I missed you last Sunday. I was at CREDO a clergy retreat/conference. CREDO is Latin for “I believe.” In the beautiful mountains near Ashville, North Carolina 30 pastors from all over the country – at various stages in their careers – gathered to do some serious praying and discerning: who am I? Where is the contentment? Where is the unrest? What does the future hold? What is at the center of it all? I wish that each of you could have such an experience.
I will share this with you – I am very blessed indeed to be here. You are a remarkable church – can I get an AMEN? I had to stop telling others about you. “Here he comes, mister happy pastor!” “And if he shows me one more picture of his new puppy? Does he have a family?”
What gives meaning to your life? Are you who you want to be? What does the future hold and who holds that future? When you are stressed, sick, feeling your mortality – or are walking on a splendid autumn afternoon at peace – what plays on your mind, or do you not want to go there? A lot of us don’t.
Wendell Berry goes to the place where the wood drake rests. Listen:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars/ waiting with their light….
For a time, I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. (The Peace of Wild Things)
The wood drake focuses him – it becomes a lens through which he sees reality.
For Paul, Jesus is the lens into reality. Jesus “organizes and holds it [all] together,” to quote Eugene Peterson. Jesus calls us to “rest in the grace of the world” and be free.
Paul writes: Jesus gives you power to endure with joy and thanksgiving.
Jesus has rescued you from the powers of darkness and called you to share in “the inheritance of the saints of light.” Jesus is the image of the invisible God.
The Greek word for “image” is icon. An icon is something that brings it all together – gives focus, describes reality.
Last Friday I was watching a TV special on the assassination of JFK. He was an iconic President – summed up our hopes and fears in the 60’s. Jackie’s watermelon pink dress that she was wearing when the President was shot was described as iconic. That dress, stained with the blood of the President, focused attention, made it real. When told to take the dress off she refused saying: “I want everyone to know what they did to him.”
Formally, an icon is a painting, usually on wood of Jesus, or a scene from the life of Jesus, or another holy scene or figure that is used in devotional practices. Some call an icon “a window into heaven.” We glimpse heavenly things. It focuses our attention.
Echoing Jackie’s words – a Jesus icon reminds us of what “they did to him.” And “what God has done for us.”
At CREDO one morning, the worship leader asked each of us, as we entered the chapel, to go to the communion table. There were a variety of icons placed there. We looked them over and then sat down. “Which one caught your attention?” We were asked. “Go get it,” we were instructed.
The one that caught my eye was bizarre. It was entitled “the ascent of faith” – a re-production of the 12th century original. There was a ladder with human figures ascending upon it towards Jesus who was in the upper right hand corner with arms outspread in welcome, in a blaze of glory.
What made it unsettling and slightly comical to me were the little demon figures with forked tails and bows and arrows and whips and chains harassing the climbers and pulling some off the ladder into the opened maw of this head painted at the bottom.
In the top left corner were angels –watching and doing nothing. In the bottom right corner were Hebrew Scripture heroes – I suppose – also watching and doing nothing.
I was to meditate on this for 10 minutes and see what it “told me.” After a while it did “speak” to me: “Keep moving. Don’t be distracted.” “Keep your eyes on the prize!” The arms of Jesus encouraged me – THAT was the lasting image I had.
Jesus is the icon of God – focusing our attention, reminding us of what it is all about.
God is not just some philosophical construct, Jesus is God flesh and blood. That IS what we proclaim. We see God in Jesus.
Jesus focuses our attention on reconciliation, justice, forgiveness. He defines those words. Jesus embodies sacrifice and endurance, and love that goes past death.
Jesus drives me to give a damn about the world and care if people go hungry and don’t have health care. It isn’t because I am a Democrat or Republican – it is because Jesus focuses my attention.
Why are you even here today? Something draws you to this place.
There are lots of icons in the world – some helpful and good, other cynical and destructive:
The Nike swoosh, the Mercedes hood ornament, the iPhone are icons – what do they represent?
But Jesus is a different icon – ironically, he is an iconoclast, one who challenges cherished beliefs and institutions. I dare say Jesus challenges all other icons.
This past week was hard for many of us who were friends of Lissa – and needless to say – tremendously hard for Chip, Katie and Will – her family. You who have lost loved one, a mother, a sister, a friend – you know, what I am talking about.
Jesus’ death draws our attention to a new way of thinking: Paul writes: “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then whether we live or if we die, we are the Lord’s.” “Nothing separates us from the Love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
It doesn’t take away the pain, but it is a promise, gives us a glimpse and maybe gets you through the day. Jesus shows that is more than meets the eye to life and death.
Here in Colossians Paul writes: “Not only that…in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…” and [through Christ] “all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies.”
That is a powerful, transformative image, or icon. Let it move you. Jesus shows God gathering all your broken pieces and places and lovingly fixing them.
That’s the God we believe in. And that truth saves us from all those weird icons of a God who is nothing more than an old man waiting to punish me, or a God who is little more than Santa, or a God who is absent.
But Jesus as icon of God focuses me on some new possibilities. Jesus calls you and me to be icons too – to embody the love of Christ and the presence of God – you and I are called to be windows into heaven – by what we say, what we do, what choices we make, how we live. No one should be able to say after meeting you: “I don’t know God.” They should be able to say, “I saw God in Jeff, Sue, John, Linda….”
Jesus is the icon of God.
What do you see?