Scattering Fear and Gloom

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Easter Sunday is a rollercoaster of emotions.

We felt that as we began worship today… instead of starting with the joy of the resurrected Christ, we began with the despair felt by Mary and the disciples because their Lord and Teacher was no longer with them.

You see, for the disciples, Easter morning began with a hopeless situation.

It began with fear of the unknown.

It began with the gloom of death.  

When I wrestled with what I should preach about this morning, I couldn’t help but think about all of the hopelessness and fear and gloom in this world. 

I hear it in the halls of this church, and around our dinner tables… in the grocery store, the halls of work or school… all of the varied and sundry places that we gather in our lives.  

We worry about family who just can’t seem to get their act together.

We struggle with illness or money in our personal lives.

We watch the evening news and everything seems wrong with the world.

After a while, the daily grind starts to take its toll and we become numb to all of that stuff around us. We find ourselves settling into the rut and start to believe that this is just the way it’s going to be.

The violence of the world almost ceases to phase us.  What is a crucified Savior when another bombing in Syria has taken lives?  Another shooting at a school last week?  Another gun related death in our city?     

We can barely keep ourselves abreast of the human rights violations occurring across our planet as war-torn countries continue to destroy the lives of innocent men, women and children. So many of these places of conflict feel utterly hopeless and without end.   It seems that no matter what we do, or maybe because of what we do, new groups and new people spring up to fight, instead of searching for ways to work together and to rebuild lives.

 

In our gospel reading this morning, Mary goes to the tomb and she is not going with expectant hope. She is going to bring spices and oil and to continue to prepare his body for burial.

You see, Jesus was laid in the tomb just before sunset and the beginning of the Sabbath Day and so the women did not have enough time to properly lay him to rest.

As the sun rose on this Easter morning, Mary Magdelene went to the tomb to mourn, to pray, and to say her good-byes.

She was someone who desperately loved Jesus. He was her Teacher and her Master. He offered her new life and a brand new beginning when he cleansed the demons from her life. And ever since that time, she had followed him faithfully. Then, in one fell swoop, everything that she had begun to put her trust into was taken away.

Her Lord was gone.

The disciples who followed him had scattered and those who remained were hiding out in fear of the Jewish authorities.

Mary had no one to turn to and nowhere to go.

The only thing she knew to do was go to that tomb and rehearse a ritual practiced by Jewish women for centuries. She would go to the tomb to honor Jesus and to mourn for him properly.

 

But as our scriptures this morning remind us, when she arrived, everything was in disarray!

The stone was rolled back and her Master was nowhere to be found!

His body was gone!

Desperately, she ran to the house of one of the disciples for she knew that some of them would be there…

They have taken away his body! She cried out….

They have taken him and I don’t know where they have laid him!

Two of the disciples, run back to the tomb with her and find her story to be true. They enter and find the burial clothes there also, neatly folded and placed on the stone. They know that something has happened… but none of them really knows what it means.

 

Mary, in the midst of all of her desperation and mourning saw Jesus standing before her but did not recognize him. She couldn’t see the promise that was right before her eyes!

Jesus even called out to her, trying to scatter her fear and her gloom:

 “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

As Mary stood in that garden weeping out of desperation she heard her Master call her voice. One moment of startling fear and overwhelming joy – a moment of holy awe – as the significance of what is seen – and what is unseen comes crashing in.

 

And Christ is calling out to us all the time, every day.

He asks us constantly what we are weeping for.

He longs to wipe away the tears from our eyes.

Jesus is Risen. Death could not hold him.

And if it cannot hold him, it cannot hold us.

All that Jesus said about life and death

all that was understood only as idea – as a concept – as a vision

is made real in that empty tomb and in that encounter in the garden.

 

The disciples and the women heard Jesus talk SO MANY TIMES about his death and resurrection and it just never sunk in.

They couldn’t understand the promise because they never believed it would happen.

So when Jesus shared his final meal with them on Thursday night they let him down and failed to remain faithful.

