Tag Archives: Easter

Sent Without Canoes

A Sermon for 8 April 2018 – Second Sunday of Easter

A reading from the gospel of John 20:19-31.  Listen for God’s word to us.  And remember, this story takes place later on the first Easter.  Listen:

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “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.”  26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe.”  28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

 

If you’ve ever been west of the Mississippi – like to California, Oregon, Montana, or Nevada – then I’m guessing you are grateful for the adaptability of the men named Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.  It was 1804 and the newly formed nation just had acquired a huge expanse of land called the Louisiana Territory.  Wanting to know what they had gotten and determined to find a water route that connected the eastern United States to the Pacific Ocean; President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Corps of Discovery under the command of Lewis and the one Lewis made his co-captain, Clark.

A book called Canoeing the Mountains, quotes historians who describe the defining moment of Meriwether Lewis’ life.  “He was approaching the farthest boundary of the Louisiana Territory.  The Continental Divide.  The Spine of the Rocky Mountains, beyond which the rivers flow west.  No American citizen ever had been there before.  This he believed was the Northwest Passage, the goal of explorers for more than three centuries.  The great prize that Thomas Jefferson had sent him to find and claim for the United States.  With each stride, Lewis was nearing what he expected to be the crowning moment of his expedition and his life.  From the vantage point just ahead, all of science and geography had prepared him to see the watershed of the Columbia; and beyond it, perhaps a great plain that led down to the Pacific.  Instead, there were just more mountains”  (Canoeing the Mountains:  Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, Tod Bolsinger, pp. 87-88).  Captured in his expedition journal, Lewis writes:  “’Immense ranges of high mountains still to the West of us, with their tops partially covered in snow’” (Ibid.).

Tod Bolsinger, author of Canoeing the Mountains, writes:  “At that moment in the daunting vista spread out at the feet of Meriwether Lewis, the dream of an easy water route across the continent – a dream stretching back to Christopher Columbus – was shattered”  (Ibid.).  It’s been said that as Lewis and the Corps stood atop the Lemhi Pass in what would become the state of Idaho, the geography of hope gave way to the geography of reality.  Though wanting to cling to the known, as all of us do; Bolsinger writes:  “Lewis wasted no time in casting off assumptions once the brutal facts of his reality were clear.  There was no water route.  There were miles and miles of snowcapped mountain peaks in front of them.  They had no trail to follow.  Food was scarce in this rugged terrain.  And winter was coming.”  Bolsinger writes:  “This is the canoeing the mountains moment.  This was when the Corp of Discovery faced for the first time the breadth of the challenges posed by the Rocky Mountains and came to the irrefutable reality that there was no Northwest Passage.  No navigable water route to the Pacific Ocean.  This is the moment when they had to leave their boats.  Find horses and make the giant adaptive shift that comes from realizing their mental models for the terrain in front of them were wrong” (Ibid., p. 93).  Canoes would not get them over the mountains.  That which had served them well thus far, no longer would work.

They could have responded to the challenge differently – especially because the order from their Commander in Chief specifically charged them to find a water route from sea to sea.  Bolsinger writes:  “They could have decided that they had indeed discovered the vitally important, but certainly disappointing reality that the long-hoped for Northwest Passage and its water route was a myth.  . . .  They could have turned back.  They could have returned to Washington, made their reports, and told Thomas Jefferson that another crew more equipped to travel long distances through mountain passes should be launched on a different expedition.  But they didn’t” (Ibid., pp. 93-94).  History is defined by this moment and all the other things they could have done.  Nevertheless, Bolsinger writes, “at that moment, without even discussing it, Meriwether Lewis simply proceeded on” (Ibid., p. 94).   Deep within, he knew – as did Clark and the rest of their men – to what they really were called – not just some specific order from President Jefferson; but as men of the Enlightenment – even if it meant they would have to learn a whole new way through uncharted territory – Lewis, Clark, and their men were 100% dedicated to discovery in service to others as what gives meaning to life.  . . .  They kept going – re-committing to the principles that lie in the core of their being.  Leaving behind the familiarity of their canoes, they literally left the map.  They journeyed on.

