"Upside Down 01: Mountains and Temples" - Cole McGee

"Upside Down 01: Mountains and Temples"

by Cole McGee


Sermon Text 11/27/16

I love time travel… any movie that has time travel in it… I’m all the way in… Here are some of my favorite time travel stories: 

Back to the Future
12 Monkeys

Here is the most current graph we have on this movie and how many timelines and interruptions we have. 

I actually like this one… 

I recently heard a story on an NPR podcast called “Invisibilia,” which discussed the effects expectations can have on humans.

The story begins by describing a scientific test conducted on rats.

Researchers took several rats and put them in cages, randomly labeling half the cages with “smart rat,” and the other half with “dumb rat.” Lab technicians who did not know that the rat cages were labeled randomly, took the rats out and tested their abilities to finish a maze.

My assumption, as I assume most people’s would be, is that the rats from cages labeled “smart” would do no better on average than the rats from cages labeled “dumb.” After all, the rats’ cages were labeled randomly. But rat after rat, the ones labeled “smart” finished considerably better than those labeled “dumb.” So how did this happen?

Scientists theorized that the lab technicians, without thinking about it, treated the “smart” rats differently from the “dumb” rats, which led to the differing results. The technicians handled the supposedly smart rats with more care than those that were supposedly dumb, which led to their superior performance in the maze. Thus, the higher the expectations the technicians had for the rats, the better the rats would perform.

POINT: The way the scientists imagined the rats being in the present… created their future.

It’s pretty incredible… like what if you could go back and change the signs… what if you could tell all the scientists that these were a group of highly intelligent rats… you could change the future. 

Now let that sink in for a moment…

Think about how much control and power you have just by how you imagine the people around you. 

We don’t need a story about scientists and rats to tell us that this phenomenon is true… my wife is a teacher and over and over again she talks about this happening...when you imagine a student is unruly or a troublemaker… they will live up to those expectations. 

Imagination therefore… how you imagine the people around you… becomes incredibly important… how we imagine the world is the way in which we see our present, and it is also creating not just ours… but our collective futures.   

Now every christmas movie on the planet has some kind of message about how adults have lost their imagination. 

As the rat story has shown… that is obviously not true… Everyone imagines the world and the people around them in a particular kind of way, it’s not that we have lost our imagination … It’s that we have a hard time imagining outside what we have experienced or what we have been told. 

Our imagination is limited. 

I recently went to a Fleetwood Mac concert at sandstone… or whatever they are calling it these days… cricket wireless amphitheater. This concert had thousands of people there… thousands… but the crazy part was… it wasn’t actually Fleetwood Mac it was a Fleetwood Mac coverband…

Thousands of people… I mean thousands… came to party, hangout, and listen to some strange dudes play some other bands songs… 

I did not have a place for this… 

I never imagined this would draw thousands of people… my brain was wrecked. 

I have never experienced anything like this… and nobody told me this kind of thing happened in the city I grew up in.  

So when we tell someone… make a choice… live your life… what do you want to be when you grow up… 

Or maybe … just be reasonable… or just be rational… or do what makes sense… 

Or when people come together to solve a problem… or when we are all trying to figure out how to live and work together… 

we can only imagine solutions or answers to those questions within the constraints of what we have been told or what we have experienced. 

You only know what you can know.

This is why occasionally in life you come across someone who is radically different than you, and while you are around them you get to know them, and hear their story. You hear where they come from, and you imagine yourself in their story. In that moment we move from what we know… into a new imagination… a new story. 

Often times we see that person completely different, but this also changes the way in which we see the world. 

But it's not like this expanding of your imagination doesn't have a cost…  this experience is quite jarring. In fact… the bigger the expansion of your imagination… the higher the toll it will take on you… which is why a lot of people opt out and just wall themselves in.

I remember going to inner city brooklyn… and seeing the way these people lived and the way they were treated... and it had me reeling for months. 

I remember reading a book by Shane Claiborne that completely wrecked my world…

I remember when a good friend of mine came out to me as being gay, and him telling me about how long he dealt with this secret. 

Many times the expanding of our imaginations about the world can be kind of scary and often painful… it can feel chaotic… and often out of control...

But as you will see in the text this morning we find the writer of Isaiah saying this must happen. We must expand. We must seek a different kind of future.  



READ: Isaiah 2: 1-5

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

2 In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.
3 Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.
5 Come, descendants of Jacob,
    let us walk in the light of the Lord.



Now before you say… oh I have read that before… consider the impact that this text had on the early readers of this poem. They apparently thought it was so inspiring… that the poem appears again in Micah in almost it’s exact same form. 

POINT TO: Micah 4:1-5

But back in Isaiah we read this: 

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Mountains… For the Jewish mind. The essential quality of a mountain was not its height (Mountains came in all sorts of heights)... the essence of the mountain was it’s mass. It was a large collection of earth and rock. The mountain’s essence was that it was a large gathering or collection of something… so we would say: 

“We have a mountain of people in here this morning.”
“We have a mountain of orange extensions cords streaming randomly all over this room’

For the text, this mountain was the highest of mountains… the text has to specifically describe it’s height, and it says it will be exalted above the hills… and all nations will stream to it. 

