Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
Wow, aren't today's lessons exciting?! Their message is so exciting that Wave 3 News came out on Thursday for the first time since I've worked here. At least, I think that's why they came ... You see, the children from Louisville Classical Academy were out in front of the church with their teacher, our own Leigh Anne Preston, having PE class. All of a sudden, they looked up and started pointing and hollering about "a bird in the lamp." There was a large, red-shouldered hawk caught way up high in the hanging lamp over our main church doorway. Leigh Anne called Raptor Rehabilitation of Louisville, and they came right out to help.
As soon as I heard about the excitement, I came outside to see for myself. I looked up and gasped in self-recognition. Yes, it was truly amazing and strange, just like the Gospel. The bird's sad and frightened eyes told me the real story:
When our hawk squeezed into that lamp, he was indeed on top of the world. He had been out hunting in the dark of the early morning. He had been successful; he had a fine dove meal in his talons, one that he had caught by his own wits and skill. He had slipped into this safe, new perch—one where he could see all around to know when enemies were approaching. He felt secure in his snug little spot. I imagine that for a few minutes, our hawk ate his breakfast with a sigh of satisfaction and a self-congratulatory wing-pat on the back.
Until he realized that he was stuck, that is. Pretty soon, after dinner, he tried to stretch out his wings. Thud, they hit the hard glass. Panic growing, he tried another side, another angle. But nothing moved. His high and glorious perch had suddenly become a prison. As the sun rose, he could see freedom all around him. Birds flew, children ran, and tree limbs danced in the breeze. But our hawk couldn't move. He was isolated, alone. He was trapped.
He called out for help, with loud, piercing cries. He longed for his rescuer to fly in from above. He watched for a Super-Raptor with glistening wings and talons three feet long. It would swoop down from the sky. It would dash its diamond beak against the glass and shatter the evil lamp that had imprisoned him so cruelly. He would mount on its back like eagles' wings, and it would carry him away to freedom.
Our hawk stood first on one foot, then on the other, impatient for salvation from his terrible predicament. His eyes were still on the sky when the old van rumbled up to the church. Two seventy-year-old humans slowly emerged from the van and started looking around.
"That's all I need right now," muttered our hawk. "Humans!"
The humans gawked and then disappeared inside the church.
When they came back out, they were carrying the biggest ladder that our hawk had ever seen. Awkwardly, they maneuvered the ladder closer and closer to the lamp, making a terrible racket with it. They sure didn't look like they knew what they were doing. And then, putting on a flimsy-looking yellow glove, the old man from the van started climbing the ladder. His weak knees trembled, and his chest huffed and puffed, and his wife fretted for his safety down below. But he kept climbing. The ladder shook, but he kept climbing. The hawk screeched and glared and puffed up his neck feathers as fierce as he could. But the old man kept climbing. The hawk's natural enemy, he kept climbing.
Reaching the top of the ladder, the old man plunged his hand in through the sharp glass of the lamp, right into the hawk's angry, kicking talons. Gently, oh so gently, he took hold of our trapped bird. Our hawk screeched in terror and beat his wings, and the old man simply said, "Oh no you don't!" and held on tighter. Down the ladder they came together, one shaky step at a time.
"We're going to take you to our home so that you can rest and get better," the old woman explained to our hawk. "As soon as your cuts are healed, we'll bring you back here and let you fly away to freedom. We promise. Just trust us."
That was the great St. Andrew's raptor rescue.
I'd like for our children to draw the rescue for us—both the hawk and the lamp and the old man and old woman in their old van. I'd like for you to draw it on the paper in your worship bags that says "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son."
When I saw our hawk in his glass prison, I saw myself. And when I saw the rescue, I saw God's love in Jesus Christ. "For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, so that everyone who trusts in him may not perish but may have life abundant." Thanks be to God, we have been rescued from the glass prisons in which we encase ourselves so readily. We certainly don't know how to get out of them on our own. Our rescuer God takes on frail human form for the task. In Christ, our God trembles as he climbs up a Cross. In Christ, our God lets his body be pierced as we struggle and fight his loving grasp. In Christ, our God takes us down with him into the cleansing, healing waters of baptism. And in Christ, we rise with him, free and ready to fly.
We Christians sometimes like to make a big deal about the criteria of "believing" when we hear today's Gospel lesson. As if to be rescued, you have to do something a certain way or hold to some specific doctrine. Despite what we hear sometimes from the televangelists, we do not have a condemning God. It says so right here in our Gospel lesson. We have a God who loves the whole world. We have a God who refuses to condemn the world. God desires the flourishing of this swirling, whirling, broken and beautiful world. God’s light shines wherever it can in this world and seeks to transform the dark, closed off places, not to destroy them. God chooses not to judge the world. Instead, God sends God’s Son into the midst of it and uses its brokenness to lift him—and us—up into Life.
St. Paul writes in today's Epistle, "For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus … which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life." God made both humans and hawks to stretch our wings and soar on the currents of God's love for the whole world. Fly, hawks and humans, fly!