Monday, April 26, 2010

4th Sunday of Easter, First Congregational UCC, WY

Jesus as the Good Shepherd
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY 4/23/10
Based on Psalm 23; John 10:1-10

Every once in a while there are scriptures that come up in the Common Lectionary cycle that I can actually relate to from my own life experiences. This week happens to be one of those times, and it comes from firsthand experience of sheep herding.
The first reading that we have heard today is one of the most read and recited readings within the Christian Church. The other would be what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer. The 23rd Psalm is used most widely today as a reading to console us in times of deep grief, particularly as part of a memorial service. To many of us, this Psalm is so familiar that when we hear of some horrific event happening, such as the day the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorist, somewhere within the flood of emotions, this Psalm automatically comes to our consciousness.
Several summers ago, when a small Kansas community named Greensburg was blown off the face of the map, this was one of the Bible passages that came immediately to my mind as a way to give me comfort in dealing with that disaster, as well as a way of prayerfully supporting those people who were directly affected by that F-5 tornado. I would suspect that many of you, as long-term residents of a mining community, in hearing the tragic news of those who lost their lives in the April 5th mining accident in Montcoal, W. Virginia, in lifting up many varying prayers might have found yourselves instinctively saying the 23rd Psalm.
I suspect one of the reasons that the 23rd Psalm is so popular with Christians and non-Christians alike comes from the content dealing both with good times and with hard times. Phrases like: He makes me to lie down in green pastures, You prepare a table before me…, My cup runs over are all images of comfort, safety, and well being. The very first line, “The Lord is my shepherd”, provides that image of someone who is our protector, who is our provider. I also think this Psalm evokes memories that we have of a simpler time in our life.
Over this past year, many of us have been touched either by a serious illness or the death of a loved one. It was just a couple of years ago that I found myself walking through some very difficult waters with the loss of a very dear person in my life. {Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death} and at that same time I also meet Paul, who has become one of the greatest joys in my life.
One of the joys that I experience with Paul comes in our conversations about our childhoods. Even though Paul grew up in the Pacific Northwest and I grew up on the plains of Kansas, we seem to have experienced many of the same things in our formative years. One would not think that Klamath Falls, OR and Kingman, KS would have much in common in terms of weather patterns, temperatures and landscapes, but it does hold similarities allowing the two of us to reminisce like two old men sitting in front of Floyd’s barber shop – you remember, from the T.V. program called “Andy of Mayberry, RFD “.
Often times during a meal, we find ourselves sharing with one another memories about our childhood. In one such walk down memory lane, I shared with Paul about what it was like to walk down the sidewalks in Kingman as a child. How in the heat of the day, I would go and play in the local city swimming pool or go to the river and play in the warm running water {He leads me beside the still waters}. Of almost not being able to breathe at the height of the day, because the humidity almost matched that of the temperature; and how I loved walking down the street that my grandmother lived on as a way to escape the damaging ultra-violet sunrays because the whole street was enclosed with a canopy of trees that also seemed to cool the air at the hottest point of the day {He makes me to lie down in green pastures}. Of how at early evening one could hear the rustling sounds made by the cicadas and by dark the sounds of the crickets chirping and the frogs croaking and the sight of the lightening bugs as they went about doing whatever lightening bugs do {He restores my soul}. In the remembering and telling of those memories, I could almost smell and taste those early experiences in growing up in that small mid-western town {Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life}.
This is how the 23rd Psalm affects those who hear it. It can bring back memories that provide the sense of security, of comfort, of joy, of a day gone by.
At the beginning of this lesson, I joked about my having experience in herding sheep. But it’s true! A part of my childhood was spent, living on farms. When I was in the 5th grade my family moved out of town to a small farm and part of my first venture in the world of business was in raising sheep. This is one reason why I really enjoy today’s scripture text. I have had firsthand experience of the nature of a sheep. Both the Psalm and the New Testament reading out of the Gospel of John are dealing with sheep and their shepherd.
In the 23rd Psalm the language uses lots of “He’s” in it, “He makes me..; He leads me..; He restores..; for His names sake.” These seem to present God in a very masculine, male type image, yet if you examine more closely what is being said, you will see that the actions of the shepherd abound in the type of nurturing that we tend to attribute to that of mothers. That is one reason for the composition by Bobby McFerrin in his version of the 23rd Psalm where the reference to the shepherd is that of “She”. I would like to share this revision that Bobbie did just to let you hear it in the feminine pronoun: The 23rd Psalm [lyrics]