The prophet is imagining that in the future the nations will stream.. Will come.. Will travel to the mountain that holds the Lord’s temple. 

Why? Why would they come?

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.

I don’t know about you, but I find it interesting that the writer here says MOUNTAIN and TEMPLE. As if they are two related yet unique things. The TEMPLE was a place of worship,

But the mountain… what is it about the mountain… what is that Temple built upon?

We will get back to that. 

When the nations come to the temple… we see that the prophet imagines that we will all be taught the ways of YAHWEH so that... this is where we come in… we may walk in his paths. 

The text goes on to say that the LAW the TORAH will go out from Zion. The WORD of the LORD from Jerusalem. 

This is interesting language here. 

The Gospel of John uses this very language in the first chapter of his book to reveal to the early Christians a connection between Jesus and our text this morning. 

In the beginning was the WORD and the WORD was with God and the WORD was God. John says.

John, who would be fully aware of this Isaiah future… and is also fully aware of the lifework of Jesus… immediately makes a connection. What if the LAW the WORD the TORAH is Jesus. What if Jesus is the embodiment of the LAW the TORAH the WORD. 

The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.

The prophet imagines a future where out of the Temple of God established on a mountain will come the WORD. Will come Jesus… and for the early Christians they would imagine the Body of Christ, the church, the presence of Jesus in the world will judge the nations and settle disputes for people. 

Judge the nations… the church… settle disputes for people...

I wonder if that is what connects us to what that mountain is under the temple. 

REMEMBER: Mountains… For the Jewish mind. The essential quality of a mountain was not its height (Mountains came in all sorts of heights)... the essence of the mountain was it’s mass. It was a large collection of earth and rock. The mountain’s essence was that it was a large gathering or collection of something… 

If the temple is the place of worship, I think the text is implying that this temple is established on a mountain of justice. Justice. This place will judge the nations and settle disputes for people. 

Now I don’t know about you but when I hear… “judge the nations”... it kind of makes my skin crawl a bit… that word Judge is a tough word… Christians already have the judging thing down pretty well…. But the second part reveals what this “judging” will actually be like… The temple… built on the mountain… will be a place where people come to settle their disputes. This is a place where victims are heard... a place where the powerful, privileged are held accountable… a place where we might finally get some closure and begin to heal. 

I heard one source say that “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Justice is publicly loving those whom Jesus DID love… publicly … civically… loving the marginalized, the powerless, the alien. 

So somehow this temple… this mountain… whatever or wherever this place is or will be… is the epicenter of SHALOM… Where God is putting the universe back into proper order. It is beginning in that place...

And the nations are coming to experience
to know
to feel… 

Justice / Worship / Peace

A few weeks ago we had a night where students each brought something that they were afraid of. It was close to Halloween, and so we wanted to help the students tell the truth about FEAR. What is fear… why am I ashamed of what I am afraid of… am I safe to say I am afraid? … you know stuff like that… 

That night each student either brought something that symbolized what they are afraid of or MADE something that symbolized what they are afraid of. I want to read off a few of the things these students shared… by the way… stood up in front of the whole room and shared these things… 

1. Being alone. 
2. Being a failure
3. Themselves
4. The future
5. Being left out
6. Being in pain
7. Being isolated
8. Churches and Christians
9. The Dark
10. Cicadas
11. Rejection by a girl
12. Becoming something I don't want to be
13. My sibling
14. Letting people down
15. The Border Patrol
16. My soccer coach… he is british and scary


As these students were going around the room sharing… I was blown away by something. They were afraid to share… a lot of them were laughing nervously...  or squirming in their chair, but they were doing it… one by one they stood up and said what they were most afraid of. Many of them would pause… and would tear up…. right before they said it… and then they would just say it and sit down. 

And I was blown away because these students were being inspired to do something that this text imagines would actually happen if people were allowed to experience 

the justice / the public righting of wrongs
the worship / the placement of Jesus as LORD of the universe
And the peace of God. / the putting of everything back in it’s proper place

The text says they will...

beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

What is that saying?

 It’s saying that after people come and experience the WORD or JESUS who comes forth from this Temple of WORSHIP built on JUSTICE… they will be inspired to put down their defences. 

They will not need weapons anymore. They don’t have to be afraid anymore. Something about the mountain… the temple… the WORD… 

Will inspire them to lay down their guns. Actual guns and psychological guns. They will be comfortable being exposed and vulnerable… 

They will not be afraid of what happens to them. 

Not because the environment has changed… by the way… it’s not like the text says… world peace was assured and then everyone put down their weapons…  the text doesn’t promise that… 

It seems as though after their experience… they put down their defenses… they put down their walls… they have in some way come and experienced something that flipped them upside down.

