Sermons

Year A*Easter 10:10*2017*By the Wrist

Rick Lawler

Rough Draft

 

Two days ago I sat right here with five children and five adults.  We had just walked the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.  We had just seen Jesus; condemned, suffering, executed, dead, and buried.  The Children did great.  It’s tough stuff.  But they already know life can be painful and hard.

 

Then we came to this window.  The resurrection window.  And I felt what I always feel at the moment before I proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus.

I felt unsure.

I thought, “Can I say this?”

“Do I believe this?”

“Am I willing to proclaim this to these people right now?”

 

And the answer was, YES!

YES!

YES!

 

HE IS RISEN FRIENDS!

Beyond hope,

beyond death,

beyond reason even.

 

The Lord is risen indeed!

Or as we like to say in the proper, guarded, language, of the Episcopal Church. . .

Happy Easter.

 

Well okay, it is a happy Easter.

But it is a deep happiness,

a wild happiness,

an uncontainable happiness.

Because The Lord is risen indeed.

Sin is forgiven.

And death is no more.

 

What we could not do for ourselves God has done for us.

God has saved us,

is saving us,

from despair,

sorrow,

sin,

and finally death.

 

From all kinds of death.

The death sin causes in our lives.

The death addiction and abuse causes.

The death of indifference and apathy.

The death of unenlightened living.

And. . .

finally. . .

the death which will be our last breath in this world.

 

God has saved us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

And it is so good God has because we cannot save ourselves.

 

 

My favorite icon of all time is the ancient Orthodox icon Anastasis, the greek word, the biblical word, for Resurrection.  Jesus standing on the broken gates of hell, grabbing Adam and Eve by the wrists and pulling them up out of hell.

 

Adam and Eve the symbols of our broken human race,

primordial sinners,

tragic victims of their own appetites,

caught in the complicated chains and locks of systemic human evil,

banished from Eden by their own disobedience.

 

That’s us.

 

Sometimes I see the world of my own making. 

My world of fear, obsessing, self-justification, and sometimes insanity.

Locked in a prison I have made.

Bound by chains which my life, like Ebenezer Scrooge’s, has forged.

Complete with bars, locks, keys, imprisonment, and condemnation. 

 

There are days like that.  Even seasons.

 

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the world’s madness.

Political, military, economic, religious, insanity resulting in whole cities of great countries turned into refugees,

or,

innocent worshipers murdered as they gather for their Palm Sunday observance.

 

And as we try and sort out the causes we know the causes are deep, intertwined, historic, and complicated.  And we realize we are in some way complicit in the woes of others.  We are all bound, literally imprisoned together, in the deeply flawed character of human being.

 

Jesus comes to break all these chains.  Break them in pieces.  Destroy them.  He is the Savior; strong, mighty and almighty.  He can break chains.

 

Not like the hulk or superman,

but as God through almighty goodness and love.

Through healing and fellowship.

By the power of the spirit.

 

SO. . .

what binds you today?

Don’t say it out loud.

Here are some common prisons we build.

Addiction, fear, resentment, fighting against life and love, manipulating others, wasting God’s goodness, apathy, despair?

Jesus is stronger than all these things.

Jesus came to break these chains in pieces.

 

What place of bondage in the world has claimed your heart and broken it too?

Egypt, Sudan, Syria, America. . .

 

God couldn’t just stand by and watch Adam and Eve go to hell, or us, so God sent Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus lived the life of grace and power.

Jesus died for the human race lost in sin and corruption.

But then Jesus rose from the dead on the third day breaking,

sin,

death,

addiction,

cruelty,

evil,

apathy,

fear,

complacency,

isolation,

bars, locks, keys, and all instruments of torture, physical, emotional, or spiritual.

 

Broken.

Smashed.

Obliterated by eternal love and healing grace.

 

In that icon, my favorite of all time,

beneath the feet of Jesus,

beneath the broken-down gates of hell,

in the darkness,

are shattered locks,

useless keys,

broken chains,

cursed instruments of torture.

 

Adam and Eve have been saved.

The curse has been wiped out.

The separation is over.

The evil has been eradicated.

The deep wound has been healed.

And we are saved with them!

 

The strongest image of that for me is Jesus in the icon, the Risen Son of God, who holds Adam and Eve by the wrists.  Not by their slippery, untrustworthy, weak hands, but by the wrists.

 

Jesus has them and is pulling them up.

At this point he can’t trust them.  Like any good rescuer he knows the drowning must be saved,

not courteously offered assistance,

not even asked permission. 

He saves.

That’s what he does.

Later, when the healing has begun, the human can and must assist the Savior, but not in the beginning. 