The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need, She makes me lie down in green meadows, Beside the still waters, She will lead. She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs, She leads me in a path of good things, And fills my heart with songs.
Even though I walk, through a dark and dreary land, There is nothing that can shake me, She has said She won't forsake me, I'm in her hand. She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes, She anoints my head with oil, And my cup overflows. Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me, All the days of my life, And I will live in her house, Forever, and ever.
Glory be to our Mother, and Daughter, And to the Holy of Holies,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World, without end. Amen
by B. McFerrin
Let’s shift gears just a little and look to the Tenth Chapter of the Gospel of John. Here we see Jesus declaring himself as the shepherd. In the 23rd Psalm, there is no doubt that the shepherd was God. So in this reading we see Jesus declaring himself at the very least God’s ambassador and calling the religious establishment, specifically the Pharisees, nothing less than thieves. The Rev. Peter Gomes, a professor at Harvard University and also minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard, in his book, “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus”, reminds the reader of how conditioned we in the church have become, to think of the teachings of Jesus as typical and something that most people would be willing to listen to with ease and comfort. This comes from 2,000 years of the church teaching these lessons. But in reality, what Jesus had to say was not only revolutionary and raw to those who first heard him speak, but his teachings were scandalous to those who thought they had the answers of how to live a prosperous and rewarding life in the site of God.
I have a confession to make: often I struggle with what title I should give to each sermon that I write. Today is no different. The sermon title that you did not get this morning was titled, “Jesus as Your Auntie Mame”. I had good advice that it may be too much a stretch for some people to think of Jesus in that light, so the title was altered to “Jesus as the Good Shepherd.” One of the reasons why I had thought of Auntie Mame didn’t come from the famous line in the movie, “the world is a banquet and most people are starving to death”, rather it came from my thinking about just who is a shepherd and what does both the 23rd Psalm and John 10 have to say about what the shepherd provides? Conversely the question also needs to be asked, who is the thief and what does the thief take?
In the 23rd Psalm, I have already indicated that God is referred to as the shepherd. In John 10, Jesus states that he is the shepherd. Since we think of Jesus as both God and human there doesn’t seem to be much of a conflict. But is Jesus the only one who is a shepherd? A shepherd is one who leads, one who nurtures, and one who protects. This is the lesson from the 23rd Psalm. Jesus expanded this to also include the one who gives life and gives it more abundantly.
Outside of God and Jesus as being shepherds, we often assign to ministers these same attributes. The word Pastor carries with it that idea of shepherding his or her flock; those who are under the Pastor’s care. I would suggest that there are many other people who are shepherds. Those of you who are parents are shepherds. Those who work in health care or in the school system are shepherds. Those who volunteer their time in the choir, or at the organ and piano, or as Sunday school teachers or youth leadership are all shepherds to this congregation just as I am considered your shepherd. You as members and friends of this church are shepherds to the larger community of Rock Springs. You are likewise shepherds to me.
When we as disciples of Christ work at living out his teachings of love, mercy and grace, we are shepherds. It is when we live in the consciousness that life is a gift of God and that this gift is to be shared with others, that we are the good shepherd. Jesus states,”I have come, that you may have life and that you may have it more abundantly.” He wasn’t speaking about financial prosperity. He was speaking about “personal growth”. A few decades ago the buzz word was “self-actualization’; today I would call it “holistic living’. When we think about ourselves in relationship to the stewardship of our planet, we may even refer to it as “living green.”
Jesus tells us to beware of the thief, for the thief comes to steal. What does he steal? He steals your life. How does that happen? The thief will restrain your growth; the thief will enslave, usually achieved by rules – you must do this, you must not do that; the thief will kill, by attacking your self-image which is a piece of your inner person, your soul.
If you listen to programs like FOX news, for example, you hear a lot of commentaries that seem to be filled with fear and language that oozes with “hate filled” nature. These are the Thieves that Jesus is speaking about. This type of fear and hatefulness is the opposite of the message of the Gospel, which brings hopefulness and courage, respect and good will, justice and mercy. The message that comes from the empty tomb says, “Jesus is our good shepherd” and that through the resurrection of Christ, God is Still Speaking; providing a path to the gate that Jesus calls his sheep to come through; one of grace, hope, and of life-giving, not life-taking. When we put into practice these teachings of Jesus, we too are the shepherds of his world! Let us live as Christ and be the good shepherd’s of God’s creation. Amen

Monday, April 19, 2010

3rd Sunday of Easter, First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY

