June 28, 2020 - Sermon - Marty Culbertson, Director of Youth Faith Formation

This service was livestreamed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Sermon Text

Lessons from the Mountains

Psalm 89: 1-4, 15-18
1 I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD,[a] forever;
    with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
2 I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
    your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.
3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
    I have sworn to my servant David:
4 ‘I will establish your descendants forever,
    and build your throne for all generations.’”

15 Happy are the people who know the festal shout,
    who walk, O LORD, in the light of your countenance;
16 they exult in your name all day long,
    and extol[d] your righteousness.
17 For you are the glory of their strength;
    by your favor our horn is exalted.
18 For our shield belongs to the LORD,
    our king to the Holy One of Israel.

Let us pray:  Today Lord, and all our days, let us revel in the strength of your commitment to us and forever remind us you walk with us as we share your love with all we encounter.

So, this year would have been the 28th Federated Church sponsored trip to the Colorado Rockies for a group of budding young Christians!  From the middle of March until the early part of May I held out hope that we might be able to travel west on another amazing Faith Journey.  Praying that the COVID 19 virus would calm its waves of spread, bringing a potentially deadly consequence to people across the country.  Traveling to and from Buena Vista would have been difficult to do in a safe and socially distant way.  This brought about yet another disappointment for the kids and the biggest one for me to that point in time.

(truth be told, as an introvert, holding up at home and doing very little away from the house was not a huge sacrifice for me).  I knew I could handle this better than some folks.  

I know that we will be back to complete trip number 28 in the future… planning on June 2021!
Today, we will not have inspiring stories from a trip just completed.  But, we have 27 years of lessons from our past experiences in the mountains.

Some lessons will seem more serious than others… yet they all can come in handy in our everyday life.  
Like: A lesson I learned after my first trip I have learned that Fritto Burritos are only good if you eat on them while on the mountain trail!  

Toilet Paper is something to be cherished… we don’t get to use that on the trail (details about that are only fit for a private conversation… this is a lesson for which I am truly grateful … considering the crisis we have found ourselves in these days.

We learned years ago that Todd only needs a towel the size of a wash-cloth!   taking on too much of a burden by carrying things you don’t need just holds you back… we can survive just fine with fewer clothes and no need for beauty aids… you can be just as beautiful with a little dirt smudge on your nose when being viewed through the lens of our loving God.  In life we can do so much more by being good and strong with one or two skills worked to perfection then we can by trying to take on too much at one time.  So we learn to lighten our load.
We are reminded of one of the most important lessons in Verse 2 of todays reading.  “Your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens”.  

The beauty of the Colorado Trip is putting yourself out there to receive the message that God is with you through everything!

Might I suggest you close your eyes for a moment and visualize an experience from our journeys.  You are now standing at the edge of a 70’ rock face.  You are harnessed and attached to a line that is secured to rocks that can only be moved by an act of God.  You have been told that these lines are so secure it can hold a school bus over the edge of the rock face (this is not a statement for you to take personally).  And yet, you are still scared to take that first step over the edge.  Its okay, you are not the only one who feels this way.  But the lesson repeated over and over is that God is with you!  His Faithfulness is as firm as the heavens!  So you take that step, you take control of your descent, you can even brake on your way down and look around you, to see a magnificent landscape… created at the hands of one so much bigger than you and I.  Soon you are safely on the ground and you realize, if you hadn’t taken that first step, trusted that God holds you always and has gifted our guides with the knowledge to keep us safe, you would have missed an experience of a life time.  More kids than I can remember have walked away from this moment of accomplishment and declared that “If I can do that, I will be able to do anything”. 

When have you been faced with a challenge or fear, almost paralyzed into doing nothing… but you find a way to trust and take that first step from the edge,  it is such a gift to know God is steadfast in his love for you, for us all.
When we are on the trail backpacking a group of teens is often hiking like a centipede.  Moving along as if they are one being… it makes for a great picture, but it means they are missing the view of so many beautiful things.  They are also talking, laughing and singing… it is a way to distract from the hard hike they are on.  But I have always encouraged them to take time to see what God has placed all around them.  Which leads to solo hikes.  Space the hikers out every 50’, hike silently and make observations about what they see.  My desire for them is best expressed in a modern version of our reading today.  Psalm 89 as presented by Leslie Brandt in his book Psalms Now.

    I feel like singing this morning, O Lord.

    I feel like telling everyone around me how great You are.

If only they could know the depths of Your love and Your eternal concern   for those who follow You!

