In the days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.Isaiah 2: 2
Hymn 81 I to the hills will lift mine eyes [1 3 4}
You are a God full of love and compassion
a God who is holy and blameless
the great and mighty God who brought into being all that is
our minds struggle to grasp the size and scale of the universe
we marvel at the complexity of your creation
its order, its capacity for change, for the unexpected happening
our senses are thrilled by beauty and art around us
colour, sound, smell, taste
form, texture, the delicate, the solid
and you are greater and mightier than all your creation
you know your creation and care about it
you have established patterns and order for its structure
and patterns and order for its behaviour
what is acceptable and what is not
patterns based on your own nature and behaviour
you call us to be caring, honest, faithful, trustworthy
forgiving, long-suffering, as you are
your care and concern have been with us all our lives
they come new to us each day
and we know that we can rely on them
and generations to come can rely on them
in your care and concern you gave us your Son
to be our Saviour and Lord
and through his life, death, rising and ascending to glory
you have made us yours for ever
We confess that we have failed him and you
we have taken you and your love for granted
we have added to the world’s hurt
we have harmed your creation
may our love for you and others overflow
may we grow into the likeness of Jesus
and let that be seen in how we live and treat others
Through Christ our Lord we pray
All age time (for ages 0-100)
Hills come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some like Ben Lomond have easily identifiable shapes, others make their mark by being part of a larger range of hills or mountains. Some are easy to climb, some are challenging. Some are cultivated – with arable terraces, pasture for livestock, or woodland plantations – others are left to natural plantings, bog, scree etc. Sometimes we have favourite hills or sets of hills. Setting out a description of hills and mountains like that, there is something of an analogy between hills and people!
Hills were very much part of the story of the Jewish people, and part of Jesus’ everyday experience: the rolling, green hills of Galilee, the high wooded ranges of the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon to the North, the rugged slopes down the Jordan valley, and the long trek from Jericho up to Jerusalem (about the same as Rowardennan to the top of the Ben) used when people were going to celebrate the festivals. Did poor Mary have to make that trek when she was heavily pregnant with Jesus? Jesus may only have been in his 30s at the time of his ministry, and Mary in her late 40s or early 50s, but we can add 20 years to make a modern equivalent. They just took it in their stride. I think we would be shocked at how fit they were.
Bible reading Mark 9: 2-9
Reflection Part 1 Spiritual highs
When you have climbed a hill or mountain you have a tremendous feeling – it is something that even non-religious people call ‘spiritual’. It may partly be the sense of achievement, partly a sense of relief that you have actually achieved your goal, and partly to do with being able to breathe again – but it probably also has something to do with the different perspective on the world you have from the top of a hill or mountain.
Roads become narrow threads, fields are like postage stamps, buildings, factories, towns, cities all become smaller than toys or models. And as you look down on their small stature, so problems, issues, personalities, can shrink in stature too. On a clear day your horizons are lifted, you can see beyond the immediate, the pressing, the everyday, you can see for miles. At other times there is cloud or mist drifting around the hill or mountain top, sometimes hiding the ground below, sometimes hiding the sky above, sometimes playing tricks with the light that make you feel you are an honoured guest at a spectacle which few others will witness.
There are often other people on the hill or mountain, but it is never crowded – there is usually always space to be yourself, to step back from life. And if you are alone then, unless there is a crisis, it is usually a comfortable sense of being alone.
Fascination with high places goes back a long way in human history. Ancient peoples regularly built altars and shrines up hills – maybe tapping into the sense of the ‘spiritual’ they experienced there, maybe thinking that the hill top was a bit closer to the home of the gods beyond the sky.
In the Bible we read of the Canaanites who lived in the Holy Land before the Hebrew tribes arrived from Egypt having ‘high places’ where they worshipped Ba’al. Some of the great spiritual encounters between God and his people also happened up mountains: Moses was given the Ten Commandments and Law up Mount Sinai, the Temple was built on Mount Zion, Jesus’ glory was revealed to his friends on the Mount of Transfiguration, and it was on the Hill of Golgotha that Jesus died for us.
Going up a hill or mountain every day to be near God isn’t practical for most if not all of us – and not possible at all for some. We don’t need to climb a literal hill to be near God – he is close to us through his Spirit wherever we are – but it is a good idea to make some time to climb a metaphorical hill to be close to him. It is good, every day if we can, or at least once a week, to give ourselves time and space to step back from our everyday world, look down on life, and see it all from God’s perspective, to raise our sights to new horizons, and see a different angle on life
Hymn 154 O Lord my God [1 2 4]
Reflection Part 2
Except for confirmed couch-potatoes, even those who aren’t regular hill-walkers or mountaineers can see the attraction to some people of ‘bagging’ hills and mountains, of being able to say, “I’ve climbed that one…I remember the first time we went up that one…I’ve been up every mountain in Scotland above 3,000’”.
But how many of us ‘bag’ the valleys between the mountains? How many hill walkers see valleys as nuisances that make a climb more tiring? How many books are there on walking the valleys of the Highlands or Snowdonia, compared with the number on walking the hills?
Yet without the valleys there would be no individual hills – just a high plateau or tableland. It is the valleys, the bits that have been taken away from the high plateau, that give the hills and mountains their shape and character, that make them interesting. Maybe it is something we can remember the next time we are feeling all important and exalted, or feeling that we are always in someone else’s shadow: mountains need valleys, we need other people and other people need us. And God loves and values us whatever we are like, and has an essential part in his plan for each one of us.
After the great mountain top experiences in the Bible there was usually a crisis or anti-climax. Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments to find the Israelites revering a Golden Bull. Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration to find the disciples in a fankle about healing someone. Valleys are full of cold showers of reality, places where everyday, ordinary life, with crises and foibles, happens.
When we have been on a ’high’ – a good holiday, a good conference, a good party – we want to stay up there. Many folk try to do just that, filling their lives with occasions that make them feel ‘high’, and sometimes taking substances to help them feel that way.
Jesus wasn’t a dour, humourless individual. He enjoyed fun and laughter and a good social life, in the right place. But he wants us to see beyond a life that just focuses upon keeping ourselves on a ‘high’. He wants us to share his love and Good News with the world around us – and that could mean doing things that are unglamorous, unexciting, thankless, disheartening, downright boring – but that is what is needed to build the Kingdom. Being up a mountain is fun, but we live our lives in the valleys, and our God is with us in the valleys as much as on the mountain tops.
Prayers for others
We give thanks for the hills around us here
and for the pleasure they give to so many people
so often as a community we simply take them for granted
so often we don’t treat them properly
we pray for those who look after our hills and mountains
who rebuild the paths, pick up the litter, and seek to protect habitats
We give you thanks that we do not have to climb mountains to be close to you
because you come close to us, where we are
We pray for those who struggle to cope with the highs and lows of life
those constantly striving to have ‘highs’ created by experiences or substances
and those battling with mental health issues
we pray for all who are ill,
those who look after them
and those who worry about them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one
those who are worried about home, work or money
a friend or a relative
those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters
those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home
those who long to live in peace and safety
those who have fled from their homes seeking safety
We pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
We pray for you church
the worldwide church
the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn 152 Praise the Lord his glories show [1 3 4]
And the blessing of God Almighty.