Finishing the Climb (Confirmation)

Dear Friends in Christ,

To the people of Tibet she is known as Jumalunga which means “goddess mother of the sky.”  The citizens of Nepal to the south call her Sagamartha which also means “goddess of the sky.”  But it was Sir Andrew Wall, the British Surveyor General of India, who in 1852 gave her the name that stuck.  Does anybody know what that name is or what I’m even talking about?  I’m talking about Everest.  Mt. Everest.

She punches a hole in the ceiling of the sky, rising higher than the flight pattern of many airplanes – 29,028 feet above sea level.  By the turn of the 20th century she had become the target of climbers all around the world.  But she would not surrender easily to those who tried to conquer her.  It would take 15 expeditions at the cost of 24 lives before Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tensing Norgay, would pull their weary bodies to the summit of this pyramid of stone and ice.

What is this fascination that many people have with this highest mountain on earth?  When Edmund Hillary was asked that question, why he risked his life to climb Everest, he gave his now famous answer:  “Because it’s there.”  But there’s got to be more to it than that.  And I’m not sure I know what it is, especially since I’m one who has been cursed with a deathly fear of heights and I have trouble understanding why anyone in their right mind would want to climb more than 5 miles above sea level where the air is extremely thin, the temperature is frigid beyond comprehension, the ice is slick, and one wrong move, one wrong step can send you plummeting thousands of feet to your death.  But I do know one thing.  The Bible shares this fascination with mountains.

For example, were not the 10 Commandments presented by God to Moses on a mountain, namely, Mt. Sinai?  And didn’t the fire of God fall from heaven upon Elijah’s sacrifice on a mountain, namely, Mt. Carmel?  And wasn’t the greatest sermon of all time preached on a mountain, for which reason we call it Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount?  And didn’t the greatest sacrifice of all take place on a mount just outside the walls of Jerusalem, namely, Mt. Calvary.  One writer in the New Testament even compares our journey to heaven to a journey up a mountain.  After describing the Israelites’ trip to Mt. Sinai following their exodus from Egypt, the author of Hebrews says in chapter 12, verse 22:  “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.  You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.”

So the Christian life can be compared to the climb up a mountain.  And for you confirmands, that climb is reaching a new level today as you have now completed a 3-year study of Scripture and basic Christian doctrine and you stand poised and ready to publicly confess and confirm your faith in Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit first planted in your heart at your baptism.  It’s a big day for you.  But I don’t want you to take this next step of your climb without you or anyone else here today understanding certain things about it.

For example, this climb can be very beautiful.  God has panoramic vistas of his glory for us to behold on this journey; meadows of Scripture in which we can find refreshment for our souls; rivers of mercy and grace from which we can drink along the way.  Make no mistake about it.  Nothing is as beautiful as the Everest climb of the Christian life.

But let me also be quick to add that this climb can be very difficult at times.  Your sins may be taken away, but your challenges are not.  The power of death may be removed, but the reality of it is not.  The devil may be defeated, but he still hangs around.  And he is bound and determined to nip at our heels and trip us up every step we take up the mountain.  And because it isn’t always easy, I’d like to spend the rest of my time this morning giving you just a few mountain climbing tips that come from the Apostle Paul in our text for today.

First, he reminds us to look up.  In v. 14 he says, “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”  Now we don’t like that word “everything” there, do we?  And some of you are just hoping that I’m going to say, “You know I found in the original Greek that that word ‘everything’ does not really mean everything.”  But you know what that word “everything” means in the Greek?  It means everything.  “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”

Does that include changing diapers at 2 a.m. without complaining or arguing?  You bet it does.  Does it mean getting up and going to school without grumbling or complaining?  Yep.  Does it include keeping my room neat and clean when Mom and Dad tell me to?  You got it.  Does it even include those times when I get cut from the team or cut off in traffic?  That’s right.

Now before you start complaining about not being able to complain, let me clarify that Paul is not dismissing the carefully worded and justified comment here.  Sometimes we have good reason to point out a fault, a mistake, a failure in someone.  But when we do that, we need to make sure that our comments are seasoned with kindness and Christian love.  Why?  Because nothing will trip you up more on your climb up the mountain and take your eyes off of that which is most important than a good case of the grumbles.  You know why?  Because complaining only multiplies the problem.  Let me explain.

Let’s say that on the way to church this morning a red pickup truck pulled out in front of you, forcing you to slam on your brakes.  Now that would constitute your first experience of that near-miss, right?  But then you turn to your wife and say, “Did you see that?  Stupid driver!  Why, he doesn’t deserve to be on the road!”  Now you’ve experienced it twice.  But that’s not enough.  You get to church and you tell the greeter at the door, “You should’ve seen what happened on our way here.  Some Bozo cut in front of me and almost caused an accident.”  That’s 3 times you’ve experienced it.  Then as you’re leaving, you see another pickup truck.  It’s not even red, but it jogs your memory.  So you experience it again.  Then the next day you’re on the same street where the near-miss happened and you remember it again and get all upset and angry.

