Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter 2011 - "Amazed and Confused"

Here's my sermon for Easter.  It's based upon Luke's account.  I first wrote this seven years ago.  Six days before my brother died.  I've not really lived with it since, but kept gravitating to it this year.  My own journeying this Lent had me in a place that I just didn't have it in me to write something new. But I did find some life in these words and some clarifying of points was helpful. After having done this work for so long, I've come to believe that inasmuch as we preachers scoff at those who only return to previous work, or chronically "borrow" someone else's, to be too prideful not to take another look at something that has been preached before to see if the words still have life is more about ego than it is integrity.  If proclamations had not been repeated over time...then there would be no account of Jesus or the resurrection from which to proclaim kerygma...right?

“Amazed and Confused”
Luke 24.l-12 Easter
Rev’d Dr. Jonathan L. Jeffords, OSL, April 11, 2004
Revised April 24, 2011

“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. Luke 24.11.12

What is this day about?  What does it mean?

Isn’t that at least some of what lives in us at Easter? 
Children are bombarded with influences and understandings of this day that confuse.

I have a minister friend who used to lead the devotionals at the pre-school at the church she served at the time church. She once asked the children if they knew what Easter meant---

The response?  “We get to hunt for eggs and get candy.’

My colleague said, "But isn’t there something else about Easter we remember, something about Jesus?’  And one little girl raised her hand and blurted out, “You mean Jesus gets to hunt for eggs and get candy too?”  

Amazing and a little confusing!

There’s a photograph of me that captures what it means to be “amazed and confused.”  It’s October, 1992, the 7th to be precise.  I’m coming out of the birthing room at Methodist North and into the family waiting area to announce that my first child has been born, Despite holding multiple degrees from institutions of higher learning, despite knowing the biology of human childbirth, seeing it, witnessing it, was, well, in a couple of words, “amazing and confusing.’ 

See, it was the “physics” of it all that blew my mind, And so, there’s this photograph that captures my face before the first words were spoken that Andrew Scott Jeffords had entered the world, It was true, it had happened but that didn’t make it any less amazing or confusing.  Wow!

The number of "amazing and confusing" moments that occur through the journey of life are many - 
Raising children.
Learning how to share your life with someone else.
Those that occur in the workplace.

In my work as pastor - many "amazing and confusing" moments. 
Figuring out how to balance vocation with being a husband, father, son, brother and friend.

Being with people as the breathe their last - as sacred, as "amazing and confusing" a moment as ever there could be.
I wonder how similar my gaze is in those moments when compared to the ones of the entrances to life I've lived.
Maybe not so different. 
Our entrances and exits on the stage of this earthen sod is the stuff of music and poetry, the touch of the artist’s brush and the liturgies of many a religious tradition.

As true as that might be, our culture does not know what to do with death. In fact, we are so much more in the death “avoidance and denial” business than ever we are death as a part of life. We don’t talk about it without squirming, and if we do it’s usually only because someone’s mortality has forced us to deal with it.

Commentator Craig Barnes, remembers his grandmother’s generation where death was an integral part of life.  
Family members died in their own beds.
Wakes were held in their houses. No one hid it.  It was just part of life.

Now death is compartmentalized in our culture and times.
We deal with it only when all other avoidance options are exhausted and we have no other choice,  The transition of life to death is sacred. Bill Coffin says,
“Death cannot be the enemy if it’s death that brings us to life. For just without leave-taking there can be no arrival; without growing old there can be no growing up; without tears, no laughter; so without death there can be no living....he says, Death is the great equalizer, not because it makes us equal, but because it mocks our pretensions at being anything else."

Yes, death is real. 
No getting around it.
But it is also sacred. 
And for we who hold to the unique revelation of God through Jesus of Nazareth, we know that everything we understand as real, common, ordinary is indeed extraordinary. And on this Easter morning we find ourselves in good company with those first witnesses teased by this amazing and confusing question— 

"Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

On that first Easter morning, Luke tells us of the women who went to the tomb to do what must be done to the body to prepare it for burial. The ointment and spices were ready: the sad and noble duty was theirs to carry out.

Death, although sacred, isn’t pretty - it stinks.

In fact the stench of it casts such fear in our culture that we’ll do any and everything to avoid its reality. 
Their only worry was the stone that blocked their way, how could they get to Jesus without help?  How indeed!

The men, the ones we traditionally know as the disciples, fearfully locked away as the dreams of what could be lay dead in the stone cold tombs of their spirits. 
It was what it was.  He was dead, and so too, to their minds, was the revolution, the new Reign, the hopes of tomorrow long gone. The only thing ruling their lives now was grief of lost and fear of what all of this meant for them.