    But my songs are so often off-key.

    My speech so inadequate.

I simply cannot express what I feel, What I know to be true about Your love for Your creatures upon this world.

But even the songs of the birds proclaim Your praises.

The heavens and the earth beneath them, the trees that reach toward you, the flowers that glow in colorful beauty, the green hills and the soaring mountains, the valleys and the plains, the lakes and the rivers, the great oceans that pound the shores--  they proclaim Your greatness, O God, and Your love for Your human creatures throughout this world.

How glorious it is to be alive, O Lord!

May every breath of my body, every beat of my heart, be dedicated to Your praise and glory.
The lesson- take in the glory of God in each and every person, each and every creature, flower, tree!  
I love photography as many of you know.  I usually find myself trying to zoom in on the smallest detail of a beautiful flower or a bird.  To me it is a way to find the beauty in everything, to dedicate myself to praising God!  So, Hike with your head up and your eyes on all that God has placed in your path.

As I was making notes for today, I continually found myself thinking of the life lessons that all pointed to revering and respecting the glorious gifts God has shared with us.   How do these apply to our everyday lives… Each lesson can be a part of how we care for all that God has created. 

-    Leave no Trace – tread lightly, pick up your trash, don’t trample the flowers.
-    Leave the trail better than you found it – Pick up that trash even when it isn’t yours.  Spread love and good vibes as you move through life.  Care for others!
-    Be prepared so that everyone is safe – always think things through, who needs to be aware of what you are doing, how will your decisions affect others?  Bring enough to share.
-    Leave the fisherman be – be respectful of others in their space.
-    Share the trail – step aside and let others pass, open the door, offer to help when you see a need.
-    Never ever judge a book by its cover.  You will be surprised that you assume some kids will struggle with this physical endeavor and yet find that they are the ones who rise to the challenge!

The psalmist has reminded us of the foundational work of our creator…The Journey to Colorado has been and is one of the ways we can share that with our kids.  Engaging in the lessons from the mountains in a way that they can apply it to their life is so important.

I have probably shared this before, so I apologize, but this story from the trail is one that never gets old.  The message in Psalm 89 is that God’s Love is strong, never failing, even in our darkest moments, our biggest struggles…when we think we are alone, God is there.  

    I am guessing this experience is from 15 years ago.  Our trail guides asked us to create an art project that depicted a lesson we were taking away from our journey, something about where God fits into our life.

    Two creations are still very vivid in my mind.  The first was created by a young girl in our group.  An engineering feat for sure.   She found a couple dozen sticks and built what looked like a lean-to, each stick represented individuals.  It was a very stable structure… until she explained, one stick is holding this all together…when I remove this stick, the whole structure will collapse.  She explained that one stick was, you are thinking correctly, that one stick represented God.  The young girl proceeded to remove it and as she said, that structure collapsed.  God is our strength and our foundation!

    The second project was created in the near by stream.  Sticks were used to build a structure like a dock crib.  Water could pass through but the things inside would stay put.  The young man that built it put a flower in the top.  For seventh graders I thought they did an amazing job expressing what they were feeling.  This young man explained.  The things inside the structure were all of us.  The flower was Jesus (a beautiful image) and the water… that was God.  Always there, always flowing through us, supporting us with what we spiritually and physically need, gentle and soothing and yet very powerful.

I asked some former kids and advisors if they had lessons that stuck with them…

Emily, Former Colorado Kid and long time advisor has many thoughts, lessons to share, but she wanted to share that this trip gets a lot of credit for who she is today, her career as a Jr High Science teacher, her love of travel and discovery and the fact that she is a JOY advisor!  I would say the lesson is recognizing all the events in your life play an important role in who you blossom into!

Euneata, who went as a kid and as an adult shared this: 
One of the many years I went as a Colorado Kid, we were on the trail with two of the best Noah’s Ark guides Steph and one we affectionately called Happy Gilmore. Each year brought on new challenges and ever evolving relationships with our trail groups. Some of the kids like Schuyler, Jill, and Meg, I have known for years because of the unique circumstance of being together each summer. This particular summer was special because it was the first year we did Christmas on the Mountain. This was back when we used to drive to Colorado because I still have my stick that was my secret Santa gift. Our task was to make something from the earth using found materials. This was a special memory because it called us to be creative and thoughtful. These gifts were special because of the unique symbolism of love, friendship and understanding they offered. There was no mountain store or Amazon drop-off on the trail meaning these gifts (for lack of a less cliche phrase) really came from the heart. You want to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas (In July)? Go have Christmas on a mountain. We lit a fire, drank tang and exchanged little pieces of our hearts to each other. It was a moment I’ll always treasure. -  Give from the heart!