And when Christ was crucified on Friday afternoon, they were paralyzed by their unbelief and forgot the promises he made to them.

They couldn’t see past their own pain and fear and gloom to remember the promise!

The ancient promises from Isaiah:

“No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime… They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.”

 

And he wants us to see him, to recognize him as the Jesus who is alive – the Jesus who is risen – the Jesus who has the power to bring that new creation to bear on our lives.

But like Mary, our hearts are often so slow to believe, to trust, and to accept he is standing before us.

There are so many things in our lives that we could feel hopeless about:

Loved ones who die too young,

People who work away their lives for a wage that won’t pay the rent,

Hungry families… including the 55,000 people in Des Moines who don’t have enough food on their tables,

But the power of the Easter resurrection didn’t just bring Christ to life.

The power of the Easter resurrection took a rag tag bunch of disciples who barely knew their left from their right as far as following Jesus was concerned…. And turned them into apostles.

It turned these doubting, stammering, disobedient fools into the leaders of a movement that would transform the world!

When Christ rose from the dead, the Body of Christ that is the church was brought to life – a community was formed that would love and cherish and carry on the mission and the ministry of Christ!

Each and every single one of us is a living testimony to the power that Christ’s resurrection had on our world.

Each one of us is who we are today and is in this place this morning because those first disciples experienced the risen Christ.

And because that experienced so radically changed their lives that they had to tell others.

 

So what is this Easter morn?

It is God’s promise of a new day

It is God’s promise of a new life

It is God’s promise of a new world

coming to pass in our midst.

 Jesus is risen. Death could not hold him. And it will not hold us either.

 

Wherever in your heart there is weeping, Christ promises to turn your tears into laughter.

Jesus is risen! Death could not hold him!

And the forces that tear us apart in this world will not defeat him either!

Christ has risen!

And we… as the body of Christ, in this time and in this place… are called to continually live our lives as a beacon of that promise!

We are called to visit the sick and those who mourn and pray for healing in this life or the next.  

We are called to work for those who are struggling and help to create a better way.

We are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

We are called to welcome the stranger and the outcast, the person who is not like you: 

whether that means they were born here or not,

an NRA member or fighting to limit guns,

someone who wants sidewalks in their community or doesn’t,

whatever the color of their skin or whomever they love. 

 

You and I… because of the reality of what we experience this morning… are called to go forth and scatter the forces of fear and gloom in the world.

We are to find small ways to live out and practice the resurrection power in our world today.

Christ is risen!

Let us crown him the lord of Life, the Lord of Peace and the Lord of Love

and may we believe in his power to truly transform our lives.

Amen.

What's Your Story?

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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?

Scars

I have a couple of scars in my body.

Right below my left knee the area is numb and without feeling and there is a small whitish mark.  That scar is from the time I thought it was a good idea to do a cartwheel in the girl’s locker room and I ended up hiting my leg… hard… against the corner of the wall.

I have a few tiny scars on my belly from my gall bladder surgery a few years ago.  They are nearly imperceptible… unlike the scars many have from days when that surgery was performed open and not lapriscopically.

And I have a scar on my left forearm from an iron last summer.  After going through the entire pile of t-shirts for Vacation Bible School and getting all of the transfers ironed on… I reached over to unplug my iron and my arm hit the hot plate.  There is a triangular shaped mark on my arm to this day!

But none of those are extremely noticeable.  Especially not compared with some of the scars that others have in their lives.

My dad is one such person.  In an accident at work, his hand was caught in a gear of a machine that processes hot sugars.  After months of surgery and rehabilitation, he lost two fingers on his right hand, part of his pinky finger, and had a large skin graft around his thumb and forefinger.  His right hand will never be the same.  And while his hand looks a bit gnarled and ugly, to me it is a sign of his perseverance, his incredible work ethic, and a reminder of how he got through that difficult part of his life.

The scars in our lives tell stories.  Whether they are small marks or large ones, they are visible reminders of the lives that we have lived.  Maybe it is not a physical scar, but a nickname you bear, or a tattoo, or an item that you keep around in your life to remind yourself and others of something important that has happened.

