Monday, April 30, 2012

Truth and Action

Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

Truth and action - there is a relationship between truth and action. You’ve heard this said a thousand times in just as many ways. People say things like, “The proof is in the pudding, actions speak louder than words, or practice what you preach.”

There is another phrase that involves another phrase that my mother taught me not to say, and especially not from the pulpit (my kids will never let me hear the end of this). The phrase is, “Shut up and dance,” and it has shown up in pop culture repeatedly over the last decade as song titles, band names, and blatant challenges to act. It’s a challenge to act on opportunities, and it is a challenge to stand up and demonstrate what you believe in.

In fact, Shut Up and Dance was even the title of a recent fundraiser in New Jersey held by the Pennsylvania Ballet netting $150,000 for a group called MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance). MANNA is similar to our Meals on Wheels program, except that they serve people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or other life-threatening illnesses.

And so the author of 1 John challenges us to “love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” And although we receive this as an invitation, it is at the same time both a commandment and a description of who we are and what we do as followers of Jesus.

For those of us who have grown up in the tradition of following Jesus, we sometimes forget what it means to truly follow Jesus. We hear these words about the love of Jesus - having laid down his life for us - and we are comforted with the expectation of salvation. We hear the words of the 23rd Psalm, and we are comforted with the expectation of providence. We hear Jesus proclaiming his title and nature as the Good Shepherd, and we receive them like a cold drink on a hot afternoon.

All of these perceptions are true and good and lead to certain actions. The trouble is - we tend to see the claim of salvation and the expectation of providence and restoration as an end in and of themselves. The action they lead to is - more often than not - complacency. We stop with, “Jesus loves me this I know,” and we forget that there are other people who need to hear that - other people who need to sing that, other people with whom we do not want to sing it with, and other people who cannot hear it because they do not believe it.

And so, again, the elder who wrote 1 John confronts us by saying, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” Before wallowing in the guilt such a scripture text can dish out, I think it is important to note where this came from. It came from an early tradition in the church that was defending against schism and separation. The tradition it represents was probably more gentile than Jewish, and the members were part of a caste society. People were born into roles and classes - although there was the remote possibility that you could buy or slave your way into a position of higher influence.

So, the suggestion - or rather the expectation - of Christian love that is being described here is far more radical than any other kind of social reform. Expressing God’s love by helping someone in need is not a description of government (although I would argue that challenging those systems that create or engender need is an equal expression of that same love). However you do it - be it personal or political - expressing God’s love is not easy. It is not simple, and it is necessarily costly.

Now, this is about the part where most of us start trying to figure out how to change the channel. That’s what we do, is it not? We are so accustomed to having an endless supply of media to consume. The internet is a boundless playground for the pursuit of information with the intent of procrastination. One could spend days on end (and some frequently do) just forwarding emails that range from the sublime to the ridiculous!

But what about just sticking to scripture. Let’s bring back that 23rd Psalm in the KJV. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” Sadly I must confess that this line always reminds me of a camp game called “Surely, Goodness, and Mercy Tag.” It starts off with three people tagging others within a confined space until it becomes one big amoeba-like blob consuming everyone.

The thing is - as trite as that sounds - there is some truth to that. A literal interpretation of the word for follow is to pursue. Why would God do that? What is so special about me or you that the Creator of all that is might pursue us? Truly it is not so much that God is chasing us so much as God is simply already there. In the game I just described there comes a point where you can’t really run without bumping into the massiveness of God’s unchanging and never failing love!

And so it is with us as followers of Jesus. As familiar as this Psalm of David is for those who follow Jesus, I imagine it had to be even more familiar for Jesus himself. Consider, for a moment, what this Psalm may have meant to Jesus.

Maybe the claim of being God’s anointed, the promise of restoration, and the promise of God’s never failing presence comforted him in Gethsemane. One thing is for sure, knowing that Jesus prayed this prayer faithfully changes my perspective on the idea of being led “in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” For Jesus knew that the path of righteousness was not a path of personal comfort - but rather a path to death and resurrection.

Jesus knew that his followers would understand what he meant when he called himself, “The Good Shepherd.” It would have been clear to them that he was claiming to be the one blessed by God to restore Israel. It also would have been clear to them that he was willing to die to make it happen.

You see, a shepherd during those times would find an enclosed space for his sheep and make his bed at the entrance - literally becoming the gate. The sheep became aware of his voice and presence in such a way that any other voice or presence would become a threat. Trust between man and beast was built on the experience of sacrificial love, and the sheep felt safe because of it.

