Mark 5: 21-43

Today’s Gospel reading contrasts our human impatience with God’s infinite patience and steadfastness.

Jesus gets off the boat after returning from a trip with the disciples and is immediately is accosted by Jairus, local religious leader whose daughter is dying; He asks Jesus to go to his house right away and heal the little girl; Jesus agrees. On the way to the house with the crowd pressing in among him, a woman who has been dealing with a bleeding problem for 12 years who is so desperate for healing, touched Jesus’ cloak and is healed.

Yet instead of continuing on, Jesus stops to converse with the healed woman and apparently the little girl dies. Think about it in today’s medical terms, the woman with a chronic condition is getting attention instead of the little girl who has an acute condition. This makes no sense. It is absolutely irrational. In fact, it’s worse than that: it’s malpractice. If these two were in the same emergency room, any doctor who treated the woman first and let the little girl die would be sued.

Can you imagine how that father felt when Jesus stopped to talk with the woman while his little girl was in the process of dying? “What are you doing? Don’t you understand the situation? Hurry or it will be too late.

The little girl needs help from you now. Hurry Jesus Hurry!”

But Jesus will not be hurried, even after receiving definite word that Jairus’ daughter was reported dead. At that point Jesus calmly says to the distraught man, “Don’t be afraid, just believe” (5:36)

In essence Jesus says to Jairus, Trust me. Be patient. There’s no need to hurry. This is hard to understand for us in our “I want it and I want it now” culture. A culture that demands faster and faster internet connections, honks or worse when someone cuts in front of us on the highway. Can’t stand to wait in line at the grocery store; a culture that demands overnight packages and so on.

Yes, God’s sense of timing will confound ours. His grace rarely operates according to our schedule. When Jesus looks at Jairus and says, “Trust me be patient”, he is looking over that man’s head and at all of us and saying, “I’m telling you that my grace and love are compatible with what seems to you to be unconscionable delays”. It’s not ‘I will not be hurried even though I love you: it’s I will not be hurried because I love you. And if you try to impose your understanding of schedule and timing on me, you will struggle to feel loved by me.’ When I look at God’s delays in my life, I realize that a great deal of my problem has been rooted in arrogance. I say something like this, ‘Ok you are the eternal Son of God, you’ve lived for all eternity, you created the universe. But actually I know better than you do about how my life should be going. Get on the ball.’

At such moments I have delusions of my own self-importance in the affairs of the universe. Of course it means that I am acting out of fear and insecurity. But the message today is that we can come, to God freely in faith and trust.

It wasn’t some sort of magic touch that healed the woman and raised the young girl. It was their faith. To the woman Jesus said, “your faith has made you well:” to Jairus “do not fear only believe.”

For you see, faith though itself powerless, is the channel through which Jesus’s power can work. He is not a one man emergency center. He was of course bringing God’s healing power but his aim went beyond that. Christ’s healing miracles were signs of the deeper healing that God was to accomplish through his death and resurrection. Those are the means by which the living God is remaking and healing the world, for you and me, and for those for whom we pray. Faith, however much fear and trembling may accompany it, is the sign that we believe that this indeed is what God is doing.

Today we are being asked to move beyond seeing God as a quick fix, Jesus on demand as it were; we don’t like them but God’s delays can result in greater trust in God’s purposes for us and all of His creation; in a time of great calamity for Israel the writer of Lamentations saw those greater purposes; the writer penned words that have sustained millions of believers throughout the ages; maybe they will strike a chord with you this morning. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning; great is your faithfulness O Lord, great is your faithfulness. Amen.

Proper 7B

There is no end to sermons on this story that allegorizes the boat, and everything else in this sea passage tale. I’ve done it many times through the years; you’ve often heard it: “how many times does it feel like you are in a storm and Jesus is asleep at the stern?” “What are the storms that are tossing your life around?” Good questions- but there is another way to look at it which is that a boat is simply what it is, a traveling vessel, a means by which to get from one place to another. Maybe one of the things this Gospel story points to, is that Jesus is just trying to get us to the other side.

