Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Not a head of your hair will perish November 14, 2010 Proper 28-RCL Year C Luke 21:5-19
All Saints Day November 7, 2010 All Saints Day, Year C Luke 6:20-31
Comfort and Curiousity October 31, 2010 Proper 26, Year C Luke 19:1-10
Passion October 24, 2010 Proper 25, Year C Psalm 84; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Knocking at a Locked Door October 17, 2010 Proper 24, Year C Luke 18:1-8
Gratitude October 10, 2010 Proper 23, Year C Luke 17:11-19
Increase our faith, so that we can serve God and one another October 3, 2010 Proper 22, Year C Luke 12:35-48, Luke 17:1-10, Luke 22:24-28
God is not only compassionate and merciful, but also our judge September 26, 2010 Proper 21, Year C Luke 16:19-31
Shrewdness is a Virtue September 19, 2010 Proper 20—Year C Luke 16:1-13
God Longs for Wholeness September 12, 2010 Proper 19—Year C Luke 15:1-10
Choose Life September 5, 2010 Proper 18, Year C, RCL Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 14-25-33
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever August 29, 2010 Proper 17, Year C, RCL Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, (Psalm 118)
Sabbath and Healing August 22, 2010 Proper 16, Year C, RCL Isaiah 58:9b-14, Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-20; Luke 13:10-17
Jesus Brings Fire August 15, 2010 Proper 15 Luke 12:49-56
Baptism – God Has Promised Us an Inheritance August 8, 2010 Proper 14, Year C, RCL Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12: 32-40 ;Revelation 22:1-5

 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever

Sermon Date:August 29, 2010

Scripture: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, (Psalm 118)

Liturgy Calendar: Proper 17, Year C, RCL


Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.

These immortal and  famous words ring out to us in the midst of the fear, dread, disgust, worry—the feelings that many of us have today when we think about the current state of the world, our nation, and even our church.

Our society is in the throes of change, and all of us are the ones suffering through the seismic shifts that are creating great fissures that threaten to swallow us up.

But in fact, throughout history, the world has continued to change.

The earth itself is in a state of constant flux, and as long as we are alive, we too are also in a constant state of change.

And change is scary. 

But Jesus Christ does not change.

While Jesus was here with us, he lived a fearless life of love for humanity, and suffered and died because of that love, and was resurrected into a new life.   

And Jesus continues love us fearlessly, even as we live in fear. 

And Jesus calls out to us, especially when we are full of fear,   to love one another fearlessly, as he loved us.    

Jesus calls out to us to “Let mutual love continue.”

Mutual love is not just God’s love for us and our love for God,  that magnificent vertical love that reaches from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven, but mutual love is also horizontal,  it’s our outstretched arms, it’s the love that God expects us to have for our fellow human beings, not just the people that we are comfortable with, not just the people that we agree with, but every one of our fellow human beings.  

And it’s the vertical love, God’s love reaching down to us, that then makes our love for one another, that horizontal love, possible. 

Jesus shows us how to love one another. 

“Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross so that EVERYONE might come within the reach of your saving embrace,” goes the prayer for mission that we will pray today. 

God expects us to follow the example of Jesus and to stretch out our arms of love as well, as best we can, in the various situations in which we find ourselves. 

When we pray this prayer in a few minutes, we will acknowledge our limitations, knowing that we fall far short of  stretching out our arms in love, but that the least we can do is to “reach forth our hands in love.”

But who do we hold one another in mutual love, and how do we carry it out? 

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we are to hold in mutual love the stranger. 

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” 

Strangers are different.

We are naturally afraid of those who are different, and yet we are, as Christians, to show hospitality to them,

To reach out our hands in love to them….and in doing so, we may be welcoming Jesus himself without even knowing that we do so. 

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we are to hold in mutual love those who are in prison.

The writer was probably referring to other Christians who had been jailed and tortured because of their beliefs.

For us, today, this injunction is a reminder that our solidarity as Christians offers a powerful testimony to rest of the world, just as our divisions among ourselves damage our testimony.

Ideally, we want people who are not Christians to be able to look at us, even in our differences, and say to one another, “See how they love one another.”  

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we are to hold in mutual love not only the stranger, but those who are closest to us.

We are not only to love those in our families, but we are to be faithful to them, even when we can’t LOVE them.

And being faithful means that we keep our promises to one another.

We keep our promises to our spouses and remain faithful to them, not only physically, but also emotionally.

We keep our promises to our children, and love them and teach them not only with our words, but with our active  love for them.

We honor our parents, and care for them and love them, especially when they can no longer care for themselves. 

The writer of Hebrews also reminds us that we keep our lives free of the love of money, and be content with what we have.

As Christians, when we put Jesus first, the way that we use our money becomes a witness to the world as we use it to promote mutual love, to help love continue to change people’s lives.  

This list can sound like a list of impossible challenges, a utopian dream.   How can we possibly do these things?

On some days, to love anyone seems like an insurmountable challenge, much less loving the stranger, remaining in solidarity with people we disagree with, remaining faithful to those closest to us, the ones who can hurt us most deeply, to be content with what we have when we feel that we barely have enough….

But the writer of Hebrews answers us, quoting from Psalm 118—

“The Lord is my helper; 

I will not be afraid

What can anyone do to me?”

Even when we are full of fear, we must remember that the Lord IS our helper, so that instead of acting out of fear, we can act out of love. 

The autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran  is one I turn to time and time again when I find that I am lacking in love and I’m feeling full of fear.

I want to share part of his story with you today, because his story is the perfect illustration of this verse—“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can anyone do to me?” 

Jacques was born in Paris.

