This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached today, the Second Sunday of Advent. The text I preached on was Isaiah 40:1-11.
Get you up to a high mountain, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, and tell all the cities: “Here is your God.”
Reminds me of a Christmas song, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Many of us love to sing that song. But I wonder how many of us actually do it? Do we really go out from here and tell people about Jesus? Do we really talk about our faith? Are we heralds of good tidings?
Oh, it’s easy for me to stand here on my high mountain, this pulpit, and talk about Jesus. But out there? Somehow it seems so much harder. It is for me too! We all know that Jesus calls us to proclaim the good news, and we also know that we’re not good at it. I’m not trying to add guilt to your life. Instead, I’d rather consider today why it seems so hard.
So I’ll tell you a story about a time when I literally got myself up to the top of a high mountain. Hawk Mountain, to be precise. This was about ten years ago. I was meeting my Dad there, but we had very different reasons to be there. My Dad was there for the birds. He loves to watch hawks, eagles, osprey, merlins, kites, and monarch butterflies as they migrate south every fall. This wasn’t the fall, though. It was early August, if I remember. But that didn’t stop him. This is the guy who would go up that mountain in January, to catch the last golden eagle of the year, even if the temperature was about 170 below zero. So it didn’t stop him in August either. It was rare to see a migrating bird that early. But he was there anyway. He has a strange hobby.
But I was there because I too have a strange hobby. I went there to look for a letterbox hidden in the woods. Letterboxes are basically Tupperware containers that people like me hide in the woods. It’s a big worldwide scavenger hunt. We all look for the boxes other people have hidden. I’ve hidden about a hundred letterboxes myself, and found well over a thousand. I found out that there was a letterbox hidden somewhere along the trail that connects Hawk Mountain to the Appalachian Trail. So after meeting my Dad on the lookout, and exchanging hello’s with, I pulled out my compass and the clues I’d printed, and I went walking. I hiked for a couple hours, but all I found along the way was a hiker with a scraggly beard and a huge backpack, and some very cranky turkey vultures. No letterbox.
I finally got back to North Lookout. Dad was still there of course, and I told him, “I struck out.” He said, “Me too. No birds today.” While we were talking, somebody else climbed onto the lookout. It was the hiker I’d seen earlier. He sat down on the rocks near us, and we started talking with him. It turns out that he had a strange hobby, too. He was a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail. He had started his journey in Georgia a few months earlier, and was on his way to Maine, to walk all 2000 miles of the trail. I was surprised to hear it: thru-hikers usually come through Pennsylvania in June. Being here in August meant he’d never make it to Maine before winter came, and made it impossible. I asked him about this, and he said, “Yeah, I got slowed down. I don’t think I’ll make it this year.” We laughed a bit, and talked for a while about the various hobbies that brought each of us to Hawk Mountain that day.
I remember thinking that the most interesting part of that day was that all three of us were there because of a hobby that the other two thought was very strange. But now I look back, and even more interesting to me is that each one of us failed in our hobby. Dad saw no birds that day. I found no letterbox that day. And our new friend was not going to see Mt. Katahdin in Maine, not that year. And yet those hobbies still brought us joy. And we were happy to talk and laugh with each other, even about our failures.
But faith is different, isn’t it? I think maybe one of the reasons we’re so hesitant to talk to people about our faith is that we know we so often fail at it. How can we encourage other people to believe in God when we aren’t always sure what we believe? When we aren’t always sure that we see God active in our lives? When we’re not always sure that we’re a good example for the faith?
I’ve wondered this. What right do I have to tell you about faith, when I struggle with it myself? What right do I have to encourage you to trust in God’s grace, when my own trust can sometimes be weak? God said to Isaiah: “Cry out!” Isaiah said, “What shall I cry?” I feel like God is saying to me: “Cry out!” And I say, “What shall I cry? What can I offer? Why did you call me?”
But let me ask you this:
- Is it okay that your pastor struggles with his faith?
- And, is it okay that your pastor sometimes tells you about those struggles?
I wonder about that sometimes, but deep down, I know the answer to those questions is yes. I know that it is okay. And that it’s okay for you to struggle too. And that it’s okay for you to talk about those struggles with one another, and with others.
Because our hope is not rooted in our own faithfulness, our own righteousness. Our hope is rooted in God’s faithfulness. That’s what we hear in Isaiah today: “All people are grass, but the word of God endures forever.”
God is faithful to us. And God calls to us, even though we are but grass, because God chooses to. God calls us to freedom and to life, but also to more. God also calls us to share and proclaim that freedom and that life to others. We are like Jerusalem in today’s reading. Listen again. God says: “Comfort my people! Speak tenderly to Jerusalem!” And then, just a few verses later: “Get you up to a high mountain, O Jerusalem, and say to all the cities: Here is your God!” God calls to us, saying, “comfort.” And then God calls to us again, and says, “Get up, and share that comfort with others!” And it’s okay that we don’t always experience that comfort. It’s okay that we don’t always trust God as much as we’d like. It’s okay that we’re not perfect. Just like it’s okay to talk about a weird outdoor hobby even on a day when you strike out, it’s okay to talk about our faith, even when you strike out there. You’re going to strike out with faith sometimes. It’s the way it is. But God is faithful even then. God loves you and calls you even then. If we can believe that, then maybe we can even help others to believe it too. God is faithful. God will meet us on that mountain.