Climbers

Here is what I shared this past Sunday as our All Saints and Commitment Sunday came together in worship…

Most of you know of my love for cycling.  Last weekend I was in the company of some 5000 of my closest friends and we were hanging out on the top of Indiana’s biggest mountains.  Well…hills anyway.

It is an amazing event, the Hilly Hundred, rolling 50 miles Saturday, 50 miles Sunday.  8528 feet of total climbing.  With that many like minded people- it’s a rolling party all the way!!

As I was preparing for this big ride I received my November issue of Bicycling Magazine about 3 weeks ago.  I breezed through it as I always do reading quick the small articles about nutrition and training and making note of the bigger articles I wanted to read in depth.  In this particular issue they made a list called the “You know you’re a cyclist when…”  and they’d come up with just over 100 running the spectrum from crashing and walking home to fixing your bike with ducktape.  But…the number 1?? Well, it was perfect for today.  You know you’re a cyclist when…“you realize that the hill isn’t IN the way- it IS the way…”

In the Tour de France there are several winners.  There’s the Yellow Jersey- the one with the overall shortest time.  There’s the Green Jersey- the one with the most Sprinting points and wins.  There’s the White Jersey- the best rider under 23 years old.  And then there’s the Polka Dot Jersey- or King of the Mountains Jersey.  Points are awarded to the riders first over the top of the major mountain climbs and this jersey goes to the rider with the most points.   

It really is those special people in this world who seem to realize that the hill isn’t in the way…it is the way.  Those people who really seem to be climbers…that we look up to.

I read a great book this past summer during my sabbatical. It was called Uphill Battle by Owen Mulholland and it was chocked full of stories of heroics…disasters…and innovations.  People like Rene Pottier, Victor Fontan, Antonin Magne, Rene Vietto, Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Greg Lemond, and Miguel Indurain.  Perhaps you don’t recognize the names, but they are some of the cycling greats!  They are the pathfinder, pioneers, vanguard, trailblazers, guides and leaders who brought something NEW and UNIQUE, who shaped and formed the Tour…in some special way.

In 1905 Rene Pottier was the first real mountain climber to tear off and leave everyone behind in the Vosges mountains. Fausto Coppi, in the late 1940s and 50s, not only topped the list with major race wins, but he also transformed the sport- with improvements in team work, in training, and even in the mundane – where he revolutionized cycling by having his team wear cleanly washed uniforms every day- eliminating the discomfort of the saddle issues. Jacques Anquetil made amazing summit catches of his opponents. Eddy Merckx won just about every race he entered…and he’s the only professional cyclist to have won the Yellow, Green, and the King of the Mountains Polka dot Jersey all in one Tour de France. 

But…most of you wouldn’t know that kind of stuff. To many of you, they are just names. You don’t know how they reshaped cycling, how they helped mold the sport they loved. Interesting…listing of names…isn’t it??!

Every year at this time, the church claims one Sunday as All Saints Sunday and we list off names…the names of those pathfinders, pioneers, and trailblazers, who have gone before us. You probably won’t recognize all the names. Goodness knows our church is too big for you to know everyone by name and we celebrate and claim that as a blessing. But these individuals we remember today are representative of a family, of a story and of a faithfulness. Perhaps you know their story…perhaps their story is your story; of how they grew up in this church, or how they helped build this church, or how they moved here later in life, and found a home in this church.  No matter the timing in their lives, we remember this day, how they shaped this church…and how it shaped and molded them. Southport Christian was a place where they heard God’s call- to climb Jacob’s ladder, to strive in their faith, to open their hearts…and let Christ’s shining light come in.

We claim and believe that these who have gone before us are in full and glorious communion with God, and today we celebrate and remember their lives, their impact, and their climb.

Who is it, you are remembering this All Saints day??

 I invite you to open your scriptures with me…MATTHEW 17:1-8

 The transfiguration is a powerful story. It’s the kind of glory and awe that one can only experience after a long mountain climb. Sometimes the mountain tops are as close as we can get to heaven without actually leaving the surface of the earth and Jesus knew that it was the mountaintops that transform us. That’s why he recruited Peter…James…and John that day.

That’s also why I saved my climb for last.  Toward the end of my sabbatical I ventured to Asheville North Carolina, where I hopped on the Blue Ridge Parkway to climb Mt Mitchell. At 6684 ft. elevation it’s the highest peak east of Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

It was a spectacular climb…nestled along the rocky outcroppings on one side as the road clings to the mountain, and beautiful blue green vistas flowing off to the other side.  I rolled through dark tunnels…and up…around tight corners…and up…past picnic area entrances…and up…and through constructions zones…and up.  It was a long a slow 33 miles…a 2 hour climb. After reaching the top and taking a few pictures, I came back down to the snack shack there by the parking lot and in rolled 3, I would say, transfigured men. We sat and swapped cycling talk for about 20 minutes or more. 

But what struck me about that moment that ties it to today’s scripture is that one of those men that I met on the mountain sat slightly behind the other two. He sat on the sidewalk and took off his jacket to reveal a brightly colored jersey, and he laid down on that sidewalk…and stretched himself out in sort of a cross position….and soaked in the sun that was shining down.

And I thought to myself….Hmmmm…“Lord it is good for us to be here!”

God is so palpable in those holy spaces high up in the mountains and in the woods. My new friends and I shared a communion of candy bars and cokes, as I quietly pondered the longest climb of my life– well the longest climb of my life so far! 

Transfigurations aren’t something that can happen just any old time or place. It’s the kind of thing that only happens after a long…serious climb. THAT’s where we see the GLORY OF GOD!! 

Friends, Jesus is inviting us to follow him up the longer climbs. The one’s that really challenge us….test our resolve…and move us to new levels of strength and faithfulness… 

We are all climbing Jacob’s ladder. As we remember our saints today we know that God is the perfector of our faith, that Hope is what gives us strength to carry on, and that their stories…have molded our stories….and our stories will shape and mold that of those who would follow after us…

Be a climber…right up there with the likes of Anquetil, Coppi, or Merckx…or Peter…James…or John. Make your commitment to strive in faith today resolving in your life, that the hill isn’t IN the way…It IS the way…

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