That is something in and of itself because most of us, left to our own devices, would rather stay where we are. That’s human nature, but it is also to be the nature of faith. We can’t seem to hear Jesus’ invitation, “let us go to the other side.” How easy it is to stay in our comfort zones, to remain in what is known, even if that which is known has lost its luster. So we sit. And we wait. For what? The right time? For someone else to make the first move? Maybe this is why Jesus doesn’t give the disciples any time to think about the trip.

But here’s the thing, Jesus seems rather dissatisfied with letting us live on one side of the lake for too long, letting inertia rule. So he takes his disciples to the other side. And getting to the other side is no easy trip. Perhaps there will be a torrential downpour, or dead calm, maybe a giant challenge waiting to greet us on the other side. That’s what happens when Jesus tries to move us from one place to another. That’s the nature of change.

If the disciples had said to Jesus “well, what if there is a storm?” they would have never gotten into the boat because there are always storms on the Sea of Galilee, many coming without notice. If the disciples had said to Jesus, “Well first tell us what’s on the other side?” they would have never gotten into the boat because what happened is that when they arrived in the country of the Garasenes- today’s Golan Heights area of Israel, they were going to encounter a demon-possessed guy who lived in a cemetery and Jesus was going to send his demons into a herd of two thousand pigs. and then the pigs are going to go jump into the lake. I mean you can’t make this stuff up.

The hardest thing is getting into the boat. I don’t know exactly what that looks like for you personally I don’t know you well enough, but I do know in Bobby Dylan’s inimitable words, “The times they are a changing”. Our social culture is changing, church culture certainly is changing, and our personal lives will inevitably face change of some sort-perhaps sooner rather than later. All that can seem daunting if not scary but the text offers some good news.

Notice that Jesus does not say, you go to the other side, but let us go to the other side. Jesus was there all along no matter what Jesus was doing, whether that be preaching about parables or sleeping on a pillow. The promise of this text is also that there is something on the other side that Jesus knows about-and needs to get us to. Naturally the journey has its own set of challenges-the disciples have to see Jesus differently, themselves differently. It means living into a new reality. And that takes some getting used to. But when your location changes- your point of view changes so does your perspective and others’ perspective of you. When your location changes, so do you. Someone once said, “Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck.”

Perhaps the act of faith is not just the trust that Jesus will still the storm. It is also taking Jesus’ invitation to heart. In this case the act of faith is getting into the boat. It is believing that a different landscape-another way of seeing things is not only possible, it is essential. Amen.

Sabbath, Proper 4B

Concept of the Sabbath dates from the earliest times in the history of God’s people. Genesis 2 tells us that: God rested, blessed the 7th day and allowed it, and so the idea was born that if God needed a rest certainly human beings do, and so by the time of Moses it became encoded in the ten commandments: remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. After that, the lawyers got a hold of it.

The Pharisees in their honest attempt to figure out each and everything that might be considered work in every circumstance on the Sabbath, actually missed the purpose of the day of rest in providing for the overall well-being of humanity.

When they complained to Jesus about the disciples taking grain to feed the poor, He rightly told them that the Sabbath was not an end in and of itself but is meant to be a blessing. Sabbath is made for our benefit.

So what does the concept of a day of rest, Sabbath, mean for us today? How does it apply?

Seems to me that in today’s American society we’ve got the opposite problem of the Pharisees. We need to figure out how not to be so perpetually wound-up in work, things to do that we never get any rest. If we ever want to know the degree to which we are enslaved by the passion of always being on the go& doing things, all we have to do is to observe the difficulty we have in maintaining a Sabbath rhythm. We live in a time in which everything is timed- I have so much time to do this, I have to finish this and do that. Even Sunday or whatever our time of rest is becomes a day to finish up all the work we haven’t been able to complete-so in fact we become perpetually wound up.

