God's Vision: Walls or Ladders

Epiphany 2B’21  +

17 January 2021

I Cor.6.12-20; Ps 139; Jn.1.43-51

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

“Day by day, dear Lord, of thee three things I pray; to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.” – St. Richard of Chichester

Several years ago, when a tall, lanky, white haired man first walked up to the doors of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock I had no idea that I was in the presence of Rock and Roll greatness. He was born just two days after Elvis Presley in Phillips County, just outside of Helena, AR, and like Elvis would become one of the pioneers of Rock and Roll. Along with fellow Arkansan, Levon Helm he would help to form the iconic rock group rock known as “The Band.” Upon his move to Canada his fame grew even larger and he was awarded the Order of Canada (the nations second highest honor of merit). His name – is Ronnie Hawkins. He was in Little Rock at the time to receive cancer treatment at the Rockefeller Cancer Institute at UAMS, being from Phillips County he was acquainted with the rector of St. Mark’s Danny Schieffler, who is from Helena.

Hawkins beat cancer and my wife and I heard him on a radio interview the other day. One of his quotes really stuck with us. He was talking about the role faith played in his beating cancer and he said, “I like God, but it’s his ground crew that I have trouble with.” His critique of the church was echoed this past week by our bishop, Larry Benfield, who wrote in his communique’: “the more I hear the stories of people of color, the more I know that we church people have failed. Our proclamation to see the risen Christ in everyone else often falls on deaf ears because it is merely talk and is not reflected in how we go about our daily lives…we often do not live lovingly.”  In spite of our words, we can remain disconnected from God, ourselves, and our neighbors, we all are in need of God’s mercy, grace, and love.  

In today’s Gospel reading we are reminded of one the most ancient but enduring symbols of our faith that goes all the way back to the 28th chapter of Genesis where the great patriarch Jacob is given a dream from God. In the dream he sees a great ladder that reaches all the way from the ground to heaven and he saw angels ascending and descending on it. Then God speaks to him and reveals God’s vision for the ages: “In you and in your children shall all the families of the earth be blessed.[1] In this image and in God’s word to Jacob we see the Vision of God to connect God to humankind, humankind to God and earth to heaven. It’s no wonder that Jesus lifts back up the ancient Jewish vision of “Jacob’s ladder” when calling Nathaniel to become his follower.

But Jesus takes the image and modifies and expands it to more fully reveal God’s plan not just for the nation of Israel but for the entire world by adding that he himself is The Ladder: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” With heartfelt faith Nathaniel confessed: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”[2] With Nathaniel’s epiphany he puts his new found faith into action by immediately following Jesus.

This week our Sr. Warden, Camera Operator and me were talking about how new lights could improve of livestream broadcasts on Sunday mornings. As we discussed this it became clear that a 35-foot ladder would be required to reach the lights. At that height we might need some of those angels to ascend and change out the bulbs, we worried that any human light bulb changer might be in danger of becoming an angel themselves if they fell.  Sharing the light and keeping the light shining requires a ladder. The Way of Jesus – the Truth of Jesus – and the Life of Jesus is that Ladder – the Ladder that bridges the gap between heaven and earth, the ladder that reconnects God and humans, and humans of all races and nations to one another.

This fall while on a family trip to Eureka Springs we saw a very different symbol that represents an entirely different vision of the future. Prominently displayed near the towering statue of Christ of the Ozarks is a 10-foot X 10-foot section of the Berlin wall. This wall known as the “iron curtain” split the city into Communist East Berlin and Democratic West Berlin and held millions captive to totalitarian regime. Ladders and Walls - Two symbols – two visions.

As we draw closer to the inauguration of a new president disturbing images can be seen of new walls complete with razor wire being erected and surrounding our nation’s Capitol building. This is a vision of a divided future and is not the vision of Christ’s reconciling and healing love.

Again in his communique’ our bishop points us away from the walls of division and towards the ladders of reconnection: “I ask us all to find ways to change how we live with and respect one another so that when people hear the word “Christian” or see a cross, their first thought is no longer about “those terrible churchgoers” but instead is admiration of our daily witness as wholesome examples…we have to set an example of how to love others so that a clear and consistent Christian message can be heard above the noisy and dangerous chaos in which we find ourselves.” He goes on to say, “If we do so, some amazingly good things might happen that can change this country.”  

 

As temples of the Holy Spirit, as members of “God’s ground crew”

May we lead others away from walls and point them to The Ladder!

The words of an African-American Spiritual lights our way”

          We are (we are), climbing (climbing) Jacob’s ladder,

          We are (we are), climbing (climbing) Jacob’s ladder,

          We are (we are) climbing (climbing) Jacob’s ladder,

           Soldiers (soldiers) of the (of the) cross.

 

          If you (if you) love him (love him) why not (why not) serve him

          If you (if you) love him (love him) why not (why not) serve him,

          If you (if you) love him (love him) why not (why not) serve him

          Soldiers (soldiers) of the (of the ) cross.

 
 



[1] From Genesis 28.10-19

[2] From John 1.43-51

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North Little Rock, AR 72116

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