I want to invite you to turn to a neighbor or a small group around you and share what kinds of scars and battle wounds you might have.  If you feel comfortable, share a story about that scar with the group.

There was a classmate of mine in high school who had a large scar that ran down the center of her chest.  She had had open heart surgery when she was fairly young, but will carry that scar with her for the rest of her life.  And I remember the day I discovered that scar.  We all went swimming at a friend’s house and for the first time, she revealed her scar.  She had kept it carefully covered up all those years.  She wore shirts with high collars, or scarves, or jewelry, anything that would keep people from seeing the scar she thought was ugly… and embarrassment.  But when she told us about the story of the scar, I thought it was such a powerful sign of her strength – that she got through that journey and came out on the other side a strong and healthy and powerful young woman.  She continued to feel uncomfortable about her scar, but that scar helped me to see the strength and the beauty inside of her.

Did anyone learn something about a friend based on those scars?  Anyone want to share?

Will you ever look at that person the same way again?

 

There is a reason that twice in our gospel reading for this morning Jesus hands and feet are mentioned.

The first time is when he appears to some of his disciples on the evening of the resurrection. They were huddled together – scared, frightened, unsure of themselves – and suddenly the Risen Lord shows up.  He breathes into their lives peace.  He forgives them.  He gives them a job to do.  AND he shows them his hands and his side.

He shows them who he is.

He shows them what he has been through.

He shows them what he has overcome.

And then, a week later, the disciples don’t seem to have moved.  They are still there, in the house, only this time Thomas was there also.  Thomas missed the first appearance, and said that unless he had seen the nail marks and put his finger where those nails were, that he wouldn’t believe.

So when Jesus stands among them, the first words he utters are: “Peace” – but then he offers an invitation.  An invitation for Thomas to come and to reach out his hand and to touch his scars.  And Thomas recognizes those scars, remembers what they have all been through together and cries out – “My Lord and my God!”

The Rev.Dr. Janet Hunt writes:

Our scars tell part of the story of who we are, what has mattered to us, what has happened to us, the risks we’ve taken, the gifts we’ve given. And as we are reminded in the story before us in John’s Gospel, this was surely also so with Jesus, too.

Which is why Thomas insisted he needed to see, no more than that, feel the scars in his hands and put his own hand in Jesus’ side to be sure that it was him. One would think he would have recognized him with from the features of his face or the sound of his voice, but no, for Thomas, Jesus had become something more since that long walk to the cross a week before. Jesus’ very identity was now defined by the sacrifice he had made in our behalf. A sacrifice made most visible in those wounds that by then could have only begun to heal. (words.dancingwiththeword.com)

So what are the lessons that we learn by seeing the visible wounds of Jesus?  What are the lessons that we learn from seeing the visible wounds of one another?

We see Jesus wounds, and in spite of how the disciples failed him… in spite of how we have failed him, Jesus tells us that we are loved… we are forgiven… that peace is freely offered… and that we have a job to do.

1)      We are loved:  Jesus comes to us.  When someone shares a scar with us, when they are vulnerable with us, it means that they trust us and care about us and are willing to share their lives with us.

2)      We are forgiven: Each of us played a role in the crucifixion of Christ.  Each of us is responsible for the wounds he bears.  And yet, he tells us we are forgiven.  When we encounter wounds in our lives, they can be symbols to us of our failings… but they can also be symbols of forgiveness, healing, and love.

  1. Story of running into a pole in Brandon’s car… I was in a bad place, my grandpa had just died… he wasn’t happy, but his love for me in the midst of that experience of loss and grief that got me through. My mind was in a million places when I was backing up the car and I did not even notice the parking pole before I slammed into it.  The bright yellow scrape on his car marred it in the same way that my soul was grieving and broken and needed some healing.  But just as that car was patched up good as new, so too, with time and love, did we both make it to the other side of the grief process.

3)      Peace is offered: This may seem to go with the idea of forgiveness, but it really is about releasing ourselves from a heart full of fear.

