Sermon from March 13, 2011
(Lent 1 – Year A)
Romans 5: 12-19
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas
My younger brother and I grew up very near the shopping mall in our neighborhood.
As young boys, one of the highlights of going to the mall was making a stop at Sears department store.
Sears was where my mother bought all of our clothes, including our Toughskin jeans.
Sears also had a small candy shop at the bottom of the escalators where you could buy popcorn in little brown and pink cardboard boxes.
Consequently, the inside of Sears always smelled like buttered popcorn that had been sitting around for days and days.
At the Sears in our shopping mall, there were two floors of the department store.
And two side-by-side escalators took shoppers up to the second floor where they sold TV sets and other cool stuff.
One of the best parts about going to Sears was that my brother and I used to like to race each other on the side-by-side escalators.
At first, one of us would go to the top and ride down while walking down briskly,
While the other person would stand at the bottom and ride up the escalator while bounding up the steps two at a time.
But the granddaddy of all of the escalator races was when we would attempt to go up the escalator that was going down.
At first, we would start our competition at the half-way point, struggling with our little thighs to reach the very top.
Then, we would start at the very bottom and struggle with all our might to reach the top, by climbing and battling against the momentum of the down escalator.
I don’t think that either my brother or I ever did make it for the entire journey up the down escalator at Sears.
I don’t think that either one of us ever did overcome the struggle.
Life can be viewed as just one struggle, one hurdle after another, as we strive with all our might to go up the down escalator.
Or life can be viewed - not as a struggle, but as a gift.
In 1859, Nathan Ames is credited with patenting the invention of the escalator.
With the gift of the escalator, folks could travel up to the second floor without the struggle of stairs.
With the gift of an escalator, we no longer have to choose to battle our way up the down escalator.
Yet is our choice:
We can choose to struggle and battle our way through life.
Or we can choose the free gift.
In his Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul outlines this stark contrast between the struggle and the gift of life.
Except rather than using the word ‘struggle,’ the Apostle Paul uses the word ‘sin.’
And instead of using the word ‘gift,’ Paul uses the word ‘grace.’
Paul explains to us that Adam, who represents the first human, lived a life of struggle.
Adam lives a life dominated by sin and separation from God.
Adam lives his life by struggling to go up the down escalator.
I mean, the poor guy really does live a life of struggle:
First, Adam accepts the forbidden fruit that is offered to him by his naked wife.
Then Adam has to battle it out with a snake in the grass.
Finally, Adam lives out the remainder of his days, not in the beautiful garden, but in the toil of labor, in the struggle of the job market.
The Apostle Paul contrasts the life of struggle that is represented by Adam vs. the free gift of grace that is offered by Jesus Christ.
And since Jesus is a much greater man than Adam ever was, the gift of life is so much greater than the struggle of life.
Yet the choice is up to us:
You can either choose to live the struggling life of Adam, the life of battling to go up the down escalator.
Or you can choose the free gift offered by the life of Jesus, a life of riding with freedom up to the top floor on the up escalator of grace.
The choice of struggle vs. gift is ours to make.
On Ash Wednesday, Jimmy and I had the honor and the privilege to visit with many of our at-home parishioners, most of who are more advanced in age.
Jimmy and I had the honor of putting ashes on the foreheads of these dear parishioners and sharing communion with them.
Jimmy had the distinct honor of visiting with the oldest living member of St. Alban’s, Adele Khoury, who is 99 years old.
And I had the honor of visiting the second oldest living member of St. Alban’s, Inez Rowe, who will be 98 years old this coming Saturday.
Inez Rowe used to be a mover and a shaker in the life of St. Alban’s.
She and her husband, Rocky Rowe, love this place with all their heart.
Every time I see Inez, she proudly wears her St. Alban’s gold cross around her neck, a replica of the cross that hangs above the altar here.
Inez’ first question to me is always:
“Well, how are things at St. Alban’s?”
Yet she already knows the answer because she reads the monthly Epistle newsletter cover to cover.
At my most recent visit with Inez, I asked her if there was any kind of message, a witness, that she would like to give to the people of St. Alban’s, to the folks who are still able to gather weekly in the pews.
And this was Inez’ witness, as she said:
“You tell them that the life that they live at St. Alban’s is all a wonderful, wonderful gift.
Sure, I bet they all have their troubles and worries, raising kids and working hard and trying to make ends meet.
All of us have those worries and struggles when we are younger.
But when you get to be my age, an old lady who is going to be 98 years old, you look back on your life and you don’t focus on the troubles.
You tell the people of St. Alban’s that I would give anything in the world to be able to come to church and to receive communion with them.
You tell the people at St. Alban’s that life in the church, life with Jesus, is all a wonderful, wonderful gift.”
The Apostle Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans that the gracious gift is not like the transgression, not like the struggle.
For the struggle of Adam is the life of battling up the down escalator.
But how much greater is the gracious gift of Jesus, the gracious gift of grace and hope and freedom of going up via the up escalator, without the struggle of sin and hopelessness and death.
There is an old Presbyterian hymn that sings about the struggle of life vs. the gift of God.
The hymn sings:
“Grace, grace, God’s grace.
Grace that is greater than all my sin.”
Or, in other words:
“Grace, grace, God’s gift,
Gift that is greater than all my struggles.”
You see, it is our choice.
We can choose to either battle up the down escalator.
Or we can choose to accept the free gift of an upward grace.
We can choose to look at our bank accounts and our paychecks and possibly even our unemployment checks - and see a life of struggle and scarcity.
Or we can choose to see that we have received the abundant gift of a roof over our heads and daily bread to eat and always enough money to put in the collection plate.
We can choose to look at the season of Lent as a time to focus only on our sins and shortcomings - and just a 40-day struggle without chocolate or caffeine or booze.
Or we can choose to see that we have received a gift, a gift of 40 days to focus on grace and hope and love within the life of Christ’s church.
We can choose to see our life as a struggle, the embattled life that Adam and Eve and every human being throughout the ages has been tempted to live – a struggling life that is focused on what we don’t have.
Or we can choose to see that we have received a generous gift, the gift of forgiveness and freedom and amazing grace,
A grace that is greater than all our sins.
So, my friends, stop trying to run up the down escalator,
And accept the grace that Jesus Christ gives you.
Accept the gift that is greater than all your struggles.