Or so we assume. Sheep are not entirely rational beasts, and I would bet it had more to do with not being afraid than understanding sacrificial love. I would also bet that the ones who heard Jesus claim to be the good shepherd had no clue what he meant about “taking his life back up again.”

We, on the other hand, live after the resurrection - and now is a particular time in the life of the church ask ourselves, “So what?” So, what does it mean that we have a good shepherd - AND - we are called to love as we have been loved? Are we the sheep or are we the shepherd?

And the answer is... YES! We are a priesthood of believers. We are a congregation of ministers, each seeking ways to employ our gifts and talents. We are committed disciples and generous givers who love dangerously and passionately! We are a congregation of believers that has been moving around this community playing “Surely, Goodness, and Mercy Tag” for over 135 years, and we are a group of sheep that know where to go when we fall short, when we find ourselves in need of grace, and when we realize that we are best when we recognize that we have been at our worst.

The best part of that is knowing that none of this is a means to an end - self sacrifice, confession, and following the lead of the Good Shepherd are simply part of the reality we enjoy as followers of Jesus. They are signs in the road that point to the kingdom that is both present and yet to come, and they are experiences of God that require a response. I could also say that they are an invitation to “shut up and dance,” but I think I would rather say, “Tag - you’re it!” But don’t worry. We are all “it.” So, Beloved of God, I look forward to finding ways that have yet to be revealed that our hearts will convict us to “love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” And to God be the glory for that - now and always. Amen.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Disturbed

Sermon Delivered April 22, 2012 – Easter (3B)
Psalm 4
Acts 3:12-19
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36-49

Some of you may have noticed that I like to sign my emails with the word, Peace. I often wonder how that is received. Sometimes I will add the word, Grace, because I believe those are two concepts that require one another. We need grace - the unmerited and undeserved favor of God - in order to truly experience peace.

Still, I will confess that I sometimes add Grace to Peace because I think that makes the salutation sound a bit more ecclesiastical and a bit less hip. It’s my own little way of reclaiming something our culture has stolen from the church - or maybe we have given it away. The result is the same either way.

Some time ago I was venting about some injustice to a group of colleagues. I signed the email with “disturbance” instead of peace. It was, again, my own little way of saying that I do not wish for equilibrium in the presence of injustice. My hope was not for the sublime tranquility of the status quo. My hope could only be recognized by a change in the way things were.

Have you ever felt that way? It is not a happy way to feel, but I would suggest that it is not a bad way to feel. We tend to think of peace in terms of tranquility or restfulness and contentment. We do not tend to think of peace in terms of conflict. Strangely enough, Martin Luther King Jr. - the architect of the civil rights movement in our country - believed that peace was not simply the absence of conflict; instead, peace is the presence of justice.

Justice can be a loaded term these days. I believe Dr. King meant that justice is the end of oppression. Justice happens when the voiceless are given a forum to speak. Justice happens when those who have limitations placed on them by others are released. Justice also happens when those who have not been held accountable become accountable.

All of these things - the voiceless speaking, the limited becoming free, and the free becoming limited - all of those things lead to a disturbance of the status quo. This is not a bad thing - assuming that the disturbance meets the end of moving toward agreement, community, and greater faithfulness.

The Psalmist says, “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.” Another translation says it this way, “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” Clearly this is a statement about our relationship with God. In saying “do not sin” the Psalmist is not simply saying, “be nice.” The Psalmist is saying, “Do not turn away from God. Do not let the actions of others keep you from faithful, disciplined practice. Remember that the will of God will be completed in the end, and if you can’t handle waiting publicly then find a quiet place to consider God’s active presence in your life.

Because God is with you in all things. God is actively working, influencing the world around you - and not for your benefit alone, but for the accomplishment of God’s will. God is influencing the world and making opportunities for each of us to be known as God’s children.

That’s why Peter addressed his “fellow Israelites” - to let them know that the God of the covenant had come through ultimately and finally in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In fact, so strong was the power of the name of Jesus that just mentioning his name in reverence and faith resulted in a man being healed.

And healing still happens at the sound of the name of Jesus. It happens when we become disturbed by something in our community and we are moved to find a way to help. Maybe that is not as dramatic as a laying on of hands and lame people walking - especially when are not able to see the results of our efforts, or maybe we are not able to make the kind of effort we really want to make.