  1. In her reflection, Kathryn Matthews Huey talks about life one week after Easter… when we return to life as usual: “wars and uprisings that drag on for months and years, with hundreds and thousands dead and maimed; an economic crisis that still threatens thousands with foreclosure and bankruptcy, high unemployment, high gasoline prices, high health care costs, and a political season poisoned with ugly rhetoric and personal attacks. And then there are our own private griefs and burdens: health problems, kid problems, too much work, too much worry, too much coming at us, so much to run away from, so much to fear. What’s an overwhelmed person of faith to do? Even one week after the music of the trumpets and the splendor of the lilies have faded, how are we to live “as Easter people”?
  2. William Sloane Coffin once said, “As I see it, the primary religious task these days is to try to think straight….You can’t think straight with a heart full of fear, for fear seeks safety, not truth. If your heart’s a stone, you can’t have decent thoughts – either about personal relations or about international ones. A heart full of love, on the other hand, has a limbering effect on the mind. When our hearts fill with a fear we can’t organize or get our arms around, a fear that makes us feel weak and small and inadequate, all of us disciples receive that same gift of grace, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit, a gift that limbers up our minds and our hearts, turning them from hearts of stone to hearts full of love.”

4)      We have a job to do: The visible wounds of Jesus and of our own lives can also remind us that there is a job to do.

  1. Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners, and there is a world full of people who need to know that love and grace.
  2. Jesus takes our wounds and scars and uses them to ministry to others
  3. There are wounds in this world that need healing. And in the end, Jesus sent his disciples out from that upper room… and “Jesus sends us out into the world, to put our hands on the marks of its suffering, to bring good news and hope to all of God’s children.” (Kate Huey)

Amen!

how can we laugh at a time like this?

I’m sitting at my computer, looking out the 24th floor window of my hotel in Des Moines.  I am currently attending our annual School for Ministry and learning all sorts of neat things about capital campaigns and what kinds of fonts to use on worship slides.  We’ve had some good practical teaching this year… with some good theological underpinings.  It usually is.  I’m glad Iowa does this!

Anywho… here I sit, looking out the window at 12:26am at the quiet streets below.  I’m still up because I’m trying to plan worship for Sunday so that I can send my organist the hymns.  I’m exhausted.  Both from Holy Week and now these days of sitting in a conference room with no windows for hours upon hours.  I do not want to preach.  I have two funerals ahead of me in the days to come.  And someone mentions “Holy Humor Sunday.”

I’ve heard of Holy Humor Sunday… but never actually done one.  It’s this 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.

I’m loving this idea.  I’ve spent about an hour already looking up hymns and liturgy and of course, jokes to tell.

And then I realize that since I’ve been holed up in a conference room for the last two days that I have no idea what has been going on in the world.  I check CNN, and I check weather.com… 72 dead from tornadoes in one town in Alabama… friends freaking out on facebook over tornadoes that barely clipped their own homes and the severe weather alerts that have them shaking in their boots every time the sirens go off.

I start to think about these two funerals that I have coming up this very weekend.

I start to remember the brokenness so many people in our communities are experiencing right now.

I start to look out on that quiet street before me and wonder who is sleeping in an alley tonight, instead of in a king size bed at the Marriott.

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 cities 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 havenots 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 anothers 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, we will find the faith we need to trust.  Maybe together we can find the strength to laugh in the face of sin and death and to really and truly mean it.

hiatus

I have had a really difficult time getting myself into the headspace to blog lately.  I’ve been in these funks before, when I just need a break from technology, and in some ways, that has been true of this past one.

But I also think that things have just been moving at such a break-neck speed lately that I really don’t have the mental energy to sit down, stop, and reflect.  I just keep doing…. and then zoning out… and then doing some more.  Self-care lately has been more about stopping than processing.