Keeping the Sabbath-reminds us that our worth as human beings does not come from work, what we do, rather life is a gift. The Sabbath reminds us that our true identity and value come not from what we do but who God is, and what God has done for us.

A time set aside just to be a time for giving thanks to God for creation, relationship, country, to worship, to praise; Sabbath reminds us that we are not in charge of our lives. Sabbath reminds us that we are dependent.

It’s a day to enter into eternity; meant to be a day of delight, a day of gladness, doing things we delight in. For me it’s taking a nap and watching a baseball game. For my wife it’s working in the garden.

Marva Dawn, “A great benefit of Sabbath keeping is that we can learn to let God take care of us-not by becoming passive and lazy but in the freedom of at least for one day a week giving up our feeble attempts to be God in our own lives. Celebrating a holy day and living in God’s rhythm for six days of work and one of rest is the best way to learn the sense of our call the way in which God’s kingdom reclaims us, revitalizes us, and renews us, so that God’s love can be manifested in and through us. Before we live out our call as the baptized, we need to be captured afresh by grace, carried by it and cared for.

Sabbath-keeping today is counter cultural- it involves some intentionality and discipline without it becoming a rigid obligation. In today’s world a flexible response is called for to be sure, however Jesus’ words that a Sabbath is meant to be a blessing meant for our well-being are as true today as when they were originally spoken.

Amen

Trinity Sunday

Despite marvels of modern communication technology, there is mounting evidence that many of our increasing number of gadgets are aiding and abetting a growing national pandemic in American culture: isolation and lack of social interaction.

How can one not, on the one hand fail to be in awe with these instruments of communication that allow us to communicate faster and more efficiently than ever before, but on the other hand minimize and lessen our face to face communication- whether it be talking on the cell phone, emailing, and texting-often while driving!

Robert Putnam, sociologist at Harvard, and author of the best-selling book Bowling Alone goes even further. He writes, “The distinctive effect of technology has been to enable us to get entertainment and information while remaining entirely alone.” Putnam’s research shows since the 1970s there has been a precipitous decline in engagement in the life of the community that has traditionally formed the backbone of American civil and religious life. He finds that Americans are increasingly isolating themselves via technology, with friendships and commitment to community is dying as we spend more and more time staring at screens and yakking on cell phones, touching base with our millions of friends on Facebook,-as opposed to seeing people honestly and forthrightly, face to face, with the emotional riches and challenges therein. A former Surgeon General summarized his recent experience as a doctor in a recent article by saying that in his years of caring for patients, the most common pathologies he saw were heart disease and diabetes but now it was loneliness. He went on to say that patients came to see him because loneliness made them sick. Weak social connections have health effects similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and a greater negative effect than obesity he said. Last year in our land, 8.2% of Americans under 25 suffered from severe mental health issues.

So, the question is, since my guess is that these instruments of communication will continue to grow and flourish, are there places where interpersonal relationships and community are not just valued but are hallmarks of the very nature of the organization. Who can offer a remedy to this growing sense of isolation, lack of social contact and loneliness?

One answer is the Church. I believe the church can be and should be a place where interpersonal relationships and sense of community are lifted

 

up, valued and nurtured. This is so in large part to our understanding of the Trinity. That’s right!

Now let’s face it, the Trinity is a difficult concept for even the most ardent church-goers and believers to grasp. In the historical documents section of the Prayer Book you will find the Athanasian Creed. It states: And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible! What?

The Trinity is incomprehensible in one’s ability to communicate the person and functions of the three members of the Trinity but in terms of our practical lives, the Trinity informs us that God exists in community, in relationship and that love is generated only through this relationship, overflowing into the very creation of the world itself. Therefore the relationships that exist in the Godhead are the basis and a model of all our relationships. These relationships are self-giving, shared, interactive and overflowing and therefore potentially offer an antidote to the epidemic of loneliness and isolation that exists in our culture today. 3 ways:

1) The Church can be a place where we are known and appreciated for who we are-warts and all. Remember the 80’s sitcom Cheers? Regulars and visitors found a safe place where as the theme song put it, “everyone knows your name.” We share this life around the altar with bread and wine and not a bar with Budweiser, but you get the point! This is huge!