Then again, maybe the temptation to focus on our own benefit is why the Psalmist warns us so sternly not to sin. Maybe that is why Peter urges his fellow Israelites to believe that it was through Jesus that God restored a sick man - as if to say, “Imagine what could happen in your life!”

Although he doesn’t say that, actually. What he says is, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” Turn away from self-centeredness and turn toward God-centeredness. Turn away from the actions and attitudes that led to the crucifixion of Jesus: self preservation, belief in institutions over care for individuals, and the loss of identity as a people of God. Turn away from these things, and turn toward the promise of redemption. Turn toward a more communal identity. Turn toward the love that is so great and so powerful that it wipes out any previous attempt to reject it.

Thinking about the power of God’s love to redeem, somehow I am reminded of the classic children’s book, The Run Away Bunny. You know the story. The bunny comes up with all kinds of ways to run away. He becomes a fish in a stream, and the mother becomes a fisherman. He becomes a boat, and his mother becomes the wind. It goes on until he finally says, “Shucks. I might as well stay right here and be your bunny.”

And so he did. And so the author of 1 John implores us to do, for in Christ we all become aware of our status as beloved children. This status does not mean that we will never try to run away. It does not mean that we are kept from our vices or from harm; instead it means that we are free from the expectations of selfishness. We are free from a condition of sinfulness, because we are claimed by a love that is selfless, tireless, and always abiding within us as we abide in it!

As we abide in the love of God, we have the opportunity to express and share that love with others. I think that is hard to do unless it has been done for you. I wonder how many of you know of someone who demonstrated unconditional love to you? Think about that for a minute - who first showed you how to be loved? That person may have passed on to the church triumphant, or maybe not. Either way, imagine what life would be like (or was just after) if this person died.

That’s about where the disciples were. This teacher - this friend - had taught them and shown them all they thought they could ever know about God. And the powers that be killed him for it.

Then Jesus came and stood amongst them and said, “Peace be with you,” and they were disturbed. And he assured them with his wounds and with his hunger that he was more than a spirit disguised as their friend. Like the plucked strings of a harp, Jesus created a disturbance to offer peace. When the strings of the harp are plucked they create waves of sound that rip through the air, connecting time and space and creating a new reality in the minds of those who hear. More strings are plucked to create the resonance of a melody. And in between there is silence and rest to allow the various sounds to become complete.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” It was common in those days, and it was particularly important in the settlement of disputes. Jesus offered them, as he offers us today, a way to settle the dispute of our soul - the great question of our purpose and identity.

and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

And so it was begun in Jerusalem. And so the beat goes on, even here, even now. For as a community of forgiven sinners we are here to reach out into the world. We are here to sing our song of hope, and love, and redemption! We are here to proclaim, in our own little way, that we are deeply disturbed by the presence of Jesus in our midst. We are disturbed in such a way that moves us to even seek out conflicts that enable us to experience the presence of the One whose name means Justice. And that is Jesus, the One through whom we have redemption, salvation, and through whom we experience - in our own little way - resurrection in the here and now, just as we will there and then. And to God be the glory, now and always. Amen.

Question Everything

Sermon Delivered April 15, 2012 – Easter (2B)
Psalm 133
Acts 4:32-35
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

“Question Everything” read the bumper sticker on a friend’s car in seminary. It was right next to another that read, “Eve Was Framed.” That was my first introduction to what they call bumper sticker theology over at C.U.P.S. I decided to go and get my own immediately, but it was some time until I found an appropriate expression. Finally I happened upon a bumper sticker that said, “Denial Is Not A River In Egypt.”

My beat up truck with its snarky statement generated a lot of laughs, but it never approached the severity of a statement like “Question Everything.” At first I thought the idea of questioning everything was cool and rebellious, but later I realized that the demand of such a statement was much higher than I wanted it to be.

Question everything - really? I thought for sure this must be some kind of nouveaux hippy kind of thing. Yeah - question those who are in power, because power corrupts. Question the expectations of society that are based on materialism and greed. Question organized religion that is filled with ritual and devoid of spirituality. Question those who have more than they need when there are others who do not have enough.

Or maybe it was an existentialist and post modern statement. You know - any perspective is valid and good, and all questions lead to a greater understanding of the whole. Question everything so that you can get a sense of the values of the other person. Question even your own understanding of things in order to understand the essence of ideas and other things.