A sure sign of the chaos has been my office spaces.  The church office… my pastor’s office… and my home office.  Piles of stuff, accessible when it is needed.  But the time for processing just hasn’t been there.  I keep telling myself that after Easter and School for Ministry I’m  going to really stop and deal with it all… organize, toss, file, connect pieces, put things in some kind of order so that others can find them.
But it’s not “after Easter.”  In the smack dab of the waiting, I sit.  Christ has been laid in the tomb and the disciples hid away somewhere.  They didn’t process.  They didn’t sort through their feelings.  They locked the door and huddled together. That’s kind of how this past month has been.  Working my butt off, and then cuddling under a blanket in front of the television when the meetings stop and the work is done.  Waiting… numb… not wanting to think about what comes next – at least for right now.
The disciples were shaken out of their stupor by the amazing announcement on that Easter morning.  Their work wasn’t complete… their lives were not over… they need not be afraid… Their hopes were resurrected, their engagement was reignited.

My prayer is that the spark might blaze again for me.  That my spirit will be reignited.  That I can lay aside those burdens that keep me huddled under blankets and that with the daffodils and the lilies and the tulips I can throw off the cold and say – here I am.  I’m ready.  Nothing can hold me back.  Try and stop me.

Living Among the Dead

Why are you looking for the living among the dead?

Why are you looking for life among places where there is only death?

Why are you looking for light in total darkness?

Why are you looking in all the wrong places?

Those questions all barraged me when I sat down and reflected on our gospel reading. As Luke tells the story, these disciples of Jesus who happened to be of the female persuasion, were heading to the tomb of their Lord. They were bearing spices and oils to anoint and properly lay his body to rest.

They weren’t looking for the living at all. Their light, their life, their hope had died on the cross with Jesus. They were looking for a dead man.

Why are you looking for the living among the dead?

I find that question strange, because they weren’t! These faithful few were coming to the tomb to honor Jesus. They were coming to pay their respects. They were coming because that’s what you do for people you love. It was a duty for them… in the very best sense of the word.

They came to the tomb and they couldn’t even possibly begin to imagine that life, new life, resurrection life was waiting for them.

Two years ago, on Easter Sunday, I shared with all of you one of my favorite stories. It is called “Hope for the Flowers.” And it is about looking for life in all of the wrong places.

In the story, there is a little caterpillar named Stripe and he is looking for something, but he isn’t quite sure what it is. He was happy for a while, but now he is restless… he knows that there is something more out there. One day, he comes across this mound, heap, mountain of other caterpillars. They are all climbing on top of one another, trying to get as high as they possibly can. There are rumors that there is something wonderful at the top of this pile. So Stripe joins in the climb. He is yearning for what is at the top, even though he doesn’t know what it is. And along the way, he makes some terrible, terrible choices. He hurts others. He pushes them out of the way. He has to stop himself from looking in their eyes so he doesn’t feel so bad about what he is doing.

Stripe was looking for life in the midst of the dead. He was looking for life among things that were actually sucking the life right out of him.

The women who went to the tomb had just spent a day and a half weeping and mourning. They felt like all of the hope and light and joy in the world had just been sucked right out of them. And so they went to the tomb to mourn, to weep, to honor, and to say their goodbyes.

And you know what… if those angels hadn’t appeared to ask them a simple question, that is where their lives would have stayed. They would have looked for the dead, found an empty tomb, and gone home in utter despair.

We live our lives that way too often. We look for life among the dead. We seek happiness and wholeness in all of the wrong places. We then we are content with being discontented.

Why are we looking for the living among the dead? Why are we looking for our Lord and Savior among the dead and dying things of this world?

That question keeps coming back to me.

For those women on Easter morning, it was a tomb that they clung so closely to. It was a tomb that kept them from being out in the world where they would find the Risen Christ.

What is it with you?

What are the dead and dying things that you hold on to that keep you from finding the Living One?

For one woman I taught in a bible study, it was her King James Bible. She had been given the bible when she was in third grade and it was the only bible that she had ever owned. She had been told it was the only version of the bible that was acceptable. But you know what? She couldn’t understand what was written in her bible. My friend could only read at the 9th grade level… not to mention the fact that the language used in that translation is so dead and foreign that she couldn’t make any sense of it. She faithfully struggled to read the words in that old Bible of hers, but she couldn’t understand it and so she couldn’t find Jesus in there.

