I’ve been pondering this week about this word ‘Up’
The Merriam-webster dictionary states ‘looking up’ as a sign of respect or admiration, looking up to an older brother, or the kids looking up to their coach. Psychologists say that when analysing a person’s eye movements during a line of questioning looking upwards to the right means that they are accessing their imagination and looking to invent an answer.
The Gospel today tells of a ‘looking up moment’. You see, when I look at the cross, it becomes a moment of reflection, sadness and in the same way healing because we have been given a chance to live. I am then reminded, of the good things I have around me, the blessings and the reason why I go on. My “why”, Why am I here, why do I preach, why is this (right here) important to me.
The image of the snake on the pole, found in Numbers 21: 4-9 talks about the people of Israel complaining to Moses about why God brought them out of Egypt, was it to die in the wilderness? So, God sent his serpents and the people cried for help, because they realised, they had done wrong. Moses was instructed by God, to build this bronze serpent and set it on a pole, anyone who was bitten had to look up at the bronze serpent and they would be healed. As big as this serpent statute would have been for the Israelites, I would imagine it hard to look past the threatening image of intertwining snakes. Snakes being used in the biblical narrative as evil and frightening creatures. It makes you wonder how something as fearful as snakes, God is able to change or heal you. Today, you would see this same symbol to represent medicine a place to go to be healed.
The snake on the pole with the image of Jesus up on a pole (cross), the fear that this brings and how for the early post easter followers looking up at what they feared brought about change/healing. Instead of thinking that God had deserted them they came to understand that God loved them.
A joy I had during lockdown was watching a movie called ‘up’ with my kids. For those that haven’t heard of it, I’ll give you a quick summary, it shows the life of a young boy named Carl who meets his very chatty neighbour who is a girl Ellie, her dream in life was all about travelling to one day get to this mountain. There, she would build a home and live the rest of her life there atop of this mountain.
The movie goes that the two get married and live together in their home, as they get older, they are reminded of her dream and as time passes, they never quite get to achieving her dream of travelling to the top of this mountain. Eventually she passes on and Carl is left on his own. Still living in the home, they built together, new developments begin to arise around him. He decides to move on and live the dream he and Ellie never got to complete. So, he stacks a whole bunch of helium balloons in his chimney and up goes the house. Into the sky it launches and away his house drifts towards this mountain he’s destined for.
You see, what came out of the movie for me watching this unfold is that we as humanity have two important appointments in life. The first being born into this world, this is an appointment we will never miss. The second is death, we all have this ability to disguise death in our lives, hide or turn away from its uncertainty and its pain. Borg states that death will get us all and that life is filled with threats to our existence: accidents, disease, violence, unemployment, poverty. Life easily looks threatening Does this mean we live having to look over our shoulder every 10 minutes? Defensively.
Sometimes we fear what death brings to our family and loved ones. How we react and respond to death determines our character. I was quite drawn to how the old man turned the loss of his wife to rebuilding what he cherished most which was to honour his wife by living out her dream. At times death awakens us to what we haven’t been doing and challenges us to do it. Like Carl, he probably would have battled a few demons before he built the courage to follow his heart. This too is a process he would have had to endure like many of us would have experienced. I know that it would have been important to find a place and a space where you felt safe to really express and console emotions. I remember writing an essay about lamenting in a Psalms paper I took, having a place where we are able to lament and weep and do what we all need to do to grieve, mourn, cry out and go on our knees. Death brings about new emotions of grieving and part of this requires us to take time to mourn. No better sanctuary than the one we have right here. Inviting, open and safe.
My own calling to the ministry came about after losing both my parents, although it had been spoken on me by my father to enter ministry when I got to university. I decided to pursue another avenue which was in education. I had a father who was sick, a mother who was beyond working and supporting our family and a house that we almost lost.
So, I saw entering the ministry at the time a problem because my heart was for my parents and my family. What had also influenced my thinking was a close friend of mine had applied and did not get through because he hadn’t acquired enough life experience. This meant he needed to go out and experience living life, he got on the next flight to Abu Dhabi and hasn’t looked back since. This almost certainly steered me away from the ministry. His plans were not my plans obviously, I worked as a teacher and supported my family, my parents got older but through us children they didn’t have to worry anymore. Dad died in 2011 and mum in 2017, my world was broken.
The death of my parents felt as though God had something more instore for me. I was enjoying working and supporting my family, we were comfortable however my comfortability wasn’t his. Have you ever had an experience when things happen and your like wow that was God moment because that person just mentioned ministry and we weren’t even talking about it? I had to step out in faith, this meant that we would be down to one income, support 3 children but he came through for us. The real blessing was to be led into a calling doing his work in ministry. This in hindsight has also blessed my extended family as you all experienced at the commissioning.
I imagine it was a little like how Jesus’ disciples felt after his death. Like Carl in the midst of the pain and grief I realized something was unfinished. Jesus’ disciples too came to realise something was unfinished. Jesus visited them many times after his death, prompting for them to carry on what he started. They didn’t know how exactly it was going to look but they followed him by faith.
For me I needed to overcome my fears by honouring the call of God on my life (and in so doing honouring the love I have for my parents) I needed to look at death, at brokenness, at failure – the things in my life that I felt were weaknesses – and not to be afraid. I needed to look fear in the face, and in doing so discover the greater power of love – God’s love for me – and be changed and healed by it.
 Marcus J Borg, The Heart of Christianity (New York, U.S.A: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015). 34.