Saturday, May 10, 2014

And God's people say...

Sermon for Year A Easter Sunday

And God’s people say...

You are going to need to help me with this sermon.
Whenever I say,
And God’s people say...
that is your cue.
You respond, with joy,
Let’s try it...
And God’s people say...
Great! I believe you’ve got it.
 +    +    +

So...This is the good news--
the tomb is empty.
Christ is risen!
And God’s people say--ALLELUIA!

This is the good news--
the light shines in the darkness
and the darkness can never put out the light.
And God’s people say--ALLELUIA!

This is the Good News
once we were no people
now we are God’s people--
and God’s people say--ALLELUIA!

This is the Good News
this morning,
this Easter morning.
and God’s people say--ALLELUIA!

Here we are,
a diverse people come together.
Here we are,
God’s Church,
trying to co-create with God
a world on earth
as it is in heaven.

Today we celebrate
your resurrection.
Today we celebrate that Christ is risen
and all things have been made new.
Today we celebrate
that God’s love never fails,
not ever!
And God’s people say--ALLELUIA!

Diana Butler Bass, a marvelous writer,
a scholar and a historian,
writes and speaks widely about the history of Christianity.
She is a leading voice today in what might be called
“progressive” or “emergent” Christianity,

She recently shared an experience she had while traveling.
She had checked into her hotel after a long day of multiple flights,
after which she went down to the hotel lounge
for a glass of local red wine.

There she got into a conversation with a woman,
a woman about her own age--in her forties,
a woman who had never heard of Holy Week
and she asked Diana to explain,
to explain Palm Sunday and Easter to her.

“I told her the story”, Diana said,
 “of Jesus' triumphal entry to Jerusalem,
of his betrayal, death, and resurrection.
About how human it is;
how our betrayals turn into our rebirths.”

The woman she was speaking with got tears in her eyes,
and said to Diana,
"That's so beautiful.
How come no one has ever told me this before?"
How come?

This is the world we live in today.
People do not know the story.
Why are we not sharing this Good News more widely?

we don’t want to seem like religious fanatics, right?
We don’t want to align ourselves with the fellow on the street corner
shouting fire and brimstone into a portable microphone.

Maybe this doesn’t happen in Burlington, Vermont,
but I will tell you it happens in Asheville, NC--
and lots of other places.

And even I, a priest in God’s church,
I don’t want people to think I am “that guy”.

But we miss the point.
We miss the point that people are hungry.
We miss the point that people are lonely.
We miss the point that people still feel hopeless,
captive, imprisoned.

We miss the point that people do not know this story,
and we do.

We know the story of the resurrection.
And we need to tell others.

Now there are those that say Jesus’ resurrection was a physical reality.
And there are those that say resurrection is simply a metaphor.

I wonder--does it have to be EITHER/OR?
Can it not be BOTH/AND?

When we read the Gospels,
resurrection is not a metaphor.

The disciples are so terrified after the crucifixion
that they go and hide
behind bolted doors.

This makes sense to me.
I’d hide too.
Because I would believe that I,
as one of Jesus’ disciples,
would be the very next one arrested and crucified.
Why else does Peter deny even knowing Jesus?

There was no death sentence
more cruel, more humiliating
than crucifixion.

Those in authority were making a point.
Go against us
and you will be sorry.

But something happens to those disciples.
Something happens that was so real
and so powerful
and so unexpected
that they make a complete turn around.
They are willing
to do anything,
to go anywhere,
to tell any one.

They throw open the closed doors and go out into the world
to tell the story.
The story of Jesus’ life and of his resurrection
and most importantly, of his love.

Were they lying?
Were they drunk?
Were they confused or hallucinating?
Was it all part of some great scheme
to make them all rich and powerful?
Nothing points in that direction.

Going around proclaiming resurrection,
telling people that God loves them no matter what,
telling that story
was most likely going to get you arrested,
imprisoned, killed--
or at the very least,
ridiculed and humiliated.
And it often did.

So why would you make up a story like that?

No one was expecting resurrection.
They felt a tremendous loss when Jesus was crucified.

Mary Magdalene, when she finds the tomb empty,
runs back to the disciples and says,
 “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb”
She did not arrive
and play out a pre-rehearsed scene exclaiming,
Look! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.

Experiencing a risen Christ
was at least as shocking to Jesus’ disciples of the first century,
as it is to us today in the twenty-first century.

We each must decide how we will listen, how we will hear
and how we will share the resurrection story.

A friend’s grandson will graduate from high school
in just a few weeks,
but I remember him so well as a little boy,
holding my hand and pulling me
into his Sunday School class room--
to show me a model they had made of Jesus’ tomb.

This is the coolest thing, Taylor said.
And he holds the tomb
and pulls away the papier-mache stone at its entrance
and instructs me,
Look inside!
What do you see, Jeanne?

I peer inside and reply,
It’s empty.

That’s right! shrieks Taylor.
But quickly adds,
Don’t worry, Jeanne.
He comes back.
Jesus comes back.

When Jesus comes back.
When Jesus shows up in the life of the disciples,
when Jesus shows up in the heart of a little boy,
when Jesus shows up in our ordinary but extraordinary lives today.

Resurrection wore the face of Christ on that first Easter morning
and resurrection wears the face of Christ now.
A face that tells us:
Remember how loved you are.
Wildly. Passionately. Unconditionally.

Easter is the day of leaping and dancing.
Easter is the day of laughter and joy
This is the day to go home
and put on your “life is good” t-shirt
and really mean it.

Adam of Saint Victor in the twelfth century wrote--

Done is death.
Even the serpent can come to the feast...
Here all are safe, lion with lamb.
The sparrows have nested in the tree of life.
The scapegoat, too, pushed off the cliff,
has landed in paradise.

Remember Jesus’ commandment as they gathered around the table
the night before he was crucified--
Love one another as I have loved you.

Wildly. Passionately. Without any reservation
without any hesitation.
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,
I have seen the Lord;
and she told them that Jesus had said these things to her.

If this resurrection story was not true,
I don’t think in a million years
any of these gospel writers
would have allowed Mary Magdalene,
a woman,
to be the first witness.

Jesus calls her by name.
And that is the moment when she knows.
Without a doubt.

Easter is the day
when God calls each of our names.
With the hope that we will know
how much we are loved,
how we are never forgotten,
nor will we ever be abandoned.

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
And again.
And again.
And again.

And God’ s people say--ALLELUIA!!

Note: I have used the story of Taylor and his papier mache tomb in a previous sermon. It is still one of my favorite experiences of resurrection (and Taylor is still as awesome as ever!

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