2) Love, energy, care are generated from our relationships- as they are from the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; therefore the church can be a place where we can honor our diversity and learn to express our differences face to face, speaking the truth in love precisely because we have learned how to interact with the other; and when we blow it, when we hurt each other as we will continue to do, the church can be place where we are forgiven. I’m not sure you can be forgiven over e-mail.

3) Finally, the acceptance and confidence we have learned by interacting with one another, will often flow out beyond the walls of the church into the larger community-to engage folks out there who are isolated and lonely, hurting and afraid; maybe that initiative could be the means by which people would be encouraged to come and see the power of community here at Grace Church in its various ministries.

Modern technology is here to stay; it is neither good nor bad. It offers advantages and disadvantages, but it cannot be and never will be a substitute for genuine human interaction. Relationship and community are gifts offered by the Holy Trinity to the whole of creation. Oddly enough, maybe it is the proliferation of modern means of communication and its focus on “by myself” that will cause people to yearn for something richer and deeper than any Facebook or e-mail can provide- a community that welcomes and offers genuine love, care and relationship-not virtually but face to face;

Amen.

Pentecost

As Jews from around the world poured into Jerusalem for the harvest festival known as Pentecost, 120 of Jesus’ closest friends and followers, including his mother Mary, gathered for the arrival of the Father’s promise. (Acts 1:4). He had told them that his earthly departure would not leave them alone; another form of God’s abiding presence the Holy Spirit would soon descend upon them and would reside with them forever. More than that, Christ had told them that through the Holy Spirit they would do greater works than he did in his earthly ministry. (John 14); But what would that presence look like? More importantly, what did it mean? The disciples waited and prayed.

Then it happened. Like a giant piñata filled with delightful and wonderful gifts, God’s spirit burst upon the scene taking up residence in Jesus’ disciples; what a day they experienced: a holy fire entered their lives, they received the gift of language, Peter preached the first Christian sermon, 3,000 were baptized, and Luke reported that “awe came upon everyone because of the many wonders and signs that were being done by the apostles.”(Acts 2:43). Detractors in the crowd reported that they were drunk!

A new day had dawned; the world would never be the same.

Now it’s 2,000 years later in human chronology, but in God’s time (kairos) we are still in that day-God’s new era is still upon us. In fact, judging by the explosive growth of Christianity around the world these days, maybe it is High Noon. For us gathered here this morning, the feast of Pentecost is not some historical event framed by the obscurity of history but a time to recognize and to celebrate the working of the Spirit in our time here and now in our midst. And while on the one hand it is comforting to know that God is with us, as we open ourselves to the Spirit’s working here, we must acknowledge a lack of control. The piñata breaks open and the kitchen floor is littered with gifts. The spirit is uncontrollable and messy. Not to mention dangerous.

You might think you are going one way, but the Spirit urges another. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (John 3:8). This feature of obedience to the Spirit requires a flexible response! We should for instance expect the power of God instead of being surprised by it. Author Annie Dillard once said that if we really understood what is going on with the Holy

Spirit we would wear crash helmets. The Holy Spirit comes to move us out of our comfort zone, our natural inertia. Do you think Peter ever thought he could preach a sermon with such power and confidence that 3,000 listeners would be baptized on the spot?

The anointing of the Holy Spirit confers upon Christ’s followers a radical freedom to set out on new and uncharted roads. As Grace Church embarks on a new chapter in its 116 year history, it will be interesting to see how the Advocate (John’s Gospel favorite term for the Holy Spirit) will challenge you and renew you.

