From this Mountain

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Rev. John Weems preached, From This Mountain

While we are thankful for beautiful and safe places like Calvary Presbyterian Church in Pacific Heights, how comfortable are we supposed to be? How do we find the balance between comfort and God’s call to love our neighbors everywhere?


Sermon Video


This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

Isaiah 25:6-9

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.


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A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.


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Full Text of Sermon

Do you ever feel like you live a compartmentalized life, with your faith in one silo and reality in another?

As I have shared with some of you, I had the opportunity to work at the San Francisco Business Times to help pay the bills while attending seminary to become a pastor. Like many companies, we had incentives to reach our financial goals. Our team worked hard to have a strong year and we were ready to reap the rewards.

“Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Weems,” said one of the most hospitable people we had ever encountered, as Colleen and I entered the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay. Many companies and churches could learn a great deal from the hospitality practices of the Ritz. Within moments, we were greeted by name, checked in, and sitting at an ocean view table at a seafood extravaganza. It could have been called the Seven Deadly Sins Brunch.

This was definitely an occasion worthy of wearing my best eatin’ pants, ready to expand as I gorged on oysters, mussels and crab. You know you’ve crossed a line when you cannot touch another bite of fresh crab and question whether you can handle some Crème Brulee and dark chocolate covered strawberries. I’m not a quitter, so I powered through and did what I could to boost the dessert chef’s ego.

After brunch and a nap, my colleagues and significant others had the opportunity for full spa services. Colleen and I aren’t really spa people, but she was willing to get a mani-pedi while I went to our room to simultaneously watch football and study for my upcoming ordination exam. These are a series of tests aspiring Presbyterian ministers take, sort of a Christian pastor bar exam.

As sunset approached, I could hear bagpipes play outside as I studied theology, “God words,” or faith seeking understanding.

Suddenly, the contrast between what I was studying and my $600 per night hotel room became too much to bear. I realized my hypocrisy and went to my boss, insisting that instead of having our celebratory five star dinner, we go serve a meal to hungry people in the Tenderloin.

Actually, I did no such thing.

I continued to study God words, while watching grown men paid millions of dollars to play football, before going to enjoy my five star feast, without thinking too much about it.

Is anyone feeling uncomfortable right now . . . ?

Before you storm out or tune out, let’s take a closer look at God’s word from Isaiah. God seems to support feasts!

I invite you to open a Bible (pew Bible page 568, if you’re listening online, Google Isaiah 25)

Isaiah 25:6 reads:

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.”

That sounds good right? Rich food and well-matured wines, anyone? Presbyterians tend to be big fans of Isaiah 25:6. As with the rest of the Bible, it is vital to look at the context. The next verse reads: “Many will bring beef bourguignon and filet mignon, while others will bring cabernets, and pinots.” (It does not say that at all). Verse 25:7-8 continues:

“And [God] will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
And the disgrace of God’s people he will take away from all the earth,
For the Lord has spoken.”

What shroud did God need to destroy?

Christopher Seitz, a biblical scholar with a background at Yale and University of St. Andrews, Scotland, explains that, “The poet is speaking of a complete reversal of God’s activity and intention for the nations in the past, an intention that led to their utter annihilation.”[1]

To get the broader context, I recommend reading at least Isaiah 24-27.

The prophet, who was likely not just a lone wolf, but a series of people and prophecies attributed to the name Isaiah, frequently mentions a city. Scholars debate whether the city was Jerusalem or Babylon as both cities fell, in 587 BCE and 540 BCE, respectively.

Prior to the destruction of these once great cities, a major divide had come between the wealthy and the poor. A handful of people controlled most of the land and industry. Merchants would use fraudulent scales to cheat farmers out of hard earned income. Those who had owned family land for generations fell into debt and were forced to work for wages too low to live on.

The fall of Judah (the Southern Kingdom of Israel, including Jerusalem) to Babylon was interpreted as punishment from God for sin, for the collective breaking of covenant law concerning matters like land ownership. They had lost their Center. When Babylonian armies took control, the entire world of the Jewish people was turned upside down. They lost their homes, their livelihood, and many lived as captives and exiles.

Roughly 50 years later, Babylon suffered a similar fate. While Seitz argues that “. . . the judgment of Babylon represents God’s final assault on human pride,” he also points out that omission of the precise identity of the cities in Isaiah 24-27 makes them potentially applicable to all cities. “The prophet speaks out firmly against all forms of human pride and any recourse to military strength when it comes to proper attention to the will of God and his claim on his people and the nations.”[2]

As long as humans have been attributing messages to our Creator, it has been quite clear that God frowns upon arrogance and greed.

When we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly, God is pleased. Loving our neighbor as self is the path to following Christ, something he did all the way to the cross. Even on the cross, Jesus was still inviting people to the heavenly feast, including the criminals beside him that society had deemed unworthy of living.

Earlier in Isaiah, the prophet described the mountain of the Lord’s house “as the highest of the mountains,” (Isaiah 2:2) to which “Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord . . . that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” (2:3).

What are we to do once we climb the mountain?

Are we called to enjoy the feast of worship, then talk about what dishes we did or didn’t really care for?

On this hill, we are privileged to be in Pacific Heights in one of the more exclusive zip codes in the world. On this hill, we are privileged to have the opportunity to sit in this beautiful sanctuary where we can worship without fear that we will be persecuted like our sisters and brothers in the Middle East facing ISIS. On this hill, we are privileged to have a growing community with people of all ages and abilities.

However, we are not called to stay on this hill.

Listening to God and responding is in our congregational DNA.

Calvary members and friends before us moved locations twice before arriving here.

They fought against vigilantes and those who mistreated Chinese immigrants.

Many of you here today cared for people dying from HIV/AIDS when the disease caused all too many to be treated as outcasts.

Our friends Rick and Dick (the rhyme is a coincidence) help bring music to veterans.

Fernando helps bring water to people in the Philippines.

Several dozen Calvary people are serving as mentors and tutors and serving food to the hungry.

So many here today are sharing the feast of food, and talent with God’s children around the city and the world.

We come here to feast on the Word of God, to gather at Table and tables with other people who may be very different than us, and remember our call to reflect Christ’s light through our actions in the world.

Here, we seek God’s guidance to be called from this hill.

[1] Christopher R. Seitz, Isaiah 1-39 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 190.

[2] Seitz, 187-92.


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