For a colleague of mine, it was his business. For years, he had worked in the corporate world and had purchased his own company. He climbed and climbed to the top, seeking success and power and telling himself that when he got to the top he could enjoy life. But he only found a longing that he couldn’t quite fulfill.

Where is the dead place that you keep looking for new life?

What is it that we as a church are holding on to that keeps us from coming face to face with new and abundant life?

In my two years here, I have heard quite a few answers to that question. We would have new life in our church if only we… This church would grow if … Are we looking in the right places? Are we looking for life – new life – life abundant at all?

If we go back to the story of our sad little caterpillar, Stripe, we find that he is stuck in this endless climb of despair and defeat. But then, one day, he sees something that makes his heart stop. He sees a butterfly. Stripe catches a glimpse, a possibility of something he can’t quite understand and he decides to lay aside this life of climbing, to let go of everything that he thought he knew and he decides to do something very strange. He finds his way to a quiet branch, far away from the piles of caterpillars and he builds himself a cocoon, he dies to the world as he knew it… and on the other side of that cocoon, he finds fullness, new life, as a butterfly.

Stripe was looking for life in the midst of the dead. Until he stopped looking. Until he crawled back out into the world that he was born into and he decided to let go and take a leap of faith and try something new. And new life found him.

This week, I have thought a lot about why we need the resurrection. Why does it matter that there is new life in Jesus? He died for our sins, isn’t that enough?

A friend reminded me that we need the resurrection, we need that glimpse of the butterfly, so that we don’t go back to the tombs, the places of death and hopelessness in our lives and live them over and over and over again.

When those women at the tomb recognized the truth – that their Lord was no longer dead but was alive – JOY flooded their hearts. They couldn’t keep quiet about what they had heard! Their mourning turned into dancing!

When my friend in Bible study realized that the King James bible wasn’t the only one that was available to her… when she picked up a translation that was more appropriate for her reading level – an entire new world of the scriptures opened up for her… she found the living Jesus on the pages of her bible speaking to her, making sense, giving her hope for her life.

When my colleague, went to church one Sunday, he was moved by the Holy Spirit and caught a glimpse of another life that awaited him. He went home and put his business up for sale and he enrolled in seminary.

This morning, I want to invite us to take a courageous leap of faith. I want to invite each of us to come down off of the heaps and mountains that we have been climbing, to come away from the dead and barren places where we have been seeking, and to try something new.

Today, we officially begin a journey towards new life.

Some time ago, Jill Sanders, our Field Outreach Minister invited us to participate in a process called Co-Missioned. It is a two to three year journey where we will discover what God is doing in our midst, we will listen for where God is calling us next, and then we will lay aside our old life as a church and learn to live out God’s will for our community.

Maybe a good way of describing this process is to think a little bit about our caterpillar Stripe. This journey is a lot like climbing up onto a branch and building a cocoon – not knowing what exactly we will look like on the other side.

But we have the faith to do so, because we have already seen butterflies. We have the faith to trust in God and to let go of our baggage and ideas and ways of doing things because we have seen God’s amazing and transforming resurrection power.

The hard part is that it means some things will have to die. Stripe the caterpillar was no more after he entered the cocoon. And we will have to let go of some dead and lifeless things of our own. We may have to set aside age old arguments and grievances. We might have to rip out old carpet – both literally and figuratively. We might say goodbye to old ways of doing things. We might say goodbye to new ways of doing things that just aren’t the right fit for us. We might have to let dried-up attitudes fall by the wayside. We might need to let bad habits of not coming to church regularly or of not using all of our gifts and talents die.

It is scary… but it is also exciting… and I hope you will also hear that we are among good company.

Because as our gospel story continues on for this morning, we find that there are some disciples who have left Jerusalem. They have left behind what was lost and dead and abanadoned and they set out on a road unknown. These disciples know what the next stop on their journey will be, but they aren’t quite sure what awaits them beyond that. But they set out anyways.

