Delegate-Committee

Delegate!

These are the jobs we are assigned to do as the Church Council, according to the Book of Discipline:

  1. Plan and implement all the programs of nurture, outreach, witness and resources.
  2. Administer the church organization
  3. Envision, Plan, Implement and Evaluate the mission and ministry of the church.
  4. Act as the administrative agency of the charge conference.

That is a lot to accomplish for a group that meets for 90 minutes once a month. Yet, according to the Discipline, all of this is our job to provide for.

So, how is it possible?

 

Exodus 18 (MSG)

13-14  Moses took his place to judge the people. People were standing before him all day long… When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What’s going on here? Why are you doing all this, and all by yourself…?”

15-16 Moses said, “Because the people come to me with questions about God. When something comes up, they come to me. I judge between [them] and teach them God’s laws and instructions.”

17-23 Moses’ father-in-law said, “This is no way to go about it. You’ll burn out, and the people right along with you. This is way too much for you—you can’t do this alone. Now listen to me. Let me tell you how to do this so that God will be in this with you… Your job is to teach them the rules and instructions, to show them how to live, what to do. And then you need [to appoint competent people as leaders over smaller groups]… They’ll be responsible for the everyday work of judging among the people. They’ll bring the hard cases to you, but in the routine cases they’ll be the judges. They will share your load and that will make it easier for you. If you handle the work this way, you’ll have the strength to carry out whatever God commands you, and the people in their settings will flourish also.”

24-27 Moses listened to the counsel of his father-in-law and did everything he said.

 

The advice Jethro offered Moses was to delegate.

He didn’t have to shoulder all of the responsibility himself. He didn’t have to do it all on his own. And by delegating responsibility and sharing authority, both Moses and the people would flourish.

First, he had to train those additional leaders and equip them… you can’t be responsible for something if you don’t know what the expectations are.

But then Moses had to get out of their way. He didn’t have time to micro-manage. They didn’t have time to continually come back and ask if they were doing it right.

They all needed to trust one another.

As a result, Moses could periodically check-in and evaluate his leaders. And, he was available when there were big issues to discuss.

 

As the Ad Council, we could look at our purpose statement as defined by the Book of Discipline and try to shoulder it all ourselves, as Moses did at first.

Or, we can delegate.

When we delegate, we make clear the expectations by setting goals and strategy and communicating our vision and mission. Then, we need to empower our committees to do the work of ministry.

We give them a budget, we make sure they understand our vision as a church, and then they have the responsibility and authority to do whatever they need to do, within those parameters, as their work.

This means the council is freed up to truly handle the big picture and major decisions. We are freed to hold the church and committees accountable for living into our mission and vision.

“If you handle the work this way, you’ll have the strength to carry out whatever God commands you, and the people in their settings will flourish also.”

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You Will Be My Witnesses

I want us to take a few moments this morning to reflect on what God has done in our lives.

In the back of each of the pews, there are little notepads and there are pencils and pens. Or you can take some of the space in your bulletin where it says “I praise God because…” As we think about what God has done in our individual lives, I want to encourage you to jot down some notes.

Take a deep breath and pay attention to your life.

Where has the power of creation and creativity been present?

Where have you experienced healing or forgiveness?

When were love and joy given to you?

What about grace and peace?

 

Forty days after Jesus rose from the grave and conquered death, he led the disciples out to the countryside to the little town of Bethany. And he reminded them of everything he had done.

Jesus reminded them of how he healed and forgave.

He reminded them of his words and truth.

He connected the dots for them and helped them to understand his suffering and death.

And then he said five simple words: “you will be my witnesses.”

He blessed them.

And he left them.

On that day, forty days after Easter, Jesus was taken up into heaven.

And the disciples worshiped him, were filled with joy, and continuously praised God.

 

One of the questions I always have wrestled with is WHY the ascension is such good news. Why is this moment so important?

 

Wouldn’t it be so much better if Jesus had stayed here on earth with us? Teaching and preaching? Leading us? Showing us how to live?

 

The disciples, who had been so scared and timid in the days after his death are suddenly celebrating his leaving.

 

In their commentary on this text, the General Board of Discipleship reminded us that heaven is not really “up.”  As we know from our modern scientific inquiry – and I quote from the GBOD: “If Jesus went ‘up there,’ he would have frozen to death, suffocated, been dangerously irradiated, or ripped to shreds by black holes (if he got that far!).”