It’s one week after Easter; but later that night according to the gospel of John.  Though Mary Magdalene had come from her garden encounter with the Risen Christ, the other disciples did not yet know what to make of the news.  Frightened, perhaps, that when the religious leaders caught wind of the story that the tomb was empty; their own crucifixions would be next.  Pick them off one by one, over some talk of “he is not here but has risen.”  Until every last preposterous voice was silenced.  There were no known mental models for how to live after your dead rabbi had risen from the grave.  No easy course to travel after one who had taught and healed and inspired was crucified, dead, and buried . . .  only to appear to them alive again just a day after the Sabbath rest???!!!  Standing in their shoes, we too would likely lock ourselves away in fear.  Not knowing the next steps to take after Mary burst in to declare she had seen the Lord!  It was their defining moment.  The moment all of heaven held its breath to see what this little ban of humans would do.

The gospel of John tells the story differently than do the gospels of Matthew and Mark, where the disciples later are given the great commission.  The gospel of Luke links with Acts to expand upon the reception of the Spirit 50 days after Easter at Pentecost.  But the gospel of John tells that it was on that first night of the week, the very night the tomb was discovered empty; the Risen One comes to his faithful followers breathing peace, in order to send them out into the world.  Somehow, he expects them to release others from their sins – a charge likely to clear those who had crucified him; so that the hearts of Christ’s followers would remain open.  Pure.  Ready to give witness to a revolutionary love often unseen on the world’s stage.  “Peace,” the Risen One says to those locked in fear.  “Now go.”  Get on with it – all he had commanded them pre-crucifixion.  They were to live the peace of laying down their lives for another, even as he had laid down his own for the sake of all the world.  “By this,” he had told them just a few nights ago at the supper when he knelt before them to wash their feet, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  Almost like Acts of the Apostles records in that part of chapter four that we heard earlier – though it seems like a hyperbolic exaggeration.  The vision of a beloved community enacted.  Living in one accord – heart and soul fully committed to one another so that all was freely shared for the common good.  Giving powerful witness in word and deed to the way God always brings new life.  Epitomizing grace as any in need found themselves filled.  According to scripture, these were the first marks of the ones who followed Christ’s Way.  No matter if the world around embraced the Way or not, together they journeyed on.

Theologian Marcus Borg – as many others – likens the moment in which the church today finds itself to be much like the moment those first followers faced on the eve of Easter.  Locked in fear for what might come in a world that seemed hostile to the Risen One.  Another wise scholar of today describes us as those needing to learn to be “apostles on both sides of the door” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2, D. Cam Murchison, p. 404).  “The missionary people empowered by this peace and this inbreathed Holy Spirit to bear the forgiving, transforming love of God into every sphere of human experience” (Ibid.).  The territory isn’t entirely unknown; for the first followers found their way post-resurrection.  Scripture also inspires us with the way they did finally leave that post-resurrection Upper Room to continue the adventure begun by their crucified and risen Lord.  Changing the course of history day by day in witness to the One whose life, death, and life again showed the Way of the great Creator of the Universe:  the abiding strength of love that triumphs even over death!  . . .  Though the current terrain may be unlike anything the church has enjoyed – at least since the founding of this nation; it is not impossible to traverse.  For remember, we worship the One whose very own mother was told at the announcement of his birth:  “nothing shall be impossible with God!”  (Luke 1:37).  It’s what Easter Sunday tells us!  What resurrection is all about!  . . .  That even when we stand metaphorically at the Lemhi Pass in Idaho – nothing but mile after mile of mountainous, off-the-map wilderness before us; the Risen Christ comes to us.  Breathing peace.  Helping us to let go of our cherished canoes.  Saying:  “Go.  Get on with it!  As the Father has sent me, so I send you!” (John 20:21).

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Easter and Us

A Sermon for 1 April 2018 – Easter Sunday

A reading from the gospel of John 20:1-18.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.  The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.  He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.  10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.  11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.  As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?”  Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!”  She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).  17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.  But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord;” and she told them that he had said these things to her.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

What does resurrection have to do with our lives – not just some day off in the future when our mortal flesh returns to the earth.  But today, on Easter.  And tomorrow.  And the next.  And any random day of the week, like three weeks from next Tuesday?  How does resurrection impact us every day?

