Ladders are curious things
They look funny. They are awkward.
We all have funny and sad stories involving incidents and accidents with ladders.
Our electricians had to get a special ladder to reach the lights here in the nave. I have to laugh whenever I see them carry it into the building, it takes at least three of them, it’s so long. The ladder comes in through the door, keeps on coming in through the door and coming in, and coming in… Then I have to hold my breath and leave the room when they climb way up to change the bulbs like trapeze artists.
I have lots of running stories. One cold icy morning I went for a run and when I got home I was locked out of the house. So I took out the ladder from the shed to try some windows to see if they were unlocked. Then I got stuck up on the roof.
I was sitting up there in the cold and I realized that the view was lovely up above the icy mist watching branches snap and fall. That surprise of unexpected beauty. Suddenly being locked out and stuck on the roof was a gift.
Ladders, they connect us to hard to reach places.
What connects us?
Jesus speaks to Nathaniel and makes a connection involving a mysterious fig tree. For all of history ever since then, we are left wondering just what was happening under that fig tree? Maybe he was on a ladder…picking someone else’s figs! We don’t know.
Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see heaven opened and angels ascending and descending upon the Son Man, like in the Vision of Jacob’s ladder.
A connection between heaven and earth and Jesus is where the two meet, where they connect, where they hold together.
What connects us? What holds us together?
We hear two “Call Stories” today, the theme continues into next week as well. Samuel hears the voice in the night. Jesus tells Philip to, “Follow me.” And Philip tells Nathanael to “Come and see.”
God’s call always involves listening and responding, it is always a closer walk with God and the walk always involves being connected to other people, to being deeply involved in this life in this world.
The connection with God connects us to others.
We are often tempted to treat Faith as a retreat into a private communion with the divine, but that deep communion always, always connects us more deeply to living with others, especially those we would rather do without.
What connects us? What holds us together?
In John’s Gospel that connection, whether we see it or not, is Jesus, where heaven and earth connect, the ladder of angels wrapping around all of life. Jesus is that life and that light in the Gospel according to John. He is the vision of God, the surprise of beauty, that inspires and calls out to us to follow.
Jesus. So often Jesus becomes the source of division and separation. That same thing happens in John’s Gospel as well, the source of life and light is also the great line of division between the children of God and the children of darkness.
It is an old problem. We drop the ladder and we can no longer reach each other.
The early Christians wrestled with that irony and frustration as well, that the source of life is the source of division. The bite of that struggle is an essential part of the biblical witness. How can we believe and follow and invite in such a way that Jesus is what connects and holds us together? It is a hard to reach place.
The ties that bind us together, that endure, what are they like? Somehow they reveal God in ways that we don’t usually expect. They show us the presence of God without God’s name being spoken. Even sticky, twiggy fig trees become sacred and convert our souls.
Those hard to reach places. They call out to us. Come and see what Connects us. Come and see what holds us together.
Bring a ladder.
Beginnings are always exciting.
Well, maybe not always, sometimes they are pretty nerve-wracking, like the birth of a child or a new job. My heart skips a beat just thinking about it!
But, often, beginnings are exciting. Like the birth of a child or a new job.
Sometimes new beginnings are a chance to start over, to try again.
I don’t know about you, but the mistakes I make are often the same mistakes over and over again, a bad habit that won’t go away despite how many times I quit forever and ever amen.
New Years is a fun time, a new time, a fresh baby new year not worn out yet, a chance to set aside the resentments and grudges that we bury each other in, and start over, over and over again.
Starting over seems to be one of those habits that rarely takes but we keep at it anyway.
The persistence of that habit of starting over itself seems to be the important thing. It reveals something about life and about the God of life. The invitation and gift of beginning again is always there.
Jesus comes up out of the water of Baptism. The sky is torn open, the Spirit descends like a dove and the words of love and delight are heard from above.
It is a new beginning, like the Spirit brooding over the waters of creation at the beginning of all things, like the dove returning to Noah with the olive branch, the promise of the world starting over.
A starting over moment, the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, when he is anointed as the Messiah, the one who brings freedom from the accumulated grudges of history, and freedom means work.
A creation moment, when creation starts over, like Noah’s Ark finding land and starting the world over again. What will the new world be like this time? Will the same bad habits persist?
All these Bible stories remind us that freedom is an elusive thing.
If you know anyone involved in the 12 Step Movement, recovery from addiction means always working at it.
Recovery means always living with brokenness, never fully recovering, just sobriety one day at a time. Living with that brokenness becomes the means of grace. That recovery of freedom comes with the work of reconciliation, of healing past wrongs and passing on that gift of freedom.
Freedom means work.
To live with the gift of God’s grace means being given a job to do, of always helping the world start over, of living with our brokenness and finding the means of grace.
We worship a messiah who was anointed by more than the Spirit, he was anointed by his own blood, by the cross. We worship a crucified messiah, in God’s brokenness the world finds the means of grace and freedom.
Today we renew our baptismal covenant as we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord and the gift of the Spirit that joins us to Jesus.
The work of the anointed, the work of freedom, the work of living with brokenness, that is what comes with Baptism.
Today we celebrate the New Year, the New Creation starting over with the renewal of our Baptismal Covenant.
This is one of those good and holy habits that persists.
God never gives up on us.
God never stops pushing us toward freedom.
God never lets us rest for very long from the ministry of making all things new.