Recognizing Jesus
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, April 18, 2010
Based on Acts 9:1-20 and John 21:1-19

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t receive one or more internet stories or poems from friends as well as members in this congregation that have very clever ways of looking at life! This morning’s title of the sermon is “Recognizing Jesus”. So, for that reason I want to share one of these gems with you. There was no title to this other than God Enjoys A Good Laugh:
There were 3 good arguments that Jesus was Black:
1. He called everyone brother
2. He liked Gospel
3. He didn't get a fair trial

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish:
1. He went into His Father's business
2. He lived at home until he was 33
3. He was sure his Mother was a virgin and his Mother was sure He was God

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:
1. He talked with His hands
2. He had wine with His meals
3. He used olive oil

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian:
1. He never cut His hair
2. He walked around barefoot all the time
3. He started a new religion

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was an American Indian:
1. He was at peace with nature
2. He ate a lot of fish
3. He talked about the Great Spirit

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Irish:
1. He never got married.
2. He was always telling stories.
3. He loved green pastures.
But the most compelling evidence of all - 3 proofs that Jesus was a woman:
1. He fed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was virtually no food
2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it
3. And even when He was dead, He had to get up because there was still work to do
Can I get an AMEN!!
In both the Epistle and the Gospel readings for this morning, we see where Paul (whose name was Saul at the beginning of the story) and seven of the disciples of Jesus having an encounter with Jesus, both in different places and in different times. In both story’s nobody recognized Jesus at the beginning. Paul was asking, “who was he” that had brought him to his knees with lightening flashing round him; The seven disciples who were on the boat didn’t recognize Jesus until after Jesus told them to cast their fishing nets on the other side of the boat. In fact, it wasn’t until these nets had been filled beyond capacity with fish that John finally realized that the man on the shore talking to them was indeed Jesus.
Both of today’s stories are dealing with two very different types of people. In the Epistle, we read about a man who is filled with hatred toward those who were distorting his understanding of what the Hebrew religion was about. I would venture a guess and say that this hatred was fueled by “fear”, fear that if left unchecked, the church that he had come to love and the truths that he had built his life upon would be eroded away by this “new” interpretation of the Torah. The Rev Fred Phelps of this world comes to my mind as I think about a comparison to this man Saul. Rev Phelps has an established understanding of what the scriptures say and of how to live one’s life by. With each hateful demonstration that he is involved in, he believes he is acting through the authority of scripture. Saul was doing the same thing, he asked the church authorities for a letter that gave him the right to hunt down and bring to trial members who were a part of the early Christian church, known at that time as The Way. These were Hebrews who had listened to the teachings of Jesus or of the testimonies of the disciples or other followers of Jesus and had incorporated these teachings into their religious lives.
It is in the Gospel of John that we find the other type of person that is having an encounter with Jesus, his own disciples. Here is a group of guys who had lived with, eaten with, listened to, and even had two earlier encounters with Jesus after his death, who after the resurrection had decided to go fishing! As readers of this story, we could conclude that the two post crucifixion appearances weren’t enough to keep the momentum for the disciple to be able to move their lives forward past the Easter event. After Jesus had gone, they appear to have decided to go back to business as usual pre-Jesus. Isn’t that so like us? We spend six weeks preparing for the excitement, the good news, the salvation message that the “empty tomb” brings at Easter, only to find ourselves within a few weeks, falling back into old behaviors and old attitudes.