From Holy Scripture and Church history we know that a congregation that is open to the Spirit’s presence in its midst will understand that its primary purpose will be to witness to all people the abiding presence of Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life, in their lives; therefore it will by definition place a priority on welcoming the stranger, practicing hospitality and truth telling; because it recognizes and applauds the variety of spiritual gifts in its midst, the spirit filled church be one that is open to diversity. It will not be threatened by a variety of worship expressions or styles of prayer or praise; it will rejoice that some are called to ministries outside the walls of the church and others to nurture and form gifts within the Church; it will understand that each gift is given by the Spirit for the common good-and it will in the midst of different gifts and different perspectives of ministry be unified in its love of God in Christ. It will proclaim, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.

A parish open to the movement of the Holy Spirit will organize itself not on the basis of secular organizational maintenance models but through the gifts that are present in the body of Christ; it will seek to mobilize and form these gifts for God’s work in the world. It will seek to form disciples in an intentional and systematic way.

Brothers and sisters, God’s harvest time is well underway; like that first Pentecost it draws people together in a mysterious and compelling way. God’s Spirit hovers around us as we gather in prayer, listening for its call upon our lives, confident Christ is present with us and among us now and forever. I feel confident that as Grace Church enters a new chapter in its mission as a witness for Christ in Greene County and beyond, the Holy Spirit has great things in store for this congregation. Just make sure you are wearing your crash helmets.

Amen.

Ascension Sunday

I couldn’t find an Ascension Day card at the grocery store this week. That surprised me because there is a greeting card for just about every occasion you can think of. Grandparents day; love your pet day. you name it; However there was a rumor floating around a few years ago that Hallmark came up with a proto-type for an Ascension Day card- on the front was a picture of Jesus levitating just above the ground, saying goodbye to his followers and then when you opened the card it said, “Beam me up Scottie.” but that didn’t go over too well with with the focus group.

The Ascension is a hard sell to our modern sensibilities. And so we ignore it or leave it alone. Of all the major Christian feasts it is the hardest for us to comprehend; not like the incarnation-who doesn’t love a baby or an image like the Good Shepherd which are easy to relate to; I mean how does one relate to God saying goodbye?

Despite the image problem, the Christian church has considered Jesus’ Ascension from its earliest days as a very important indeed crucial event otherwise we wouldn’t have “he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” in the Nicene Creed and references like “recalling his death, resurrection and ascension we offer you these gifts” in our Eucharistic Prayers.

And here are several reasons why this is so:

  • He ascended, the letter of the Ephesians tells us, “that he might fill all ” As the human Jesus is lifted up, he carries us with him; he lifts us up literally and figuratively. Which by the way is why every Sunday we respond to “Lift up your hearts”, with “we lift them up unto the Lord.” The Ascension celebrates the exaltation of Christ over the world, his triumph over sin and death, and the establishment of the new order which he brings, called the kingdom of God in the Bible- a reign, by the way, not of geography or politics, but one ruling over human hearts and minds. Because of this triumph, because the Jesus of History has now become the Ascended Christ, free from the limitations of being in a particular time and place nothing can separate us from his victorious love.
  • Jesus physical removal is for Luke the condition for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Departs and soon, within days, God the Holy Spirit will be arriving. So long as Jesus was physically present he was available only to those he directly encountered. By the Spirit he became powerfully present to many throughout history and for all time starting with those confused, men and women he left behind to be his Those witnesses, through the power of the Spirit, changed the world.

What about for us? What is the good news of the Ascension for our lives here and now?

Despite all the jokes about up up and away, because of Christ’s Ascension and through the power of the Holy Spirit we can daily encounter Jesus and what he continues to do. We aren’t left staring at where Jesus used to be-whether in history, or in our own life experiences or in our own settled opinions and interpretations.

Because he ascended we continue to encounter Jesus through Word and Sacraments, through the fellowship of the Church, through our ministries especially with the poor, the neglected, the excluded, and the hurting. And because Jesus has ascended as our risen Lord, none of the departures we experience, departures of relationships, of health, or of life itself can harm us or rob us of God’s good promise to be with us always. For that we can and should celebrate The Ascension with praise and thanksgiving.