You’ve been there, haven’t you? 
Are you there now? 
There’s something here that transcends time.
Our knowledge of Jesus — who he is, what he taught, what he charges his  companions to do—it seems is not enough. Christians are people most needy of assurance, We need those confirming moments that in spite of the evidence, there’s something more still. What a minute, there’s a church word for that — FAITH!
‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ Hebrews 11.1
I love Jim Wallis’ definition of faith. Wallis founded the Sojourner’s Community in D.C. He says that -
Faith is believing in spite of the evidence, and watching the evidence change.’
But how many times did we hear Jesus admonish those even closest to him that their lack of faith prevented them from seeing the Truth. Guess what folks?— Lack of faith still does.

The evidence of faith we are called to pivots on three little letters that begin chapter 24.  
It’s an interesting figure of speech, a conjunction, “but.” As in ‘despite what you see, there is something else going on here that you don’t see, and because you don’t see it doesn’t make it any less real,”

“But,” a conjunction - for all of us who grew up with Schoolhouse Rock, we know all about conjunctions, right? 
“Conjunction, junction what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses.”

What a bizarre way to start the Easter narrative from Luke.  
The “But” that begins Luke 24  is a sacred intrusion into death. The gospel always turns on a great ‘however.’ I like that very much. It is so consistent with Jesus, who announced the Reign of God again and again by saying ‘you have heard it said,.,, but I tell you." It is a fitting way to announce that all you think is, it just ain't so. 
And what's the best way to do that?  A great big, BUT!

So, the women make their way to the tomb only to find that the problem they anticipated, that the stone wouldn’t allow them access to Jesus’ broken, dead, body, was rolled away. One commentator makes an interesting point, “why was the stone rolled away? 
To let Jesus out of the tomb, or to let us in it and see the magnificent work of God!”

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

The women’s’ encounter with the angel, their remembering what Jesus had told them and their reporting of all these things to the disciples was hardly overwhelming to the disciples. Luke reports that the disciples are left with the thought that it was and ‘idle tale,’ 

I mean, after all, what do the women know? Can’t you just see that? 
You know the role and place of women in that culture and time — status attached only to the men is their lines - couldn’t testify in court — their testimony couldn’t be trusted.

Here's Peter, going to the tomb both to pacify and patronize the women, seeing for himself. 
Seeing the stone rolled away, the linen cloths laying aside. He, amazed and confused, going home. We’re pretty sure he didn’t fully believe the women.  After seeing for himself one wonders if he believed at first either.

The pivotal moment of the Christian faith, where death is both acknowledged and defeated, and he goes home.  Mark’s gospel talks about them being afraid. John has Peter being stupid and John (the beloved one) both faster and smarter than everyone else to know what had happened and why.

Despite what we think, or know, or what we think we know about Jesus and the Resurrection, there is still this — something happened. Something happened that cemented otherwise cowardly disciples to martyrdom for the sake of the Crucified and Risen Lord. The kerygmatic message of Jesus of Nazareth resonated with people moving them from hopelessness to hope, oppression or no.

And something still happens. 
Look at us, here we are. Something brings as here. Something of meaning drives us.  There are many reasons to come and be a part of a church—even this one. 
We choose congregations based upon ideology, theology, political bent, we choose congregations for what they can do for us, provide us, what bells and whistles their program brings — and we find ourselves at churches for what we can bring to them — what of God in us is meant to be offered and shared in the up building of Christian community.  But in the end, none of these reasons matter if they are ends onto themselves.

Ultimately, we must wrestle with this fundamental question - “what do you think of Jesus?” Of what account does the one proclaimed crucified and risen hold sway in your life? In the end—what difference does it make, and how does that difference find expression?

There’s a line in Hebrew Bible, in the Song of Solomon that bears witness to the love of God for humanity. 
Although referring to the love shared between two committed people for one another, metaphorically it holds up.
Set me as a seal upon your heart. For love is strong as death..

But Easter tells us of something else.  Something more. 

Want to know what Easter is all about? 
It’s amazing and confusing, yes, but sisters and brothers in Christ, 
it’s true—not only is love as strong an death...
if Easter proves anything to us it's this is stronger.

Craig Barnes, ‘We’re All Terminal’ April 6, 2004, The Christian Century
Credo- William Sloane Coffin
The Soul of Politics - Jim Wallis

Byzantine Icon 

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