No, this language of going up… of ascension… is really the “language of enthronement.”

In the ascension of Jesus, he rises not simply from the grave, but up to his full authority.

He no longer walks and talks among us but he is now “seated at the right hand of the Father.”

He is no longer the prophetic carpenter from Galilee, but he has risen to his fullest stature as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The ascension is the completion of the resurrection.

And that is a good and holy and awesome thing.

 

But there is something else to the ascension that we often miss.

In the incarnation of Jesus, we celebrate the word of God was made flesh. We witness how God came down and was born as a tiny babe in Bethlehem.

Every aspect of our human life was experienced by God.

Love and loss.

Stubbed toes and broken promises.

Laughter and tears.

Disappointment and overwhelming joy.

Fear and grief.

Jesus experienced the fullness of our lives – and the ultimate depths of suffering and death.

 

God entered our humanity in the birth of Jesus… that little child who was fully divine.

And when Jesus Christ – a man of flesh and blood, a fully human being who ate and drank and lived and died – when Christ is taken up into heaven, all of humanity is taken up to God also.

 

These two moments: the incarnation and the ascension unite the human and the divine. They establish an unbreakable relationship.

The reason that we can “go up” and experience the fullness of life in the divine presence is because Jesus is already there. He has shown the way.

The majestic and awesome Lord and King knows us and in spite of that, loves us and died for us and has made space for us.

 

For that… we praise and thank God.

So with the psalmist, we clap our hands in joy! For God is king of the whole world. God has gone up with a joyous shout! Sing praises!

 

This holy and awesome God intimately knows our lives. Jesus has not left us… he has united us with the divine.

You will be my witnesses.

You are going to tell my story.

Jesus unites humanity with God and empowers us to carry on the work of love and grace and transformation in the world. “You will be furnished with heavenly power,” he says as he is carried up into heaven.

 

We don’t have to share this good news in order to earn our place with God… it is something we do out of deep gratitude for what we have already been given.

Think about that list you made.

Of the ways God has worked in your life.

You didn’t have to do anything to earn that love and grace and forgiveness. It was freely given to you out of love.

And out of gratitude and thanksgiving, you are invited to tell the world.

Go, be my witnesses, Jesus says.   Tell the world about what I have done.  Love them because I love them. Share my kingdom with them!

 

One of my favorite blogs is rev-o-lution and the author tells about a sign she saw once in England.  It reads:  “We believe in life before death.”

 

We can get so caught up in life after death, in what happens up there with Jesus and whether or not we are going up there, that we forget about this life.

Jesus invites us to live before we die.

He invites us to go and share and tell and bless and love.

He invites us to not only live, but to share new life with the broken and hurting of this world.

 

As Rev. Mindi writes on her blog: “This is why we work for justice and peace in this world.  This is why we stand against hate and stand for love.”

 

We do not work for the Kingdom of God in order to get up there, but because that Kingdom has already come down here and already dwells in our hearts.  And in Jesus’ ascension, we have been given keys to the Kingdom.

Because he has gone up, we can get down and dirty and engage people in the real mess of their lives.

Because he has gone up, we can stop worrying about whether or not we are saved and we can simply tell people about Jesus and invite them to get to know him and us better.

Because he has gone up, we can stop counting dollars and cents and we can start measuring how deep our conversations are, how real our expressions of love are, and how many people we have shared the story with.

Because “up there” there is really not “UP” at all… all of humanity has been given the opportunity to live life right now in the presence and the power of the divine.

And for that we give thanks.

And we can’t wait to start telling the story.

God Changes Minds

I change my mind all the time.

I like variety. I learn. I grow. I experience new things. I’m in a different mood.

And my understanding and beliefs change as a result.

All. The. Time.

Most recently, we have been doing some work on our backyard.

Early this spring, we removed a few trees. And the morning the workers came to take the trees down, I thought I wanted the pile in one place.

Today, I want it somewhere else.

I changed my mind.

My initial decision was one that had to be made in the moment.

And at the time, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted.

I also thought I understood how much wood there would be.

Now, I’m the first to admit, I was completely and utterly mistaken.

 

woodpileWhat we were left with when the tree company left was an enormous wood pile.

