mountain, no other god will give you the hope of life after death like our God. Every other religion demands something from you, tells you that you can only save yourself by your actions, tells you that you must somehow please the gods. Only our God gives us life after death as a gift, not based on what we do but based on what He does. Yahweh’s mountain is the highest of all of the mountains, because it is the only truth, the only one where you can find unconditional love at its peak.

Augustine, the early church father and writer, wrote about this chapter of Isaiah, this image of God’s mountain. Augustine said, “Approach the mountain, climb up the mountain, and you that climb it, do not go [back] down it. There you will be safe, there you will be protected; Christ is your mountain of refuge.”

You’ve come to the mountain of Christ today; there’s no need to ever go back down to check out the foothills, the other gods, the religions that do not offer you true hope. Augustine is urging us to remain on God’s mountain, to remain in the faith.

Isaiah describes how the nations will flow to God’s mountain. What an incredible image—people flowing like a river, flowing towards God, except this is incredibly miraculous, this river is flowing up the mountain. The people are being drawn up to God, drawn by God’s Holy Spirit.

Except we know from our experience that we don’t always remain with God. Even though we flow to the top of God’s mountain, we also begin to ooze back down. We slide, slump, drip, creep back down towards the bottom. We forget about God during the week, we get attracted by what else is going on around us, we think that other mountains are greener, other religions must be better, we ooze back down.

That’s the kind of situation that was going on around Isaiah. God sent Isaiah as a prophet to those who had oozed. Imagine Isaiah being kind of like a party crasher. God’s people were having a good old time, doing their own thing, checking out all of the other religions around them and what they had to offer.

Isaiah crashes their party and gets their attention with this grand image of Zion—God’s mountain, of how God’s mountain will be the highest of all of the mountains, that God is better than the other gods, that God is the true God. Isaiah describes this incredible vision, and then he says, “Come on, let’s go. Let’s go up God’s mountain, so that He can teach us His ways.”

The partygoers kind of stare at the party crasher. Think of it, someone crashes your party, barges in, tells this incredible tale, and then tells you to leave your party and go somewhere else. The partygoers don’t want to leave. And that’s the problem, Isaiah preached God’s Word, but God’s people of Israel didn’t want to listen, didn’t want to follow.

So later in chapter 2, Isaiah goes on to preach God’s judgment against the people. He says, “Their land is filled with idols, they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. [Lord], do not forgive them!” The partygoers don’t want to leave their party where they’re singing “Climb Every Mountain,” so the party crasher rejects their actions. The people didn’t want to return to God’s mountain; they wanted to stay where they could worship on all of the mountains, worshipping many different gods. So Isaiah rejects their actions.

You know at times we are the partygoers. You know at times we want to sing “Climb Every Mountain,” not wanting to get rid of ideas from other religions, not wanting to limit ourselves to Jesus. You know at times we want to have our own party, our own way of thinking about how to live, putting together our own beliefs about God—using some stuff from the Bible and some from the Dali Lama and some from TV shows and some from magazine articles about what all of those celebrities believe and some from what we learn from Hallmark cards.

But today Isaiah the party crasher is here. He just turned off the stereo and smashed that “Climb Every Mountain” CD. He just turned off the TV right in the middle of an interview with Tom Cruise talking about Scientology, discovering the truth inside of yourself. The party crasher is here saying, “Come on! Let’s go up the mountain of God.” Augustine is here saying, “Climb up the mountain, and do not go back down it.”

What will we find on that mountain? We will find God’s ways, God’s grand vision for our lives that goes so far beyond what we can imagine. Take a look at your bulletin insert. What will we find? Verse 3 says, “For out of Zion shall go the instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem,” and then verse 4 gives us an example of God’s instruction, one way in which God’s ways completely change our way of viewing the world. “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plow blades, and their spears into pruning knives; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

In this example, God shows that His plan for the world is so far beyond what we can accomplish on our own. If we stay down in our own little party, we’ll never get to a place where there’s peace among all people; there’s just no way. In teaching us about nations no longer going to war, tools of war becoming tools for farming, in that, we are seeing one example of what we will learn on God’s mountain. His ways are not our ways. His vision for the world will completely transform our lives.

