So we circle back to where we began, with a Jesus who tells us that if we had faith the size of a mustard seed and if we only had faith and did not doubt, then we could move mountains. And we know that this Jesus wasn't talking about us (as much as we'd like for Him to be), but about Himself, about worship. But if that is the case, then what does this even mean?
It means that sometimes, we get too caught up in the mountains on which we worship and it gets in the way of the God who meets us there.
Mountains have always been the structure of meeting. They have been the places where God has met His people - Abraham and Isaac, Noah, Moses, Israel, the Temple. All of these stories center on mountains. And as such, they have a lot of stuff built up around them. They have a lot of rules and regulations and laws and codes and disciplines.
When Moses went up on the mountain to meet God, the rest of the people were told not to even touch the mountain or they would die. They could see God's presence there. They could hear the thunder. They knew that Moses was face-to-face with God, and yet, they couldn't be. They weren't allowed to even touch the mountain. And when Moses came down, he brought with him a list of rules about how to come to God. How to come to the very same God who was so close in smoke and fire and thunder and yet, untouchable like the mountain.
When the Temple was built, it was built on a mountain, but it, too, came with rules. Rules about cleanliness and ritual sacrifice and the offerings that you bring with you. Rules about who can enter and how far they can come in and what time and under what circumstances. The Pharisees had made a profession out of knowing these rules, but make no mistake - every faithful Hebrew knew them, too. They knew them because these were the things that kept them from drawing as near to God as they wanted.
There was always a mountain - a rule of worship - between God and His people.
So what Jesus is saying when He tells His disciples that a little bit of faith can move mountains is that if they would just believe wholeheartedly in the revelation of God right in front of them, in the nearness of the God they were walking with, in Jesus's reality as God incarnate, then they could throw all of those burdensome rules of worship away. If they would simply believe that there was no longer a mountain between them and God, the God who was standing right in front of them telling them that this was true, then they wouldn't need all those regulations to bind them.
He was saying, in essence, what God had been saying for awhile through various Old Testament prophets - that He never really wanted their sacrifices, that He was never really interested in their ritual cleanliness, that His ultimate aim was never the bull or the ram or the grain offering. What He's wanted all along is mercy. It's justice. It's grace. It's faithfulness. It's humility. It's love.
These things are the examples that Jesus sets right in front of them as He shows them how to live God's abundant life. And if they'd just believe in these things, if they'd just get these things down into their hearts, if they'd just let these things be the things...even a little bit...they could say to all that old stuff, all those old burdens, all those old rules, "move," and they would move. They would get out of the way and let these disciples - and this world - see Jesus.
No more smoke and fire. No more thunder and lightning. No more voice from the heavens. No more aromas pleasing to the Lord. No more inspections by the priest for cleanness. No more. Move this mountain. Draw near to the most holy place, right here on the streets of Galilee. And worship. Worship the Lord who stands among you in justice and mercy and grace and love.
All it takes is the smallest bit of faith.