In the beginning it is his action,

his power,

his strong grip which must save us.

 

His grip on our wrist is the strong reminder of the cost of our redemption.  When the Roman soldiers crucified Jesus they did not drive a nail through our good Lord’s hands but through his wrist.  The bones at the bottom of his hands held him fast to the cross.

 

Now he holds us fast, you and me, firmly, by the wrists. 

Determined to pull us up out of hell.

Up out of sin.

Up out of self-inflicted wounds.

Up out of loss and grief.

Up out of tragedy.

Up out of hell.

 

Today’s good news is deep and wide and high.

So high we can’t get over it.

So wide we can’t get around it.

So deep we can’t get under it.

 

God has saved the world in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Our destiny is freedom,

liberation,

healing,

joy.

 

As usual Saint Paul grasps this eternal truth when he says,

Christ has been raised from the dead, *

   the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since by a man came death, *

   by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.

For as in Adam all die, *

  so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

 

Christ has humanity by the wrist,

in his strong grip.

We’re not going to get away this time.

We escaped him, or tried to, in the Garden of Eden.

We fled from him in the long history of the people of Israel.

We tried to kill him on a hill outside Jerusalem.

We are still struggling to free ourselves from Almighty Love.

But he’s got us this time.

Got us by the wrist.

He is going to save us now, and we will be saved.

 

And if you don’t want him to save you. . .

well. . . you’re outta luck.


Year A*Good Friday*2017*Let Him Carry You

Rick Lawler

Rough Draft

 

 

I was so taken with this four line poem by Keith Patman.  It ties so much together we are hearing and praying right now.

 

Before lambs bled in Egypt, One was given.

Before the worm tore Eden, pain was faced.

Somewhere, before earth’s cornerstone was placed,

a hammer crashed in heaven—nails were driven.

 

The poet marches back through time and sees the cross of Jesus as foundational, supporting, present reality.

Back through the ancient Passover story of deliverance from slavery.

Back through the archetypal story of our First Parent and their fall from God.

Back through the foundation of the universe as we know it.

 

Mr. Patman used a scripture from First Peter for his inspiration so in a day with more scripture than we can possibly digest I would like to add one more.  Why not?

 

First Peter chapter one verses eighteen through twenty-one.

You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.  He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.  Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. [1]

 

He was destined before the foundation of the world.

To shed his blood and die for the world.

Somehow from the foundation of the world, this offering,

this sacrifice,

this moment was meant to be,

would support all suffering and struggle to come.

 

The little poem is called Foresight.

It is short but says so much,

The Offering of Christ is eternal,

written in the DNA of creation,

it had to happen,

its happening undergirds everything that has come to be

the drama of the Exodus,

the fall of Adam and Eve,

the creation of heaven and earth are undergirded by this event.

 

Before lambs bled in Egypt, One was given.

Before the worm tore Eden, pain was faced.

Somewhere, before earth’s cornerstone was placed,

a hammer crashed in heaven—nails were driven.

 

All of human existence is supported by Jesus on the cross.

He has always known us.

He has always been right there with us,

in our sorrows,

in our losses,

in our deaths.

 

Right there with us.

Never separate.

Never far away.

No matter how we felt.

He was more present to our sorrow than we were.

 

Right there close enough to hold us.

Close enough to wipe away a tear.

Close enough to see our fear and confusion.

He has never been far away.

The very foundation of our life.

 

 

 

 

Great Isaiah says to us,

            Surely he hath borne our griefs

     and carried our sorrows. . .[2]

 

Again he is close.

 

He is the foundation that carries us.

When we are sorrowing and suffering from loss.

When we are sick in body, mind, or spirit.

When we are lost or seem abandoned.

 

Surely he has borne us.

Carried us.

Held us.

 

We can be very literal and specific here.

If there is a loss we are bearing right now we can trust he is bearing it with us.

If there is a struggle we are losing we can trust he is with us in the loss.

That’s how close he is.

 

He is the resurrection and the life.

He is the way and the truth.

He is the Word through whom all things were made.

He is the light which enlightens everyone.

He is the one who has borne our griefs and sorrows.

 

So where is he bearing them?

To healing.

To lightness and laughter.

To resurrection and joy.  (You cannot keep resurrection away. . .)

 

Holding our sorrowful lives and world close to his breast as he carries them.

Surely he carries them.

Surely he carries us.

 

C. S. Lewis writes;

     In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.

 

-C.S. Lewis Miracles, a preliminary study quote [Chapter 14 The Grand Miracle, page 179]

 

This is the moment he picks us up.

All of us.

Every moment of every life.

Close to us forever.

