Holy Upwardness

 Psalm 15          Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

 Luke 14: 1, 7-14             September 1, 2019

“… go and sit at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’”

Prayer:  O Holy One, O Divine Presence, may your Word be illumined in our hearts this day so that it may be a blessing to our hearing, thinking, and understanding.  Amen.

 Last February, Barb and I went out to Denver, Colorado to visit our son and his girlfriend.  We saw several  wondrous sites of the Rocky Mountains…  Red Rocks,  Garden of the Gods,  the base of Pike’s Peak.  It was absolutely fantastic!  I stood in awe of these natural, geologic formations, and just was moved within.  Their grandeur is so majestic and wonderful, I often sense Divine holiness all around me.

 And, I am acutely aware of my smallness.  I feel so insignificant as I stand in the presence of such magnificence and beauty.   And, that feeling is magnified as I think about the earth as a whole, and the moon, the solar system, the stars, and the universe.  We are just specks in all these things, aren’t we?

And yet, our God says to me, to us, “Come, friend, come.  You may be small in this entire universe,  but I know you.  You are my Beloved.  Come.  Move up higher from your smallness.”

 This is what I call Holy Upwardness—when God speaks in our lives and in our hearts and says, “Move up higher.”  It’s holy Upwardness because if we have a tiny sense of honesty, we would realize that our lives are full of our own imperfections, our own arrogance, full of our mistakes, full of our limitations.  If we have even a small dose of humility, we would be aware of our humanness, and take a lower seat at the table of God’s Divine Presence.

And yet, God comes into our sinful lives and astonishes us by saying, ‘Friend, move up higher from this lower place.   Because you are forgiven.  Because you are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you...” (Isaiah 43:4). Come, abide in my tent.  On my holy hill (Ps. 15).

Wow!  Quite apart from anything we can do to earn that love, God says, “Move up higher, because I love you.”

 Sometimes, though the trouble is, don’t we suffer from a terrible sense of forgetfulness?  We forget Jesus’ teaching that the humble shall be lifted up.  We forget that those who lift themselves up, especially at the expense of others, shall be humbled.  Even on my best days, when I have the best of intentions, I still can be partial, limited in perspective, narrow-minded, likely to be wrong about certain things.  Isn’t that true for all of  us sometimes?

I invite us to choose  to have a wider vision and broader hearing which allows for other’s perspectives to be heard, and then, the Spirit has a chance to exercise Holy Upwardness with us, taking us up to a new places together.  I think that’s when we see that we are part of a larger whole in which others  and other’s perspectives matter just as much as we do.

 This difference can be seen, for example, by use of the button on your cell phone that switches camera views.   I mean this is a day and age when almost everyone who has a cell phone knows about taking selfies, right?  A lot of posted pics on Facebook, Snapchat, and so forth, are selfies. And they’re fun to do, especially group selfies.

 But tap that button, it switches from selfie view to world view, from yourself to that which is beyond yourself.  The view you see is others. The world you see fits together with messiness sometimes; with beautiful clarity at other times. When we turn from staring at ourselves and start seeing others, it allows for the spirit to remind us of what Jesus teaches—that the most impressive people in God’s realm are those who take the humble position, those who turn the focus away from self to others, and whose sole purpose is a soul and a life that is pleasing to God.

Then you start to see those who are often unseen.  You start to see those who are disregarded.  Then you start to practice Holy Upwardness with those whom others tend to ignore.  Because Holy Upwardness is the living embodiment of upending a self-aggrandizing culture, a self-promoting society.

 Theologian and author Philip Yancey tells of a certain couple who had planned a lavish wedding reception.  They booked a banquet room at the elegant Hyatt hotel downtown Boston, and made the required down payment.

However, in the days leading up to the wedding the ‘groom-to-be’ soon backed out and left the relationship for good, leaving his fiancé devastated.

One of the first things the former bride-to-be did was go to the Events Manager of the Hyatt.  The manager said she was sorry, but the deposit was non-refundable.  She had two options; 1) she could either forfeit the rest of her down payment, or 2) go ahead with the party.

As Yancey tells it, “It seemed crazy, but the more the jilted bride thought about it, the more she liked the idea of going ahead with the party—because ten years before, this same woman had been living in a homeless shelter.  She had gotten back on her feet, found a good job, and set aside a sizable nest egg.  Now she had the wild idea treating the down-and-outs of Boston to a night on the town.

“And so it was, that night in June of 1990, the Hyatt in downtown Boston hosted a party such as it had never seen before.  The menu was changed to boneless chicken—‘in honor of the groom.’  Invitations were sent to rescue missions and homeless shelters.  People who were used to peeling half-gnawed pizza off the cardboard dined instead on chicken cordon bleu.  Hyatt waiters in tuxedos served hors d’oeuvres to senior citizens propped up by crutches and aluminum walkers.  Bag ladies, vagrants, and addicts took one night off from the hard life on the sidewalks outside and instead had dinner, ate chocolate wedding cake, and danced to big-band melodies late into the night” (Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?  (Zondervan, 1997), 48-49).

 That’s practicing Holy Upwardness.  Because no matter if you stand in God’s Divine Presence, whether it’s in the sanctuary, or at the foot of the mountain, or when you reach out to the unseen and disregarded, it’s the humble heart that best experiences God’s Holy Upwardness.

Holy Upwardness is God’s invitation to move up higher in this life,  but it is also God’s call to move up higher leading us to the life to come.  The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ affirms that the Upward Way leads to the Higher Grounds of God’s eternal realm.  So we pray as we sing that God will lift us up with Holy Upwardness to the higher plane of life eternal.  Let us stand and sing.