The Persistence of Up-ness

A sermon preached by Dr. Brent Beasley at Rising Star Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas on May 6, 2018.

An excerpt:

I came across a phrase in something written by Thomas Troeger; the persistence of up-ness. And that phrase grabbed my heart—the persistence of up-ness. The direction “up” may have left our understanding of the universe, but it has never left our souls.
Stand up for justice.
Look up in hope.
Lift up your hearts.
Pull yourself up.
I am feeling up today.
Look up at the stars.
The sun is up.
The moon is up.
The surf is up.

There is
some resilience in the heart,
some rising in the soul,
some reaching beyond and above
that will not die,
that will not go away,
that keeps calling to us,
that beckons us beyond ourselves.

How can we explain the persistence of up-ness? I account for it by trusting that when Jesus was carried up into heaven, he was carried into the up-ness that my heart and soul know to be real—just as real as the multidimensional universe.
[Thomas Troeger, “Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2, pp. 521-3]

Now there’s a secret about the persistence of up-ness. This is a hard secret to accept. It is something you have to experience to accept, I think. The secret is this: The way up is the way down. Or the way down is the way up.

We don’t want to see this. Most of us want to only go up and avoid all down. But the deep truth of the universe is that those who have gone down are the only ones who have understood up. Richard Rohr talks about this in one of his books, and the title really says it all: Falling Upward.

Notice the order: falling…up.

In the world, it’s rise and fall. You know, we use that phrase all the time.
The rise and fall of Adolf Hitler.
The rise and fall of the business tycoon.
The rise and fall of the celebrity.
The rise and fall of the professional athlete.

Jamie and I watched a documentary on ESPN the other night about Chris Herren. He was a high school basketball star from Massachusetts. He went on to play at Boston College and Fresno State and then ended up playing in the NBA for the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics. He was immensely talented. But he had addiction problems. And his story is one of rising up to great heights and then falling down to the depths.

It’s a common story—a story of achieving great success, getting high up the ladder of success, and then stumbling and falling down. A common phrase: rise and fall. Up then down.

But with Jesus, it’s the opposite: down and then up.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24). Jesus did not fly straight to heaven once danger came. He suffered and died and then was raised to glory.

The very body of Jesus that ascended up into heaven was marked by deep scars painfully acquired when he was down.

We suffer and die and not just at the end of life. I have been crucified with Christ, Paul said. I bear the death of Christ now. We fall, and from that lowest point, we rise. We fall…and then rise. Down and then up.
[James C. Howell, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Volume 1, pp.164-8]

I have a friend Kyle Matthews who is a songwriter and performer, and he has this great song called, “We Fall Down.” In the song Kyle tells the story of a man, struggling along with daily life, looking at a monastery as he passes it by, wondering how those holy men live.

Finally, he sees one of the monks by the gate, and he asks the monk what they do all day. And this holy man says: We fall down, and we get up. We fall down, and we get up. And then he says something that is so crucial for all of us to understand. He says, The saints are just the sinners who fall down…and get up.

We fall, and we rise,
we fall and rise,
fall and rise.
Down then up.

The way up is the way down.

Thomas Merton once said that people may spend their whole lives climbing up the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

Everybody’s on some ladder trying to go up.

The mystery and wonder of God’s grace and salvation is that you mainly experience it when you’ve gotten a few rungs up and realize that it’s leaning against the wrong wall. You have to fail. And fall. And that’s when the
up-ness of God kicks in and becomes a persistent reality.

And so even our falling, even our going down, is blessed.

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