Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Easter Sermon

This is what I preached in church on Sunday. Again I had help, from Paul Jaster in Sundays & Seasons, from Kelly Fryer in The Lutheran Course.

Resurrection of Our Lord—Easter Day
April 16, 2006
Mark 16:1-8
Thomas Arth

I was reading something on the internet.
A Lutheran pastor was musing
that the women we just heard about in the gospel reading
were the first Lutherans.
They get blown away
by the best news ever revealed in the history of the world,
before and since—
and don’t tell anyone!
We Lutherans have remained faithful to this scripture!
It’s been said that the only commandment we’ve ever obeyed
is Jesus’ command to secrecy, "Don’t tell anyone!"
Give us another 500 years—
and we might start telling the secret!
Now, of course, he was joking.
But plenty of people in many other Christian denominations
could probably make the same joke.
Christians are supposed to be
all about spreading and sharing the good news.
We’re not here to reform people’s morals,
or to police their behaviour.
The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us
so that the Word of unconditional promise made to the world
in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth
might be the focus of our life, our mission,
and that through us
the world would know what we know.

Yes, the news of Easter Day is good.
But do you think maybe it’s just a little too good?
Too good to be true?
Doesn’t it sound less like the gospel truth
and more like wishful thinking or a fairy tale?
I just read the Easter story from Mark.
Now, you may know that Mark is the shortest of the Gospels
and most scholars think it’s the earliest of the Gospels,
the first one written.
If you were to look into your own Bibles
you might find that there’s more to the story after verse 8
but the rest might have brackets around it or footnotes
explaining that the most ancient authorities
bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8,
just as our reading did today.
It’s kind of abrupt, kind of harsh, and strange
that the messenger at the tomb tells the women
to go and tell what they’ve seen and heard,
but they don’t do it.
Instead they flee in terror and amazement
and say nothing to anyone out of fear.
That’s why that joker on the internet said
they must have been the first Lutherans.
They receive this good news but won’t tell anyone about it.

The first witnesses of the resurrection
had their problems with the message.
No one thought Jesus would rise from the dead,
least of all the first disciples.
The Bible usually portrays the disciples as being quite clueless.
Jesus tells them a number of times that he has to die
and that he’ll rise again, but they don’t clue in.
When it came down to the crunch they took off.
All of them had fled.
Even the women who came to the tomb
sought the dead among the dead.
They were coming with spices they bought
so that they could anoint the body.
They were doing it out of love and respect,
a final act of kindness for the Jesus they knew and loved.
When they heard that their Lord was raised,
they were so poorly prepared for this news
that they turned their tails and fled.
Their mouths were zippered shut.

Isn’t that just like us?
We claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
We pay him our respects
and anoint him with our fragrant thoughts of adoration.
Then, when we are called upon to "go and tell"
and proclaim his death and resurrection,
we are filled with fear and trembling.
But you know, we’ve got an advantage
over the women who came to the tomb that morning.
We’ve been met by Jesus.
Meeting Jesus changes your life
and makes you want to share that with everybody.
But, maybe if we’re not sharing that with everybody,
we haven’t met Jesus.
Have you?
Do you know what happens when the word is proclaimed,
in the reading of the scriptures,
in the preaching of the gospel?
What happens?
Jesus comes.
What happens when the sacrament of baptism is shared?
When we speak God’s promises over a person as water is poured?
Jesus comes.
What happens when we hold out our hands
to receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion?
We receive Jesus.
Have you met Jesus?
Well, did you hear the word today?
Did you receive the bread, the wine?
Is the body and blood of Jesus Christ given for you?
You were met by Jesus.
It’s not like we have to go racing around the world looking for Jesus.
Jesus comes to us!
A couple of years ago I stood up a chalkboard in the middle of the chancel
and I drew a big arrow pointing down.
It was something I taught to the confirmation kids,
something I know they got because I drilled it into them week after week.
It's a simple message.
The arrow means that God always comes down.
God comes down in the bread and the wine.
God comes down in the water of baptism.
God comes down in the word that’s spoken.
God comes down in the community we share as Christians.
God came down in Jesus.
God comes down in Jesus.
God always comes down.
There’s never anything that we could do to flip that arrow around
and make our way up to God.
It’s a gift.
So, have you met Jesus?
Have you been met by Jesus?

But just because we are so often failures as disciples, however,
doesn’t mean that God allows it to remain that way.
Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
But, more than that, he raises us from the dead
and gives us the strength, the power,
the courage for service.
The risen Christ could have written off his disciples
and summoned others in their place,
especially Peter who denied him.
They all deserted him, denied him, betrayed him.
He could have said,
"This bunch of losers will never amount to anything.
Before I ascend to my Father in heaven
I better gather together a crew
that’s going to make something of themselves
and get this message out there."
He could have written them off.
He could write us off, too,
especially when we deny him again and again.
But he didn’t, and he doesn’t.
Instead, Jesus gathers his fearful, faithless disciples,
forgives them, and empowers them for service.

Listen to the stories of some who have been empowered,
who have gone out and shared the good news.
One woman, a Lutheran, worked in a salon
and she was one of the shyest people you’d ever meet.
If you met her in a crowd
she’d be the one standing at the back against the wall.
But she was responsible for bringing more people into her church
than anyone else.
They were people she worked with at the salon,
or her neighbours,
or the parents of kids
who played on teams with her kids.
She would always say, when asked,
that the reason she invited so many people to come to church
is because she loved her church.
She probably did love her church.
But here’s the real truth—
she loved people.
And she saw them.
When she was talking to them she could see them.
She could see the emptiness.
She could see the difficulty.
She could see how much they needed what she had found
and it was the most natural thing in the world
for her to invite those people to come.

Another woman had been disconnected from the church
through her whole adult life.
She’d been married in the church,
but had no connection after that.
Her children hadn’t been baptized,
her grandchildren hadn’t been baptized.
Well, she found her way back to the church
and started telling people about what she was experiencing there.
All of a sudden her neighbours and co-workers
started talking about their church activities.
She didn’t want to hurt any of their feelings
but she said to her pastor,
"I went through such terrible times in my life
working right alongside all these people,
and never did any of them invite me to come to church with them,
or talk to me about their faith,
or offer to pray with me,
or even offer to pray for me.
None of them dared to talk about those things,
until I started talking about how I was going to church.
I just keep asking myself,
now why didn’t they share that with me?
It could have made such a difference."

We have been met by our risen Lord, Jesus.
We know the truth of the resurrection.
We haven’t looked into the empty tomb.
We haven’t heard angel voices.
But we have, in one way or another,
come to know the truth of this day.
Wherever we see people being healed, reconciled, set free,
we catch a glimpse of that morning at the tomb.
We know the truth of this day by sick beds,
at a meeting of AA,
in the presence of a person whose loss
is too fresh or raw even to mention,
but who keeps going.
We hear Easter in the laughter on the day of a funeral,
in the giggles of a child,
in every asking and giving of forgiveness.

Once again Jesus takes his position at the head of his forgiven flock
and leads them in a ministry of teaching, healing, preaching,
loving, and serving.
The women’s encounter with the angel at the empty tomb
is as much about the resurrection of deadbeat disciples
as it is about the resurrection of Jesus.
What does Jesus do with our fear, our reluctance,
even refusal to share what we have been given?
He forgives us,
and then empowers us to go forth
to tell the world the good news.
We have life,
something the world needs, our families need,
our neighbours need,
and we have the freedom to give it.
Now that’s a resurrection—
a rising from the dead!

1 comment:

LutheranChik said...

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