Looking around this room tonight fills me with so much hope for our world. For I look around and see a generation that is up and coming. I look around and see a room full of energetic youth with high ambitions. I look around and ask, “My God, how high can they go? How high can these young men and women, these future leaders of the world, go?
You were probably taught at a very early age that up high is where it is at, and no doubt you spent the first eighteen years of your lives trying to grow up, graduate high school and then possibly pursue an even higher education. All so you move up a little higher in this world. And after all of your graduations, you will work hard to make sure you are always upward bound: up for a promotion so you can move up the ladder. For up, up highis how our society measures success.
Up high, we are told, is where we will find our life, a life that is full, complete, satisfied, and abundant. Up high is where we are able rub elbows with others who also shaped up, grown up and moved up. Up high is where we find what we call the “in” crowd. They are the “up” and the “in” as opposed to the “down” and the “out.”
So we set goals that are high. We seek to make high marks, achieve high grades, meet high expectations.
The message of nearly every motivational speaker or life coach in America today is all about how to shape up and move up, aim high and soar high.
After all, who in their right mind would want to move in the opposite direction? Who wants to change directions from up high to down low? As the late Henri Nouwen one of my favorite preachers, has said: “Downward mobility [in our society] is not only discouraged, but even considered unwise, unhealthy or downright stupid.”
Can I get an “Amen?” Come on now, really? Who in their right mind would want to lower themselves? What mind must you have to want to humble yourself, move to and sit at the lowest seat at the table, lower yourself to the ground to wash another’s feet, descend down the economic ladder to relate to the poor, be with and love the down and out?
What kind of mind? As Adam Greene read a few moments ago, the mind of Christ.
When God chose to reveal to the world a life that is full, abundant and eternal, God’s will for all people, God chose a life of downward mobility. God emptied God’s self, poured God’s self out, humbled God’s self, lowered God’s self and came down. Down to meet us where we are, down to earth as a lowly baby, born in a lowly stable, laid down in a feeding troth to worshipped by down and out shepherds.
The scriptures do say that Jesus grew upward in stature; however, the gospel writers continually paint a portrait Jesus’ life as one of downward mobility. He is continually bending himself to the ground, getting his hands dirty, to touch the places in people that most need touching.
While his disciples seemed to always focus on privilege and honor and upward mobility, chastising little children who needed to shape up and grow up before they could come to Jesus, Jesus argued that the Kingdom of God actually belonged to such children.
While his disciples argued about who was going to be promoted, who was going to graduate to be the first in the Kingdom, Jesus frustrated them (and if we are honest, frustrated us) by doing things like moving down to sit at the lowest seat at the table, bending down to wash their feet, stooping down to welcome small children, crouching down to forgive a sinner, reaching down to serve the poor, lowering himself down to accept the outcast, touch the leper, heal the sick, and raise the dead.
While others exercised worldly power to graduate and move up, climb up, and advance, Jesus exercised a strange and peculiar power that always propelled him in the opposite direction. It is not a power that rules but is a power that serves. It is not a power that takes but is a power that gives. It is not a power that seizes but is a power that suffers. It is not a power that dominates but is a power that dies.
And nearing the culmination of his downward life, to save the world, Jesus went to highest seats of power in the capital city of Jerusalem, not on a white stallion with an elite army of high ranking soldiers, but riding a borrowed donkey with a handful of ragtag students who never even got a GED. The whole scene of Jesus riding that donkey, in the words of Henri Nouwen, looks “downright stupid.”
This is the narrow and seemingly foolish way of downward mobility, the descending way of Jesus toward the poor, toward the suffering, the marginalized, the prisoners, the refugees, the undocumented, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless–toward all who thirst and hunger justice and compassion.
And what do they have to offer? Those who are down and out in our world cannot offer success, popularity, riches, or worldly power, but they do offer the way to life, full, complete, abundant and eternal.[i]
So tonight, filled with hope for the world as I look around this room asking, “My God, how high can these young men and women, these future leaders of the world go?” I am also asking with even greater hope for the world and the Kingdom of God, “My God, how low can they go? How low can these young men and women, these future leaders of the world, these future leaders of the church go? How low can they go to fulfill the divine purposes that you have for each of their lives?
My hope is that you are here tonight, not to ask God to help you move up to be with the “in” crowd. Not to find something here in worship that will make you more successful, more affluent, climb a little higher. I hope you are not even here looking to be uplifted or to be more upbeat or for some kind of upstart to get this new chapter in our life headed on an upswing. My hope is that you are here in worship tonight because you have chosen to move in the opposite direction.
My hope is that you will always want to continually go down, get low, lose yourselves, die to yourselves, to live for Christ. For you have heard, and you have believed Jesus when he said: “Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28).
Although it sounds good to be a part of the up and coming generation, my hope is that you will be a generation that is always down and going. May you always go down, get low, sacrificially and selflessly. And then go out bending yourselves down to the ground if you have to, to touch the places in people that most need touching. May you go out and stoop down to welcome and accept all children, to love on those in hospitals and nursing homes. May you go out and reach down to serve the poor, lower yourselves down to accept the outcast and the marginalized, and may you get low, get down on your knees to pray for the grieving and the lost.
And, there, as low as you can go, may you truly find your life, your purpose in this world, one that is full, complete, satisfied, abundant and eternal.
[i] The sermon is inspired by this paraphrase from Henri Nouwen, Here and Now, 138-139.