“Grace Filled Tunnels”

John 16:22-33

{Prayer}

            Music and art … individually and collectively, they have a way of bringing out, of expressing the sorrow of life, the hardness and darkness which comes with the various struggles of life which we experience.  Music and art have a way of cutting to the heart, to the core of an individual, causing one to contemplate life decisions and even life’s purpose. 

            Music and art … individually and collectively, they have a way of bringing out, of expressing the sorrow of life, the hardness and darkness which comes with the various struggles of life which we experience.  Music and art have a way of cutting to the heart, to the core of an individual, causing one to contemplate life decisions and even life’s purpose. Music and art, they also have a way of changing a life for the good.  They have a way of reaching into the darkness of the soul, into the doubts and questions of one’s life, into the depths of mental illness, confidence, self-worth and self-esteem questions and bring about motivation, courage, hope, and a purpose.  Music and art, they can help lead and guide a person through the deep darkness of the tunnels of which we pass through.  Music and art can be uplifting in the face of devastation.  As we pass through these tunnels of darkness, we come out on the other side with a new sense of purpose and meaning.  We come out singing a song of God’s grace.

            Music and art … individually and collectively, they have a way of bringing out, of expressing the sorrow of life, the hardness and darkness which comes with the various struggles of life which we experience.  Music and art have a way of cutting to the heart, to the core of an individual, causing one to contemplate life decisions and even life’s purpose. On the side of a tunnel in southwest Atlanta, there is a street mural painted by Suzy Schultz.  This painting was part of the Art on the Atlanta Beltline series.  Near the opening of a tunnel, a tunnel which is tagged with graffiti, there stands a portrait of a singer who is larger than life. His eyes are closed and his mouth is open.  When looking upon it, one imagines that is he singing from his heart and that his voice fills the air with a soulful sound.

            Music and art … individually and collectively, they have a way of bringing out, of expressing the sorrow of life, the hardness and darkness which comes with the various struggles of life which we experience.  Music and art have a way of cutting to the heart, to the core of an individual, causing one to contemplate life decisions and even life’s purpose. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem once informed his catechumens, once informed his students of a dragon who sat by the road. Cyril said to these students, “In your journey to the Father of souls, your way lies past that dragon.”  An interesting quote to say the least, but think about it for a minute in terms of this tunnel.  “In your journey to the Father of souls, your way lies past that dragon.”  On the way to a life with your Heavenly Father, the Father of souls, the path of a Christian, your path goes on past the dragon, on past Satan and all the evil and death which comes with him.

            Music and art … individually and collectively, they have a way of bringing out, of expressing the sorrow of life, the hardness and darkness which comes with the various struggles of life which we experience.  Music and art have a way of cutting to the heart, to the core of an individual, causing one to contemplate life decisions and even life’s purpose. But unlike Cyril’s dragon, this singer painted at the entrance of this graffiti tagged tunnel seeks to save rather than destroy your life.  For people who are immersed in daily life in Atlanta, whether walking, jogging, or biking this path … the singer beckons them to be aware of another world, a world of grace which overcomes all suffering and darkness.

           Something like this happens in our gospel reading from John this morning.  Let me set the scene a little for you.  Jesus is speaking to his disciples in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, the night in which Jesus gives us the Lord’s Supper.  He is drawing His teaching to a close and is trying to get them ready for what is about to happen.  His disciples are about to enter into the fear and confusion of Christ’ Passion, of His betrayal, suffering, and death.  Jesus knows what’s going to happen, what lies ahead, but they don’t.  Jesus says, “the time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone” (John 16:32).  These disciples who have followed Jesus for three years, they have seen his miracles, the healings, the restoration of sight, hearing, and walking, the feeding of thousands, the raising of the dead, they have seen them and they have heard him.  They have heard him teach like no one else has ever taught, preach like no one else has ever preached … and now after three years of being close to Him, they will ultimately desert Him.  As darkness falls and as evil arises, these disciples will run and scatter and leave Jesus all alone.  Jesus alone will bear the wrath of his Father.  He alone will take on the curse that has fallen upon all of creation.  And He alone will be their salvation.

           Though His song is sorrowful … the words of Jesus promise His disciples life.  Running away will not save them.  What will save them though is His victory over sin, evil, and the fallen world.  So, as His disciples are about to enter into a dark tunnel … Jesus sings to them a song of His victorious love.  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). 

           Jesus will not take His disciples out of the world.  He will not offer them a life free from trouble.  No, Jesus is honest with them, and He is honest with us.  In this world, we will have trouble, we will have trials and tribulations.  There will be darkness and death.  Evil with shadow over us.  Despite this though, we will also have this eternal gift, this eternal gift of peace.  Why?  Because Jesus, in His death and resurrection, has victoriously overcome sin, suffering, and tribulation in this world.

           So with these words … Jesus encourages His disciples in that Upper Room, and He encourages us today.  He opens for us a way to walk through suffering and to sing our song of salvation as we talk directly to our heavenly Father (16:26-27).

           This mural in Atlanta, it is one Christian artist’s way of singing her song and celebrating the power and love of God that brings His people through suffering.  You see, Suzy Schultz is the artist.  The portrait is of a neighbor who came to her studio and sang.  As he sang, she captured his song in pictures.  His songs were gospel songs, old melodies taught to him by his mother.  Now, he is painted, not in a studio, but out in the world.  Out in the world where these gospel songs are needed by all who pass by.  Why?  Because in this world, we all have trouble.  And we are all in need of the good news that Jesus Christ has overcome the world.

           For Schultz, this is actually the foundation of her art.  In her artist statement, she writes about “the second innocence.”  The first innocence is, “A beauty that is young, unmarried, untested.”  The second innocence is, “One in which the beauty is a result of the scars borne from the battles of life.”  As Suzy explains, when she started as an artist, she left the comfort of a reliable job, a supportive mentor, and a steady income.  As those things were taken away, she entered, “a very dark couple of years.”  But, when what was familiar was taken away, she discovered, “the things in my life that really grounded me.”  And one of those things was her faith.  She sought out people who had weathered the painful cares of this world and possessed a sacred beauty, a second innocence, a reflection of God’s grace.

           So, in the city of Atlanta, alongside a graffiti tagged tunnel, stands this singer of grace.  And here, today, in this congregation, alongside the cares of life which trouble you, comes Jesus.  Jesus in our reading from John, comes to you and He is singing His song of grace.  This song of grace gave voice to God’s victory for the disciples on the night when He was betrayed, on a night when their lives would fall apart

           And now, today, after Jesus’ resurrection, His song of grace gives voice to God’s victory for you when your world is falling apart, for along your journey through the troubles of this world, through our graffiti tagged tunnels.

           “In this world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Amen.

           The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.

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