The thing is - I’ll never know what she meant by it. I never asked her. The command itself - Question Everything - has been attributed to, or at least influenced, contemporary and historical figures ranging from Ernest Gaines to Karl Marx to Thomas Jefferson, but it probably originated with the Greek playwright, Euripides, who wrote, “Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.”

Evaluate. Discern. Remember that your way of understanding is not the only way of understanding. The idea of questioning everything forces me to realize that everything is up for grabs. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but there is nothing that exists that will remain as it is. Life is dynamic, fragile, and brilliant!

I think that is why we have such a tendency toward nostalgia sometimes. We look to those shining moments where it seems like everything worked, or we push ahead - grasping for the Holy Grail of unity and perfection. You can hear both of these in the Psalm today. “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron...”

Stories of the unity of the infant church in Jerusalem are much the same. I often hear non-denominational leaders talk about returning to the practices of the First Century Church, but I never hear them acknowledge how much it looks like socialism - or the fact that the First Century Church was more like a bunch of dispersed communities than an organized social institution.

Then there is Thomas. Oh, how we love to tell the story of Thomas - the doubting one. Sometimes we tell his story to demonstrate how great we are for believing in Jesus sight unseen. Sometimes we tell his story to remind us that it is OK to question God’s active presence. Rarely do we tell his story because we find motivation and encouragement through this unbelieving skeptic of a man, but that is actually why I like to tell his story!

In the past I have found myself defending him - even admiring him - but lately I think he simply illustrates what I have come to know. The thing he illustrates is that sometimes I am too limited to experience Jesus as a symbol and a metaphor. Sometimes creedal statements and correct doctrine leave me feeling a little left out - like those who are entirely satisfied by them know something I do not.

The thing is, I don’t think I can fully understand God without the experience of God. Statements and prayers, poems and songs - these are all expressions of an experience of the resurrected Jesus, but without the experience of Jesus they are just pretty words. So, how do we experience Jesus? How do we place our finger in his wounds and press our hand upon his side?

Well, for one, it seems to me that our texts all point to the idea of being gathered with other believers. Within that gathered community, it seems confession is pretty important. Thomas confessed his limitations. 1 John reminds that if we confess God will forgive, and that is the gift of grace we have through Jesus!

Still, that all seems pretty head oriented and not very physical. Although we certainly need to consider our need from within and be still to know of God’s presence, the places where I believe I have encountered God most clearly have routinely been in service to someone in need. Most people think of that in terms of doing something good for someone because the do-gooder represents God. That’s not really what I am talking about.

I am talking about reaching out to someone else who is in pain because it is in that space that I find Jesus most present. In the vulnerability of reaching out and touching someone who is hurting I realize that God is present. And so when Thomas says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe,” it encourages me to believe that it was not just his disbelief but also his understanding - maybe even his calling - to connect with the suffering of Jesus. And Jesus - the resurrected Jesus - is wounded. Thomas is not simply being selfish, he is acknowledging the part of our souls that cries out, “Let the things that break the heart of God break my heart, too.”

Think of your deepest relationships. Are they only filled with joy or is there a shared experience of sorrow that binds you like nothing else can? That is the connection that Jesus offers us through the difficulties of life. In connecting with the suffering of others we become connected with the suffering of Jesus. And connecting with the suffering of Jesus means that our pain, our suffering, and our sense of loss are not only touched by Jesus but they are swept up by him into the light of the resurrection. The scars of the past and the pain of the present no longer hold any power over us, and the future holds nothing but promise. Seeking out those who are hurting is not simply an opportunity to play “Super Christian”; it is a means to connect with the active presence of God in the here and now.

This congregation is no stranger to these ideas, and we have a long history of activity and generosity in support of the wounded who might be as Christ to us. Yet, I have the sense that some do not believe that we can still do that type of thing very well. Personally, I think that service opportunities are vital to our experience of God. Certainly there are those who cannot do what they used to do, but that does not mean that something similar cannot be done.

In fact, just last Thursday I met with the Rev. Anne Sutton of Northwood United Methodist. She told me that there are still several hundred homes with serious needs following the floods in Carencro. Anything from work crews to food for volunteers to financial support is still needed.

You know, interestingly enough, Anne told me that there are basically two categories of folks that have been affected by that flood. There are those who own homes and have insurance and there are those who rent or just can’t afford the additional flood policy. It seems the later are still shell shocked, and some of them just don’t even know where to start. There are emergency groups working with the more extreme cases, but the majority is simply overwhelmed. They are awaiting resurrection. They are waiting for someone to recognize Christ in them. They are waiting for someone to become as Christ for them. Can we do something? Can we send a team or some sandwiches? Can we offer the presence of Christ? Can we see them as the presence of Christ for us?