We had one student stand up and share something that was extremely personal. Also.. extremely scary for him and his family. 

This student stands up and says… I am afraid of the border patrol because I’m illegal, and I’m afraid of the cops because if I get in trouble or i’m outside playing… I’m afraid they might catch me and deport me. 

It was silent in the room. 

We were witnessing a young man stand up and lay down his defenses… put down his walls. To his family and maybe his latino community they would say… don’t be stupid… don’t share that… especially in a room that is half white people... that’s dangerous… he looked completely upside down. It made no sense for him to do that… 

… I had no imagination for that moment… I never imagined a kid sharing that in front of a room of people.  

but in that moment… I realized he was right side up… he was living in the future that Isaiah promised… I was upside down. I was the one with my walls up. 

Our students, our leaders, our church… for that 14 year old kid… had in some way become a mountain of the temple of God. That student was coming and experiencing justice / worship / and peace. And he was laying his weapons down. His walls were being put away. And he was telling the truth about his life. 

He was leading us. 

But this is only half the story. 

It’s true. You see Isaiah 2 combined with Advent reveals to us God’s great reconciliation plan for an upside down world.

It’s one thing to know you are living upside down…  it’s another to begin inviting people right side up…  to begin living with a bigger imagination for what the world can be. 

You see… the world is not reconciled through kings and queens.. It’s not through presidents and CEO’s. It’s not through free markets or social programs… it’s not through law and court systems... 

Those can be good things and should be good things for people… 

But If Isaiah 2 is the imagination for the future… Advent reveals HOW it will happen. 

Like the birth of Christ… It will happen through ordinary people… in still, small, acts of justice, worship, and peace that seem to come out of nowhere… acts that pull you upside down and set you right side up. Radical loving acts that give people from all nations a new story to live by… a new imagination for their world and their future. 

There is a story about what God is doing in the world that is bigger than you, and me, and it’s bigger than our fears and our defenses. 

As we show up, lay down our defenses, and give ourselves to each other… our imaginations will expand… it will cost us something…. You will feel a bit out of control…  

But...This is the future of our world. 
This is right side up. (POINT TO ALTAR)

Through these simple acts of justice / worship / and peace. God, through the church,  is pulling this world… and ourselves into this new story coming up from the bottom.

Look… I will say… Sometimes when I hear people like me get up here and say that Isaiah’s promise for our future is a world where we have been so transformed and we don’t need to defend ourselves anymore… that we can change the world YAAH!!!

 I think… yeah… have you looked out the window lately…

Our economies are failing us. 
Our marriages are crumbling. 
Our media is lying to us. 
Our institutions are disappearing...

Look… it’s true… But here is what I know… and I recently had to take some time and remind myself of...

The future that Isaiah is imagining here is happening… the environment around us might not be changing, but on the ground level... in our youth group... In a small church in Kansas…  students are transforming.

It is happening in our children’s ministry…

it is happening in the stories I hear of people all throughout this congregation who are trying to spread a new imagination of the justice, worship, and peace of Christ. 

So join the story… 

maybe you need to take a risk… maybe you need to expand your imagination… take that risk… put down your defenses… 

Get to know someone this Advent season who is radically and completely different than you. Maybe even someone who creeps you out… Listen to them. Imagine their story… their struggles… their pain… invite them into your home… invite them into our spaces of worship. 

The future includes them. 

Maybe this morning...your defenses are way up… like maybe you have shut yourself in behind walls of fear and distrust… what if for Advent… you just put them down. What if instead of always living defensive… you just put your weapons down… you just told the truth of your life… 

… if you're hurting… cry
… if you're lonely… call someone.
… if you’re afraid… face it. 
… if you have a sense that a relationship is headed in the wrong direction… say it. 

Because the future is about people of all tribes, nations, and stories… coming to the altar and experiencing the justice, the worship, and the peace of Christ. 

This is the center of God’s reconciliation of all things. 


1. When Cole talked about things in your life that were upside down, did anything come to mind that you thought you was right side up, but really might be upside down? 

2. When have you lived up or down to the expectations placed on you? 

3. What area of your life do you struggle the most to have an imagination for?  What do you have an imagination for in your future?  What do you have an imagination for in your families future? 

4. How has your imagination changed?  Where do you have an imagination now where none existed before?

5. No one could have been more surprised (in the Christmas story ) than Mary. Certainly, her world was turned upside down.  Yet, she responded by saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”   To what is God calling you? In what areas of your life do you need to surrender and say, “I am the Lord’s servant”?

6. Cole talked about time travel at the beginning of the message - take a moment to imagine a future world as God would have it.  What would it look like?  What would be different?  Then consider what small change you can make today to bring about that world.  In this season when we celebrate the coming hope of God incarnate in Jesus - how can we bring flesh to Jesus' loving message of hope and vision of peace?