The primary thrust of today’s lessons is that of needing a personal relationship with Jesus in order to have a meaningful change within our lives. For Saul, he met Jesus on a trip to Damascus, a trip scheduled to bring terror to those of the Way; a trip to do bodily harm to anyone that he felt wasn’t following prescribed doctrine.
After his encounter with Jesus on the road he followed the instructions to wait for a particular person in Damascus who would help him in the healing that needed to come in his life. When Saul had done as Jesus had instructed he became the greatest moving force of the early church in promoting the Gospel of Christ to the known world.
For the disciples, their relationship with Jesus seems to be about the continual need of being nurtured. They had the privilege of living with Jesus for 3 yrs as well as two appearances after the crucifixion while they were living in fear behind locked doors. Now we see them out, away from the safety of a room and in the open, on the sea of Tiberius, yet there seems to be something missing in their lives, as they seemed to have no direction, so they did what we all do when we don’t know what to do; they go back to an activity that they are familiar with, that of fishing. This particular group of men had all been business men prior to following Jesus during those 3 yrs. They all had been in the business of fishing.
I realize that these men were probably still in shock that the dreams that they had dreamed were put to death on a cross, still I find it fascinating that they did not recognize Jesus while he was standing on the shore suggesting to them that they would catch fish if only they put their nets on the other side of the boat. Again, I realize that you might not be catching any fish in one spot and just a few feet away, if you put your pole or net in, you can catch all the fish you want. Maybe Jesus saw the movement of the water indicating the fish were on the other side but, I don’t think this is the point of the story. For surely these experts of catching fish could have seen signs that maybe fish were holding school on the other side of the boat.
This is my take on this part of the story. Sometimes we get so caught up with what is going on in our lives, especially when we are dealing with a horrific tragedy that we might not be able to see those things that are in front of us or surrounding us and it is through the guidance of another that can help us see the light at the end of the tunnel or help us walk through a heavy point in our life and help us miss those landmines that could destroy our lives. Once these men took action on what the man on the shore was sharing with them, then they recognized that it was Jesus who was giving them those suggestions. In the same vain, it wasn’t until Peter was being asked by Jesus if he, Peter, truly loved him, then if so, to go feed His lambs, to take care of His sheep, and to feed His sheep. When we hear the word of Jesus, it only takes root within our lives when we actually take action on it.
There is one person in today’s readings that I haven’t touched upon yet. Ananias was living in Damascus at the time Saul had his encounter with Jesus. Scripture uses the word, “Lord” when Ananias has his encounter. So it is unclear as whether it is Jesus speaking to Ananias or God, but the point being again is, an encounter of life changing proportions is happening in Ananias’ life. Ananias is told to seek out the murdering Saul and be the instrument in which Saul is to be healed by. Had Ananias not acted upon the leading of the Lord, Saul might have never been healed and history might very well have turned out differently.
Have you understood the point of today’s lesson? We recognize Jesus through our encounters with Jesus. Usually it is through those around us who help us recognize Jesus. We just need to be open enough to recognize it. Then the only way that we can continue to carry on this Good News of God is by acting upon our encounters and committing ourselves as did Peter to follow the guiding of the Spirit; to feed Jesus’ lambs, to care for His sheep, and to feed His sheep.
How do we “recognize Jesus? Well there’s a good argument that Jesus was Irish, there’s an equally good argument Jesus was black, and don’t forget the argument that Jesus was a woman. Jesus comes to us in many ways and in many forms. The question is,” are we open enough to recognize Jesus when we have those encounters with him in our journey?” Amen

