Mark 11: 20-25 & Ephesians 4:1, 25-32
“A Good Lenten Journey: On Mountain Moving & Forgiveness Living”

“A Good Lenten Journey: On Mountain Moving & Forgiveness Living”

Mk. 11: 20-25 & Eph. 4:1, 25-32 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ Feb 25, 2024


On May 29th 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary was among the first climbers confirmed to have reached the summit of Mount Everest. Many before had attempted this 8,800 meter ascent and this was the 9th British expedition that finally achieved such a lofty goal. Reflecting on the achievement, Sir Edmund Hillary said “it is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”  


Jesus would speak about conquering mountains 2 millennia prior saying “have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea”, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.” The promise of faith to move mountains will be found in various forms throughout the gospels as faith, even the size of a mustard seed, is all that is required to move the mountainous obstacles in front of us. Powerful faith will not be exclusive content to the New Testament. It will be found in the story of Job and the wisdom of King Solomon’s writings among others. And through the ages, we will hold this mysterious power of faith in our psyche. “Faith Can Move Mountains” will be found in song. Perhaps best known in Nat King Cole’s version, but sung by so many others. And so, we ponder this impossible possibility of conquering mountains. But first, we start with ourselves as Sir Edmund teaches: “it is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”


The faith to move mountains is a difficult subject. And, I would suggest, one perfectly suited for our Lenten journey. Because the Lenten journey is all about exploring and expanding the depth and complexity of one’s faith. Last Sunday, we commenced the first Sunday of Lent beginning our deep dive into what would make for ‘A Good Lent’. We started, as Jesus does, moving into the 40-day wilderness beginning with testing and temptation. And, perhaps, as we gave things up, as we fast; or as we take things on, such as a spiritual discipline…whatever your Lent looks like, we are all creating space for this curious thing to grow  that we call ‘faith’.


In this morning’s text, Jesus will further teach on the power of prayer…how one’s wishes are realized through one’s expression in the prayer. “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” We all know that sincere prayers do not include wishes for our favourite sports team winning the Super Bowl or advancing further towards the Stanley Cup. Prayer requests are richer and deeper than that. Many of us have utilized the prayer team at the church and submitted prayer requests from time to time. In fact, we receive prayers from the larger community throughout the year. We I have contact information, I will follow up with a person regarding their prayer request continuing for another month. I find it awe inspiring as they recount the power of power at work. It can be a ‘mountain moving’ experience for some. Feeling God’s presence through the journey. Feeling the light and peace of God falling upon their family member. Finding that rhythm of being held in God’s hands through such difficult times. So, this verse is not meant to validate the wishes of a petulant child, but rather it helps us see our lives being lived through the gracious presence of God. Knowing that we are not alone.  


Jesus continues in this passage teaching on prayer: “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” And here we arrive at the difficult faith practice we focus upon today! Forgiveness. My experience with this topic in church is that this tends to receive the most feedback. Of all the many areas of spiritual exploration we delve into through the year, forgiveness ~ time and again ~ seems to bring the most interest. Emails, phone calls, perhaps even conversations over coffee after service inevitably occur. Why? I think forgiveness is among the hardest things we do in this life! It is hard to offer; it is hard to receive. It is a mountain that rests in front of each of us blocking our path; blocking our peace; blocking our walk with God.


I think this the reason that Jesus placed the 3 aspects of prayer together in this teaching. He commences with the power of faith: the faith to move mountains. He shifts to the power of prayer: asking and believing. And, lastly, he moves to the hardest part: forgiveness. If we hold something against another, forgive, so that the Holy may forgive of you your trespasses. There is an interesting progression: the power of prayer ~ to move mountains, the focus of prayer ~ what we ask for, and the direction of prayer ~ based in forgiveness.


There is a unique feature we might note here pertaining to forgiveness. Perhaps you noticed it as well? There is the call to “stand” as we pray in forgiveness. It is quite a curious insertion, I think. We aren’t instructed to “stand” when we move mountains. We don’t need to stand when we consider our prayer petitions. But when it comes to forgiveness, we are taught to stand. I wonder if Jesus knows that forgiveness will take the full engagement of our being. And thus, we are guided to “stand”. Standing in prayer…There are many postures that one may adopt when praying. In meeting with a clergy prayer group each month, I see this in living colour. We pray in community: some are standing with arms raised to the heavens, others kneeling, and some laying prostrate on the floor, and me (the quiet/ reserved United Church people that we are) you guessed it…sitting humbly with a bowed head. Is there a right way? At least when it comes to forgiveness, Jesus instructs one to stand? What is standing? Well…it is an active expression. Not a passive one, like sitting. Far more than the one who prays from the comfort of their seat, standing requires energy and engagement. Prior to breath analysis devices, police officers would gauge a driver’s sober ability by standing and walking a straight line. To stand requires clarity, presence, and strength. To stand in prayer is to engage with the mind and the body and the spirit as one pursues forgiveness.


There is a further component attached to the work of forgiveness, isn’t there? It is God. The text reads “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” The second part of forgiveness is that the source of our forgiveness is God. It all stems from God. We stand and engage with both body and mind. And God meets us there offering us forgiveness. And, somehow, that forgiveness flows through us. We meet God…we open ourselves to God…and God’s gracious forgiveness somehow flows through our soul. God further empowers us to be Christ’s forgiving people. Standing in prayer…receiving God’s forgiveness…offering that forgiveness back.


There is a similar thought summed up in the letter to the Ephesian church. The letter calls us to “put away falsehood…and speak truth to one’s neighbour”. There is a call for the putting away of anger, theft, slander and living into forgiveness. As the text concludes, “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as Christ has forgiven you.” For the follower of the Way of Christ, the forgiveness we are able to offer all stems from that forgiveness that know in Christ. We don’t move mountains alone and we don’t forgive without knowing God’s forgiveness either. If we ever find difficulty offering forgiveness, perhaps we need to begin by standing and receiving that forgiveness first. It all starts when we stand, knowing God’s forgiveness and letting it flow through each of us.


There is always an important caveat with forgiveness…call it the ‘doormat caveat’. Forgiveness is never a call to be a doormat to further abuse or harm from the person we are forgiving. Forgiveness is about letting go, sometimes protecting oneself for the future, but releasing the past so that forgiveness grants the opportunity for healing and growth.


There is a wonderful wisdom saying from the Buddhist tradition that I would like to close our pondering with this morning. It is one that we have likely heard before, but its truth needs to be heard throughout life’s journey. Two monks, a young monk and his elder, were walking through the woods. They come upon a beautiful young woman who was standing at the bank of the river. She was longingly looking across. “Could you help me get to the other side?” she pleaded with them. The monks were forbidden any physical contact with women. Hearing her request, the elder monk picked her up, carried her to the other side, and set her down gently. The two monks continued to walk, in silence, for many miles. Finally, the young monk angrily spoke up. “How could you do something like that?” he shouted. “How could you carry a woman?” The elder monk smiled. “Well I put her down at the river,” he said quietly. “But you have been carrying her for three hours now”.


Forgiveness is hard work. It is the work of moving mountains. It is the work of prayer. Standing in the grace of God, receiving that forgiveness and letting it flow through us, one day at a time. As together we pray for thy kingdom to come.