We know how it impacted the life of Jesus, the Christ.  Arrested for sedition by a state that was colluding with religious folks who believed him blasphemous, Jesus was brutally executed.  Hung on a cross as were all those in his day who were condemned to die.  A handful of women – and, according to the gospel of John, the beloved male disciple – were the only ones from the throngs devoted enough to watch.  Joseph of Arimathea – who represented a dissenting voice on the Jewish high council – and Nicodemus – the Pharisee who once went to Jesus at night to learn of God’s undying love for the world – got his body off the cross.  The gospel of John records that they wrapped him with about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes – which is a hole lot of powerful healing oils!  They placed their dead Rabbi in the linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.  And because the Jewish day of preparation was fast-approaching, they laid his body in a newly hewn tomb in the garden near the spot where he had been crucified.  Night fell as the corpse lay stone-cold still, the ruah – the breath of Life, the spirit of the one called Jesus no longer there to animate his body.

Resurrection meant all the difference for that one!  Early on the first day of the week, after the celebration of Passover was over, in the dark before dawn; Mary Magdalene found her way back to the tomb in the garden.  Love’s redeeming work was done!  He was not there but had risen!  That very morning, he again called her by name.  Standing before her face-to-face; the Risen One charged her to go tell his brothers.  He was ascending – returning to the Source from which he had come.  Though he would appear to them all later that night.  Then one week following.  And again, when they had returned to the boats and nets.  The power of his life was not yet done.  The resurrection of his body confirmed all he had been teaching – the LORD of heaven and earth would have the last word, not death.  But Life for all and forever for those who would follow his path.

Resurrection changed the lives of those first rushing to the tomb.  Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John.  Mary his Mother, James his brother, Thomas and all the rest too.  To the ends of the earth eventually they would go.  Not scattered like scared sheep but sent with purpose to the far-reach of lands we now know as India, Africa, and Europe.  From that one little spot in a garden outside the walls of Jerusalem, a different kind of world-wide web would form.  The message over and over:  “I have seen the Lord!  The crucified, dead, and buried; lives forevermore!”  He is present with us.  In us, as we continue to walk the path he taught throughout his living and dying and living again.  . . .  Talk about an adventure!  All around their known-world they went to teach any who would listen everything they had seen and heard.  To give witness to Christ’s healing power.  To tell of his up-side-down understanding of the welcome of God.  To live in ways that showed yet the life-transforming effects of compassionate love.  Resurrection made all the difference in a world craving any seed of hope.

Resurrection is meant to change our lives too.  It shows us the pattern imprinted by the Creator in the creation.  Life.  Death.  Life again!  We too live forevermore.  Our days have purpose because of what we have seen – not just far off in the land where Jesus first lived.  Not even alone in the stories of scripture that we cherish.  But also in our very own lives.  Where the power of forgiveness has broken-open our hearts to heal.  To begin again.  Where the up-side-down welcome of God has allowed us to be – to accept ourselves in all of our foibles, because each part is accepted by God, redeemed by God, cherished not as weakness but as an opportunity for God to work wonders we cannot accomplish on our own.  In our own lives – I hope we have experienced and continue to be for others – people of compassionate love; those who consider the need in ourselves even as we notice the deep need in another.  Resurrection is meant to change our lives – to give us hope in a world where we’re taught to focus more on that which divides instead of seeing all the ways we are connected.  For we need one another.  And when we sit together to break bread, the mysterious Spirit of God is found binding us all into one.

Resurrection has everything to do with us – with our living, with our dying daily, with our living again now and forevermore!  . . .  Happy Easter, Resurrection people!  When we depart from here, let us go to make all the difference!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Opposing Energies

A Sermon for 16 April 2017 – Easter Sunday

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 28:1-15.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’  This is my message for you.”  So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.  10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened.  12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  15 So they took the money and did as they were directed.  And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

If you are here today, you likely have heard this story.  What happens when Sabbath rest is over and the followers of a brutally crucified man go to be with his body.  Few of us have experienced a week quite like theirs.  Those who loved this great teacher, those who followed and took hope from all the words he spoke, those who had seen miraculous things taking place in others and in their very own bodies.  Those who gathered at a festive meal just a few nights early though they did not understand it would be his last.  Those who had the courage to watch what would be done to him and those who scattered in fear as soon as the guard came to Gethsemane to take him away.  All of those whose hearts were crushed when the nails ripped through his flesh and at last the sword pierced his side showing all the world he was, in fact, dead.  A handful of those lovers of that One cannot bear it any longer.  The morning after Sabbath rest is over, they go to see the tomb.

