Sermon July 12, 2020

Joy: When

the Mountains Sing

Scripture: Isaiah 55:1-3, 6-13

Isaiah 55:1-3, 6-13 (Common English Bible)

All of you who are thirsty, come to the water! Whoever has no money, come buy food and eat! Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk! Why spend money for what is not food, and your earnings for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is good; enjoy the richest of feasts. Listen and come to me; listen and you will live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, just as I did with your ancestor David.

 Seek Yahweh when God can still be found. Call God while God is near. Let the wicked abandon their ways and the sinful their schemes. Let them return to Yahweh so that God may have mercy on them because God is generous with forgiveness.

My plans are not your plans, nor are your ways my ways, says Yahweh. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my plans than your plans. Just as the rain and snow come down from the sky and do not return without watering the earth, making it conceive and yield plants and providing seed to the sower and food to the eater, so is my word that comes from my mouth; it does not return to me empty. Instead it does what I want and accomplishes what I intend.

Yes, you will go out with joy, and you will be brought back in peace. Even the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you. All the trees of the field will clap their hands. In place of the thorn the Cyprus will grow; in place of the nettle the myrtle will grow. This will attest to Yahweh’s stature, an enduring reminder that will not be removed.

Joy: When the Mountains Sing

Preached at First Congregational Church, Loveland UCC

Will you pray with me?

Holy God, may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all of our hearts bring us nearer the joy that is you. Amen.

Warm sun shines down on us as we drive with our windows all the way down, slowly slowly navigating over the rocky road. Around us the world seems to glow emerald, greener than I am used to seeing Colorado in July.

We round a bend in the road and there, in the meadow beyond the trees, there are not one, not two, not three or four or five but six (yes six!) moose. They pay us no mind and keep on eating, their long heads lifting and dropping. Occasionally they lift their gangly legs and make their way to the next patch of bushes. We watch them for oh maybe 5 minutes before we continue up the road.

Where the road ends, we disembark from the truck. Cora climbs into her backpack (Darryl carries her, thankfully!), and we set off up the trail.

We start in pine forest which gives way to aspen stands – the leaves rustle together in the breeze, like gentle applause.

We leap (and sometimes stumble) across streams — mostly avoiding soaking our boots – and climb over fallen trees. Occasionally we pause to catch our breath or to make sure we haven’t completely lost the path. Nope. Still good.

We are just about ready to turn around when the path opens into an alpine meadow with mountains on two sides. We scramble up one more rise and there we are in one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been. A stream winds through the meadow, and I half expect to see a bear look up from eating berries in a cluster of bushes, but all is still. I watch as my daughter, completely at ease in the world, rushes down toward the stream, ready to explore!

You will go out with joy and be led forth in peace.

Even the mountains and hills will burst into song before you.

All the trees of the field will clap their hands.

In this ongoing pandemic, we are hard-pressed to find the places where it seems like all is right with the world, where the mountains and hills sing with joy and the trees clap their hands. For me, indeed like for many of us, wilderness, nature, the mountains, streams, forests and fields have offered this kind of solace.

This morning’s scripture reading, one of the lectionary texts for today,  was written during the Israelite exile in Babylon. A generation before, the Israelites had been forced to leave their beloved city of Jerusalem, forced to become strangers in a strange land. And now there are none still living who remember the home from which they came. In today’s scripture, the prophet Isaiah calls the Israelite people to leave the homes and relationships they have created in Babylon and reclaim the city which they have left, a city now almost unrecognizable.

I daresay, this time of pandemic feels something like exile. Worshiping from our kitchen tables, living room sofas or porch steps. And yes, we know that God IS present in these spaces as God is present in ALL spaces. But we miss the splendor of our sanctuary — the light streaming through stained glass windows. The cross against a Colorado sky blue background, the sound of our voices lifted in prayer and praise. We miss our choir. We miss touching and hugging, shaking hands and exchanging a smile — in person! We miss conversation over coffee or treats. 

Yes, this time feels like exile. As we work from basements or home offices. As we navigate the summer without story time at the library, public pools, camps, mission trips, and vacations to visit family or to explore the world. As we navigate illness, aging and even death in a world that seems wildly unfamiliar.

You will go out with joy!

And be brought back in peace!

The whole world will celebrate with you!

The mountains will sing and the trees will clap!

This promise seems naive at best. Misplaced. How can Isaiah speak of joy and peace when an entire nation is in exile?

As I offered in a sermon on rejoicing last year, joy is actually subversive. A form of resistance. We know that God’s kin-dom is not yet fully realized and yet joy proclaims the part of God’s kin-dom that is ALREADY here, ALREADY among us. Joy attests that we are enough, that we have enough, that we can be grateful and generous because the world is God’s and everything in it. Joy is the echo of God’s words at creation that the world is good, indeed it is very good.

Can you hear it? The mountains echoing this proclamation that the world is good. Can you hear them singing? You know the sound. When the wildflowers are so thick that you can hear the bees buzzing even from a distance. When bird-calls fill the air. When the cry of a lone coyote punctuates the night-song of crickets. The mountains are singing! And the trees clap their hands — the wind rustling through the aspen leaves like gentle applause.

See, even in the midst of exile

We know the joy this text is talking about.

And I daresay, our children and youth know it best.

The joy of sweet sticky watermelon juice dripping down your chin.

Chasing bubbles in the sunshine

The first pea shoot poking its way through the top layer of garden soil

Tender tomatoes plucked straight from the plant

Slobbery dog kisses when you walk in the door

A cat asleep in your lap

Leaves whispering in the breeze

An unexpected phone conversation

dance, laughter, affection, skin touching skin,

singing in the car, music in the kitchen,

the quiet irreplaceable and companionable presence of a daughter

or son

the sheer intoxicating beauty of the world[1]

You will go out with joy!

And be brought back in peace!

The whole world will celebrate with you!

The mountains will sing and the trees will clap!

joy is the act of giving ourselves away

before we need to or are asked to,

joy is practiced generosity[2]

And in today’s scripture, joy is also practiced trust. It is letting go and trusting that this exile will end — we know not when or exactly how, but we trust.

Joy is trusting that we need not know or understand all that is happening in our world.

Joy is letting go and trusting that we are God’s

And that the word that issues forth from God’s mouth will not return empty.

Even if we cannot understand what its fullness can look like.

Joy is an act of resistance.

It is practiced gratitude.

It is practiced trust.

Even in exile, we are called to joy!

Indeed we are promised it.

You will go out with joy!

And be brought back in peace!

The whole world will celebrate with you!

The mountains will sing and the trees will clap!

As poet Mary Oliver invites: “If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.”[3] For God is already here awaiting us. Amen.

[1] David Whyte, Joy

[2] ibid

[3] Mary Oliver on Joy

© 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.

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