Amen.

Acts 8:26-40

The incident between the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip, in Acts 8 …

Good Shepherd

Good Shepherd
April 22, 2018

One day a shepherd was herding his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a car drives up, and an old guy leans out of the car window and says, hello there, “I’m from flock central; I’ve been trained in helping people like you to know about all the modern trends of shepherding. I’ve got a lot of tools at my disposal; mind if I offer you some advice; and by the way if I can tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock will you give me one?”

The shepherd somewhat skeptical nevertheless replied, sure. So the man gets out of the car, whips out a notebook, connects it to a cell phone, that has a google map application on it; he scans the area and opens a database with some 50 spread sheets with complex formulas. Finally he prints out some 35 spreadsheets on his portable printer and turns to the shepherd and says, “You have exactly 581 sheep. Amazed the shepherd replies “that’s correct. So you can have one of the sheep.

So the old guy picked a sheep out and put it in the car; As he was about to leave, the Shepherd asked, “ If I can tell you exactly what your business is will you give me my sheep back? “Why not,” said man; “You are an interim” said shepherd. This time it was the old man who was amazed. “That’s correct how did you guess?” “Easy,” said the shepherd, “you turn up here out of the blue, with all your supposed knowledge of how I should manage my flock which I have been doing faithfully for years. And you don’t know anything about me or my flock because you just selected my dog!”

So much for experts -consultants or interim vicars who come into a situation with enough knowledge to be dangerous! Nevertheless with a dose of humility and hats off to those of you who have been here faithfully for a long time and know this parish much better than I do let me make a few observations based this morning’s Gospel reading.

Amid Jesus discourse on being the “Good Shepard” what jumped out to me was Jesus’ bold assertion that “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”(John 10:16)

What this statements says to me and I hope to you is that quite simply Jesus isn’t done yet. Despite his healing, despite his preaching, despite all that he had already done and planned to do, Jesus isn’t done yet. He still has more sheep to reach, sheep that are not yet in this fold. And for us today, it means God isn’t done yet for us either.

Why does this matter for Grace Church at this particular moment?

  • First, God continues to seek out and to bring into his fold people from all walks of life, from every nation, nationality, including all those new folks who are moving into Greene County . God’s mission field is huge; In other words, God holds the future of the Church- this parish. We do not have to worry that the future is up to us. This is not a Little Engine that could moment. Our primary role is to be a people of prayer-to give thanks for who we are now; to discern God’s will for what this parish might look like in the future.
  • Second God is at work in our midst and through us and and through this parish in Stanardsville to extend the invitation to abundant life offered by the Good Shepherd; furthermore, God is using our lives and words to invite people to faith; to come and see; and there is a lot to commend here-let me tell you; there is! Its too good to kept behind closed doors! Can we imagine that simply by praying for someone or inviting someone to Church we might be the vessel by which God continues to reach out and embrace the sheep-all those people out there- from beyond this fold that is Grace Church? Can we?
  • Third and finally; the possibilities of more sheep in the fold are beyond our Let’s not circle the wagons, not a time to be down in the dumps, rather it is time to be in an Advent mode, expectant; open; positive. All we know is that God isn’t done yet. . Jesus is still calling, God is still searching.
  • I know more and more people perhaps you are one of them, who are worried about friends and family who no longer go to Church, who don’t necessarily identify as Christian anymore. Clearly the landscape of a Christian culture in America is changing. For some of you it is hard for you to digest that you will only be able to afford a part time vicar this time around. Yes old patterns of church are dying but new ones are emerging. The resurrection metaphor holds true for parishes as it does for

Once again the key is prayer. Right now our call is to pray that God would work in and through us to share rich life we’ve experienced. We need to pray that Grace Church can grow during this transitional time-remembering that there are lots of ways of growing;

This is a time to affirm that we can trust to God all those people out there; we can do that simply because of the faith God showed in us by sending the Good Shepherd, the one who lays down his life for us and all people :: and he does that out of nothing other than sheer, abiding, and eternal love.