And on this journey, on the familiar road of Emmaus – something amazing happens. Out there in the world, and not in some quiet somber graveyard, they find the risen Lord.

He asks them a question.  “What have you been conversing about?” 

So they talk.  And they chat.  And for the life of them, they can’t figure out who this strange man is. But they share with him what they know and what they hoped for and what they are seeking now.

And when they stop for some food, and Christ breaks the bread before them – they realize that they have been traveling with Christ all along.

So let us travel on this journey together.  Let us have conversations and let us tell stories.  And let us break bread together.  Because here at this table, our eyes are opened and we see the living Christ who has been with us all along.

Come on the journey.  Lay aside the past.  Take up the future.  There are butterflies waiting!

Afraid of the Truth

This morning, I invite you to hear our gospel reading with new ears…

Three women made their way to a lonely tomb just after sunrise. The sky still had that rosy pink hue – but instead of feeling warm and comforted, they were reminded of the bloodshed only days earlier.

Never again could they look at a cross the same way again. Before, it had been a symbol of punishment, a tool used by the Romans to keep the people in line. Now, it was where their teacher had been martyred. It stood for all of his truth and goodness and they would forever remember him upon that cross.

They were journeying back to the place where they had laid his body. They were going to mourn but also to honor and glorify his broken body. They were going to say goodbye.

A million thoughts raced through the minds of those three women. Chief among them – what’s next? Would they, could they, return to their old lives? With Jesus dead, there wasn’t really any among the group of disciples who seemed ready to continue sharing his message. For all they knew, the disciples had scattered in the nights before – never to return again. No, it all ended on the cross. All of their hopes and dreams, all of the promises of the Kingdom of God ended on the cross. It was finished.

They brought with them the spices and oils they would need, but as the three women neared the tomb, they began to wonder what on earth they were doing. Were the Romans who crucified their Teacher watching them? What about the Jewish leaders? And if they made it there safely, how were they going to roll back the stone covering the entrance on their own?

Despite their doubts and fears, they kept moving forward, step by step, clutching one another’s hands, until they came to the place where he had been laid.

The stone… That big huge obstacle they thought they would have to overcome. It was gone. And peering inside, a young man sat on the cold hard slab just inside the tomb. What was he doing there? And where on earth was the body of Jesus?

The man looked at them and the women instinctively flinched. He had a strange aura about him and was dressed in dazzling white. They were absolutely speechless.

Don’t be afraid – he whispered to them…. 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!

The hearts of the women literally stopped beating for a few moments. 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’s in the silence… and yet nothing made sense. Nothing that was happening fit with their understanding of the world! If the massive stone could be rolled away without any human effort, if Jesus really was raised from the dead, what other assumptions and truths that they had known would be proved false? If the very power of death had been overcome, what was next? What else was going to change? (Charles Campbell)

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.

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.

Christ is Risen! “He is Risen Indeed” Christ is Risen! “He is Risen Indeed!” But Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome said nothing to anyone… for they were afraid.

Believe it or not – that is the way that the Gospel of Mark originally ended. Jesus never shows up in his resurrected glory, there is 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, all of the other gospels have the women speaking. And all of them have Mary Magdalene there at the tomb – witnessing first hand the resurrection of Christ and then sharing that message with the disciples. Secondly, if we believed Mark’s account fully – 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. Throughout his gospel, Mark is leading us on a journey, following in the footsteps of the disciples. Each and every time the disciples make a mistake and look like bumbling idiots, we learn something more about who Jesus is. Each and every time they fail, we learn more about what it means to follow God.

And this cliff-hanger ending is no exception. Mark tells us the women were afraid and said nothing to anyone… and then we are invited to live the rest of the story.

This morning… after we have encountered together the holiness of God and the miracle of the resurrection… what will we do? Will we let fear close our mouths? Will we roll the stone back in front of the tomb and conveniently forget that this all happened? Will we be silent? Or will we find the courage to risk it all to share this amazing and terrifying good news with the world?

