Sunday, April 20, 2014

No Mourning This Morning

Today let’s all be Mary, headed to the tomb. We experience the important events of today from her POV. Of course, to understand her mindset, we have to remember the events of Friday. Our dear friend has been executed by the Romans with the support of the religious leaders of our Temple. We are walking to the tomb, just to see it. We know it is blocked by a stone. But, like visiting a graveyard, we go.
What does the morning look like and feel like as we walk?

Life doesn’t stay quiet and solemn for us.
“Behold, there is a great earthquake!”
Behold, there's an angel looking like lightening
Look, right here at this! if you can stand all the bright white light.

Earth isn’t only thing quaking --Guards quake and become like dead men. Despite all this, in midst of our shock and awe, the angel says "Do not be afraid!?"

Then, the angel invites us, to see the place Jesus has this Messenger of God rolls away the stone and shares the critical information of the day, "He is not here, for he has been raised."

And, as if all this isn’t enough, we are SENT, "Go" the angel says, "Go quickly and tell his disciples, he has been raised and goes ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him!"
It is a mystical, mysterious and frightening morning, and suddenly (after all the miraculous events) we are going to SEE our friend, who has been raised from the dead.
How would you feel? 

But/and there's more, just as we are rushing off to find the others, Jesus comes. He’s there, right before us, BEHOLD! Its really Jesus we see, and we fall down before him and grab his feet!

Is that enough excitement for one morning? A morning we began in mourning, is now full of rejoicing. Could it get any better than this?

Yes, actually it can and does, IF we can let go of our fear of anything too unexplainable or unbelievable and instead BEHOLD - the gift we are being given in this moment.
Today, -this very moment of discovery-- IS THE  game changer for Christians.
In this moment we are given the gift of sight - and the first thing we are asked to see is the emptiness. We have to train our eyes to see differently as we look into the empty tomb.
Before we can see Jesus, something has to change in the way we perceive reality. (It’s how we learn to find find hope in emptiness.)
It’s the same challenge Jesus has been presenting us with all along. He’s said again and again we have to look beyond the obvious. We have to do the unexpected. 
When we are most concerned about our lives, we must reach out for others. 
When we really want to get in, we have to go to the end of the line.
We have to let go of ourselves, risk it all, lose our lives...and then we will find - LIFE.       (It’s what he did.)
. . Finding by losing starts with embracing emptiness.

What is at stake is our vision for living the rest of OUR lives. If we can hold onto his gift of sight, then we can see the world differently from this day forward. 
Look! BEHOLD! Life.

Yet, as with all special moments,  or ‘mountaintop experiences’ - it’s hard to hold onto the feeling we have on Easter morning, when the days and weeks grow weary and the vision of Jesus’ reality begins to fade. 
What we need is an exercise, something to get us into such good shape that we will never live in any other reality.

Let’s practice seeing differently so we can keep the hope we found today.

You remember me speaking of a time when I wanted to ‘hear and see’ scripture in a new way? - and I ended up reading scriptures in Greek? We won’t go that far today, but Let’s look at our Colossians text with the NEW senses we are being given.

NRSV 3:1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3:3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 3:4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

After a full and delicious breakfast, are you ready for word soup?
What words or phrases stand out for you?
. . .(mixing it up a little)
Now let’s look for Verbs (then Directional words) 

LIST (you can use Bibles or screen)

What Verbs do you hear/see?
raised (both), seek, seated, set, died, is hidden, is revealed, will be revealed
What Directional words are mentioned:
raised, above, right, above

Looking from the words we’ve named, what impression do you get of this scripture? What kind of message is this?

In Greek, the words are often mixed up from our perspective. Words that should get the most emphasis are sometimes placed at the beginning of the sentence. 
On What word(s) would you place a priority?
Better question: which words give you a better sense of the message? Are the verbs more important or the directional words?

Another word exercise to help us ‘see’.
Can you read this?

hv bn rsd wth Chrst, sk th thngs tht r abv 
whr Chrst s, std t th rght hnd f Gd.
. . .
Can you see what’s not there?

Some of you can and some of you can’t. (aside: Hebrew has no vowels. As you read you have to figure out what the word is based on what is there. And thanks to the Masorites, vowel points have been added to the old texts assisting Hebrew students.)

I read many scholarly writings on the Easter Resurrection story this week in my attempt to see more clearly. One summed up by saying, “Easter celebrates the faithfulness of God. In Jesus we SEE the power of God most clearly.”1

Yet I wondered if a story about an earthquake, an angel in brightest white,  and a giant stone rolled away, can be called ‘clear’. . .
 Can this story help us see Jesus after the flowers and songs of today fade?
It can as we are trained to see hope in the emptiness.
The gospels have differing stories of Easter morning. But there are 2 things they all agree on. One, none of them tell of the actual resurrection experience. Instead they all report what other people found AFTER THE FACT.   The other point of agreement is what people found - AN EMPTY TOMB. No matter which gospel you read, the tomb is empty.

The thing about an empty tomb is it’s not what we expect to SEE , CLEARLY ITS not what the world expected to see that day. Not even Jesus’ friends expected what they found.
A NEW perspective on emptiness allows us to see the alternative reality that Jesus embodied. He had a way of seeing deeply into the empty places of people’s lives. 
He ‘saw’ what they were hiding
He saw the kind of healing they really needed
He knew what was missing from their lives - their  empty places
Jesus saw, what other’s couldn’t see. What other people thought wasn’t even there.
He saw more than potential, he saw LIFE! (& he empowered life)

Easter teaches us how to see life where others see emptiness. Jesus gives us the gift of sight so that we can bravely stick our heads into the tomb at the angel’s command and SEE hope.
Cameron, is a little boy related to a member of Arlington Forest UM. His mother overhead him playing with a toy bunny in the back seat of their car, telling a story to his sister. Speaking in the bunny's voice, he said, “I’m going to hop over to the chicken house” (the bunny said) “and get some eggs. Then I’m going to give them away to bring hope to everyone.”

