Holding the Ladder

Just for fun, I’d like to invite you to play a game with me called Magic Number.

The way we play is, you pick a number between 1 and 10. 

It can be any number between one and ten…so just go for it… think about it… commit to it…  And I am going to try to read your mind. 

So, first take your number…and double it…Do you have your new number?

Ok – now – I want you to add 10 to your new number…

Now if I’m going to try to predict your number, I don’t want it to get too big so let’s divide the number by two…

Ok now, let’s take this new number and subtract your original number…

Ok, have you got your new number?

Okay, good. 

Now, …your number is 5!

I think anyway!

The truth is it may not even have worked…because this is the first time I’ve ever tried it!  I saw someone do this once and I just looked it up on the internet. It is supposed to be a mathematical formula that gives everyone the number 5.

This little illusion obscures for a moment, at best, the truth we all know well: that we have this interior life that no one else is privy to except us and God.  I can’t read your mind and you can’t read mine.

One of life hardest challenges is learning to communicate what’s inside of us clearly and truthfully with others.  And there are plenty of times I bet we all have wished people could understand what we’re thinking but having a hard time expressing.

 When you add on a pandemic that obfuscates many of the ways we can gather and communicate it has left many of us feeling lonelier, more isolated, and more disconnected than ever. 

All this difficulty communicating has disrupts school and work. 

And many of us feel more frustrated, angry, and hopeless than we’ve ever known. 

This past week, in the wake of the storming of the Capitol in Washington, one of the many upsetting thoughts I had was a deep sadness that our nation’s citizens don’t seem to be able to understand one another.

We know we can’t read each other’s minds but we can’t even seem to comprehend one another when we talk to each other,

we can’t agree on what is true and what is real, if we’re even bothering to talk to each other at all anymore.

I think we tend to focus on all the ways we are misunderstood and misunderstand others, and on all the ways we are so unknown to each other.

My friends, how good it is that God knows us.  How good it is to dwell on the fact we are not alone within ourselves, as the psalmist says, but that God who made us,

knows all our journeys and all our resting places, and has known our thoughts and the words on our lips before they are spoken!

The same God who knit you and me together in our mother’s womb, and knew us before the seed and egg and divine spark of God’s touch created all that you are body and soul, with freedom to think and act and choose and speak and listen and love…

continues to stays with us, continues to know us, and continues to love us. 

The same God whom we cannot hide from, to whom all our thoughts are known, all our desires, are known and from whom no secrets are hid, delights to lead us on all the way through our lives no matter what they may hold.

This God who knows and loves us is the same God who knew the boy Samuel in the temple,

and called him to be a prophet mighty in deed, sending him to speak truth to power,

telling Eli the priest that he would pay for his mishandling of his children and inattention to his duties, and then sending Samuel to anoint David to be king of Israel.

This God who knows and loves us is the same God manifest in Jesus Christ

who displayed the same all-knowing as God in his ability to see Nathaniel under the fig three and read his mind, calling Nathaniel to join with Jesus in the ministry he was beginning.

How wonderful it is that this same God knows your thoughts and my thoughts,

especially when we may not know what we think ourselves – because the crisis in our country

of new daily Covid-death records, impeachment proceedings, murmurs of continued violence, and our own personal concerns –

all this together can prevent us from knowing how to formulate coherent thoughts at all!

Last week I checked my phone for news with a compulsion I‘ve never experienced, wanting to know what was going to happen.  You may have had a similar experience.  It was hard to be held in suspense.

But Jesus isn’t held in suspense of what is to come.  He could see Nathaniel under the fig tree, and he could see all the way to the cross.  He knew what was going to happen.

Even as he was just beginning his ministry, setting out from the start,

with Nathaniel and the others almost certainly full of hope and expectation and at what it might mean that they had found the new King of Israel to sit on David’s throne,

Jesus could see the cross ahead, knew that an angry mob that would storm the streets of the capital city and attack him and hang him from the gallows, cheering on his death –

and even knowing this, Jesus makes his way onward to Jerusalem, determined, calling disciples, ministering to those he meets, showing greater signs that anyone could imagine.

Jesus promises that Nathaniel and these disciples will even see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

And Nathaniel would have understood Jesus’ meaning, would have known well the story of patriarch Jacob, who, on the run from his brother Esau who hated him and wanted to kill him,

came to rest for the night, went to sleep and had a vision in his mind of a ladder with angels descending and ascending –

a picture of a reunion of heaven and earth, the sin in creation healed, perhaps even brothers who were estranged, reunited….angels ascending and descending, as if on a ladder, upon the son of man.