You see what I’m talking about?  Complaining only multiplies or compounds our problems.  So instead of looking around at all the bad things that have happened to you and re-living them and re-hashing them, I’ve got another suggestion. Try looking up instead and by that I mean looking up to God for he has already taken care of our greatest problem in life – the problem of our sin.  And he did it in the most amazing, unthinkable way imaginable, by putting his own Son to death on a cross as the supreme sacrifice and payment for our sins.  So recognize that if he would do that for you, then he must love you an awful lot.  And he will be there to help you with your other problems.  So share them with him – that’s ok – instead of throwing frequent pity parties and grumble sessions for yourself in which you try to convince others how bad you have it.

Then Paul’s 2nd word of advice to us today as we climb the mountain of the Christian life is to stand up.  Our text says, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.”  I like that picture of us shining like stars in the midst of a dark world.

Neal Beidleman can tell you all about the importance and power of stars shining in a dark world.  If you happened to see the movie “Everest” last year, it told the story of what happened on May 10, 1996, when Neal Beidleman led one of several expeditions to the top of Mt. Everest and a ferocious storm blew in sending the wind chill factor plummeting to 100 degrees below zero.  Visibility was reduced to 20 feet and having lost all sense of direction, they could not find their way back down to their camp.  Finally, they gave up.  They stood in a group and beat on each other for warmth and prayed for a quick and merciful death.  And had it not been for a break in the clouds that prayer might have very well been answered.  But Neil Beidleman looked up just long enough to get their bearings from the stars to figure out which direction they needed to go to get back to their camp.  And though 8 other people would die as a result of that storm, those in his group survived.  All because he saw the stars in the darkness.

Paul says that’s how we are to be – like stars cast against a dark, dark world.  Jesus put it this way.  He said that we are to let our lights shine before men that they might see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.  Peter tells us in his 1st epistle that we are to be a peculiar people.  Now that doesn’t mean we are to be strange or odd or weird.  It means different.  It means we are the ones who don’t get drunk.  We are the ones who don’t swim in the cesspools of pornography.  We are the ones who don’t cheat on our spouse or our taxes.  We are the ones who don’t join in on the gossip or tell the off color jokes around the work place.

But more than being the ones who don’t, we are also to be the ones who do.  We are the ones who do believe in the grace and goodness of God that he offers us in Jesus.  We are the ones who do have great concern about those who are living without a Savior and who are bound for hell.  We are the ones who do share the saving message of Jesus with others so that they might join us in heaven someday.  We are the ones who do stand up for what we believe in and therefore stand out from the rest of the world.

All of which leads right in to our final point.  Paul not only tells us to look up and stand up on our climb up the mountain; he also encourages us to speak up.  In v. 16 he says that we are to hold out the word of life.  Remember that storm on Everest I referred to a few moments ago?  Stuart Hutchison was one of the ones who survived it.  He reached the camp just before the blizzard hit.  He was still in danger, but at least he had a tent and sleeping bag to protect him and keep him warm.  When his friends didn’t come back and didn’t come back, though, he couldn’t rest.  He felt he needed to do something.  So he did the only thing he could think of.  He climbed out of his tent and grabbed 2 pots used for cooking and started clanging them together as loudly as he could, hoping to make enough noise to give his lost friends some direction. Now there were many things those climbers needed that day.  They needed food, something hot to drink, more oxygen, more warm clothes.  But more than anything, they needed somebody to make some noise so they could find their way home.

In a similar way, some of your friends and maybe even some of your family members need many things right now.  Some may need a new job.  Some may need help with their marriage.  Some may need a loan.  Some may need a more reliable car.  But listen.  More than anything, some of them need someone to make some noise that will point them in the right direction and get them safely home to heaven.  They need someone just like you to speak up and hold out to them the way of life, the way of salvation through Jesus Christ.

So look up, stand up, and speak up – excellent words of advice for all of us and especially our confirmands today as we continue on our climb up the mountain of the Christian life.  And if you don’t mind, I’d like to share one more mountain climbing illustration with you to wrap this sermon up.  It’s about a plaque that can be found at the base of a mountain.  I don’t know the name of the mountain, but the plaque is there to remember a group of climbers who perished in their effort to reach the peak.  It includes the names of those who died that day and beneath those names you can find these words:  “They died climbing.”  May the same be said about you and me, my friends.  May our days find us climbing – looking up to God, standing up for our faith, speaking up to others about Jesus, and never giving up so that when our climb is over and the Master calls for us, it might be said of us:  “He died climbing.  She died climbing.”  And may we hear that same Master say to us those precious words that I know we all long to hear from his lips:  “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  Amen.