I didn’t have all the information.

I didn’t understand the scope and breadth and depth of what this pile would be. Or how it would block the view of my barberries and take up the entire first level of our retaining wall.

I hadn’t thought about the best way to store said wood in order to help it cure.

I couldn’t see in that moment the bigger picture.

And now, I’m going to build some muscles moving all of those logs… because now, with more information and some experience, my mind was changed.

 

In our reading from Acts today, Peter changed his mind, too.

Or rather God changed Peter’s mind.

Like me, Peter couldn’t see the big picture.

 

He was living his life as a faithful Jewish man and thought he knew exactly what God was about and what God wants from the people. He presumed to understood the rules of faith.

But his knowledge was limited.

He didn’t see the scope and the breadth and the depth of God’s love for all people.

In the prelude to our scripture reading from Acts this morning, Peter has been sent on a missionary journey to the home of Cornelius… a gentile.

A Gentile is anyone who is not Jewish, someone who was not a part of the family of Israel, someone who was an outsider as far as the faith was concerned.

While the scripture describes Cornelius as a God-worshipper, Gentiles had limits on their participation in the Jewish temple.

Second Temple Model, JerusalemThe temple had many different courts, and the requirements to move further and further into the temple, towards the holy of holies, left many out. The big open area you see in the photo is called the Court of the Gentiles. That was the only part of the temple Gentiles could enter.

They were excluded from the rest because they were unclean.  They were different.  They were not welcome.

But many faithful god-fearing folks like Cornelius continued to show up. They continued worshipping God from those outer courts. In spite of the exclusion, they wanted a relationship with God.

 

And God wanted a relationship with them. So God prepares Peter’s heart for a transformation in thinking. Before God sends Peter to Caesarea and the home of Cornelius, he gives him a vision of the clean and unclean joining together.  Peter receives a vision of a new sort of body of Christ.

Then he is summoned to the home of Cornelius, and although he was not allowed by Jewish custom to enter, he did. He went in and ate with the family and he shared with them the good news of Jesus Christ. And as he preached to Cornelius and his family, the Holy Spirit descends upon them and they receive the gift of faith.

 

Peter’s world has just been turned upside down.  Those he thought were outside of God’s love and power have just had it poured upon them.  And exclaims: “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?”

No one could deny their gifts. Water was brought and Cornelius and his whole family were baptized on the spot… they were part of the family of God.

 

When my husband and I decided to take down some trees at our house, we thought we understood the parameters of the proposal. They take down the trees. We keep the mulch and the wood. End of story.

But what exactly are we going to do with all of that wood?

How are we going to store it?

What do we do with the plants that were once in a shady area that now need to be moved?

And what happens to the family of bunnies that has now made their home in the wood pile in its current location?

As soon as a new, unexpected element enters the equation, it is natural that there is some anxiety, some wheel spinning, and chaos.

 

And that is precisely what happened in the aftermath of Peter and Cornelius.

You can take down a tree or two. You can baptize a Gentile family.

But there are going to be repercussions.

Things just won’t be the same.

 

Peter is summoned back to Jerusalem. He is called back to the apostles who heard about what happened and who aren’t so sure they like what has happened.

They start with criticism. They launch into accusations. They read off the rules. I can imagine their frustration growing as they start to wrestle with the implications of what has just happened.

 

The leaders of the early church, like Peter, believed that faith meant one thing, and God was trying to show them it meant something else. But we cling to our traditions, to our rules, to what we know and understand.

I think the number one way God changes our hearts and minds is by helping us experience the world in a different way.

That’s what happened with Peter. God moved him to the right time and place and put Cornelius in his life to give him an undeniable experience of grace and power and Holy Spirit led transformation.

 

But the number two way God changes hearts and minds is by calling those who have had these life-altering experiences to tell their story.

 

The apostles were furious and demanded an explanation.

And Peter gave them one.

 

He told them about his vision.

He told them about how God led him to the house of Cornelius.

He connected what he had experienced of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with what he witnessed first-hand in Caesarea.

In chapter 11, verse 16-17 he testifies: “I remembered the Lord’s words: ‘John will baptize with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If God gave them the same give he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, then who am I? Could I stand in God’s way?”.

