Accessibility is about a whole lot more than handicap ramps. It’s a matter of the heart and soul. Here is the sermon I preached when our congregation dedicated our first ramp, which allows access to our main entrance.
A Living Ramp
A Sermon on Genesis 28:10-17; Romans 8:35, 37-39; John 1:51, 14:1-7
Disconnected. Jacob was disconnected and on the run. His wily schemes had ruptured the connection with his family. The content of the stolen blessing didn’t mean much at that moment, however. What mattered was getting beyond the reach of his enraged brother, Esau. If Jacob didn’t survive, all that scheming would have been for nothing.
Family wasn’t the only thing Jacob was disconnected from. What little relationship he had with God was second hand at best. He had made his choices with nary a reference to God, with no hint of prayer, only self-interest. And despite being in danger, Jacob still didn’t seek God.
When night fell, the fugitive was alone in a place with no name, at least none he knew. Jacob listened hard. Any sound could herald the approach of Esau, yet Jacob was unequipped to go on in the darkness. He had to stop. And not only that, Jacob had brought very little with him. He didn’t even have enough clothing to fashion a pillow. Jacob set up a stone and propped his head on that.
Many people are like Jacob in that they don’t recognize their need for connection with God. They stumble into the future without reference to God. Self-interest rules the day. These wanderers don’t even know they are lost.
But many other people know they’re disconnected from God and from the people around them. They know they need God. They need God’s gifts of mercy and forgiveness. They need God to give their life a meaning that’s bigger than they are. Broken and hurting, they need God to heal them in body, mind and soul. Many seekers long to be with God and with the people of God. Again and again they need to hear the scripture promise, that nothing—nothing!—can disconnect us from God’s love.
But plenty can separate us from God’s house and God’s people. Church buildings often pose barriers that serve to disconnect people from the worshiping family. When you can’t lift your legs high enough, or not any at all, a flight of steps might as well be a fence with no gate. Sometimes it’s just a whole lot easier to stay home. This is a painful disconnection!
Disconnected. That’s what Jacob was. With a rock for a pillow, he was setting himself up for a humdinger of a nightmare.
But instead, God gave Jacob a vision. He saw a stairway…actually the word “ramp” is the closest English word for what he saw. Jacob saw a ramp that stretched from earth up to heaven. It was an access way connecting heaven and earth, God and humanity. God’s messengers moved freely up and down it as he watched.
Then God himself stood beside Jacob, promising him many descendants, connecting Jacob to a fruitful future. Through Jacob and all his descendants, God planned to bless the world. But the greatest promise of all was this: “I will be with you and keep you wherever you go,” said God, “and I won’t leave you until I’ve done everything I promised.” God established a permanent connection with Jacob. Yes, even with a guy like Jacob!
Jacob woke up and exclaimed, “The Lord is here. He is in this place, and I didn’t know it. This is an awesome place. This is the house of God, the gate to heaven!” Jacob named the place “Bethel,” which means “house of God.” Heaven and earth were joined at Bethel with a ramp. Jacob met God at a ramp.
That’s why it’s not at all a surprise that Jesus would refer to himself as a ramp. He fulfilled the prophecy of Jacob’s ramp in a wonderful way. Jesus told his disciples that they would see heaven opened—accessible!—and the messengers of God going up and coming down on the Son of Man himself. Jesus was Jacob’s dream realized!
Could there be a more perfect connecting point for God and humanity? Christ is God. Christ is human. Heaven and earth join in Christ. He is the entrance way to God. “I am the door for the sheep,” he said. Indeed, he said, “I am the way.”
Jesus stretched out his hands to lead people through the door, on the way, up the ramp. He stretched out his arms to the world on the cross. By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus healed the great gorge that sin cuts between humanity and God. He welcomed outcasts, laid his hands on the sick, and gave new life to people with disabilities. He held little ones close to his breast and blessed them. And he still does. Christ still heals the brokenness. And by his death and resurrection, Jesus healed the worst disconnection of all, death.
Christ Jesus is the living ramp, giving us access to the deep and tender heart of God, the place where we will live for all eternity. Everyone who knows the pain of disconnection hungers for this good news: there truly is nothing in all creation that can disconnect us from the love of God that is ours through Jesus Christ.
Christ is the living ramp, and he calls his disciples to serve as living ramps, guiding people to him. We must do everything we can to help them—no matter what their condition—to connect to Jesus Christ and to his body, the church. We don’t lose the need to commune with God when infirmity strikes. We don’t lose the need to gather with God’s people for worship in the sanctuary. We don’t lose the need to serve, to give what we have to give. Not one person is exempt from the call of God. No, not one. Not even somebody with a checkered past like Jacob. Not even somebody with multiple limitations. The body of Christ must get this news out: your Savior’s got a job for you!
This is what our new front entrance means. This is why we built the ramp. We recognized that this building is a tool in God’s hands for ministry. Heaven and earth do touch right here in this place. This is Bethel! Christ’s Spirit is here, and the living ramp stretches to heaven, right from this place. We’re trying to make this building match what we believe. We’re trying to make it match our mission. It’s a gospel building! It’s the house of God!
See what a powerful symbol our front entrance is, what a powerful statement of faith it is, what an invitation to the community it is. It almost looks like a set of open arms beckoning people to come in!
Everybody come in, God’s ramp and our ramp says. Come through these doors and meet the One who is the Door. Come and commune with God. Come and join his family. Come up the ramp and into the sanctuary and glimpse something even more wonderful: you will see the heavens opened, and the very messengers of God going up and coming down on the Son of Man, your Lord and Savior, your healer, who loves you with every last ounce of his blood, who has a place and a mission for you. No barrier, not even death can disconnect you from his love.
Thanks be to God for what he has done through Jesus Christ, and in our midst as we worked together, so that all may come in and worship. The congregation is going to get right back to work, with the Accessibility Committee leading the way, until we have removed every physical stumbling block, and every mental fence that keeps people out. Let one barrier after another be overcome! Let this building be a physical haven and a spiritual haven for everyone.
“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” said Jesus. “I am the ramp!” Thanks be to our great, wonderful, loving God!