Sometimes the wounds of another are more than we can bear. Sometimes there is suffering that we cannot alleviate. And that’s OK. Placing our hope in the resurrection does not mean that everything will be perfect. In fact it pretty well assures us that everything will not be. Placing our hope in the resurrection means that we can experience the presence of God even in the midst of brokenness, for in Christ God became limited so that we might learn to let go of our limitations.

Placing our hope in the resurrection means that we, like Thomas, are willing to question everything that does not seem to offer an experience of God. In fact, that is the very question we must ask of everything, “How does this offer an experience of God?” My expectation is that you will find - if not immediately then in retrospect - that God has somehow snuck in.

For God is always present in our common unity. God is always present in our doubt and pain. And God is always present in our desire to experience the holy space of vulnerability where we find that God is at work bringing light into the darkness of our otherwise unquestionably safe and secure lives.

We are a people of the resurrection, and that means that we are called to experience the risen Christ here and now - even as we will there and then. And to God be the glory for that - now and always. Amen!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Awful


First Presbyterian – Lafayette, Louisiana
Sermon Delivered April 8, 2012

Before reading the Mark passage I acknowledged that the oldest Greek manuscripts stopped at verse 8. Manuscripts containing the longer ending (vv9-20) can be dated to around 200 CE. Manuscripts with the shorter ending can be dated to around 400 CE. After reading verses 1-8 there was a moment of silence, followed by the shorter ending. Scholars believe that Mark’s gospel is probably the oldest text of the synoptic gospels, possibly preceding Matthew’s gospel by 15 years.

I want you to know that I have beautiful feet. It’s true! Romans 10:15 says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” An old mentor of mine told me about that many years ago. He was the same one who told me about preaching in a small country church and being told his sermon was awful. It turns out that the person meant “awe-full” or “filled with awe.” He meant it was inspiring!

I could not get past the idea of this double meaning when I read the shorter ending of Mark. The idea that the earliest Christian proclamation about Jesus ended for the first 200 years with, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” is pretty mind blowing.

Obviously they said something to someone. This ending is all wrong. It’s awful! Have you ever watched a movie or read a book and felt that way about it? Maybe you did not even finish the book because it just did not sit well with you. Perhaps the hero won too easily, or the plot was never resolved. Sometimes there are TV dramas that are just too full of messed up people making bad choices for me to enjoy because I have enough of my own problems. I really don’t need to watch a show about people inventing new ways to mess up their pretend lives and relationships.

Especially not today - especially not on the one day where everything is happy bunnies, eggs, and Easter Lilies. Today is a day that many look forward to with great anticipation. In fact - some Christian traditions in other countries celebrate Easter more than Christmas. Today is the day when our hope is assured, our questions are set aside, and we celebrate the gift of God’s grace! Today is Easter.

At least Isaiah got it right. God is going to prepare a feast! God is going to wipe away every tear. God is going to remove all that harms us - even death itself! What a comforting story this must have been to share during the Babalonian captivity. I can see mothers holding young children and lulling their hungry bodies to sleep by adding their favorite treats to the list. I can see fathers by the campfire giving instructions to older children on how to be patient and wait on the Lord.
Every culture has these stories of hope and redemption - it is one of the ways we cope and survive. One of my favorite examples from the depression era in our culture is the hobo song, “Big Rock Candy Mountain.”
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains there's a land that's fair and bright
Where the handouts grow on bushes and you sleep out every night
Of course this was just a story - just a myth in the tradition of hoping for a self-serving paradise. Our story is different than that, isn’t it? Our story is in the tradition of the prophets - those who speak for God. Our story is about a man, chosen by God, who chose to give up his life in order to follow God.
Peter tells our story when he tells the story of Jesus to Cornelius. Peter tells God’s story by telling us that the invitation has been made for everyone to love and fear God. The invitation has been made for all of us to know that God is with us in all things, because Jesus has broken down the barriers between God and humanity once and for all!

That is what the cross was about. The cross was the attempt of political forces to say that they had the power to cast someone out - not just out of society, but out of the reach of God. And that is why the empty cross is such a powerful symbol!

I once had a friend compliment me because I did not have “a dead guy on my cross necklace.” I was a little offended at first, but then she said, “My God is alive!”