 

Seventy five years ago, I probably would not have been welcomed in this pulpit.  As a woman, ordination was out of the question.  A combination of tradition and a patriarchal society and a way of reading the scriptures precluded the church from welcoming women as preachers and pastors.

But here I stand… robed, ordained, my calling from the Holy Spirit confirmed by the church.

At various points throughout our history, faithful folk stood up and exclaimed about women:  These people have received the Holy Spirit… just like we did – How can we stop them from being baptized?  How can we deny them a place at the table?  How can we stop them from being ordained when God has so clearly spoken in their lives?

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism was against women preaching in principle… until he witnessed the Holy Spirit working through the lives of women like Sarah Crosby, Grace Murry, and Hannah Ball.  He relented and licensed them for preaching in the circuits across England.

God changed his mind.

God changed the mind of our church.

God helped us to see a different vision of what the church and our community could be, just as God had done for Peter.

As a young woman, I have always lived in a church that ordained women.  I have always been a part of a church that valued the contributions women made in ministry, in leadership, and in the world.  It has been a given.

But I often wonder where God is going to change our minds next.

 

“I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another,” Peter says.

 

When I was in Washington, D.C. last week for a leadership fellows training, the church we spent our days at had welcome signs plastered throughout the building.

 

“We love single people, divorced people, widowed and married people,” it says.

“We love people who have not been to church in ages and those who never miss a Sunday.”

“We love people who are in recovery and those who are still addicted.”

 

The list went on and on, but it reminded me that God shows no partiality to one group of people or another.

God wants to be in relationship with all of us.

With the whole of creation.

With you and me.

With black and white and brown.

With young and old, and gay and straight,

with those struggling with mental health and those who love them.

With life-long Americans and with people who have just arrived in our country.

 

When you start to make a list, all of a sudden the people we are supposed to love and share the good news with starts to overwhelm us.

Like the woodpile in my yard, it truly seems incredible and awesome.

The question that’s before us is: what are we going to do about it?

How will this knowledge change our practice?

And if we are going to let God change our hearts and minds and church, where do we need to start moving around the woodpile to make room for everyone to thrive and find a place here?

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Listening to the Earth

Our entire world is greening up this time of year, isn’t it. The trees are leafing out. The grass is vibrant. Shoots of green spring out of mulched patches of wood and earth.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

And as we walk through the springtime here in Iowa, our hearts do feel at peace.

It’s like we take one big gigantic sigh of relief that winter is over.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.

This world is amazing.

And in the midst of the green and purple and white and yellows of this time of year, we carved out space in our civic and religions calendars to celebrate this world. To honor the earth. To plant some trees. To remind ourselves once again of our need to care for this planet.

In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth and declared them good.

And then, that very same God formed us from the dust of the earth and gave to us a precious task… to care for the world God had made.

From the ancient Israelites to the earliest followers of Christ, caring for the Earth was an important means of honoring and praising our Creator.

The General Board of Church and Society put out a resource a few years ago that remind us that ancient cultures worshipped a whole realm of Gods that each controlled a different part of nature. And so as they sought to control the world: to produce a harvest or stop torrential rains, they would honor and worship this God or that.

But we believe in one God, and we believe this world is not fragmented but interconnected. We believe every part of this creation is in the hands of our Creator and that every piece of the earth tells of God’s goodness. As Jesus noted in our gospel reading this morning – the stones themselves shout God’s praises.

And the ancestors of our faith saw that this interdependent world works well when it is cared for and that it fails when it is damaged or neglected. “In response to their understanding of God and the natural world, they created an ethos for living in healthy relationship with God, the Earth, and one another.”

Today, we refer to this as stewardship.

At our leadership retreat this spring, we talked about how stewardship was a core value of who we are here at Immanuel United Methodist. We believe we are called to the thoughtful and prudent use of God’s blessings.

One of those blessings is this earth. The earth that sustains and gives us life. The earth itself speaks God’s praises.

Yes, the rocks would cry out with shouts of joy if we were silent. And if we quiet our lives just a little and pay attention, we can hear the dirt speak.

This year, I wanted to feed that part of my soul that likes to play in the dirt, so I am currently taking a year-long continuing education course called “Organic Ministry.” I have been surprised by how many times I discover something new we should be learning… or we shouldn’t have forgotten… about our world. It has been a wonderful opportunity to listen to the earth and hear what it is telling us about God’s glory.