Certainly you’ve heard the story before, though perhaps you’re not familiar with the details unique to the perspectives of the four different authors of the gospels who record the happenings as they had come to know it.  It’s the gospel of John, the latest of our recorded gospels that tells of Mary Magdalene heading off to the tomb alone.  Only to return with news something was amiss, which set off the apostles Peter and John in a foot race to see for themselves just what was going on.  It’s the gospels of Mark and Luke that have a group of women early the morning after Sabbath, taking spices to the tomb to properly tend the broken body of their beloved Lord.  Mark names the women from the start:  Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome; though Luke leaves out that specific detail until the end of the story when the group is named as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women too.  It’s Mark in which the women wonder together who will roll away the stone for them – as if they hadn’t laid out their anointing plan all that very well.  All the gospels tell of some sort of angelic being – either one or two come to deliver an important message to the woman or women, depending on the version of the story.  In Mark the women flee from the tomb and find themselves too amazed to tell anyone.  In Luke, the apostles believe the women’s words to be an idle tale.  John and Matthew include an appearance of the Risen Christ come to meet Mary Magdalene as it’s told in the gospel of John, and Mary Magdalene and the other Mary too as it’s told in the gospel of Matthew.  And it’s Matthew alone that makes mention of an opposition party at the tomb.  The guards.  Stationed there at the pleading of the religious leaders; for they were worried the disciples might try something tricky like stealing away the body after three days in order to deceive everyone that he had been raised from the dead.  According to Matthew chapter 27, Pilate grants the wish.  Guards are stationed in the graveyard and the stone of the tomb is sealed extra tight so the living cannot get in and the dead cannot get out.

The gospel of Matthew alone is also the one that tries to explain what happens.  How the earth itself shook and a mighty angel of the LORD descended to roll back the stone with ease before hopping up on it in victory to sit in all God’s glory.  Supposedly it all took place right after Mary Magdalene and the other Mary arrived at the tomb – before their very eyes and those of the guard’s as well.  Which leaves us wondering if it ever would have happened had not at least these two followers believed God yet could make the impossible possible.  Matthew doesn’t include a mention of women and spices and the duty of an early morning anointing of a beloved one’s dead body.  He simply states:  “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb” (Mt. 28:1).  Could it be they believed and had to see for themselves what their Lord had been telling them all along?  . . .  It’s the contrast lifted up by the gospel of Matthew.  As if in these characters of Mary Magdalene, Mary, and the guards of the religious leaders; we see the energies that war within us all.  The parts of us that hope and the parts of us that fear.  The parts of us that dry up like dead men, as the guards do in terror; and the parts of us that hold on to experience the absolutely amazing, as the women do when they nearly knock over the Risen Christ on their excited dash to deliver the incredible news.  It leaves us wondering what role we have to play in God’s resurrecting work.  Are we, as the gospel of Matthew seems to portray, necessary participants in the process?  So that the stirrings in us that something incredible yet can take place are exactly what is needed for new life to have a shot.

A prayer simply titled Common Prayer, could be the summary of the gospel of Matthew’s telling of resurrection possibility.  It goes like this:  “There are only two feelings.  Love and fear.  There are only two languages.  Love and fear.  There are only two activities.  Love and fear.  There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results.  Love and fear.  Love and fear.  Love and fear” (Common Prayer, by Leunig.  Quoted in books and speeches by Alan Jones).

According to the gospel of Matthew, there are two energies at the tomb that morning after Sabbath after fear had worked its mighty magic.  The earthquake, the flash of some mystical messenger, the site of an empty tomb.  Does it leave us shaking in fear?  For if this thing which defies human logic actually could be – this Life after death thing really something within the Divine’s reach – then what does it mean for us?  For our dying, even before our physical death; in order to truly Live.  . . .  And if this dying, even before our physical death; in order to truly Live is the Way as shown here in full in Christ; then . . . wow!  We indeed have absolutely nothing to fear.  . . .  With the women, we’re left to fall down in worship before this One.  To open wide our hearts in overflowing love; for the Way of the Living God.  For there are only two feelings.  Two motives.  Two activities.  Two results.  . . .  Because of Easter morning, which one will you choose?

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)