Of course, at the time of the resurrection there were still plenty of crosses with dead guys on them. Perhaps that is why the women ran off in fear. It could have been a trap - if not only for them, definitely for the disciples of Jesus. What a terrible conversation. “Yeah, you don’t know me, but trust me. Jesus - he’s fine. Go tell his disciples - especially that guy, Peter - that he catch you, er um, catch up with you in Galilee.”

Mark’s gospel does not tell us that he is an angel, that he is someone they would know, or anything else. He is simply a “young man” who happened to be hanging out in the tomb that Jesus was buried in. That’s probably why “terror and amazement seized them.” It must have been awful - just awful. They came to honor their dead mentor and friend, and he was just gone. They were vulnerable. They were scared, and they ran.

I think that is not a bad parallel for the church in some ways. As the church continues to lose influence in society we may sometimes feel like we are doing what we are supposed to do, but it is not connecting with anyone else. Have we become caretakers of a dead body that we keep trying to anoint?

Sometimes it may seem that way. Sometimes it seems to me that the story we have to tell no longer makes sense. I have to admit that every time I get into conversations with non-believers or members of other faiths and begin to tell the story of Jesus they look at me like I’m Linus trying to tell the story of the Great Pumpkin.

But somehow, when I talk about making 300 Easter Baskets to show underprivileged children that someone cares about them, people get it. Somehow, when we talk about the results of the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering and results like the efforts of the Self Development of People program to rebuild the fishing industry in the Gulf Coast and Louisiana or to provide seeds for farmers in Haiti, people get it. When we talk about that, people begin to understand what the resurrection is all about. Somehow, when we talk about the way that we are a part of something greater than our own struggle to survive - well, that’s when even I start to understand what the resurrection is all about.

You see, here is what I find awful (meaning terrible) about the story of the resurrection of Jesus. First, it was a horrible death that I don’t believe was brought on by a blood thirsty God as much as it was by a blood thirsty humanity. Jesus lived in concert with God’s will, and the result of that was conflict with the powers that be. The second is that it simply sounds like a fairy tale to those who have a purely analytical mindset. The resurrection of Jesus is central to what we believe as Christians, but it can also be the thing that keeps others from taking God’s active presence seriously. The story seems like a myth about the past and a hope about the future more than an experience to be celebrated. The third thing that bugs me about the way we have responded to the resurrection of Jesus is that, culturally - not necessarily individually - we have taken the idea of Jesus’ death as a substitution for our sin to mean that we have no responsibility.

But there is hope. The motto of Presbyterians for Disaster Assistance is, “Out of Chaos - Hope.” So, here is what I think is awe-full (meaning terrific) about the resurrection.
Through the cross we know that God is present in suffering, all suffering - even our own. Through Christ’s resurrection we know that hope and redemption are always at work - because God is not bound by time or place. Christ’s resurrection was not simply about God’s action for one man’s body; it was and is about God’s action for every body. Through Christ’s resurrection we can wait with confidence, knowing that God has swallowed up death, and we also experience redemption and wholeness here and now.

I’ve heard stories of miracles like that - resurrection happening here and now. I’ve seen it in some of the lives of our members and their loved ones. Of course it doesn’t always have to be about healing. Sometimes resurrection and redemption are even more beautiful and powerful in the midst of brokenness.

There’s a story about redemption in the midst of brokenness that has been kicking around the internet for a while now. In 2008, Sara Tucholsky was playing for the softball conference championship in her senior year of college - the last game she would ever play. In a once in a lifetime moment she hit her first and last ever home run, but as she rounded first she overstepped it and turned back - tearing her ACL in the process. The ruling is that her team could not help her or replace her. She had to round the bases - or no home run. That’s when Mallory Holtman, the player with the most home runs in their conference history, and Liz Wallace - both players on the other team - stepped in, scooped her up, and walked her around the bases. Sarah’s career, along with the players who lost the championship because they helped her, ended then and there. But I would imagine that her experience of redemption and resurrection only started there.

Like the story of the women at the tomb, the ending has not yet been told. That’s what I find truly awe-full and inspiring about the shorter ending of Mark. It does not attempt to answer any questions about doctrine or dogma. It simply leaves us with the challenge. We have been told that Jesus was crucified so that we might know and experience God’s active presence. We have been told that even death cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We have been told that the Jesus we are looking for is waiting for us to move forward and spread the good news - the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. This news of death and resurrection that you can share whether you are broken or whole is good - and you have beautiful feet! And to God be the glory, now and always. Amen!