Memorial Day, just last week, reminded many of us of the deadliest war the world has ever seen. On June 6, 1944 Allied armies invaded Hitler’s fortress.
I knew some of the greatest generation of soldiers, sailors, paratroopers, and air men who were involved in that invasion and subsequent battles. Nearly four years earlier, the British army had been forced to retreat from Europe at Dunkirk.
Winston Churchill had become prime minister of England less than a month earlier. His voice rallied his own country and the free world…
My dad turned on the radio and told us to listen to Churchill speaking to the House of Commons, recorded earlier that day.
He said to the British that their challenge was clear; “we shall fight on the beaches; we shall fight on the landing grounds; we shall fight in the fields and in the streets; we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” His words gave the entire free world a share in winning that terrible war.
When we honor our dead as we did last week it is right for the entire nation, every person, to say, “Nor did we surrender. We fought – even as those not yet born then were there in their forefathers – whether soldiers or sailors or in the air — and would do it again.”
Now, in exactly that same spirit of veterans of long ago wars, we in the church meet to share again and again the story of our faith, to remember the stories and speeches that inspired our spiritual ancestors.
If we had been alive in those great bible times, we would have been characters in the original dramas and stories that still shape our faith and our view of the kingdom of God.
In the church and in our own personal faith journeys we have our war stories of defeat and glory, of desperation and honor, stories of darkness and celebration.
All our stories, the tragedies along with the pleasures, are stories of gifts from God because what we have endured in the past calls us to find our strength for mission based on our experiences of God.
Our stories are bound up with the story of Jesus Christ. Together with him we are caught up in the glory of Bethlehem and the choirs of angels.
Together with him we sat at the table in the upper room in Jerusalem and in him we were left utterly alone on the cross.
Together with him we rise to a new life, overcoming the worst that sin, death, and the devil could do, and together we go finally to the mountain where he told us to meet him for the final farewell.
But it is a different farewell than merely saying goodbye to each other. We have been with him now three years, called from humbler beginnings to accompany the son of God thru Galilee, Samaria and Judea.
We always knew there was something different about him, and during these days since Easter morning, it has begun to dawn on us that the kingdom of God he was always talking about was really his own kingdom without an army or boundaries or political formation.
When he spoke of God as father, he was talking about the God of heaven and earth who created all things as though he and the Father were bound so closely there was no way to separate them.
Now he has sent word that we are to meet him once more on a mountain. Things were always happening on the mountains in the biblical story. Noah obeyed God and built an ark while his neighbors laughed but the same water that drowned them floated Noah to safety, until the waters receded and the ark rested on Mt Ararat.
Abraham took Isaac to Mt. Moriah because in some kind of faith beyond our imagination he thought God wanted him to sacrifice his son.
Moses met God on Mt Sinai and there learned of God‘s care for the people who escaped Egypt.
Isaiah predicted better days for the children of Israel, saying that people from all the earth would stream to Mt. Zion, the mountain of the Holy City to praise the God whom the Israelites knew as their creator and Father.
So when Jesus Christ invited his disciples to a mountain in Galilee, we knew something was up, something was about to happen in one of those places where God has always given us an unexpected glimpse of himself.
Here God may give us a quick look that teases us as if he’s saying there’s a lot more about me than I’ve told you before, and if you look quickly, you’ll see more than you thought you might.
So we come to this moment on the mountain with mixed feelings. Some of us believe that Christ was more than all the stories and sometimes dark parables he told, that he had only hinted at who he really was and we would like to see for ourselves his relation to the Father.
Now, there’s nothing magical or all-encompassing about the number of disciples but I imagine there were eleven different responses to Jesus that day on the mountain. And there were some who doubted.
Some of us were persuaded, although in different degrees. Others were not so sure at all and there was a middle group, each with a little shade of light or darkness believing more or less than the other disciples.
But Jesus came to them, to us, all the same. He didn’t wait to see whether we could recite the commandments in the right order, or pass a test on the parable of the fig tree, or be the first to find the middle verse of the middle psalm.
Were we to look around in many a congregation, we would surely find at least as many gradations of belief and faith and acceptance or doubt and fear and benign failure to understand, as there were that day on the mountain.
As we survey our personal burdens and doubts and fears, those situations that seem to say God is silent when the very paving stones of our lives cry out for relief, it is in those moments that Christ directs us “come to the mountain.”
It was there that he made us partners with God in his cause, the greatness of which has never been equaled by any human endeavor.
He gave us a commission to be his soldiers. We were there and the consequences of his commission still resounds and reverberates across the continents and oceans of time and distance.
He made us partners in his mission of addressing the world with the saving word of God’s love and grace. How are we doing so far?
The saving word from the Father is that he never surrenders. He has loved us and saved us from a certain defeat so that as his people we can share eternity with him in the glory of a victory that shall never grow dim. He has given us a commission that arises from his blood-bought authority.
He does not add that he will be with us if we are good, if we are successful, if we are happy, if we are pleased with the way life treats us. He is with us on the landing grounds, the fields and streets, and in the hills and valleys of life. He will never surrender, nor shall we.
What a story to share with each other and with the world. We were with him on the mountain.
Look what he gave us –a commission to be bound up with him, we with our doubts and fears and inadequacies, our uncertainties and unanswered questions.
Sometimes we look at our own personal faith and say “I don’t believe enough. Maybe if I had more faith, I would have less trouble. Maybe God is displeased with me.”
Sometimes we think our fears or doubts disqualify us from being one of the modern day disciples. But a famous Scot mystic gave us the line that “there is more faith in those who doubt than in those who are afraid to doubt.”
There was a time when I wanted to answer—felt I had to answer – all the questions that arise from the Christian faith, because I felt uneasy with trying to represent something for which I did not have all the answers.
But over the years I have come more and more to wanting simply to rehearse and retell the story of what God has done, and what he still does for us in Jesus Christ.
I want to tell and I want to hear the story of how God stormed the beaches of this world against all odds, winning just a toehold through the perfection of Jesus Christ, enough to go on to victory.
I want to be called again and again to the mountain where with all my doubts and burdens and fears and unanswerable darkness and despair, I can hear him make all of us together partners in his mission.
God the Father, creator of the world, is still alive in our daily living, carrying on his creative work that prepares a road in which we walk.
God the Son, Savior of the world, died for you and me, by name, each one of us. God the Spirit lives in us alongside us, interceding, as Paul wrote to the Romans for us in sighs that are too deep for words.
The more I look into the lives of people, just ordinary people whose messy agonies cry out for gift of our baptism, I see people whose hungers can be fed only in the upper room at the table of the Lord and I am persuaded that it is by the grace of God that any of us hang in there.
Our lives make sense only as we are caught up in God’ s story when we meet him on the mountain, when we can be assured that our living and breathing is connected with the love and power present in partnership with God.
As long as we are called to that mountain, to share in the story of God who loves his people, we shall never surrender.