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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Saturday, February 16, 2019
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

The Hill of the Lord

The Hill of the Lord

Mark 6:14-29

Psalm 24


When we were kids, my siblings and I used to love to go to grandma's house.  They had a big hill beside the barn where grandpa would plant his corn.  One day I got brave enough to climb that hill.  The corn was higher than I was, but I figured that if I kept going uphill I would reach the top.  It seemed to take forever.  And all I could see around me was green corn stocks, ripening ears of corn, and every once in a while a bug or two.  I felt crowded in, confined, tired, hot, and discouraged.  The corn became my enemy and the only world that existed for those minutes of climbing that hill.  But eventually I made it and the world around me changed.  There, at the top of the hill, no corn grew.  The hill was bare and I could walk easily the rest of the way up.  And there at the top of the hill I caught a breath taking view of the hills and valleys that seemed to a child's eyes to stretch on and on forever.  My perspective of the world changed.


Now let's take a look at Herod.  Herod had climbed a hill of his own, what he thought was a hill of success.  the story of Herod and Herodius reads like a soap opera.  Herod has been disturbed by what John the Baptist has accused him of.  But he has taken a liking to John.  He has him imprisoned, but continues to talk with him.  But in a drunken state he rashly promises his daughter anything she wants because she has managed to captivate Herod's guests with her dance.  His climb to success means that he cannot lose face, so he orders John beheaded.  Any feelings he had about John had to be repressed to carry out his promise to his daughter. 

Then this troubling man called Jesus was around, and Herod, fearing and possibly feeling guilty about killing John, wondered if Jesus was John coming back to seek revenge.  Herod's guilt kept him from hearing Jesus’ message of good news.  It was the message he most needed to hear.  Because his life was clouded with the need to succeed, his perspective on the world was limited.  He was in his own cornfield, climbing ever upward, not really knowing what was at the top.  I wonder if Herod would have ever been able to hear the good news message Jesus taught.


What interferes with our ability to hear the message?  Right now maybe it's having stayed up last night and being sleepy this morning.  Maybe it’s a boring sermon or the character of the preacher.  Maybe it’s our worries and anxieties about the events of the week.  Or maybe it’s deeper than that, our fears, anxieties, guilt or worries about preserving our status in life.  I wonder if we don't have some of Herod in each of us.  It seems so important to be successful.  We are a success oriented society and we have many opportunities to fudge our way up the hill to success.  The stress and strain of trying to be successful takes its toll.  It's no wonder that alcohol, food, and drug addictions are our primary health problems.  It's no wonder that our hearts are kicking out at much earlier ages.  It's no wonder that more money is spent on blood pressure medications than almost any other drug.  We are a society riddled with stress related problems and health issues.  The message that would ease and redefine our ideas about success is the very message we most often tune out.  The message we need most to hear goes unheard, ignored, or shoved to the bottom of our priority list.  Unfortunately, the people around us get shoved there too.  Our friends, our families, our coworkers suffer when our priorities center on our own definition of success and God’s message of love and wholeness goes unheard or ignored.  Actress Bette Davis once said, "When you get to the top of the ladder, you will wish you had the things you dropped on the way up." What have we dropped on the way to success?


But there is good news.  God's message is meant to be heard!  I remember a night several years ago when I had trouble getting to sleep.  .  Perhaps it was the caffeine in the coke I was drinking that kept me awake.  .I knew I was going to have a difficult day the next morning.  I did my usual devotions, but got little out of them.  . I headed for my office in the church and decided that I wanted to get the next Sunday morning's sermon done early in the week so I wouldn't have to come to Saturday night, stay up late and finish writing a mediocre sermon.  I wanted very much to be a successful pastor and preacher.  .So that day early in the week, after that sleepless night, I downed more caffeine as the drowsiness began to cloud the brain cells.  That worked for a few minutes, but drowsiness began to creep back in.  All day it went like that.  The anxiety about not meeting myself self-imposed deadline snowballed into more coke or coffee and irritation and guilt.  I simply could not hear God's message that day.  I think at one point I had written something about decapitating my husband because I wondered why he could be so jovial all the time.  But I couldn't put that in a sermon.  Bedtime finally came that day, but no sermon had been written.  I found myself wide awake worrying about getting that sermon done.  After tossing and turning for a while, I rolled over and looked out the window.  What looked like a million fireflies seemed to be dancing in the field at the back of the house.  It was an incredible sight.  And then it dawned on me.  There are more important things than writing a sermon before Wednesday morning.  The sermon would come in its own time, after all God had not failed me yet.  The point was that there were a million points of light drawing me back to God, to open my heart so I could hear God's message, a million points of light to ease the tension and stress so God could speak and be heard once again.


Success is often a manufactured quality.  We measure success in this world's terms, wealth, material goods, accomplishments, good sermons.  But God's word through Christ calls us to a different kind of success.  We as Christians are successful when we hear and respond to the Word, to the message of God's love and forgiveness.  We are successful when we prioritize our lives with God at the center.  Our success is measured in how many people we comforted, provided strength to, cared for and offered a bit of ourselves to in the name of Christ. 


Many years ago, while staying at a motel in Indiana we encountered a man staying at our motel.  He seemed to have a permanent room there, drove a beat up old car, had religious bumper stickers all over that car, and looked ratty and unkempt.  But local legend had it that he had lots of money and rode up and down the highway looking for motorists who needed help.  Society would not judge this man to be a success.  Some would tell him to get a job, or get a muffler, or get rid of his trashy looking bumper stickers.  Some would never dream of associating with him or attending his funeral.  But I wonder how many people he had helped in his lifetime, how many people he had prayed for, how many people he had restored hope to, how many people he had shared his message with.  Was he a success?  Here was a man unencumbered by time and material constraints, leading a simple life focused on the Word of God he was able to hear, receive, and act upon.


What stands in our way of hearing God's word?  What hill are we climbing that doesn't allow us to catch a glimpse of the truth?  What corn stalks are blocking our way, slapping us in the face and keeping us from seeing a different picture of the world?  This is God’s creation, beautiful yet terrifying at times.  This is God’s world, filled with opportunity, yet frustrating and confusing at times.  But when we see our goal as climbing up God’s hill the view at the top will be incredible indeed.  

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