When Uphill’s a Climb – And Downhill’s a Dim Prospect

Climbing. We spend a lifetime at it. We pull up before we stand up. We climb before we walk. Even in our latter years we describe ourselves as climbing out of bed. In between, we climb trees, the corporate ladder, the social ladder, just to keep up with the Joneses. In faith there’s always Jacob’s ladder. When we get mad (and say so), we often speak of climbing all over somebody. We get depressed when the climb’s too steep to do what we should. But not to worry. There may be something tougher than the climb. That would be the decent. The downhill. The fall. Granny Eve and Grandpa Adam can tell ya, there’s nothin’ great about the fall! One of our first cautions to our kids is, “Don’t fall, Dear.” There’s a reason why my father used to shout at his tree climbin’ son, “Kenneth Michael, get down outta that tree.” I thought he was angry. My mom once told me he was scared (for me). I was a lot older when I finally figured out that anger is just the worst kind of scared. (You might wanna think about that.) As we get older, folks look with alarm on us “going down hill”, and even our doctors tell us we’re beginning to decline. Up hill. Down hill. Whew! It’s tough either way. <>“Good God, do you know what we’re talkin’ about? I mean Sweet, Sweet Jesus, have you been here, have you done this? Can you help us when uphill’s a climb and downhill’s a dim prospect?!” If so, we gotta tell ya. There’s just no time like the present. HELP! Help us now… pleeease.”

Let today assure us. God knows about the uphill climb. In fact, he sent Jesus to show us the way. In the best sense, we need to know. Jesus was a climber! Really. His family takes him down into Egypt as an infant. He walks back and walks up to his home in Nazareth, literally. At 12 he will go up to the Temple. At his baptism he will go up into the Wilderness to confront the Tempter, and out and up, over and over, drawing apart to pray. He climbs up on the mountain to preach, to heal, to feed. At the end, he will climb the city stairs that lead to the cross to die. In Christ God knows about the uphill way. But I’ve deliberately left out one crucial climb. Today’s lesson. ‘The hike up the Holy Hill to what we call the Transfiguration. ‘That shining moment with Peter, James and John, in the extraordinary company of Elijah the Greatest Prophet, and Moses, Giver of the Law! Rightly, we focus on what happens atop the mountain. But wrongly, we forget the climb! Let’s think on that. Jesus heads out and heads up that hill, by every Gospel account (they all say this), directly after Peter has declared Jesus really is the Christ. And Jesus has told him, he’s in the world to die! And Peter’s sworn off, “God forbid! No way” And Jesus has shot back, “YES, Way… so let the Devil take the hindmost. And that goes for you, too,  Peter!”  Well they’ve all thought about this a week! ‘Stewed in it and over it. (Hey, what path-ahead have you been stewin’ over this week?) Then Christ calls this same Peter, plus James and John, those thunderous brothers, to head up the hill. The mountain. (YES, it really is one: high, steep, arduous, tough, a hands and feet, push and pull and scramble and scratch up-climb.) Whatever hill you’re climbin’… or fear to climb, this week or some other, there are lessons here. Jesus has done it, too. Jesus leads the way. (‘Leads your way!) Jesus knows the way. Jesus is at turns with you and with them, ahead of you, behind you, beside you. He tests. He encourages. He strengthens you. And when you say, “I can’t. I won’t. It’s too much/hard/far,” Jesus just keeps climbing. And so can you. So DO you! Jesus is our example. Our inspiration. Our hope. His is the outreached arm that first holds the peak, and pulls us up with him! Whatever the hill you got this week (or any)… here’s the deal. Heaven’s waitin’, watchin’, even cheerin’. After all, Jesus-the-Sonof-Heaven’s on the same journey.

Another thing. ‘With them, with us. The time at the top in-good-times will always feel too short. Imagine Jesus’ shining time with Moses and Elijah. Who’d want such a time to cease? Not Jesus. They give him courage, cheer him on. They tell him he’s headed in the right direction, even toward the cross! Well, time’s too short for Pete & Partners, too. Peter offers to build a campsite so they can all hang out here. You know the feeling. Who wants the day off or vacation to end? Or (on a good day) the grandkids to leave. Suppose all married days felt like wedding days, all dark nights like prom nights. ‘Problem is: none of us, least of all Jesus, can tarry forever. There’s always the down hill on the other side of the hilltop. Thank God for the heights! But pray God move His Savior come with us, when we slide down the slippery of the slope! And he does!

O, friends, the downhill’s always a dim prospect. Now what? Does what we experienced up-there-in-our-faith really sustain us while we veer down into the valley. There are shadows there. And demons that don’t know how to behave, even when we lay hands on them in Jesus’ name and cry to cast them out! By all accounts, at the base of the Transfiguration Mountain, there waits a horror that won’t be healed. There’s this dad. His boy. Those fearful fits not even the assembled church (the disciples) can cast out. ‘Ain’t-no-way-outta-here, on this or any day, that doesn’t involve the downhill and down steps. Doctors wanna see us. Teachers wanna test us. Kids wanna try our patience and our wisdom. Parents wanna annoy us. The evening news wants to depress or enrage us. Somebody wants to threaten our job, jack up our gas prices or jerk our chain, just for sport. Now what have we got to say, darin’ down the far side off the hill with Jesus?

Count to three, and there’s hope for you and hope for me. #1 The same Jesus with you on the upside is holdin’ onto you for dearlife on the backside! He doesn’t leave us, any more than he did those long ago. ‘Feel like your slippin? Jesus is holdin’ on. ‘Like your gonna fall? You got a Good Shepherd with a rod to ward of the world animals in your path (the bill you can’t pay, the sick-bug you don’t wanna keep, the ill-chosen friend who’s a poor influence on your child or your teen). O, and he’s got a staff to reach down and pull you up when you stumble and fall. (“I said that to my wife, husband, kid, best friend? I made that dumb decision? I missed that chance to make-over and make-good?”) #2 This Jesus has got a prayer, even/especially when you don’t. He knows what to say. He knows what to do. He sees what you can’t, hears what you don’t, touches what you won’t. In the process he teaches us to pray with our lives, and live with our prayers. [Cf. praying for the homeless, offering our shelter; sending our missioners, praying for their missions.] #3 This Jesus offers us a way out that works out… from here to hereafter! He tells his own… don’t tell what you’ve seen and heard ‘til I am risen from the dead. And rise he does. Rise he has. And we have heard that he is risen and are witness to his rising. We have seen him in our midst. We know in our own valleys what once was veiled, long valleys ago. So for us, there’s hope on the uphill climb, and bright victory to answer the dim prospect of the downside of our every mountain. Amen? Amen.

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