Little Cameron made the connection between bunnies and eggs and Easter by GOING and sharing hope.
 WE leave the empty tomb today with both more and less that we had before.
We leave behind our fear of death and we take with us the hope that comes from experiencing the “God that transforms death into new life.” We leave transformed too, with our former limited sight now set freed to see the way Jesus saw us.

It's true that - Following Jesus means we will enter places that make fear rise up in us. Fear of controversy and fear of rejection. Thats when we most need our HOPE. 
Every time we, the church, begin something or embark on a new path that makes our knees quake and our stomachs churn with fear, we are following the command of the angel to Go. We need our HOPE
And We need the reminder not to fear as we GO - into OUR Galilee.   
Don't be surprised when Jesus meets us before we even get where we are going. Because
“Jesus is already on the road sharing hope., we meet him in our advocacy for just and good.

Like Cameron we go to bring hope to others. Telling the story of Hope in Emptiness. There's hope because God is empty of hate, empty of all that can kill. God is greater than death. 
Go, tell, (share the joy of Easter) - bring others this HOPE.

We truly are “in Christ” now. and we HAVE died to all the old limits and impossibilities because we’ve LEARNED HOW TO SEE HOPE.
Behold, It’s there...In the place where there’s nothing...
Behold, the empty tomb!

1 Gaventa? Texts For Preaching Yr.A (   ) 260
2 W.F.Albright and C.S. Mann Anchor Bible- Matt. (NY:Doubleday, 1971)358
3 ibid
4  adapted Melinda Quivik,

Monday, April 7, 2014

Waiting For God To Summon Us.

Lazarus’ was summoned out of his tomb, from death to life. 

It’s the kind of summoning we want when one of our loved ones dies. 
It’s the summoning to life that we want whenever we face death. . .a death of any kind.
We want to be summoned to life whenever we face the reality that we WILL die. . ,Whenever we comprehend the truth that we are not immortal. 

If you were on Facebook yesterday, you might have seen Anne Lamott’s post describing how she feels as she turns 60. She describes the typical memory complaints and body aches and then said, “This business of being a human being is infinitely more fraught than I was led to believe. When my son Sam figured out at 7 years old that he and I were not going to die at the exact same moment, he said, "If I had known that, I wouldn't have agreed to be born."

Have you ever said, “I’m not getting another dog, cat, or pet because they will die before me and I’m not going thru that again!?”

We are all waiting to die, 
even when we don’t think about it like that. We couldn’t think like that all the time. But when something happens that opens our eyes to our mortality, we long for something more. 

A friend of mine recently learned he has 2 years to live. 
It has put much of life in perspective. --Meetings must reach a new level of importance to justify his time. --Planning to retire to a home in the hills has become, planning vacations in that home..right now.
And life is full of doubt and longing... Longing for something more.

Lazarus’ sisters longed. They longed for their brother even as they believed in some future resurrection from the dead. (Much like Christian belief in a resurrection at the end of days.)
The thought of new life NOW wasn’t even a doubt. It didn’t occur to them that Lazarus could be given back to them.  . .or did it occur to Martha? Could she somehow glimpse the possibility of life that God thru Christ can bring into the dark moments of death? When she (Martha) said, “even now, I know that whatever you ask, God will give you.”

There is so much trust in her NOT asking Jesus to do something now, but affirming the creative power that exists in God’s realm. 

Divine Creativity is all around us, look as you leave here today. 
Those dead looking branches and brown corners are filled with yellow daffodils and green buds. Does not all creation speak to life that comes from death?
But can we believe it can happen to us?
Could you trust in what would/could happen when God touches the things you’ve buried?

All of scripture is a repeat of the story of buried life / dead hope - brought to life by God. It’s what God does, resurrect. Not a return to the same life (that’s only what Lazarus got) but an all new God-breathed life.
Are you ready for ... God-breathed LIFE?
. . .

We tend to take this story apart in some way.
Either we try to imagine what semi-conscious state Lazarus was really in..  OR
We think that the faith needed for this kind of ‘sign’ is up to us, that those who have more faith in what God can do, can make it happen.. . But then who would be creating life..? US?

Jesus doesn’t ask if we believe he can bring Lazarus back to life.
He asks if Martha believes.. IN HIM. 
(Does she/ Do we really know him? Do we SEE him?)

We’re not talking about a conscious understanding of the nature of Christ or belief in a theological treatise on the incarnation.
We are talking about trust and acceptance - of all that we are given - that IS LIFE. 

HUMAN Life that includes all too brief glimpses of the divine. (when we are paying attention)
It is Life LIVED as if death doesn’t matter because death can’t stop when God wills life.

My Lenten journey/ my life journey is to find - How I can live this story. How to live a human Life without clinging onto ‘my’ life.
How do we LIVE, while never losing sight of the one who IS LIFE?
Spend time with Jesus. Get to know him. Believe what he says. For,
When we catch a glimpse of the spark of life he brings,
 when we feel that divine touch marking a cross on our forehead, THEN the cords wound around feet and burial clothes that BIND us, come untied.
and Then we are truly set free.

1 Anne Lamott (link to her facebook)
2 Betsy revgalblogpals edited