Preached on the occasion of arriving in a new charge. Those who are accustomed to reading books older than they are will recognize the inspiration of John Bunyan.
Philippians 3:10-14 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Pressing towards the Goal. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Before there was Universal Orlando or Six Flags…even before there was Disneyland in Anaheim…when I was a young boy there was a place in the mountains of Tennessee called Rock City. Along with its few amusements and unique attractions it boasted that from atop Lookout Mountain one could see seven states. Throughout the southeastern United States were signs along the road often painted on barns or rooftops with the simple message, “See Rock City.”
I was perhaps seven or eight when one day my dad announced that we were soon going to see Rock City. It took days to get ready because at this time you did not take a journey of 150 miles or more without a lot of preparation. The Interstate system was still under construction. There were sections of detours as some roads might be completely closed. Road maps went out of date quickly. One needed to ask recent travelers what were the best routes. Also, since there were no franchise restaurants offering the same quarter pounder at every traffic light, you needed to find out which were the best places to eat that a family of four could afford, and because we stayed at the local campgrounds there was a lot of packing to do. The journey was almost as exciting as the destination.
Friday morning meant getting up early. My older brother and I had the responsibility of getting the ice chest to the car. This was a steel box which when filled with ice and glass bottles took two men and a mule to lift. That kept us busy while mom and dad closed up the house and made final preparations. It may have also had the intention of teaching us the need to cooperate before we settled into the car.
We drive up the interstate, out of the city, and then onto the four-lane that takes us to the two lane black tops winding toward the Appalachian hills. Close to lunch time and a stop at a roadside park. These are places often erected by a local Civitan or some such group, or built beside a general store to promote business. Here, one meets travelers going in both directions. Children play. Drivers get caught up on current road conditions. Step inside the dimly lit clapboard store with its bare incandescent bulb suspended from the ceiling by two wires, and you are greeted by the aroma of fruits and vegetables–some of which aren’t even in season. Peaches, cantaloupe, and watermelons whose fragrance has so permeated the wood that they are always present. The ghosts of produce past.
Outside, some travelers decide to turn back. The route is getting tough, but still , it had been a good day. An outing, a picnic, and now back to the city. Perhaps another week they will come back for the mountain. Not us. Dad let us know we were going to see rock city. A mountaintop where we could see seven states.
Pull into the campground before sundown. Everyone has a job to do get the tent up, firewood gathered, and supper cooked…and there are new friends to meet from all over the country. If anything is broken someone in the camp knows how to fix it. If not, someone has an extra one to spare. With dusk the sounds of children’s voices become crisper, “olly olly oxen free.” Some make plans for a softball game in the morning, but not for us. Dad reminds us that we have come to see a mountaintop and there may be other distractions along the way.
Morning ride to see Rock City and sure enough it’s time for the town Indian Festival–complete with rides and carnival. Vendors are selling plastic arrowheads and rubber tomahawks. Dad says okay, but not so much as will load you down. You have to carry this stuff and there is more to see. We are on our way to a mountaintop.
The station wagon rolls across the gravel parking at and there is the sign, “Rock City.” The home of magical caverns filled with fluorescent fairytale characters…a swinging rope bridge spanning a mountain gorge, and the path to a place where one can see seven states. Up the winding path. Some pause to rest on a bench while others run ahead. It’s all right. We know where they are going. They are in safe company, and we can hear their voices around the bend.
It’s interesting who you find at the mountaintop. It isn’t always the young and fit. A lot of old people are here. Maybe they are the ones who turned around at the roadside park years ago. Lots of children. Seems like the children always make it. A blind man is here, his wife leading him by the elbow to the very edge of the overlook where one can see seven states. “I can feel it,” he says. I realize I can too. I can feel it. The vastness, the beauty, the eternity. Through the lens of the nickel telescope I can see the carnival below that was so appealing that I would have been satisfied to spend the day there. From the mountaintop it’s amusements and painted plywood fronts look like bits of trash in a mud puddle.
..Around the campfire that night, before going home, people share their stories. Those who enjoyed the day at the carnival or playing games at the campground may come back this way again to see Rock City, so they ask, “What was it like?” I answer, “It’s like…well…you had to be there.”
Fellow travelers: you know this is not a story of a summer journey but an allegory in real life.
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal “. The journey is almost as exciting as the destination. We have a good map in Holy Scripture, but that map tells us we also need fellow travelers who have shared in the journey. We need to pause in this roadside park called church from time to time and hear about detours and the road ahead. “What is a good bedtime for a twelve-year-old?” and “is a perfectly appropriate Sunday School question. We need this campground community called Church where someone can fix it, or at least someone will share. For some of us the road may get tough and the temptation will be to turn back. Those who do may join us again another day. On our journey there are a lot of people out there selling plastic arrowheads and rubber tomahawks—some of them have 100 gigabyte chips. It’s all right to pick up a few, but not so many as will load you down. You have to carry this stuff through life. You were meant for a mountain top. Some days all of us need to rest a while, especially those of us who are getting so close to the mountaintop. Some days we need to sit on this bench for a moment and be still. So many we love have already run ahead of us. It’s all right. We know where they are going. They are in safe company…and sometimes when we sit here quietly we can still hear their laughter. It really is only a bend in the trail that separates us. Just a little longer and we will catch up…. with the old, and the blind…where all the children seem make it.
Week by week, day by day, we continue together on our journey toward holiness, toward glory, toward Christ and the power of his resurrection. My hope for you for tomorrow and the days ahead is that when somebody–maybe at work—asks you, “How was church yesterday?” You might say, “Well, you really had to be there”