Amen.

3 Easter

3 Easter,
Luke 24:13-35

In this short two week sermon series we are trying to figure out our world now that Jesus Christ has been risen from the dead. We believe that Easter is true, but so what? What difference does the resurrection make for our daily lives here and now?
Last week we looked at John 20 and discovered that the resurrection of Christ brings free unmerited unconditional forgiveness into our lives; it is the heart of the matter and we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven. Forgiveness is the first part of this thing we call the Easter life.
Today’s Biblical passage from Luke known as the Road to Emmaus gives us another insight into how we can live into an Easter life; another antidote to Easter so what.
Two folks are walking away from the Crucifixion. They are sad and despondent, preoccupied at the death of their Master. Think about a major disappointment in your life and you will get a sense of how they are feeling.
Jesus comes up to them and joins them in their walk but they don’t recognize him. He asks them what they are discussing and he receives a snarky response: are you the only person who doesn’t know what happened on Friday; The Romans crucified Jesus of Nazareth, ‘we had hoped that he would redeem Israel;’
They walk on. J. explains to them that the recent events in Jerusalem make sense in light of scripture’s promises. Then at the dinner that evening, when Jesus broke the bread, their eyes were opened and they recognized him. They ran all the way back to Jerusalem to rejoin their friends. They thought that the Jesus movement had ended but it was just beginning.
Instead of believing “they crucified him and we had hoped he would redeem Israel,’ they now saw that “they crucified him and that was how he did redeem Israel.” Whereas they thought God would redeem his people from suffering. Instead they saw that God in Christ would redeem his people in and through the difficulties they found themselves in.
If Easter is true it means that we better be ready for Jesus to come along aside us, in our time of trouble, maybe when we least expect it. If Easter is true, then losing heart, giving in to despair are not the final answer to bleak situations. If God can transform an evil, bloody crucifixion into a grand triumph, well who knows what God can do with our setbacks, dead ends, failures and frustrations. No place is beyond the reach of God’s redeeming grace, if Easter is true.
If Easter is true it means that we too can come along side others who are going thru times of heartbreak, disappointment and loss to offer encouragement, friendship and hope.
A long time ago now I heard a story that has never left me and illustrates this point.
In the midst of a terrible battle, two soldiers who were friends became separated. As the fighting raged on all sides, one of the two soldiers suddenly saw his friend lying on the ground, badly wounded and with no protection from the bullets and the bombs. The soldier turned to his lieutenant and begged for permission to go to his friend, to try to rescue him, to try to carry him out of the firefight and to safety. The lieutenant forbade him, saying, “ I order you not to go. You would stand no chance of coming back alive.”
A moment later, while the lieutenant was turned in another direction, the soldier took off. He ran into the clearing, knelt by his friend, picked him up and began to run. Part way back, a spray of bullets hit him. But stumbling, he made it back to safety with his friend. The lieutenant came over. He was furious and grief-stricken at the same time. He said to the soldier, “what a waste. Look at your friend. He’s gone. You brought back a dead body. And look at you. Look at your wounds. What a waste.”
The soldier looked up at the lieutenant. He smiled a sweet, sweet smile. And he said, “Lieutenant, it wasn’t a waste. When I got there, my friend was alive. He looked up at me. And he said to me, “I knew you’d come.”
Because of the resurrection of Christ There is no place in this world, and no moment in this life, even in death in which we may not say to Jesus, “I knew you’d come.”
And as the Easter people, we are like the soldier who disobeyed the lieutenants’ order not to go after his dying friend. Our world says people are expendable; life is cheap; you’re hurting so what, not my business; anyway; don’t get involved.
But to our throw away, get over it world, Jesus says: No, No, NO! Rather he says, ‘I have redeemed the world; every life is precious;’ And so he says to us go into the world to meet people where they are, to walk with them in their hurt and pain, to show people they are not abandoned, that there is meaning in suffering, light at the end of the tunnel. We are called as Christ’s disciples to be vehicles of the Easter life in words, in actions and faithful presence. May the people we minister to say, “I knew you’d come.”
Amen.

