On the One Mountain With Many Trails
September 26, 2021
Psalm 19: 1-4
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
Mark 9: 38-42
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”
Our sermon is titled, On the One Mountain With Many Trials. I was surprised to learn that there are over 4000 recognized religions in our world today. I wonder how many of the 4000 regard theirs as the one and only “true” religion. When I think of the religions of the world, I picture them as many trails that are climbing the same mountain, climbing to reach the ultimate, infinite source of love we call God.
All trails on a mountain eventually lead to the summit. As trails near the summit, they merge and their differences become almost insignificant. The same thing happens when comparing religions of the world. Yet when I think back on the wars and the genocide that has been conducted over the millenia on the basis of fear and the subversive intent to diminish another culture’s religion it pains me to no end. Even in our own country, in just a few hundred years, our ancestors have decimated native populations of people along with their languages, traditions, and religions.
If we were able to travel back through our ancestral lines, which, of course would quickly branch out like the tree of life itself, we would likely find that we have connections to both the American Indians and to the original immigrant population that drove them from their homes. In fact, unless anyone here is a recent immigrant, the sad truth is that we are still part of the occupying majority that is perpetuating the substandard living conditions of American Indians unless we are doing something to improve it. I will quote my Friend Charlie Collier now when I say, “If you see a problem, you are part of it.” Brilliant and humbling. Thank you, Charlie.
It is estimated that when Columbus landed on the shores of this continent, there were over 100 million native people already living here. At that time in history Europeans were claiming lands all over the globe. In 1493 the Pope issued a declaration we now refer to as the Doctrine of Discovery and this declaration may have changed the world more than any other prior document. It said “that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be ‘discovered,’ claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers and declared that ‘the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.’ This ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ became the basis of all European claims in the Americas as well as the foundation for the United States’ western expansion.” ** It was Thomas Jefferson who, in 1792, declared the Doctrine of Discovery to be international law and used it to justify the theft of lands not only in western North America, but eventually the Hawaiian islands as well.
Protestants eagerly embraced the opportunity to “save” the non-Christians by establishing Indian Schools that forcibly tore apart families and replacing the ancient languages, cultures and religions with White European culture and the Christianity. It is a sad story that still continues to this day. Last year, the United Church of Christ past a resolution calling for “the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discover which authorized the genocide of native peoples and the theft of native lands.” (see link below for full resolution)
This resolution is important because as recent as 2005, the Supreme Court used the Doctrine of Discovery precedent to rule against the Oneida tribe as they were seeking tax exemption for ancestral lands they had repurchased. For native people anywhere and everywhere, their land is central to their culture because their land is their sustenance; their land is their connection to the Great Provider, the Great Spirit that we call God.
Our First Testament reading today echoes the depth of similar beliefs when the psalmist writes of the expression of God in our physical world: “…the firmament (the earth) proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard, yet their voice goes out through all the earth, their words to the end of the world.”
I imagine those words could have been sung in the native language of any one of the countless tribes of American Indians, but those words were in fact written in 1000 BC, in the time of King David, by an Israelite who would have been considered an indigenous person, an Israelite Indian, if you will, living close to the earth and sharing a reverence for the processes that provided sustenance, shelter, warmth and the tools they needed to survive. Of course their religious practices and even their theology was closely tied to the natural world. Irregardless of where we came from, each one of us here today has ancestral and perhaps personal experience in God speaking to us through the power and perfection of nature.
There have been times in our history when saying such a thing would be construed as promoting pagan religious practices. I would have been seized and imprisoned before I could take my supper. I’d like to think we are beyond that, but it seems the same fear-based practices just appear more sophisticated these days when they rear their ugly head in the church and in politics. We are so threatened by those who hold differing opinions. We are not unlike those early explorers who saw that the key to funding their expeditions lay in promising to spread Christianity to foreign lands. The church would empty their coffers post haste to cleanse the world of the heathenous hordes.
I ask you, Friends, are other religions really a threat to our own? Are people that practice those religions a threat to us? Should we assume a place of judgement about whether or not their ways are appropriate, whether they are “godly” or “ungodly”? Slippery slope, that one. Seems to me that a people truly rooted and grounded in strong religious practice and faith are not so prone to fear of others, but that is just my observation.
What does Jesus have to say? When his own disciples chastise a stranger for healing in Jesus’s name, Jesus says, “Do not stop him. Whoever is not against us is for us.” Whoever is not against us is for us. I am so glad to have Jesus as a teacher. He knows that anyone that taps into the power that streams from God could in no way speak against it. That would be like diving into the ocean and, after coming up dripping, to say it’s not at all wet. God’s love is undeniable and it comes in a myriad of forms and feelings that prove it every single hour of every day of our lives. Even in adversity, in the wake of natural disasters, even in pain and death and tragedy, the divine light shines through somewhere, somehow and no one religion can claim ownership of something so infinite.
In closing, I offer you the following two things; one is an image and the other is a quote. The image is a mountain, very much like our Grand Monadnock, with many trails that lead to the same summit. We’re climbing up the JC trail, and many of our brothers and sisters are climbing other trails, trails with other names. each leading to one destination, the destination, where God is all that is. Lastly, the quote from the artist, George Catlin, who in 1830 was traveling in the west among four dozen tribes painting portraits and scenes of Indian life. He speculates in his diary, “The Indian of North America are 16 million in number and they send that number of daily prayers to the Almighty.” God bless them. Amen.
God of heaven and earth and all things within and without, I pray your blessings over humanity, this morning. There are many among us that are suffering, many grieving, many struggling to keep the light within burning bright enough to keep the darkness at bay. Help us, Lord, to tend to the parts of ourselves that need healing and help us in our awareness of others and how they are faring. Remind us of the power of a smile, a kind word, a genuine question of interest, a note in the mail, a phone call, or a prayer. If ever we are at a loss for words, turn our hearts to remember the words of this prayer that Jesus gave us….
I leave you with these words from the prophet Isaiah:
“Go out with joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”