2nd Sunday of Easter, First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY

The Power of Fear!
By Rev Steven R. Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY 4/11/2010
Based on John 20:19-31

One of the majorly fun activities when one is a part of an overnight slumber party, youth lock-in at the church, or around a camp fire is the telling of ghost stories! Even on T.V. these days there are several programs geared around searching for ghosts, trying to prove or disprove that the structure that is the subject for that show does or does not have paranormal activity! There is a huge adrenaline rush that comes when we are listening to these types of stories where the lights are turned down low and the shadows of the room play with the images that our minds start to create and of course we are in a safe secure environment.
My favorite story comes from the movie The Addams Family, Family Values, where Wednesday Addams is telling a story to a group of spoiled, very rich girls at camp one night and talked about how an evil witch came one night to this group of girls and put a spell on them and when the girls woke up the next morning all their original noses had grown back! The girls went into a complete panic, for the idea of having your original nose grow back after having a nose job to make you look perfect was more frightening to them than any encounter with a wild animal or an ax murderer could be.
Fear is the most paralyzing emotion known to humankind! When we are overcome by fear, our ability to reason and to act is immobilized. William Sloane Coffin, a former United Church of Christ minister and a former pastor to Riverside Church in New York City, 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.”
As we read from John this morning, we see the disciples are hiding out behind locked doors for fear that the religious leaders or Romans would arrest them and kill them as they had done to Jesus, just a few days before. They already are aware that the body of Jesus had disappeared, for the tomb that he had been placed in was empty. “Who took it?” had to be in their minds, and who ever had taken the dead body of Jesus, could possibly come looking for them as well. Then out of nowhere, Jesus is in the room with them. Their fear must have been heightened tenfold as they gazed upon this abnormal vision of Jesus, his ghost. Has he come back to chastise them for letting him go to the cross and be crucified? Has he come back to harm them for their weakness under pressure and like Peter who denied knowing Jesus three times that fateful night? What is Jesus, this spirit, going to do to them? Fear had to be escalating.
Jesus could sense this fear; He had the power! This was his chance to get back at those who had professed to following him to the death, but when push came to shove, (they) fell apart and ran away from him, leaving him to hang out on the line alone. “Peace be with you!” were the first words from Jesus’ mouth. Jesus knew that before this group of men could hear what he had to tell them, their fears had to be released. Before these men could start to think straight, Jesus knew they were going to have to move beyond their immobilization that was fueled by their fear.
Once these disciples had been assured that they were not going to be harmed by Jesus for their failure to him, they began to realize what a miraculous event had taken place; that the empty tomb wasn’t empty because of someone stealing Jesus’ body, but rather it was empty because of Jesus himself! Then Jesus tells them a very important thing: “As my father sent me, so I send you.” In this great commission by Jesus to these men there comes great danger, for with this commission, Jesus was saying not only, “go out and preach the news of salvation”, but also there is a price to this message; as I was crucified by the world for telling the truth, you too must expect the same treatment. With this understanding the “Peace be with you”, becomes more meaningful. I think what Jesus was saying is, you must have faith that God knows what is going to happen in your life; you must have faith in the Truth and know that even though you may fall victim to the anger and milieus and selfish motives of those who oppose the truth, you must know that Truth will survive and prevail even thought you will be put to death.
Social justice issues are at the heart of Jesus’ message to this world. We may not like to hear that, but that is the truth. People like Fox News Commentator Glen Beck are people who are fear driven and do not want to hear the truth and at this moment, their voices are heard by millions on the airways in this country and the voice of Christ’s church is being challenged, dwarfed and denied at this very moment. Issues on human sexuality and human rights are such social justice issues. These are conversations that we as a congregation voted on in this past January’s business meeting. The particular topic is on human sexuality and of racism, as we will view a little later this morning a video that speaks to the Open and Affirming process.
We as a church are starting to examine just what does the Bible have to truly say about human sexuality, for believe me, brothers and sisters, the church has for far too long run away from the topic of God’s gift of sexuality. We, white people, as a social group with privilege in this country have not examined very closely our personal issues on race and how that affects so much of our lives. Why have we avoided such basic human rights issues for so long? Is it out of fear! We need to understand that at some level each of us has fear on most topics that deal with Social Justice issues, and that God deeply desires us to face those fears and receive Jesus’ challenge to go out and continue to deliver the message of “Reconciliation and mercy” to a world that is immobilized by fear. But in order for us to be able to do this, we need to truly accept the words that Jesus gave to his disciples, “Peace be with you.” For it is only through the sense of peace which comes from God that we will ever truly be able to accept the commission that God has for the church, “As the father has sent me, so I send you.”
This type of ability only comes with a personal encounter with Jesus. For the disciples it came in a locked room. For Thomas, it came from his physically touching the wounds of Jesus. For me it has come through the struggle of understanding who I am as a man who is homosexually oriented. Note I did not say “chosen life style”, for my chosen life style is that of being a Christian, a student, a follower of God through the teachings of Jesus. Only you will be able to know how this personal experience of Christ has become real to you. What I do know is that you cannot rely on someone else’s experience just as Thomas could not believe, for that will not give you enough strength to fight against the injustice that runs unchecked in this world. The resurrection that we celebrate through Christ only truly lives when we make it happen through our challenging the “darkness” that lives within this world. That darkness is everything that does not give equal value to each person; that darkness is the injustice that exists in God’s world! That darkness is found in the “un-forgiveness” that Christ says, we have the power to forgive. Let us as a body in Christ, take up this commission and begin to forgive ourselves first, so we can then forgive others! Amen

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Sermon, Rock Springs, Wy First Congregational UCC

I took out the last names of people in this sermon as a privacy curetesy.

Where Are You Jesus?
By Rev. Steven R. Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY
Easter Sunday April 4, 2010
Based on Luke 24:1-12