The first thing I’m hearing the earth speak is that everything truly is connected. We simply cannot sustain ourselves on our own. And God has provided this rich world of resources to give us life.

You see, good soil isn’t just something that farmers and gardeners care about. Soil makes our lives possible.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. God our creator has provided.

This is not something that we often think about, but one little clump of dirt can hardly do much. All by itself, that clump of dirt would become dry and would not have the room for anything to take root within it.

But when one clump of dirt is surrounded by millions of other little dirt particles, then, it is something to be reckoned with! We know that the outermost layer of our planet is soil… but did you know that five tons of topsoil spread out over an acre of land would only be as thick as a dime? We need soil and lots of it to have abundant life.

How many of you slept on soil last night? Well, where do you live? What is your home built on?

How many of you are wearing soil today? Cotton grows in soil! Just check the label on your clothing.

What about eating soil? Just think about all of the foods that you have eaten this week that were grown in the soil, or medicines that were taken from the ground, or water that we have drank that has flowed through and been cleansed by the soil.

The second thing the earth is trying to tell us is that whether we are aware of it or not, is that we have a relationship with the earth.

It is not simply a stockpile of resources that we can use, but our actions impact the health of our world and its ability to continue to sustain us. The soil itself is like a living and breathing organism we must care for.

We think about dirt as dead matter, but in reality it is organic – full of both living and dead organisms. Fungi and bacteria help break down matter into soil and animals such as earth worms churn and nurture the earth. Without all of that living and breathing of the soil – life as we know it would cease.

Now, as a farm girl, I thought I knew this truth well. The soil that we faithfully plant our grains in each spring needs thoughtful and prudent care. We can’t simply plant corn in the same field every single year and expect our harvests to increase. A simple practice like crop rotation insures that vital nutrients like nitrogen are returned to the soil. That describes a relationship we have with the earth, where we listen to what it is telling us and we adapt and act in a new way so that all benefit.

But if we pay better attention to the earth, we begin to see that it thrives on diversity. It is often said that a handful of soil has more living organisms than there are people on the earth. Like the body with many parts that Paul describes in First Corinthians, every part is essential to health.

Yet we gradually strip out the essentials when we plant fields upon fields of only corn or beans for the sake of convenience and production.

As we listen to the earth, conservationists and farmers and gardeners are rediscovering the benefits of companion plants, and smaller scale farms with greater rotation. We are rediscovering that if we care for the soil, the soil will take care of the things we want to grow.

The last thing we hear from the earth today, is that it needs rest and renewal just like we do.

We look out this morning and we can see the flowers budding and hear the birds chirping the sun is shining… and it all sings God’s praise precisely because just two months ago the earth was brown and dormant.

Those of us who experience all four seasons are not doubly blessed, but blessed four times over because in each transition, we witness the hope and the promise and the love of God. We see life bursting forth. We watch things die and have the opportunity to rest, to find Sabbath in the cold winter months… holding fast to the promise the new spring of resurrection is just around the corner.

The world is a miracle.

It is a treasure.

When the Ancient Israelites noticed that everything in this world is interdependent, this is what they are talking about. The dirt and the air and the sun and plant life and our lives are all interconnected and this beautiful system God created works – as long as we take care of it.

Feel free to call me
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Knowing the End of the Story

Welcome, friends, to Holy Humor Sunday. This day is part of a tradition (a very old tradition) of laughing on the Sunday after Easter as we celebrate the cosmic joke that God plays on sin and death when Jesus Christ is raised from the dead.

 

It is a day to laugh, to lift up our hearts, to thank God that we know already the end of the story.

And its important that we hold on to that promise, because while we look out at the world and think about our personal lives, we discover all sorts of things that might cause us to yell or scream or break down in tears.

Another unarmed black man was killed this week in our nation.

A tornado levels a community in Illinois.

Friends diagnosed with terminal illness.

Job losses.

So many people in our community are homeless today, are broken, are struggling right now.

 

I know in my bones that God has already won.

I know that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.

I understand.  I believe.

But I find it so hard to keep that Easter joy in my heart because we haven’t reached the end of the story yet!  We are inbetween times… in between the empty tomb and the new creation.  It’s here, but not fully.  It’s already, but not yet.

