We’d never been there before. It was near the house. The weather was gorgeous. And I figured it would be a few minutes of outdoor fun for both of us. So, I convinced Reese we were going to “a special park”, and she was happy to go along with my plan. At first.
The last time I took Reese to a mountain had been quite a while before. I had carried her up the trail a couple of hundred of yards, turned her around to see the view, let her touch a rock, told her not to touch a cactus, and carried her back to the car.
I knew that Reese was now a little older and more mobile, but I expected the experience to turn out more or less the same as it had before. Seeing that the Lookout Mountain trail was rated “moderate” (not easy) and extended a couple of miles as it wrapped around the mountain, this expectation made complete sense to me. I was sure I would end up carrying her as far as I could, and that would be that.
But that was not Reese’s idea. Not in the least.
She insisted on walking from the start. She moved with her head down as she picked her way quickly along the rocky path. She ran at every opportunity. She led. Over and over she said, “I can do it. I can.”
We came to a turn-around point, at least in my mind. I let her see the view and showed her how far we were above the car. I told her it was time to go back.
She said, “No. Forward.”
I asked her why not back.
She said, “I go around the mountain. I mean it.”
“You’re not kidding?”
“No. I not kidding. I mean it.”
Forward we went. All the way around the mountain we went. She didn’t run out of gas until over two-thirds of the way around. She only fell once. She gave me advice on when I needed to be careful so I wouldn’t fall.
It was amazing.
People grow up. Now I don’t mean that in a negative way, like when one adult says to another adult during an argument, “C’mon, grow up!” I mean it in a positive way, an essential, yet wonderful and often brilliant and surprising way.
The Apostle Paul moved from place to place across the Roman Empire raising the flag of God’s good news of Jesus in public places. He kept his eyes and ears open for people who saluted the gospel flag and wanted to follow this Jesus. He organized them into raw little communities of worship, mutual care, and love to the neighbors around them. He noticed a few people who might make good leaders. Then he moved on.
Paul would stay in touch, answer questions, visit from time to time, and offer input on issues from afar. That’s why we have letters from him retained for us in what we call the New Testament. But, if the Holy Spirit didn’t get into the people, raise them, help them grow up into people who acted as Jesus’ representatives where they were, the whole experiment failed. No church.
A fair amount of what we have in some of Paul’s letters has to do with the harsher, “C’mon, grow up!” that I mentioned before. But, without doubt there were times when the speed and effectiveness with which Paul’s “children” grew up in Christ surprised Paul. There surely were times when he planned to carry them up the trail for a quick view, but ended up going all the way around the mountain with them.
It can be scary to hear that the success or failure of a whole Christian community has almost everything to do with each of our willingness to grow up in faith. Yet it need not be too scary. If generations before us had not grown up, we would never have had the faith handed onto us. But here we are, and so they did.
Now it is simply our turn, perhaps to hand the faith on even more effectively and completely than we received it. Whether the eyes reading these words are in the head of an 8-year-old or an 80-year-old, now it is simply our turn.
May the Holy Spirit grant us the strength and courage for the living of this hour, and for the living of it well. May the Holy Spirit help us all to grow up and walk around the mountain.