Easter Day

Easter Day
April 1, 2018
John 20:1-18

As Mary Magdalene made her way down the dark road to Jesus’ tomb, memories of better days in Galilee tried to pierce through the darkness. In a time of need, Jesus had healed her. Hope had taken root in her heart. She became his devoted follower-one of the few who stayed to watch his crucifixion. So, can you imagine her horror when she discovered that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb and inside, it was empty as a drum. She wept. Two angels came and asked her what she was crying about, and she said, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She wasn’t thinking in terms of anything
miraculous; she was thinking simply that even in death they wouldn’t let Jesus be and somebody had stolen his body. What was this, the original April Fool’s Day? What a cruel joke; and it wasn’t not even over yet, because another person came up to her and asked the same questions. Why was she crying? What was she doing there? She decided it must be somebody in charge, like the gardener maybe, and she said if he was the one who had moved the body somewhere else, would he please tell her where it was so she could go there. My goodness this prank has gone on too long; and then, at the height of her despair the resurrected Christ calls her by name. She is absolutely blown out of the water. All she can say is ‘Rabboni.’ Today’s Gospel reading reminds us that no one is ever ready to comprehend Easter until she has spent time in a dark place where hope cannot be seen. Maybe that is you today or someone you know; something has been taken away; something has died; there have been lots of tears. Things seem to go from bad to worse. Resurrection is the last thing we are expecting. This can’t be true can it?

But that’s when it happens- it is precisely when a part of us has died that the crucified and risen Lord speaks to us-directly: through a friend, a community, an event; scripture tells us that ‘if we have died with him, we shall also live with him.’ And that is why Easter terrifies us. It’s about more hope than we can handle. It’s about life emerging out of death.

That’s one of the truths of Easter but there is another important one in St. John’s resurrection account as well; it has to do the nature and character of the God we worship today. We gain this insight from the moment Mary realizes that Jesus is there in front of her, not dead but alive. In her indescribable joy she lunges to embrace the risen Christ but is rebuffed. He tells her not to hold onto him.

Now this part of the Biblical narrative is difficult for huggers. I mean doesn’t a long hard hug seem the appropriate thing to do at such a moment? But no, we hear a ‘don’t touch me.’ What does it mean? For Mary it means that Jesus is not just her teacher any more; it means a new relationship with him that was not going to be like her old relationship. Soon he wouldn’t be going around Galilee and Judea any more, walking about with his followers, sharing regular meals, discussing, talking, and praying. They would see him now and then –but soon it would be time for him “to go to the Father” as he had promised over and over. What Jesus is telling Mary is don’t try to keep me, possess me.

And that’s true for us as well. Easter means that nothing can hold Jesus anymore not even death itself; it means opening up our puny imaginations, letting God out of the box we’ve put him in. It means we cannot have God on our own terms. We are called to let go of the Jesus of our memory, a fixed image of who he is. (I grew up thinking Jesus was a Norwegian!) Mary Magdalene was never the same after her encounter with the risen Christ. Neither is anyone who has learned that what matters is not that we be confident in our hold on God– but confident in his hold of us. Seeing that, we can be ready for anything. After the resurrection, things do not return to normal. That’s good news. It is basic to everything else the New Testament proclaims. After encountering a risen Christ we see that there is no normal. Now even the dark times don’t seem so dark anymore. All we know for sure is that a risen Savior is on the loose. And he knows our names (NAME PEOPLE HERE). He wants us to know him and be changed by him. It’s an open invitation. Amen.