How on earth can we laugh at a time like this?  How can we laugh as towns are ravaged by deadly winds and little ones go to bed hungry tonight?  How can we laugh when people are staring death in the face and losing?  How can we laugh when the disparity between the haves and the have nots is so stark?

Maybe the question is… how can we not laugh?

How can we not just take a deep breath and remember that God is in control… not us.

St. John Chrysostom preached in his famous Easter sermon:

If anyone is devout and loves God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If anyone is a wise servant, let him rejoice and enter into the joy of his Lord.

He gives rest to him who comes at the 11th hour, even as to him who has worked from the first hour. And He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first. Let all then enter into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, keep the feast. You sober and you heedless, celebrate the day.

Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast… Let all receive the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.

O Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.

Christ is risen, and life reigns.

Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of the dead.

To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

 

This world is broken and imperfect and horrible things happen all around us.  But if we cannot laugh in the midst of our sorrows, then the Devil has already won.

If we cannot laugh and lift up one another’s spirits, then there is no hope.

If we cannot laugh and rejoice, then why keep going at all?

Christ is risen. Death is overthrown. Life reigns.

We don’t have to be afraid.  We don’t have to be scared.  We know the end of the story and we can laugh in the face of all that tries to hurt us.

Those words are so powerful…  and so hard to believe in.

But maybe… just maybe… if we get together as a community and we laugh, if we practice together what we preach, then we will find the faith we need to trust.

Christ is risen. Death is overthrown. Life reigns.

And because of that our hearts are filled with joy. Amen.

Corporate Prayer for the Desperate

Holy and Forsaken God,
We come into your presence knowing that you felt utter desperation and loneliness.
You felt isolated and forgotten.
You felt unimaginable pain.
So you are not unfamiliar with our struggles.
And that brings us comfort.
That brings us hope.

For those in our congregation who have been wrestling in the long dark night and are contemplating suicide, we pray.

For those in this place who are survivors: who have lost a friend or family member who suicided, we pray.

For those here today who have made it through the dark night and are a witness of hope for others, we pray.

For those who are watching a friend struggle and want to reach out and listen and provide support, we pray.

For those who cannot understand why another would take their life, who are filled with questions and anger, we pray.

Holy, Forsaken God, we lift these up to you. Connect us. Help us to listen. Give us courage to speak our truths. And fill us with a hope that will sustain us in the midst of utter desperation. Amen.

IUMC Easter
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What’s Your Story?

Living, Risen God, May the words of my mouth be your words, and may I be blessed with the courage to say them. May the thoughts of all of our hearts and our minds, be your thoughts, and may we be blessed with the courage to live them. Amen.

This morning, I invite you to hear our gospel reading from Mark once again…

We know the story, about how the three women made their way to the tomb just after sunrise. They went expecting to finish the funeral rites for their beloved teacher… but what they discovered forever changed their lives.

In that tomb, they discovered not their teacher, but a man in dazzling white who whispered to them:

Don’t be afraid! You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, but he’s not here! He has been raised, just like he promised. Go – tell the disciples and Peter that he will meet you in Galilee. He’s waiting for you!

What surprises us about this story, however, as Mark tells it is that the women freeze. They had come to honor a dead body and they were met by a mystery. He has been raised?! He’s… waiting for us? Was it a trap? Was it true? Could it possibly be?

It was all so completely overwhelming. They felt like they were standing in the presence of the holy – like Moses before the burning bush – like Elijah standing on the side of the mountain and hearing God in the silence… and yet nothing made sense.

The world was turned upside down for these three women by this radically holy encounter. Terror and amazement seized them and they turn and fled from the tomb.

Was it unworthiness?

Was it the weight of the message that they were called to proclaim?

Was it fear and awe that come from being face to face with God’s power?

The world may never know. But Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome said nothing to anyone… for they were afraid.

They said nothing to anyone… for they were afraid.

 

Believe it or not – that is the way that the Gospel of Mark ends. Jesus never shows up in his resurrected glory, there are no witness from the disciples, no sharing of the good news. Mark ends his account of the life of Jesus with three women, fleeing from the scene because terror and amazement had seized them and he tells us they said nothing to anyone.

 

We, of course, can say this probably didn’t actually happen for a number of reasons.