Find God’s demanding grace in the wounds of the crucified Messiah and the wounds of this life.
This is one of those beginning moments.
It is exciting and nerve-wracking, like the birth of a child or a new job.
Let us begin.
The circus comes to town! But no one notices…
They parade down the street, Elephants striding, Tigers growling, Lions leaping, clowns clapping, the trapeze artists flipping, the music bombasting, the greatest show ashowing, and no one sees…walking by, stepping around, driving away.
It was such a sight not to see.
They set up the Giant Circus Tent, with those bright red and yellow stripes so as not to call attention.
They set up that Big Tent right on the city square and start selling tickets to just about nobody.
The greatest show on earth! Hidden in plain sight.
God moves into the neighborhood, God pitches God’s tent, God tabernacles on the city square, and no one notices.
That is how John’s Gospel begins: with glory, wonder, and a deep lonely sadness. With an irony that breaks the heart. The glory of God is unrecognized and rejected.
That is who Jesus is, the bright red and yellow circus tent of God that no one sees.
And we are invited to become children of this lonely forgotten and rejected God.
To join the circus with the great big empty tent, a sight not to see.
That is Christmas in the Gospel according to John.
Over and over the same story plays out again and again, of not seeing, of rejecting and for a blessed few who do see, the ones we least suspect, life begins anew, born again.
That great line from the hymn Amazing Grace, “ I once was blind but now I see” comes from John’s Gospel.
The Christmas Season continues today with a deeper darker message, of wonders unseen, of God’s children walking out of step and of gathering darkness blinding the sight.
And with that beautiful sadness comes the invitation to become the children of God, to participate in the divine revealing that is not well received.
The power to become the children of God that is always the message on this first Sunday after Christmas Day.
It is an ironic invitation, the power to become unnoticed, the power to become powerless, the power to be rejected, the power of grace in a world that knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing.
John’s Gospel was written by and for the people who feel the pain of not being seen for who they are. For those who are turned away, rejected, cast out for recognizing the glory of God shining in their lives.
Jesus brings an unwelcomed restoration, and God’s children share in that glory and that pain.
It is the strangeness of God, to take that blindness and make it sight, to take rejection and make it invitation. To take the darkness and turn it into light.
Jesus, the unseen, is God’s sight of all who are unseen.
Jesus, the unheard, is God’s attentive listening to of all those who unheard.
Jesus, the forsaken and forgotten, is God’s remembering of all that are forgotten.
Jesus is God’s Big Circus Tent, with lots of room, the roominess of God for those who are cast aside.
The one who is unseen and cast aside is the one who sees and makes room.
Jesus is God’s turning that darkness back on itself, the dark becomes light.
The strangeness of God that takes death and turns it into life.
And God’s children are strange in the same way.
We have been given the power of Jesus, to hear, to see, to remember, to make room for the glory that is the light of all humanity, to turn darkness back on itself.
That is the message of the Christmas season.
The strangest circus has come to town.
The greatest show on earth.
The children of God have returned.
They parade down the street, Elephants striding, Tigers growling, Lions leaping, clowns clapping, the trapeze artists flipping, the music bombasting, the greatest show ashowing.
Most don’t see it, walking by, stepping around, driving away. Some oppose it and a blessed few join in on the parade, beholding and showing forth that bright circus tent, such a sight not to see.
Hear, see, remember, make room. Make the dark light.
We have been given the power to pay attention, to see the wonder and the glory that fills this life.
Join the circus and behold.
Well surprise, surprise, surprise!
Whenever I read the Christmas story from the Gospel According to Luke I think of Gomer Pyle from the old Andy Griffith show saying, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!
How is God experienced?
What is the God of Christmas like?
Surprise, surprise, surprise!
The God of Christmas is a surprise to a cynical, cranky and worn out world.
Every encounter, every episode in the story we can hear the characters thinking, “Who me?” as they become the center of God being revealed to the world.
And at every encounter where God is revealed, we can hear everyone else saying, “Why them?”
Just this morning we heard the Angel Gabriel telling Mary the strangest things ever.
And now here they are displaced by the government in a borrowed cubby and food trough for a bed.
And then there are shepherds and the angelic host being told the strangest things in the dark of night way out on the edge of things. Glory and singing and good news, go and see, go and tell the news.
The strangest things are happenings, and it’s all out there on the edge of things, happening to the most forgettable and unimportant people. Suddenly they are the center of all Creation. They are the heart of God being revealed.
Clearly, things are not as we thought they were.
This God of Christmas is found out on the edge of things, where people are vulnerable to the random cruelty of history, to people who are hard to count, hard to notice.
What was on the margins has become the heart of things.
Those who thought they were in the middle of things have lost their place and they don’t even know it. We are embarrassed for them. They thought they were the life of the party, but now they are at the wrong party.
The God of Christmas surprises is a jolly old elf having a good laugh at our antics and hubris.
Surprise, surprise, surprise!
The surprising present of the baby Jesus is peace, joy and singing.
That is what we learn from this story where we hear the strangest things.
So what do we do with this surprising Gospel of the God of Christmas?
Find peace and joy in this unlikely Savior and his unconventional salvation. Sing about it. Find the song in life.
Keep an eye out for the edge of things for those who are shoved around and forgotten, God is found there. They are where salvation enters into the world.
Discover God’s holy laughter at the surprise of it all.
And don’t be too surprised if you find yourself in the middle of God being revealed to all Creation.