Close enough to wipe a tear from our eyes.

the very foundation upon which we live and move and have our being.

He does this by the cross.

I don’t know how.

But believe it was destined from before time and is happening right now.

 

Before lambs bled in Egypt, One was given.

Before the worm tore Eden, pain was faced.

Somewhere, before earth’s cornerstone was placed,

a hammer crashed in heaven—nails were driven.

 

 

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (1 Pe 1:18-21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Is 53:4). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.


Year A*Lent 2*2017*Held By Jesus

Rick Lawler

Sermon Notes

I want to approach the mystery of being born again in Christ through the icon you can find. . .

It’s an icon I have been praying with a lot lately.

 

Take a look.  (Sorry I could not get the icon here.  But you can look up "The Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary Icon" on google.)

So the body of Mary is lying on a bed.

Her friends and family, the Church are gathered around.

But we’re shown a scene from the eternal reality which is Jesus holding the swaddling Mary newborn into eternity.

 

The icon is called The Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

From the French word “dormire”, to fall asleep.

The falling asleep of Mary.

 

I know it’s popular now to think of falling asleep as a euphemism for death intending to shield us from the harsh reality of death.

But that’s just not true.

Christians knew all about death, it’s pain,

it’s sadness,

it’s reality.

 

But in the resurrection of Jesus Christians encounter something more powerful, more real, more final even than death.  The eternal love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

St. Paul captures this overwhelming good news in his Letter to the Romans chapter 8.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?. . .  
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

 

Even death has to take a back seat to the resurrection of Jesus.

Death becomes falling asleep and waking up in the arms of Jesus.

 

In this icon is a wonderful reversal.

All around us in the Church art here Mary is holding Jesus, nurturing, protecting, clothing Jesus, feeding Jesus, and presenting Jesus. 

But through her final sleep Mary is “born again”, if you will, into her eternal life with her Son and Savior Jesus.

 

How delightful.

How playful.

How powerful.

 

Jesus is the midwife of our new birth. . .

Now and forever.

Jesus is the proud father holding our swaddling souls.

 

It is so important not to miss this truth.  In the world of the icon everyone is focused on “sleeping Mary”. But Jesus is holding “newborn,-heaven born- born again- Mary” and looking right at us as if to say, “How about this!  Isn’t this something!”.

 

This means so much to me.

I have been praying with this icon almost everyday for months.

 

Jesus is holding not only St. Mary but St. Mary of the Hills.

We are his baby.

St. Mary’s is Jesus’ Church.

His will and work  and presence is what matters.

He will hold this parish family matter what.

 

We’ve been given so many wonderful gifts;

This beautiful worship space.

The music is great.

The outreach is essential.

Our clergy offer a good thing or two.

And I know our incomparable staff does.

Our guilds, and ministries pour out a constant flow of support and love for the church and the world.

 

But it is Jesus who holds St. Mary of the Hills in his arms.

Not the liturgy.

Or the music.

Or the ministry.

Or the clergy.

Or the staff.

 

We are held by Jesus.

 

Not just all of us but each of us.

This is where it gets personal.

 

Psychiatrist Alice Miller reminds us of the real and legitimate needs of the child.

A child requires the certainty that his cries will be heard, that he will be

protected in every situation, that his arrival is desired, that the

movements of his eyes are responded to and his fears calmed.  The Child

needs assurance that his hunger and thirst will be satisfied,  his body

lovingly cared for, and his distress never ignored.  Is that asking too much?

                           (from Banished Knowledge)

 

I think not.

Our earthly mothers and fathers probably did the best they could to love us just like that.  But our heavenly mother Jesus does love us just like that and forever. 

In Christ. . . we are fed, , , with “the Bread of Life (John 6.35;

clothed with “a garment of incorruption” and a “robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61.10);

washed of our sins (Acts 22.16);

our thirsts are quenched by the “Fountain of life;

we are protected and sheltered “under the shadow of his wings (Psalm 17.8;

we are given a place to find rest for our souls.”

 

Jesus is holding me and you no matter what.

  Life or death.

  Success or failure.

  Rising or falling.

Jesus is holding me.

And you.

 

That’s where strength comes from.

That’s where courage and service and change in behavior comes from. . . what we call repentance, that’s where spiritual maturity comes from.  It’s not that we stay infants forever but that we remain children of God forever.

Forever dependent on the God of our salvation.

 

New life comes from being held by Jesus.

 

As my favorite devotional these days says,

You are mine for all time—and beyond time into eternity.  I want you to realize how utterly secure you are!  Even if you falter as you journey through life, I will never let go of your hand.

 Knowing that your future is utterly assured can free you to live abundantly today.  (from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young)