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, there does reside fear in our hearts. We would be foolish not to admit it. 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.”

That is as true in my life as it is in yours. And what keeps us from making those changes and truly proclaiming Christ as a living reality is fear.

We all have fears. I know that they are there, percolating in your throat, ready to cut off the good news. So what better time than Easter Morning to share our fears with one another… here in the midst of these lilies, the alleluias, the sweet smell of spring’s new life (Lucas).

I thought about passing around a microphone and asking you to share your fears… but if I’m going to be honest with myself – most of us would have a fear of standing up and admitting our fears! So here are a few that I have been pondering

We fear speaking on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, because what if we say the wrong things?

We fear seeking justice for the marginalized and release for the captives, because what if it puts us in danger?

We fear telling the truth, because what if our message is rejected? What if we are rejected?

We fear sharing what we have with others, because what if we don’t have enough?

We fear welcoming the stranger in our midst, because what if they stay?

And I think we fear all of those things, because we haven’t let ourselves fully accept the reality that Christ is alive… not spiritually present, not a memory of the past, but actually resurrected from the dead.

As Charles Campbell puts it – “[Jesus] goes ahead of us into the future to meet us there and claim us, not on our terms, but on his. We can no longer deal with Jesus as a dead body, safely buried in a tomb, but now we encounter him as a living reality. There is no escaping him, no containing him, no forgetting him.”

And if Jesus claims us on his terms… then we don’t need to worry about saying the wrong things because the Holy Spirit will bless us with words. We don’t need to worry about being in harm’s way or being rejected, because we know that nothing in this world, neither angels or demons or powers or principalities, neither life nor death can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. We don’t need to worry about running out of food or money, because we have life and life abundant! And we don’t need to worry about the stranger, because Lord knows, we could use a few more bodies in these pews! I mean… because each and every single one of us is a vital part of the body of Christ. God is in control…

Control is the key word there. 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.

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

afraid.

Three women made their way to a lonely tomb just after sunrise. The sky still had that rosy pink hue – but instead of feeling warm and comforted, they were reminded of the bloodshed only days earlier.

Never again would they look at a cross the same way again. Before, it had been a symbol of punishment, a tool used by the Romans to keep the people in line. Now, it was where their teacher had been martyred. It stood for all of his truth and goodness and they would forever remember him upon that cross.

They were journeying back to the place where they had laid his body. They were going to mourn but also to honor and glorify his broken body. They were going to say goodbye.

A million thoughts raced through the minds of those three women. Chief among them – what’s next? Would they, could they, return to their old lives? With Jesus dead, there wasn’t really any among the group of disciples who seemed ready to continue sharing his message. No, it all ended on the cross. All of their hopes and dreams, all of the promises of the Kingdom of God ended on the cross. It was finished.

They brought with them the spices and oils they would need, but as the three women neared the tomb, they began to wonder what on earth they were doing. Were the Romans who crucified their Teacher watching them? What about the Jewish leaders? And if they made it there safely, how were they going to roll back the stone covering the entrance on their own?

Despite their doubts and fears, they kept moving forward, step by step, clutching one another’s hands, until they came to place where he had been laid.

The stone… That big huge obstacle they thought they would have to overcome. It was gone. And a young man sat on the cold hard slab just inside the tomb. What was he doing there? And where on earth was the body of Jesus?

The man looked at them and the women instinctively flinched. He had a strange aura about him and was dressed in dazzling white. They were absolutely speechless.

Don’t be afraid – he whispered to them…. 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!

The hearts of the women literally stopped beating for a few moments. 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’s voice in the silence… and yet nothing made sense. Nothing that was happening fit with their understanding of the world! If the massive stone could be rolled away without any human effort, if Jesus really was raised from the dead, what other assumptions and truths that they had known would be proved false? If the very power of death had been overcome, what was next? What else was going to change?

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 Magdelene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome said nothing to anyone… for they were afraid.