“Friend, go up higher”
I don’t mind
telling you. It is one of my favourite passages in the Scriptures. It’s
not about ambition or pretension. It’s about the hope of transformation.
It conveys the sense that we are indeed called to something more, that we
have a destiny beyond what we know is before us but will not face, namely,
the grave and gate of death.
Here is a
Scripture in which the operative words are “friend” and “go up
higher”. We have just had a visible demonstration of this scripture in
the baptism of Emily. She has been made - there is no other word for it - a
friend of Jesus. She has just been called up higher but only through the
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for such is the heart of baptism.
We are identified with Jesus in his free-willing identity and sacrifice for
You see, it is
Jesus who calls us “friends”. He does so not merely by way of a
parable but more directly. He calls us friends at the height of his
passion, on the night of our betrayal. You see, that is the wondrous thing,
the thing that passes human understanding, God has made us his friends when
we were enemies against him! This turns the ancient world on its
head. It turns our world on its head. We live in a hopeless and fearful
world. Here is the antidote to our hopelessness and fear. It challenges us
so that it can redeem us.
We are called
out of ourselves and we are called to God. We are called to the service of
God in our life together with one another in the body of Christ. It is
really the purpose of our being here today, a purpose which must extend into
every aspect of our lives.
reminds us of the qualities of that vocation, about how we should seek to
be, about how we should act: “with all lowliness and meekness, with
long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the
unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. These qualities arise from
the doctrine - the teaching - which has been given to us and without which
these qualities cannot live in us. “There is one body, and one Spirit,
even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one
baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all and in
It is a high
calling, to be sure. And it would be impossible, except for this. The
means whereby it is accomplished in us is the same as what has been shown to
us. Jesus himself is the teaching. He is what he says. In other words, it
is grace - what comes from God to us. Grace goes before us and follows us,
as the Collect puts it. “Prevent” in its older and fuller sense does
not mean “hinder” but “a going” or “a coming before”.
Our grace-ordered lives are about the teaching - the doctrine - of Christ
living in us, our “walking worthy of the vocation wherewith we are
called”. Emily has been the reminder to us of that vocation.
up higher” is not our presumption but our calling. Christ has come to
where we are but not to leave us where we are. He wants something better
for us. He has come to us and we find our vocation in him, in what he says
to us and in what he does for us. Our vocation is simply about the quality
of our being with him.
That quality of
being is not something static. It is dynamic and alive, charged with the
presence of God. It is the awareness of God in our lives that makes all the
difference. Awakened to that, we can only be set in motion, in sacrifice
and service, in prayer and praise. “Friend, go up higher” signals to
us that there is always more and never less with God.
But there is a
condition. The condition is our openness to the reality of God, both as
priest and people, as a parish and as individuals. Without that openness to
the reality of God we are trapped in the presumption of ourselves. We are,
in fact, atheists. It may seem harsh and presumptuous to say that but it
really follows that in putting ourselves ahead of one another we also put
ourselves ahead of God. The God who is the afterthought in our lives is the
God who is dead to our lives. We are dead to him. We forget that the grace
of God is the whole premise of our existence: “it is he that hath made us
and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”
In a way, this gospel story would remind us of who we are and what we are
called to by way of a patient, prayerful watchfulness and an acting upon
what we see and hear in God’s word. This is the counter and the contrast to
We so easily
get stuck in the various ruts of our lives. We forget so easily the gospel
of our transformation. God has come to us to raise us to where he is. That
is the radical grace of the gospel. It is made visible and audible to us
here this morning in this holy place in the Emily’s baptism and now in the
Holy Eucharist. Here we are called “friends” and here we are called
“up higher”. But only as the counter to our presumption.
“Friend, go up higher”