Moving Mountains

“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them." (Mark 11:23)
This is one of those passages that can be difficult to believe. Jesus says that, if we have faith, we can move mountains--and yet none of us have ever heard of mountains actually being moved. Why is that? We trust in the promises of God, and this is a clear promise from the lips of Jesus himself. Why haven't we heard of any mountains being thrown into the sea? I've normally given two answers for this: first of all, the mountain thing is clearly a metaphor. Second of all, God will answer all prayers that we ask in his name, meaning they are according to his will. And it just hasn't been in God's will to literally throw any mountains in the sea.
And yet, that's not exactly right. Geologists will tell you that mountains are constantly being thrown into the sea. In fact, every mountain on Earth is being thrown into the sea. The process is called erosion: wind and rain wear down rock into tiny particles that are carried into the sea. It's happening every day, all around us. Every time you see Mount Hood or Mount Jefferson, there is less mountain there to see. We don't recognize the process because it happens slowly--over countless years--but the process is as powerful as it is inevitable: God is throwing all mountains into the sea.
I don't know that Jesus had this in mind in Mark 11--surely his audience wouldn't have known about erosion, so he couldn't have expected them to make the connection--but this little science lesson does help us better understand how God answers prayer. We often assume that God isn't working because we want him to work on our timeline--which is usually ASAP. But that is not how God works. God plays the long game. 
Peter writes, "Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:8-9) God is patient--over millennia--because he doesn't want to leave anyone behind.
What does God's patience have to do with us? This month our sermon series, Kingdomcraft, focuses on how God empowers us to change the world by loving our neighbor, instead of through laws and force. One of the problems with Christians trying to bring the Kingdom of God through laws and force is that it alienates people from the kingdom. We win elections, but we drive people away from Jesus. The reason this path is tempting is because it is quick: win an election, and you can start changing the laws right away (Of course, when the other side wins they can change them right back--easy come, easy go). But God does not play the quick game, he plays the long game--and he calls us to do the same.
In the Early Church, patience was considered to be one of the most important virtues. One early writer called it "that virtue peculiarly ours"--meaning Christians were the only ones even trying to be patient. The Early Christians adopted patience as their most important strategy. They didn't try to overthrow the Emperor, they didn't launch Evangelistic crusades, they didn't build megachurches. They patiently, steadily, faithfully loved their neighbors. And slowly, amazingly, they grew from a group of ~50 believers in AD 33 to more than 30 million in AD 350--more than 50% of the population of the Roman Empire. 
As we step out on this project of loving our neighbors, I want to be very upfront that this strategy does not change things overnight (which is good, because overnight change can be reversed just as quickly). Instead, this is the long game: we love our neighbors patiently, steadily, faithfully. We love like God, who "sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous," (Matthew 5:45), knowing that the rain has the power to grind down mountains and hurl them into the sea. When we are constant and faithful, God uses our love for our neighbors to build a kingdom that can never be overturned.

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