To The Top of the World


An ancient emperor of a great kingdom was told of the existence of an
enormous mountain at the far western reaches of his kingdom. The mountain,
according to legend, was the highest point on earth, and its peak had
never been reached. The emperor immediately called for three of his most
valiant warriors to leave immediately for the western frontier to claim
this mountain in his name. He handed his men a great blue imperial flag to
be planted upon the mountain’s snow-capped summit.

The warriors gathered some climbing tools and a large coil of rope, and
set out on the long road to the mysterious western mountain, to claim it
for their emperor. As they walked along, word spread among the people of
their quest. The emperor was wise and beloved among all his subjects, and
excitement swelled among them to see the imperial standard carried along
on such a noble mission.

All along the way, many citizens gave gifts to the three warriors in the
emperor’s honor, and to help along the journey. Early on, they were
provided horses to ride, and servants to attend them. Then, they were
given tents to sleep under on the journey, along with fine clothing and
masterfully crafted armor. Articles of gold and silver, beautiful carvings
and tapestries were all given freely to honor the emperor, his warriors,
and their quest. Soon, the travelers had acquired oxcarts and oxen to
carry their many gifts along the road. What had begun as three men walking
became a majestic procession that thrilled every village and hamlet that
it passed through. They traveled for many miles, as their fame spread and
their treasure growing at every stop along their way.

As they neared the western frontier, the high mountain appeared blue in
the distance. The smooth road ran out and low hills appeared. The
procession made slower progress as the travelers picked a path through the
steadily rising hills. The servants began to complain and the oxen began
to struggle as the climb grew steeper. Soon the group was struggling to
get the oxcarts up the hills, a task only slightly less arduous than the
slippery, rocky descents. At the night’s camp in a small valley, the
warriors decided to send the servants back with the oxcarts and all the
treasures. “All this was given in the emperor’s name,” objected one of the
servants. “And you would leave it behind?”

“We cannot go forward with all this,” replied the warriors. The last rays
of sunset glinted off the peak of the great mountain in the west, a silent
reminder of the daunting task at hand. “We will take the tents, our
climbing gear, and our armor, and go on from here on horseback. Take
everything else back.”

The travelers went their separate ways, and the western path grew steeper
and more treacherous. As they reached the base of the great mountain, they
spent more and more time picking out paths that the horses could
negotiate. Hours were spent backtracking, as trails they discovered
deteriorated into tracks only accessible to men or mountain goats. Huddled
around their meager campfire the next morning, the talk centered on going
forward. The horses could go no higher. The rest of the climb promised
mostly rock and ice, and the route neared vertical in some places. But the
summit was tantalizingly close. The warriors looked at one another, then
at the carefully wrapped imperial standard that leaned against a nearby
boulder.

The horses would be left behind, along with everything not absolutely
essential for their push to the top. The tents were packed away, and the
valuable armor set aside. All the climbers carried were the ropes and the
emperor’s flag. There was no longer any imperial procession. No more
glorious, celebrated quest. No more cheers or recognition, no more
citizens bestowing gifts and honor. All that remained for the three men
was the emperor’s simple command to plant his banner on the summit.

There were no witnesses. Who would ever see the standard and where it had
been planted? How many years would pass before another man ventured this
high to see the result of the warriors’ efforts? To retreat from the
mountain at this point would be no shame… in fact, no one might ever
know. What if, after all this, no one believed that the mission had
actually been accomplished? There was no proof to be brought back.

Against all this doubt and uncertainty remained the word of the emperor,
his standard, and the simple fact that this mountain indeed was his to
claim. The only honor to be had was to participate in marking out the
rightful claim of their lord. All this the warriors knew, and communicated
unspoken to one another. The look in each man’s eyes spoke powerfully of
the decision each had made in his heart.

The three climbers attacked the summit. It was a long ascent. How could
anything look so close and still be so far away? Roping themselves
together saved each of them on more than one occasion as handholds gave
way and rocks crumbled under their feet. They inched upward, passing the
banner from hand to hand as the ascent progressed. Merciless winds
threatened to snatch them literally off the rocky cliffs. Then, swathed in
cloud, they reached something of a level place to catch their breath.
Looking about in the haze, they realized that there was no more mountain
above them. This was indeed the summit. The imperial banner was carefully
unfurled, and its staff driven into the cracked stone of the peak. It
fluttered blue in the wind, the emperor’s personal crest flying above the
highest part of his domain.

“As it should,” was the common silent thought of all three men. And they
began to scale their way carefully back down from their perch at the top
of the world.

Some years ago, this was the first Sunday sermon God ever gave me without
a scripture. After hundreds of pulpit appearances, this was a serious
paradigm shift. How could I preach God’s word without at least quoting a
verse? But He showed me an incredible picture of what it is like to
receive, dilute, recover, and succeed in God’s calling. In this picture is
also a history of the church. We stand now in the valley with the oxcarts
of treasure, deciding whether or not to lay aside the well-intentioned
“weight that so easily besets us”. It is a hard choice and often an
unpopular one.

But we are called to ascend the mountain.

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