The question for today is, “Where are you Jesus?” As Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of James and some other women came to the place where they had placed the dead body of Jesus just a couple of days before, they discovered that the grave had been disturbed; that the stone had been rolled away and upon looking inside the tomb found it empty! The very first thoughts that had to come to their minds would almost certainly be, “Where is Jesus?” “What has happened to his body?” One can almost imagine Mary Magdalene in her grief cry out, “Where Are You Jesus?”
Isn’t this the same cry we make when we come face to face with those “empty tombs” of our lives: the losses and disappointments, the heartbreaks and failures, the tragic deaths and prolonged illnesses, the loneliness and despair (UCC commentary) that we at varying points in our lives encounter? Do we not cry out, “Where are you Jesus?” Those tombs are our “Friday” lives, and Jesus shares them with us. But Jesus also shares Sunday, and resurrection, new life and new hope, with us as well. (UCC commentary)
In the Isaiah reading for this Easter Sunday, God promises to do something new and really, really big: to “create a new heaven and a new earth” (65:17) With this promise, we can look to “the deepest meanings of the resurrection story to have to do with new creation” No matter what things look like now, no matter what suffering and strife may be before us and in our midst, no matter what the powers that be or the cynics of this world may say, this Easter morning says, Wait. Stop. That we are part of something greater than ourselves, and our lives are lived in a new age of hope, even in the midst of suffering. (UCC Commentary)
“Where are you Jesus?” As the women stood before the empty tomb, they were perplexed and suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them and asked them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” vs 5 Is this not how we are, when we are standing before our empty tomb experience, that of being perplexed? The question of “why do we look for the living among the dead” is truly a classic question to us! We often go around living our lives, looking for what is “life giving” in those places or in objects or in someone who does not provide what is “life giving”; so coined the phrase, “Looking for love in all the wrong places!”
It is at the empty tomb that these women begin to learn what they have been taught during Jesus’ life as these men in dazzling clothes remind them, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Their lessons begin with “remembering”, because this amazing moment actually makes great sense if they remember all that Jesus said and did, and connect what he said and did with what they see before them, their “experience.” Author, Paul Scott Wilson, claims that the raising of Jesus authenticated his teachings and his deeds, and that our study and remembering of them, in the light of our own experience and that of the community, leads us to deeper faith: “As a church we do not ask people to believe in something they cannot experience; rather, we offer them in work, sacrament, and other means an encounter with God, who comes to them not as information or abstract ideas but as an event that is personal.”(Lectionary Commentary)
This morning is the Culmination of the past week’s events. Events that started with the waving of Palms last Sunday, as we celebrated the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, where we see Jesus being greeted into the Holy City as a King. Then during the week, we came together and celebrated the Passover meal, where Jesus instituted what we now call “communion”, where we remember through the breaking of bread and the pouring and drinking of the wine, his life that he gave for us. On Good Friday, we read how Jesus was handed over to those who were afraid of his message of “love and reconciliation” and was put to death and laid in the tomb. Today, we are confronted with the “empty tomb” and the message it has for us.
The “empty tomb”, the Easter message is God’s adverb to the world; the adverb of “Anyway”. Where those who think they have power to stop the work of God, by putting to death the one who carried God’s message of “We belong to God and are not under the power, the control, the selfish desires of those who believe they have dominion over this world.” But rather God says through the empty tomb, “you may have killed my son, but! God has left the world asking the question, “Where Are You Jesus?”
I came across a poem last Fall, when I was working on the memorial service for John McFadden, written by Kent Keith titled “Anyway” that speaks to the message of the empty tomb. It says, for example, “People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway! The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway! Honesty makes you vulnerable. Be honest anyway! What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway! People really need help but may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway! If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do good anyway!”
When you look up the meaning of this inspiring little adverb, “anyway,” in the dictionary you will see it means: “nevertheless,” “regardless”. The powers that be, killed Jesus, the sin of the world cut him down; nevertheless, God raised Jesus up. God raised Jesus up anyway. Hatred and fear and violence thundered on Friday, but God had the last word, “anyway”, on Sunday because God loved the world too much to take away our hope or to bring to an end the beautiful new creation that God had promised long ago. UCC commentary
This past Thursday we came together in a community celebration of Passover where we read the Haggadah under the guidance of Ed xxxxxx. For those of you who may not know Ed or his lovely wife Liesel xxxxxxx, they are by birth Jews. As Lynn xxxxx and I were helping Liesel on Thursday morning, set up for the Passover meal, Liesel commented to me, “Steven, would you think that I as a child growing up in Nazi Germany would have ever thought that as a Jew, I would be able to celebrate my religion in a Christian church like we are going to be doing this evening?”
“Where are you Jesus?” I will tell you where Jesus is this morning: He is in you and me; Jesus is in people like the xxxxxxx; Jesus is here this morning as we come to the communion table; Jesus is in differing faiths coming together in Love and remembering God and of how God walks in every aspect of our life. “Where are you Jesus?” He is not in the tomb, dead, but alive, living through all who work toward the good that God hopes for; Jesus is living and working in a new heaven and a new earth! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!