 Because of a childhood accident he became blind when he was eight years old.  

When he was 15 years old the Germans occupied Paris. 

The next year, at age 16, Jacques began a resistance movement of 52 boys who are all under twenty-one years old, and in just a year, this group had grown to six hundred people.

Eventually a member of the group betrayed them all, and Jacques spent fifteen months in Buchenwald, the infamous German concentration camp.

At the end of the war, he was one of thirty survivors of the shipment of two thousand men who had been sent to Buchenwald at the same time.   

Because Jacques was blind, he avoided the labor details.  “Every morning at six o’clock all the men who were fit left the camp to the blare of the orchestra….the whole day these men moved rocks and sand in the quarries, hard manual labor in the bitter cold until five in the evening, when they returned, “but never all of them.  The yards were littered with the day’s dead.”

They died of many things, but Jacques writes that many of them simply died of fear, for “fear is the real name of despair.”

Jacques was placed in the Invalid’s Block, everyone who was not whole was placed, and where people died at an unprecedented rate.  Because he was blind, people constantly stole his food, and he became weaker and weaker. 

Jacques, not surprisingly, became ill.  Of course there was no medicine, and he was given up for dead.  He was taken to the hospital, the place where they put the dying—and the person lay in the hospital until he died or got well. 

Because his own words are so powerful, I want to read directly this part of his story to you from his book.  As you listen, remember what the writer of Hebrews tells us– “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can anyone do to me?”

“Sickness had rescued me from fear, it had even rescued me from death.  Let me say to you simply that without it I never would have survived.  From the first moments of sickness I had gone off into another world, quite consciously.  I was not delirious…..

I watched the stages of my own illness quite clearly.  I saw the organs of my body blocked up or losing control one after the other, first my lungs, then my intestines, then my ears, all my muscles, and last of all my heart, which was functioning badly and filled me with a vast unusual sound.  I know exactly what it was, this thing I was watching:  my body in the act of leaving this world, not wanting to leave it right away, not even wanting to leave it at all.  I could tell by the pain my body was causing me, twisting and turning in every direction like snakes that have been cut in pieces.

Have I said that death was already there?  If I have I was wrong.  Sickness and pain, yes, but not death.  Quite the opposite, life, and that was the unbelievable thing that had taken possession of me.  I had never lived so fully before. 

Life had become a substance within me.  It broke into my cage, pushed by a force a thousand times stronger than I.  It was certainly not made of flesh and blood, not even of ideas.  It came toward me like a shimmering wave, like the caress of light.  I could see it beyond my eyes and my forehead and above my head.  It touched me and filled me to overflowing.  I let myself float upon it. 

There were names which I mumbled from the depths of my astonishment.  No doubt my lips did not speak them, but they had their own song:  ‘Providence, the Guardian Angel, Jesus Christ, God.’ I didn’t try to turn it over in my mind.  It was just not the time for metaphysics.  I drew my strength from the spring.  I kept on drinking and drinking still more.  I was not going to leave that celestial stream.  For that matter it was not strange to me, having come to me right after my old accident when I found I was blind.  Here was the same thing all over again, the Life which sustained the life in me. 

The Lord took pity on the poor mortal who was so helpless before him.  It is true I was quite unable to help myself…

But there was one thing left which I could do:  not refuse God’s help, the breath he was blowing upon me.  That was the one battle I had to fight, hard and wonderful all at once:  not to let my body be taken by the fear.  For fear kills, and joy maintains life. 

Slowly I came back from the dead…on May 8, I left the hospital on my tow feet.  I was nothing but skin and bones, but I had recovered.  The fact was I was so happy that now Buchenwald seemed to me a place which if not welcome was at least possible.  If they didn’t give me any bread to eat, I would feed on hope. 

It was the truth.  I still had eleven months ahead of me in the camp.  But today I have not a single evil memory of those three hundred and thirty days of extreme wretchedness.  I was carried by a hand.  I was covered by a wing.  One doesn’t call such living emotions by their names.  I hardly needed to look out for myself, and such concern would have seemed to me ridiculous.  I knew it was dangerous and it was forbidden, but I was free now to help the others; not always, not much, but in my own way I could help. 

I could try to show other people how to go about holding on to life.  I could turn toward them the flow of light and joy which had grown so abundant in me.  From that time on they stopped stealing my bread or my soup.  It never

happened again.  Often my comrades would wake me up in the night and take me to comfort someone, sometimes a long way off in another block.

Almost everyone forgot I was a student.  I became ‘the blind Frenchman.’  For many, I was just ‘the man who didn’t die.’  Hundreds of people confided in me.  The men were determined to talk to me.  They spoke to me in French, Russian, in German, in Polish.  I did the best I could to understand them all.  That is how I lived, how I survived.  The rest I cannot describe.”

Because of this near-death experience, Jacques found himself resurrected into a new life, a fearless life, a life in which he was free to help others, to stretch out his arms in love.

He experienced the power of the love of Jesus, Jesus who is the same, the same yesterday, the same today, the same forever, the one who when we are in the deepest throes of our own fears, will come to us too,

Come to each one of us, in the way that we need him most, as he did to this blind man as a shimmering wave, as the caress of light.

 Jesus comes to each of us, to touch us and fill us to overflowing,

Jesus comes to each of us as the celestial stream from which we drink and drink, drawing strength—

and from his unchanging love, we will find the strength to live in hope,

we will find the strength to let mutual love continue, and finally, we will find the strength to stretch out our own arms in love to all the world.   

Extended quote from

Lusseyran, Jacques.  And There was Light.  New York, Parabola Books, 1991.  (pages 280-283)

First published by Little, Brown and Company, 1963. 

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