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Dave Johnson

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Episcopal Church of the Resurrection
“The Highest of the Mountains” (Isaiah 2:1-4)
November 27, 2022
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Back in 1996 while serving as the Diocesan Youth Ministry Coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming we took a group of eighteen high school students to Alaska for a service trip. In the middle of that trip as we drove from Fairbanks to Anchorage we visited Denali National Park, home of Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley), the highest mountain in all North America at 20,232 feet. It is a mountain so immense it has its own weather system, and most of the time it is covered with clouds. We took a bus ride to the nearest point to Denali accessible by roads. When we filed out of the bus, sure enough Denali was covered in clouds. But later there was a break in the clouds that slowly moved across the face of this magnificent mountain—and there it was, right in front of us, the highest mountain in North America, a sight so awe-inspiring it rendered all the teenagers speechless (no small feat). Personally, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life.

There is something about mountains that can make us feel closer to God, and we all need occasional “mountaintop experiences” to remind us that yes, God is very real, and yes, God loves us more than we could ever imagine. We see this in the Old Testament as both Moses and Elijah met God on Mt. Horeb (also known as Mt. Sinai), and yes like Denali was covered in a cloud that represented the presence of God. We see this again in the New Testament in the Gospel reading from the Last Sunday of Epiphany when Peter, James, and John accompany Jesus to the top of a mountain where he is transfigured before them—and once again there is a cloud representing the presence of God, and even Moses and Elijah appear and talk with Jesus. Moses represented the Old Testament Law and Elijah represented the Old Testament Prophets—and scripture teaches us that Jesus’ impending death on the cross would fulfill the Law and the Prophets, in other words the entire Old Testament.

Today’s Old Testament passage from the great Hebrew prophet Isaiah, whose ministry in Israel was about seven centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ, is high-octane gospel. Isaiah prophecies about “the highest of the mountains”, a mountain infinitely more important than even Mt. Denali or Mt Horeb: Calvary, the mountain where Jesus Christ would indeed fulfill the Law and the Prophets:


In 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. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-3).

All of this points to Calvary, “the highest of the mountains” where Jesus Christ shed his blood to establish the Lord’s house, which is the house of love. This is very good news for as the country singer Martina McBride sings, “Love’s the only house big enough for all the pain in the world”—and the Lord’s house of love is big enough for all the pain in your life—and some of you have had a lot of pain.

And Isaiah assures us that when it comes to this “highest of the mountains” that “all nations shall stream to it.” As you know the 2022 World Cup tournament is underway. I love the World Cup, the ceremony and passion and each representing their country in the biggest tournament of the most popular sport in the world. It’s fascinating to see the various cultures of the world expressed in the various ways they play. Just making it to the World Cup is difficult as there are only 32 countries represented out of the almost 200 countries of the world. On a deeper level I am always moved by having something positive around which all the nations can unite and see eye-to-eye.

And on an even deeper level the highest of the mountains, Calvary, will ultimately unite the nations of the world infinitely more than the World Cup, for “all nations shall stream to it.” This is exactly what Jesus meant when he said, “God so loved the world (all the nations) that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). This is why Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). It is the unconditional love of God for all the nations of the world and the definitive expression of that love in Jesus’ death on Calvary to which “all nations” shall stream. That is why we read in the Book of Revelation that the Risen Jesus, who even now bears the scars from his death on Calvary, ransomed by his blood “saints from every tribe and language and people and nation” and united them into the one Kingdom of God, the one Kingdom of love (Revelation 5:9-10). Ultimately all the nations shall stream to the highest of the mountains.

Isaiah then continues, “Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’” In other words, it is at Calvary where we learn the ways of God and the paths of God. It is at Calvary on Good Friday that Jesus taught us that the ways of God are always ways of love—and that the paths of God are always paths of love. It is not always easy to love someone who refuses to love you back, and yet that is the way of God and the path of God. Jesus taught that the entire Old Testament hinged on loving God with all our hearts and loving our neighbors as ourselves, that “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40)—and then Jesus fulfilled those two greatest commandments as he himself literally hung on the cross.

Then Isaiah prophesies about God’s judgment also taking place on “the highest of the mountains”: “He shall judge between the nations and shall arbitrate for many peoples” (Isaiah 2:4). Jesus always chose love over judgment. That is the gospel. In the Gospel According to John Jesus said this about judgment, “The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22)—and then shortly before his death Jesus said this about that judgment that God the Father had given him, “Now is the judgment of this world…And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:31-32). The same Jesus Christ the Son of God to whom God the Father gave all judgment then took all that judgment upon himself on the cross. Jesus always chose love over judgement, especially on Calvary—and commands us to do likewise, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1) and “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). On Calvary Jesus chose love over judgment, and the Risen Jesus still does.

Then Isaiah concludes this high-octane gospel passage, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). Think about that. Instead of using technology to develop new ways of killing one another, nations will use technology to develop new ways to feed one another and help one another and love one another—imagine a world like that. This is a radical shift because from time immemorial human beings have focused much of their creative energies into “learning war.”

In one of my favorite science fiction films ever, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) there is a very famous “jump cut.” The end of the first sequence of the film, “Dawn of Man” concludes with apes fighting one another, and one ape takes a bone and uses it as a weapon to hit another one of the apes. Then his companion apes do the same thing and soon they are all wielding bones as weapons. After they defeat their enemies one of the apes exultingly tosses the bone into the air—and as it rotates in slow motion the film immediately jumps to the next scene, a similarly shaped spaceship in orbit. In that one jump cut director Stanley Kubrick summed up countless years of the development of human technology. But while human technology has often focused on developing new ways to kill one another, as Isaiah prophecies, the love of God will ultimately reverse that, and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn way anymore.”

One more illustration…I recently finished rereading my favorite novel of all time, Victor Hugo’s 1862 masterpiece Les Misérables. Early in the novel the main protagonist, Jean Valjean, a recently paroled convict is graciously welcomed into the home of a bishop and given food and lodging. He repays the bishop by robbing him of his silverware and fleeing into the night. When he is arrested by the police and brought back to the bishop’s home the bishop not only gives him that silverware, but he also adds his valuable candlesticks and then blesses him. That generous love ripples through the entire novel as Jean Valjean spends the rest of his life likewise giving such generous love to others, including an abused orphan named Cossette and an insurrectionist named Marius, both of whose lives he saves. At the end of the novel the newlyweds Cossette and Marius are at Jean Valjean’s deathbed. Victor Hugo tells us what Jean Valjean tells them, “God is up there. He sees every one of us, and he knows what he’s doing up there in the middle of his great stars. So, I’m going away my children. Love one another dearly, always. Nothing else in the world really matters but that: to love one another.” What Isaiah prophesied on the cosmic level is also true on the personal level.

What Isaiah prophesied about the love of God being expressed in Jesus’ death on Calvary, the highest of the mountains, all came to pass. And after the Second Coming of this same Jesus, who still chooses love over judgement, all nations will stream to the highest of the mountains and war will be eternally replaced by love.


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