Text: Mark 9: 8-9
In Boston where people are encased in snow, in Syria where ISIS has turned sprawling cities into mangled steel and heaps of concrete rubble, in a one-room paint-pealing apartment where the mail brings nothing but more bills, drowning the already penniless person in more debt, in school where unmet assignments are overwhelming a student with the threat of failing, each one, when hearing today’s Gospel, may want to cry out, “Jesus, take ME to the mountain, too!” Maybe that someone is YOU.
“Take ME to the mountain, lift me into this mysterious, wondrous story that turns contentious religious debates into a heavenly conversation that has us listening in on Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, the prophet, and Jesus, the One with whom God is well pleased.
“Take US to the mountain, clothed in all the horrors that darken everyday life, all the filth that clings to us – giving us the stench of self-centered choices, of steel-like prejudices, of broken promises made to God and a lost joy that has us singing,
“Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?” (William Cowper)
“Take US to this day’s Gospel Mountain, to stand with Peter and James and John and be overwhelmed by the sight of the dazzling pureness of Jesus that cleanses us and renders us speechless as, in this time of worship,
we find ourselves getting as close to God as a human can get. And, like Peter, we want to stay. Especially now in the brutal cold of these winter days; we want to stay in the warming fire of worship.
But, we know we only come to this mountaintop time of worship where we are washed in the splendor of God shining on us in Jesus, so we may walk with Him into the valley, where seeing only Jesus, we follow Him into the very places from which we have come, down in the valley where a story carries the echo of the call to take up Jesus’ ministry; down in the valley where “The Chickens Build a Wall.” (A story told in word and with slides taken from the book written and illustrated by Jean-Francois Dumont)
No one is sure why a wall appeared on a farm in England. It all began one fall morning when a hedgehog showed up in the middle of the barnyard; perhaps he was lost or looking for something to eat. No one had even seen a hedgehog and everyone was fascinated by this strange new creature.
When he saw that everyone had gathered to look at him, he curled into a tight ball – to everyone’s astonishment.
The ducks quacked, the chicks clucked, and all the birds cast their suspicious look. Only Zita, the smallest goose, said maybe he was startled by all the attention, but no one listened to her.
An old pigeon who had traveled far and wide said he’s heard about these creatures and warned everyone to be cautious.
All the time the hedgehog didn’t move and soon they stopped watching and went back to work – while always keeping a wary eye on the curled up creature.
In the morning the hedgehog had disappeared and in the henhouse rumors were flying, “Bet he didn’t leave empty-handed. We’d better count our chicks and our eggs.” None were missing but one chicken noticed there were fewer worms. Someone reasoned. “He ate them!” and the clucking grew louder.
The rooster decided it was time to take control. “Hens, that’s enough! We’ve got to protect ourselves against prickly invaders.” Only one little chick protested, “If we use our beaks to defend ourselves, we’ll all be pecked to death.”
“Let’s build a wall around the hen house,” the rooster suggested, “high enough to keep out wild animals, so high even birds won’t be able to fly over it!”
To the rest of the farm the idea was ridiculous, except for the thought that it might block hearing the rooster’s crow at dawn.
The hens ignored the mocking and kept on working while the rooster watched the wall grow higher and higher.
The hens didn’t stop even when snow began to fall and soon the wall was higher than the barn, but the rooster ordered, “Keep on building; the higher the wall the safer we’ll be!”
Soon the wall was so high no one could see where it ended. The hens were exhausted, and wanted the barnyard to return to normal. The rooster put the last brick in place amid joyful clucking and everyone celebrated with a huge party.
At that moment the hedgehog appeared from the straw where he had spent the winter sleeping.
Since they had forgotten to build a door, he stayed while the rooster worked at breaking through to make an an opening. The wall was so thick it took all summer.
Meanwhile, the hens got used to the hedgehog and the hedgehog was no longer afraid of the hens. So he stayed and there was no need to have a wall. It stayed torn down, down in the valley.
“”Down in the valley” where walls of prejudice, fences that isolate, barriers that segregate, barracks built with wires and concrete, and with edicts and mind-sets, are torn down with the truth Paul put into the words:
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has…broken down the dividing wall, that…he might create in himself one new humanity…thus making peace…through the cross… (Ephesians 2: 14-16 – adapted)
“Down in the valley” where Jesus set His pace to walk to the cross and, in the Season of Lent, we will retrace His steps to tear down walls within us and around us, walls others build and we build, to be our peace.
“Down in the valley” where we go after the Benediction – God’s good word that sends us from the mountain of worship, charged with having caught a glimpse of a God-filled moment, or – if nothing happened, then, walking in the glory witnessed by Peter and James and John, and in that borrowed joy, live in the world within us and around us, where the after Good Friday Jesus stepped from the tomb to walk with us and work through us to break down walls that stand in the way of bringing His peace to us and to everyone else. Amen.
We go into the valley singing: "My faith looks up to Thee..." Amen.