Think about it. This example of God’s instruction, that God’s vision for the world is to bring us all together in peace, runs completely opposite of so many things people are saying about the Iraq War. No matter how you feel politically about the war in Iraq, it is an extremely dangerous thing to say that it is God’s will that we attacked Iraq, that God is on our side of the war, anything like that. God may work through this entire situation, but you’ve seen today what God’s will is: to bring the world to His mountain, to bring the world together in peace in the new world. When we want to claim that America winning the war is God’s will, then we’re oozing back down the mountain. God’s will is for the victory of Jesus Christ to win the hearts of all people. And while this vision of peace will not be fulfilled until the last days, it is God’s ultimate will to bring us into peace with each other. Don’t stop halfway up the mountain, talking America being God’s chosen nation, when really at the top of the mountain God is teaching that He wants all people, all nations to know His salvation.

Which brings us back to those first words of this prophecy: “It shall come to pass in the last days.” The vision of God bringing the world’s people together in peace is a vision for the end of the world. When Jesus returns, then God’s mountain will be raised up and everyone will realize that it is truly the highest mountain. In this Advent season leading up to Christmas, this prophecy from Isaiah points us to the Second Advent of Jesus, the Second Coming of Jesus, when He returns to bring an end to this world, to bring us to a new world, a new life, life forever with Him. So Isaiah is crashing our party today, saying, “Come on, let’s go up to the mountain of God. Let’s go and wait for our Savior to return to bring us to new life.”

We read this section of Isaiah on the First Sunday in Advent, because it urges us to come and wait on God’s mountain, to come and wait for Jesus to return, to come and wait for God to bring us to a place of peace. At the first Advent when Jesus was born, the angels urged the shepherds to come and see the King who was born in Bethlehem. Now while we wait for the Second Advent, when Jesus returns to Earth, this reading from Isaiah chapter 2 urges us to come and see that our God is the true God, that our God will return again, that when He returns all people will know that He is true, that those who remain in faith will find new life.

Again, remember what Augustine said, “Approach the mountain, climb up the mountain, and you that climb it, do not go [back] down it. There you will be safe, there you will be protected; Christ is your mountain of refuge.” That’s what Advent is all about. Advent is urging us to climb up the mountain and not to go back down. Advent urges us to come to Jesus and wait for Him to return. Don’t get distracted by all of the other things going on; don’t get tempted to go down the mountain to your own party. Stay right here; wait right here; wait and watch for your Savior to return.

That’s what Advent is all about—urging each other to wait and watch for Jesus to return. You do this when you crash each other’s parties like Isaiah did, when you tell each other to return to God, to return to church. You urge each other in this congregation by providing more services during Advent, special Wednesday night services that interrupt our week, interrupt our forgetfulness and remind us of our Savior. You encourage each other by sending Christmas cards that point to the true meaning of Christmas—Jesus was born to die for our sins, He is our hope for life after death. You urge and encourage one another in the faith when you simply tell the people around you here in church, you tell each other, “I’m glad you’re here. I hope I see you next week. God is in this place.”

So let’s try this today using the words of Isaiah. Let’s try encouraging each other to stay on God’s mountain, to stay in the faith, to keep our hope in Him. Take a look at the section on the insert marked “Urging & Encouraging Each Other.” Based on verse 3, we’re going to urge and encourage one another to climb God’s mountain and to stay on God’s mountain. The verses are marked Pulpit side and Window side. You’re going to speak these words to the other half of the congregation, urging and encouraging other people in this sanctuary to be here, to be on God’s mountain. Please stand. Face the middle aisle, and beginning with the pulpit side, let’s use the words of Isaiah to encourage one another.

P: Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
W: Come, let us go to the house of the God of Jacob,
P: So that he may teach us his ways
W: and that we may walk in his paths.

Don’t go back down that mountain. Don’t ooze back down. Don’t slide, slump, drip, creep back down. Stay with God. Keep listening to His Word. Come together to encourage each other to stay on God’s mountain, for on this mountain, on Christ our mountain, there is forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Let’s try encouraging each other one more time.

Please remain standing for the Creed. But it’s kind of strange to say the Creed with all of these other gods up here. We don’t say the Creed to any other god but Yahweh, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As you say the Creed, I will remove all of the false gods and their mountains. The Creed focuses our attention on our God on Zion, the highest mountain of all.