Toorak Uniting Church

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Up the mountain and down again

Luke 9: 23 – 36
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
22 February 2004

Luke, more than any of the other gospel writers emphasises the fact that Jesus is on a journey. More than in the other gospels Jesus moves around from place to place, more than in the other gospels there are references to travel and being on the road. Jesus is on a journey, a journey all the way from his birthplace in Bethlehem (and even before that with his mother travelling extensively when pregnant as well) all the way to cross and resurrection in Jerusalem.

It is a journey through life, where he constantly meets with people and situations that define his ministry and that are, in turn, defined by it. A journey that is full of parallels to our journeys through life, and to the journey of the church through history.

A journey with ups and downs, where faith is challenged, where people get excited, where they come to faith and lose it again, a journey through highs and lows, a journey that is led and guided by God to a moment in time where heaven and earth come together and all Gods purposes meet.

Halfway through his gospel Luke builds, as it were, a mini gospel into the main gospel to focus people’s attention and already reveal some of the story as it will unfold later on.

The way to the cross, the resurrection and the life of the church after the resurrection are all there in a nutshell, in the few verses we’ve read this morning. Overt, but there.

And a connection is made to the life and witness of anybody that wants to follow Jesus as well.

Who wants to follow me has to pick up their cross and deny themselves says Jesus.

And we, and anybody that would read the gospel, would know how he himself picked up his cross and denied himself doing it. Even though the disciples at the time may not have been clear on what he meant, we, readers after the Easter events, know all toe well just how far the cross bearing Jesus is referring to goes.
Carrying a cross all the way to the top of a hill where God’s glory is revealed in his crucifixion. But that is later. Here, at the transfiguration there is only a glimpse of that, a glimmer of what is to come at Easter. And before they know what is happening, they’re down again, with the crowds on the plane below, awaiting the good news of the gospel, expecting healing and care, hungry for community with Christ.

It is the whole gospel, here in the middle of the book, presented in a nutshell.

Pick up your cross……

What is does that mean? What is your cross? What is it that marks and scars your life? Where is it that you hurt? What is it that weighs you down?

Is it easy to carry? Or is it near too heavy and too hard to move around with?

Pick up your cross……

There is activity in that, and an acknowledgment that yes, in most of our lives there are things that hurt and are difficult. That we all carry around with us a package of things that are difficult, things that drag us down. Jesus here summons those who want to follow him to pick them up, deny ourselves and follow him. Follow the one that carried his own cross through the depths of death to a new life in glory, to salvation for the world.

Pick up your cross and follow me he says. Do it. Don’t sit down and indulge yourself, don’t be paralysed by the suffering that you have to endure. I went there before you and I came through. Deny yourself the temptation of self-pity, of thinking that the world evolves around your hurt and pain only; come with me to another life, a life of salvation.

Start walking with me he says and don’t let whatever is happening tie you down, keep you captive. Of course it hurts, of course it is not easy, I who walked to the cross knowing full well what was going to happen, know all about it.
But there is a road that leads through it, a road that leads to new life for all of us.

Come, follow me, put your cross under your arm if it will fit there, or put your shoulder under it, or, if need be, balance it on your back, but follow me, on the road up the mountain.

And the disciples follow Jesus, all the way to the top of the mountain. The top of the mountain being in the bible often the place where people can see more clearly who and what God is, often the place of revelation and deep religious experiences. There is something about mountaintops, as those of you who have climbed them will know. As if you can breath more freely, as if you’re closer to heaven, but also if you can see earth more clearly. It is a place to find God and a place to find ourselves and put things into perspective. A place where we may feel we want to stay because it is so good to be there. Experiences we want to hold on to, pin down perhaps and that always proof to be elusive and temporarily.

As happens with Jesus, Peter, James and John. Before Peter can even start getting together a tent building party the moment is gone, a cloud descending on them, a voice declaring Jesus the beloved of God. The whole peak experience is over in a moment and they are left behind in confusion.

I’ve been on Mount Tabor and was fortunate enough to experience one of those thick fogs that apparently every so often, descend on the mountain. It happens in an instant, one minute you have these glorious views of the country side around you, the next you can’t see nothing and you would want to build tents for fear of falling down the rather steep sides of the mountain if you take one step to many.

That is not though what Luke is referring too, although he uses the knowledge that some of his readers inevitably had of those fast descending fogs to make a point. I think what Luke wants to make clear is that on the journey following Jesus, we carry our cross like he did, there is not much sitting down and indulging ourselves, but there is an acknowledgment of the pain and a living with it. When we come to the top of the mountain and suddenly see, understand; experience the wide vistas of God’s love and the bright light of God’s glory we’re not meant to stay there either. After the glimpse of glory and the voice of God there’s often thick fog, confusion and the commission to move on, move out, down the mountain again to the other side where the crowds are awaiting.

Luke tells us how Jesus is on a journey with his disciples. A journey that is not always easy and where crosses need to be carried. A journey where glimpses of glory alternate with impenetrable fog. A journey that leads us to a life in service to others, to those waiting to be healed, fed and ministered to at the foot of the mountain on the other side of cross bearing and glimpses of glory. Of going out into the whole wide world to be witnesses and followers of Jesus.

That in a nutshell is the message of the gospel of Luke laid down in a couple of verses in the heart of the gospel.

For us it means that the pain and hurt we live with may be acknowledged. It is real, it is there. But it is not something that should tie us down, keep us from following in Jesus footsteps.
He’s gone there before us. He showed us the way through the valley of death to new life.
Then again: neither can we stay in meditation and adoration, away from the every day hassle and bustle of life. Although we may, at times, enjoy the experience of God’s closeness and glory revealing itself, it is not a place to stay. There also we have to move on. On to the crowds that await us, down to an earth filled with people clamouring for wholeness, justice and peace. That is where the glorified Jesus leads us. That is where we should be going.
There is room for us, for our pain, for our journey that may at times be an uphill struggle, there are for us the moments of light and truth, glimpses of glory and vision. But there is also the thick fog, the road leading down, to earth and it’s people. The people of God that need caring and committed gospel living.


Let us now take these people up to God in prayer…..


© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004

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