It was not the kind of place I normally hang out, not my usual holiday destination. We were there, in Chamonix in the French Alps, because my nephew has bought an apartment there. In the end, the builders were still working on the flat, so we had to hire somewhere else to fit in with the flights that had already been booked.
However, it was a revelation, mind-blowingly beautiful. We saw and experienced things that we have never seen or experienced before. I can really see the attraction. And it also made me more aware of the dangers of the mountains and the way the environment is changing because of global warming.
But I still felt that we were the odd ones out in Chamonix. Chamonix is very much the playground of the rich. Bankers from Geneva live there and commute. And to own property in Cham you have to be rich. I have never seen so many estate agents! We perused the adverts in the windows. A one-bedroom flat is going to cost you 100,000E, and a four-bedroom chalet in need of renovation will set you back something like 1mE. Food and drink in the bars and restaurants was pricey. There were some wonderful shops, all catering to the high-end market, lovely to look at, but we weren’t spending.
The other way in which our faces didn’t really fit was that we don’t do extreme sports. Well, to be honest, S and I don’t really do sports at all. People go to Chamonix to live because they are passionate about sports of various kinds. That’s why P has bought his tiny studio flat – he is a skier and a rock climber. You can also go snow-boarding, white-water rafting, or paragliding.
There are lots of British people living in Chamonix. Our driver on the bus back to the airport has 4 jobs, including his own business taking people out on fly-fishing trips. Doing a bit of this and a bit of that enables people to live around Chamonix and continue with their sports interests. That is their treasure, their passion, the reason for their existence. And so that is where they invest their time and energy, money and resources. The mountains are their kingdom.
It is that kind of place. People just fall in love with it. The mountains are so high, and they are all around you. And there is snow and ice even in August. There you are enjoying 30 degree heat in the valley and you are looking at ancient glaciers high above you. From my bed, I looked out at Mont Blanc. What a way to wake up!
The kingdom of God is like that feeling you have for the place where you really really want to be, a place that inspires you, the place where your heart belongs, just as my nephew P’s heart belongs in Chamonix rather than Preston where he was brought up.
But the kingdom of God isn’t a physical place. You can’t find it on a map, or book an EasyJet flight. The kingdom of God is a way of living with God in charge. But the passion for the kingdom should be like the passion people have for Chamonix and the mountains. It’s the place where you really want to be, the place where you invest your heart and mind and soul.
Living the kingdom involves a lot of waiting. We are waiting for the kingdom to come, when Jesus comes again, the Master returning home, and living the kingdom here and now, living with Jesus in charge. The kingdom is in the future and it is now. It just is. Jesus talks about being ready for the Master’s return, being alert. One day, Jesus will come again, but in the meantime, we look for Jesus in every person that we meet.
When the mountains are your playground, you do a lot of waiting. Some people arrive for their few days of ski-ing or climbing and the weather is against them, but they only have those few days, so they risk it and go anyway. They are the ones who get into trouble. We saw the mountain rescue helicopter a few times in the week we were there. P has assured my sister that he only goes out when the conditions are good. Better to wait another day or another week or until the next trip than get lost in the mist and cloud and fall down a crevasse.
Jesus also advises the disciples: Be dressed for action. In winter sports, being dressed for action means having the right clothing and equipment for your sport, the gear that will keep you safe and warm and comfortable and enable you to reach the peak, or glide down the slope. For years, our Christmas presents to P have been small pieces of climbing equipment that I do not understand, because these are the things he needs for his passion, the things that will protect him.
Being dressed for action in the kingdom of God is about your attitudes and habits, all the things that make you who you are as a person, like your attitude to money and possessions, your attitude to other people, your attitude to the world around you, your attitude to God. And the way these attitudes work out in what you do and say. Give what you have to help others, whether that’s money or goods or time or energy.
God the Father rejoices to give you the kingdom. He rejoices in the pleasure that the skiers and climbers take in the alps. He rejoices in the passion people have for protecting the environment. He rejoices when people work out their faith in caring for others and being passionate about what is right and good.
Love God. Love God’s kingdom. Be dressed and ready for action. Look out for Jesus. That is faith.