First of all, Every gospel has Mary Magdalene there at the tomb, witnessing first hand the resurrection of Christ. And every other gospel tells us how she and other women who may have been with her shared the good news with the disciples.

Secondly, if we believed Mark’s account above the others – if that truly was the end of the story – then how did we get here? If they didn’t tell anyone, then how was the church born?

No, Mark has a reason for telling his story this way. His goal, in writing the gospel, is to teach us about what faithfulness looks like. Every time the disciples make a mistake, we learn something. Every time they fail, we find out what it truly means to follow God.

And this cliff-hanger ending functions the same way. Mark tells us the women were afraid and said nothing to anyone… so that WE are invited to live the rest of the story. So that WE are invited to take up the call and tell the story ourselves.

 

Peter was also called to take up the story. Even after his failure on the night of Jesus’ trial, he was called by Jesus to tell the story of resurrection wherever he went. And he found himself in the home of Cornelius… a Gentile… someone who was never part of the plan of salvation that Peter had imagined… and he found him telling the story of how God saves to even such as him.

We are all called to tell the story, and we are called to tell it to anyone and everyone we meet.

Because the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus… it is your story!

From the Sunday School teacher that first taught you the words to Jesus loves me…

to the grandparent who always encouraged your faith…

to the girlfriend who made you get up and come to church this morning…

Someone, somewhere along the way shared the good news with you. You heard the story and you believed it enough to show up. You have responded. You are here.

And because you are here this morning, you have a story to tell.

Your story might not be as dramatic as peering into an empty tomb and being a first hand witness to the resurrection, but you do have a story to tell.

A story about how God has been present in your life. Your story doesn’t have to be filled with drama… it just has to be yours.

Sure, God chose some people with wild stories, like Moses the murder and Jacob the deceiver and Rahab the prostitute… but God also used people like the farmer Amos and the fishermen James and John and the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, to pass along the good news of salvation to the world.

And we are here because they did.

We are here because they were not afraid to speak about what God was doing in their lives.

 

Over the next two months here at church, we will be following some of the first disciples of Jesus who were not afraid to talk about what they had seen. And along the way, we will use their stories to help us claim our own story of faith.

We discover in that book of Acts that the message moves from Jerusalm to Samaria and to the ends of the earth… all the way to Des Moines, Iowa in 2015!

But here is the real question we have to wrestle with this morning.

What if they women really had been silent?

What if the disciples had never left Jerusalem?

What if Peter had not gone to Cornelius?

… who would have shared the story?

 

And who is not hearing the story today, because we are too scared to tell it? Who isn’t hearing the good news of God’s love and mercy and grace and forgiveness because we have been overcome with terror and amazement and haven’t figured out what to say?

 

We have fear in our hearts because we have come face to face with the holy and we are no longer in control. And any encounter with the holy rightly puts awe and trembling in our hearts.

It is the kind of fear portrayed in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, as the people rightfully fear and revere Aslan the Lion. He is dangerous, he is righteous and there is no escaping him, no containing him, no forgetting him. He is wild and wonderful.

And the wild and wonderful Christ, who cannot be escaped or contained or forgotten is calling our names and has a word for us to proclaim. That on an old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, Jesus suffered and died to pardon and sanctify us all….and…. AND… this is the part we leave out of the song… AND death itself has been defeated.

Sharron Riessinger Lucas calls this: living in the tension of holy fear and prodigal joy.

We are filled with joy because God has run out to meet us like a father who destroys all barriers in order to welcome home us wayward children! Christ is Risen! Jesus destroyed death in order to give us life! The tomb is empty! Amen!

But in the midst of that joy, that holy fear is present… Because with the empty tomb comes the amazing and awesome announcement that “Jesus is risen and on the loose in this world” (Lucas).

And if God is really out there – really present in this world that we live in… then as the great theologian Karl Barth once said… “each of us has some serious changes to make in our living.”

This morning… you have encountered the presence of God and witnessed the miracle of the resurrection…

So, what will you do?

Will you let fear close your mouths?

Will you roll the stone back in front of the tomb and conveniently forget that this all happened?

Will you be silent?

Or will you find the courage to risk it all to share the good news with the world?

As Mark asks us: when – not if, but when the terror and amazement of the gospel seizes your life – what are you going to do?