At our living nativity about a month ago we had an angel ascending and descending on a ladder.

 His name was Jake Barger. 

If you came to worship with us in the parking lot that night, or even if you just saw the picture on facebook, you could see Jake with a white robe and wings standing on the pinnacle of our church’s new addition dressed as an angel. 

He was there like the rest of us -to help tell the story that God is born in the most unexpected way to be with us in this world, in the flesh of Jesus Christ. 

But I got to be with our cast behind the scenes, I got to see several people hold the ladder for Jake as he made his way up for rehearsal, as came down,

 as he went back up for the event, as came back down,

and it occurred to me that as Jesus disciples we do get to hold the ladder for a God who reveals himself to the world in signs of his presence.

God sets up a ladder in Jesus connecting heaven to earth and earth to heaven, making a way where our sin had caused division, healing creation, seeking to reunite brothers and sisters who are estranged.

Jesus is the ladder on which God comes down to take part in our lives through his healing, forgiveness, and mercy.

Jesus is the ladder on which we are able to carry our petitions and prayers and intercessions up and directly to the heart of God. 

His cross reconnects heaven and earth…

…reconnects God with God’s people…

…reconnects lost, unknowing, tongue-tied, jumbled-thought-thinking,

misunderstood and misunderstanding children of God….with God’s mission and ministry.

Jesus invites us to follow him, and I think, amazingly, he even invites us to hold the ladder. 

To assist with the work God is doing.  To get involved in God’s mission.  To point to the crib of his birth, the cross of his death, and the chrysalis of the tomb, the new creation he is Living Lord over forever.

To hold the ladder there aren’t any magic numbers to guess.  There isn’t an entrance exam, there’s not a test, or any special requirements.

You can be from rural Nazareth, big city New York City or our own Richmond, VA – because Jesus has determined any place, any person is fertile soil for growth, faithfulness, and God’s presence.

Anyone can bring others to Jesus, like Philip did.  Anyone can claim Jesus as the Son of God and King of Israel as Nathaniel did.  As Dr. King said: anyone can be great, because anyone can serve.

Anyone can hold the ladder for God, not to keep God safe of course, but, by God’s grace and by God’s design to mediate the reconnection God brings about through Jesus.

I think of Scott Dietrick leading the children in a Sunday school opening with songs and prayers,

Ms. Betsy and all her helpers and all our Sunday school teachers teaching generations of children,

Matt Greenshields inviting you to join his exciting bible studies,

I think of all these saints and more, holding the ladder, serving so that heaven and earth touch – so that we hear from God.

I think of all of you – our congregation – our diligent council, faithful staff, pioneers and volunteers, even in the midst of a pandemic, still worshiping, still serving:

Gathering 106 Thanksgiving baskets – a record!

Donating 277 Twenty-five-dollar gift cards to our Angel tree benefitting Ridge Elementary  (which exceeded our goal of 250 cards)

Collecting 3286 items for ACTS (a homelessness prevention ministry): – an all-time record!

Making 205 Lutheran World Relief Quilts: which is an all-time record!

Making 201 Lutheran World Relief school kits – also an all-time record!

And heaven and earth are rejoicing, where families are wrapped in quilts,

where children have supplies for school, where neighbors on the margins who have a place to live because of God’s mission through his church.

Angels are ascending and descending where we lift up our prayers,

where God’s children talk and listening to the one in love seeking truth and understand,

where by grace as God’s people we lay our lives before the one who knows our needs before we do.

There is so much we don’t know and understand about one another…in the secret places of the heart…, things we can’t admit to ourselves, secrets that are too painful,

our complicity in the brokenness around us.

We think the internet gives us endless knowledge and we can look up lots of facts and seemingly endless information but we can’t search out wisdom except that God reveals Godself. 

We look to the news on TV with expectation that it can tell us what will be, but our expectation should be in God’s word that tells us we are all fearfully and wonderfully made

and that God is determined to accompany us each step of the way, each day that we are given.

God will be with us – inside each of us, in the innerworkings of ourselves – and connecting us together in mission, using the gifts he has given to you and me and entrusted to us in our shared life.

God is calling us to hold the ladder together for he delights to come to be with us. 

Because Jesus has died and has risen and now lives forever. 

And so, thanks be to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…

for God goes before us unafraid,

God lives…God heals… and God reigns over all… forever and ever.

Amen

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