Connor, who came as an advisor shared:
Growing up in NE Ohio we live in a bubble of security and modern conveniences . I’ll never forget taking kids out of that bubble and letting them see what the sky actually looks like at night. And how away from all of the normal crutches and comforts of our day to day lives, they weren’t lost, unable to function. I loved seeing kids surpass their predisposed expectations of themselves. Watching the nerves and exhaustion of the first days hike turn into wishing that they had another day on the trail as we were packing up our gear to meet the bus.
-    The lesson, step outside your box, put down your gadget and become who you really are!

Paul shared a bit of Humor, yet a lesson we all need to remember:
“Nothing brings people closer than all smelling absolutely terrible after not showering on the trail for 4 days”. 
 Seeded in this humor is that we all have a stench… or at least an imperfection and it is okay.  Accepting our short comings is easy when you remember we all have them!   We all smell!  😊

Kelly adds:
“Resilience, determination and trust....
The year I had all girls freezing cold.   Woke up to snow on our tents.  Were to summit mt antero.  The girls were so focused and not willing to give up, that they didn’t even notice how freezing cold and frozen their hands were.  After we made the Summit and we were on our way back down, I noticed their  bright pink hands with no gloves on them helping to guide them down through the steep peek as they placed their hands on the rocks. 
Their attitude and focus and never quit support of one another and trust in one another, their ‘church’ leaders and their Noah’s guides was something I’ll never forget.”

Gary and Doug also shared the lesson of supporting one another.  Being able to reach a goal is group focused, you cannot not do it alone.  You share the burden of weight, encouragement, trust and even letting go of your own agenda, your own plan of how you will accomplish the goal.  

To really take in the what the psalmist is saying, you need to humble yourself to God, to the fact that God will always have a hand in your success as we heard in Psalms Now: 

May every breath of my body, every beat of my heart, be dedicated to Your praise and glory.
You can’t do that, you can’t offer praise and glory honestly if you want all the credit for your accomplishments.
All of these lessons have a place in our everyday lives but given the cultural shift we are finding ourselves in – A movement to bring fundamental change to right hundreds of years of racial injustice, the last lesson seems most relevant. - Reaching your Goal is a group effort.

  In this time in our history as God’s followers, we need to create actual change.  We need to admit we bare responsibility for injustices in the world.  Humble ourselves and look inward to see how we can affect positive change for all of God’s People.  Release ourselves from our own agendas and work together so that the goal is available to all with whom we climb this mountain of life together.


Our Kids and Advisors that have experienced the Colorado Trip will have their own life lessons that they took from the past 27 trips.  

I want to share two more lessons, I received these from Timothy and Schuyler, long time Colorado Kids and Advisors:
Timothy said “it was on the mountains of Colorado where I learned how to live life organically by simply living in the moment. When doing this, we open ourselves up to many more opportunities which can so easily be overlooked in a day to day scenario. Not to mention, I feel like we increase our ability to recognize the cherished moments of tomorrow as they happen today”.

And finally, from Schuyler, “One of my biggest lessons from being a CO kid was learning to be vulnerable. The inclusion of having us share life stories is amazing and helps bridge gaps that we may have built between one another. We got to celebrate each other’s past and present triumphs. And we got to learn what traumas/hardships/etc. each has faced and provide support to one another during this experience. And it has continually made me think twice about why a stranger is in a bad mood and not to judge too quickly because they may have something going on that I would have no idea about. Being vulnerable has taught me to approach all facets of my life with an open mind and open heart”. 

How glorious it is to be alive, O Lord!

May every breath of my body, every beat of my heart, be dedicated to Your praise and glory.

Let us Pray using the words of Hymn # 71 from our chalice hymnal:    
Your love O God, is broad like the beach and meadow, wide as the wind, and our eternal home.  You leave us free to seek you or reject you, you give us room to answer yes or no.  We long for freedom where our truest being is given hope and courage to unfold. We seek in freedom space and scope for dreaming, and look for ground where trees and plants can grow.  But there are walls that keep us all divided: we fence each other in with hate and war.  Fear is the bricks and mortar of our prison, our pride of self, the prison coat we wear.  O Judge us, God, and in your judgement free us, and set our feet in freedom’s open space;  take us as far as your compassion wanders among the children of the human race.        Amen!