The following story was a sermon delivered by Thom McDonough on September 23, 2012, at Goulais United Church
Once upon a time, there was a man who lived at the base of a mountain. As he tended his garden, and it was a wonderful garden giving all the food that he needed, he would often look up the mountain. He would watch the clouds come scooting along towards it and then be forced up into the air, dropping the rain as they went higher.
He was thankful for the rain because it watered his garden and provided water for the stream that flowed by. He often wondered what it would be like to climb that mountain.
One day, as he was out in his garden, tending to his vegetables, the fruit trees and the flowers, he looked up to see a stranger leaning on the stone fence. The stranger had a pleasant face and the man, being kindly and very hospitable, asked the stranger if he would like a drink and something to eat. The man thought the stranger looked weary from travel.
The stranger said that his offer was most welcome and yes, he would like to take a break for some water and fruit. So the man provided a pitcher of cool water and cut open a fresh melon that was sweet and juicy. As they sat in the shade of a vine, they chatted about the weather and the world in a way that men do.
Then the stranger asked the man, have you never left this place. “Oh, no” said the man, “I am content to work in my garden and around the house. There is enough here for me.”
“But you do so well,” said the stranger. “I’ve heard about you from others on the road. They say you are kind and generous and I have experienced your hospitality. You have been here for some time. Isn’t there anything else you would like to do?”
The man replied, “It is comfortable here, doing what I know the best. I have all that I need.” But as he spoke, his eyes drifted off towards the mountain. The stranger said, “Have you never thought about climbing the mountain, to see what is up there?”
“Oh, I could never do that” replied the man. I am just a farmer, not an adventurer. Leave the comfort of doing what I know? No, I don’t think I could do that.
But there may be others who need your skills and knowledge said the stranger. You can never tell what you might discover if you leave this comfortable place. You have much to share with others. You know kindness. You show love for your neighbours and even a stranger such as I. Why don’t you climb the mountain and share what you have learned?
The melon was finished and the water, drank. The stranger thanked the man and asked him to consider what he had said. The man just smiled and shook his head, thinking, “no, I really couldn’t do that.”
But the words of the stranger stayed with him. As he tended his garden, the words seemed to be berating him. “Go and proclaim the good that you know.”
One morning, without really knowing why, he took his tools and put them in his shed. He took a bag with some food, a change of his clothing, and some seeds, shut the door to his home and began the climb to the mountain top.
Well, he said to himself as he entered the rolling hills, this isn’t so difficult. Hours later, still climbing, with the sweat pouring off his brow, his confidence was waning - but a voice called him on.
Struggling up a steep cliff, he came to a plateau and saw a village. Actually, he heard the sound of people first. They were weeping. From the sounds of it, they were in great distress. Entering the village he came upon the people in the square. Asking of their grief, they told him that the food they gathered from the mountain forest had been scarce. The young children were dying of starvation. The people were hungry and it was very hard on the elderly.
The man asked them why they did not grow their own food. All replied that no one had shown them how. So the man showed them how to gather what few wild crops were still available and how to take the seeds from them. He showed them how to till the land, how to plant the seeds. He showed them how to harvest the food and to store it for times when food was scarce. He showed them how to share.
He had been so busy, the man did not feel the years slip away. His bones were stiffer now - he ached in places he hadn’t before. But finally he said he had to leave, because he wanted to climb to the mountain top.
As he left, he thought of the village and how, now, he heard laughing. The children were healthy, the elderly lived long lives. The village had become a community - they cared for each other, helped each other.
And so he climbed higher. After a number of days, he thought he heard thunder, yet the skies were clear. Climbing along the mountain trail he come to a fork in the road, one leading west, the other east.
From the east came a horde of riders galloping as fast as they could. Behind came another group riding madly, gesturing angrily at the riders in front. In the distance, the man could see smoke rising from homes on fire.
The two groups thundered past. In a short time he heard thunder to the west and saw smoke rising from homes set afire.
He stopped to rest at this fork in the road. The scene was repeated the next week and the next. Back and forth the groups chased each other.
With a sigh the man opened his sack, took some seeds. Using a piece of wood that he fashioned into a hoe, he began to create a small garden. He built himself a shelter. He piled stones around the garden.
At first the riders paid him no attention as they chased each other back and forth across the ground. But as the man tilled his garden even larger, soon they had to ride around it.
Finally, the riders from the east stopped their chase and asked the man, what in the world he was doing. “Growing food,” said the man. “Don’t you just take what you need from others” said the riders? “No,” said the man. “There is no need to do so, I grow my own and I also share it. And really, I don’t believe one should take what others have worked to grow.”
Soon, the riders from the west came back wondering why they were not being pursued. They asked the same questions of the man. They wondered at his strange words, about simply growing one’s own food; not just taking.
Not everyone thought this was a good idea, but one or two riders from both sides were interested and they worked at fields beside the man. Soon a few more joined in the growing. The riders chasing each other were fewer. Then, they stopped.
No more houses were destroyed. The people ate the food they produced. They set up a market at the cross roads to trade. Children learned to be farmers rather than riders. Horses were used to till the fields, not for raiding.
The man had been so busy that he had not realized how the years had slipped by. He had not realized how old he had become. He looked down the mountain side and in the distant plain, he could see his old home - there appeared to be someone living there - smoke rose from the chimney, the fields looked good. He smiled.
He looked halfway down the mountainside and saw the first village he had stopped at. All seemed to be well. Some the villagers where now coming up to trade at the market that had been built at the cross road. He smiled but felt so tired. Maybe he would stay a little longer and climb to the top of the mountain in a month or so.
Later that week, as he sat in the shade of the vine growing outside his small shelter, the stranger who had set him on his journey came walking up the road. “You have been busy,” said the stranger. “But I haven’t made it to the mountain top.” said the man.
“Ah,” said the stranger. “It isn’t about getting to the top that is important. It is the journey and what you have done on your way that is important. You have been a teacher, a peace maker. You have shared your wisdom and have proclaimed the good you know. You have made a difference in the lives of others and peace has come.”
Three days later, the man who proclaimed good things passed away.
Who was the stranger? I don’t know, but I do know that God calls us to go into the world to proclaim good news. Who was the man? I don’t know - he could have been a she - could have been you or me.
We are called to journey. We are called to climb the mountain of life - a mountain that is beset with obstacles to our journey, full of hardships, dangers, disappointments and yet - full of loving potential.
God does not measure our effort on whether or not we climb to the mountain top. God calls us on a journey of faith to create a new earth, where we find it is needed. God does not ask us to stay where we are comfortable. It is the journey to proclaim Good News that is important.
And as we climb God’s holy mountain, we know that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
It is the journey and what we do on that journey, that is important. Amen.