Since the day I first came to faith it has been what I wanted. I have wanted to be lifted up, to be very high in the eyes of the Lord. For me the calling to discipleship and the calling to ministry were practically the same thing, though it took me a while to recognize it.
You see the protestant work ethic is strong in my family, like the force is strong in the Skywalker family. Most of us just buckle down when things get tough or weird or hopeless and just take care of business. In a lot of debt? Get a second job and pay those suckers down. Can’t afford to live in the house you want? Live where you have to and take care of your family.
Want to be lifted up, to be very high in the eyes of the Lord? Get serving.
You see it is not the president or the king, not the business man or the priest, not the landowner nor the county clerk who will be lifted up. No titles are mentioned beyond the title that is available to everyone. “You see, my servant will prosper, he will be exalted and lifted up” says Isaiah and while Isaiah might be talking about Jesus, all that is required is a small change in perspective and you can see that indeed, it is the servants who are lifted up, who prosper, who are exalted in God’s Kingdom.
Alas, not in this one. <snap fingers>
Did you catch that? For a second there your mind was on the Kingdom of God and your eyes could see it, you could imagine what it would be like if the servant were indeed to prosper, to be exalted and lifted up then <snap> we came back to the other world we live in.
Well, the world we walk in.
We live in both of them don’t we? We live in the false world and then we live in the real world, the Kingdom of God. One is the illusion of working and earning money and climbing the corporate ladder. It is the world into which we are born, the creation given to us by God but it is not all that it was meant to be, nor all that God has in store for us.
It is the other world, the Kingdom of God that Jesus comes and announces to us in His time here on earth, the way that we might walk and the way that we might see and the people we might become should we hearken to the voice of our Lord.
And here we sit, straddling the fence, so to speak, living in both worlds yet not quite a full member of either of them.
Which is, honestly, better than before, when we had just the one.
But I spoke on Palm Sunday about our having aspirations, about our having a vision of ourselves as better than we are now, an idealized person that we use when we answer questions on surveys about how often we pray, exaggerating the time we spend; or how much time we spend watching television, minimizing that number as best we can.
In the one kingdom we have the person that we confess to be, the person struggling with the flesh and the Law and temptations of sin and the fear of death.
In the other Kingdom, where no fear abides, we see the person we might be, the person God will someday make us, without the Law to threaten, without the flesh and its failings.
On one side of the mirror we see the person we know God would have us be, will have us be at the ending of things and on the other side we see the truth of our condition, our need for grace and forgiveness, our hope that this is not all. On the one side we see the promise. On the other side we just know the guilt and shame. On the one side the hand of Christ beckons. On the other side the gulf between us and holiness seems impossibly wide.
God has given us both kingdoms and Christ came to be both the bridge between them and the mirror into which we are called to glance from time to time, to see ourselves as we are more clearly, and to see a hint of who we might become.
The trick is not getting them confused. The trick is in not thinking we’ve already reached the other side.
The trick is in not thinking that we are going to be lifted up without first knowing that we are servants, not just to Him who hung there on the cross for us, but to one another.
It is a moment of tension, I understand, to see yourself both as you are and as God would have you be, to see starkly the difference between those two, it is uncomfortable and we live in a world that preaches comfort as among the highest goods to which we can aspire. You are knocked down from how high and exalted you have made yourself and are forced to see what high and exalted really looks like.
What it looks like is a man, beaten and bloodied, spat upon and ridiculed and then hung on a cross for the Jerusalem sun to punish and to finally perish so that we might be spared.
Suddenly our vanity about being high and exalted, lifted up seems so petty, perhaps not such a good idea after all.
The problem is that on this side of the mirror, when we are lifted up it exaggerates the difference, it seems all the farther between this side and that, between who we are and who we will be.
Maybe that’s why we don’t spend too much time looking into the other Kingdom, the Kingdom of God because seemingly every step we take here takes us farther away from where we will be there. Through the eyes of earthly accomplishment the kingdom of God seems impossibly far.
Get lifted up here and you will see on the other side how little that means.
Maybe we don’t like looking into that kingdom because the only way we can see it is to look up on the cross and see Christ hanging there, His flesh making plain the way.
But strangely, when you let go of exaltation here, when you abandon your vision of being lifted up, then your vision of the kingdom get a bit clearer. You can see that it is not being lifted up, not in the Kingdom of God, not lifted above others as we crave on this side.
It is being relieved of all that is holding us down. We are not elevated, we are simply being freed to rise. To rise back to where God’s vision for us had us from the very beginning, how God sees us in the eternal Kingdom.
Sin and death and pride and position and power and greed and envy and everything else we make accommodation for here slips away and is no more on the other side and we are lifted up not because we are great, but because Christ was lifted up, and made very high on the cross and allowed us to see a new way, through the mirror dimly, but soon enough, very clearly.