Monday, April 6, 2015

Going To The Tomb Mark 16:1-8

Ask: Why do we go to the tomb? Why do we visit grave markers of our beloved?
Sen. Robert Byrd and his wife are buried right up the street at  Columbia Gardens cemetery. Before he died, he came out to visit his wife’s grave every morning. He brought flowers and stayed awhile before heading back to the hill. Every day. A story of great faithfulness, at a place of death.
What do WE expect when we go to the places of burial?

You heard Mark’s Easter story, 
What did the women expect? What did they say? 
They had plans to anoint the body.
They knew the stone was too large for them. 
Honor the body, keep their rituals, do their duty, say goodbye, see the place..

They weren’t expecting resurrection, were they? (how do we know? conversation/purpose) THEY WENT TO THE PLACE OF DEATH. . and once there, found LIFE.

Only the women who followed their passion to act, to honor, & be faithful to Jesus received the surprising message of Good News from the man in the white robe.
What might that tell us?
and what can we learn from what they did next?

How often we do what we know. 
Many of us have built in defaults, when confused and uncertain, we do what we know, what we ‘always do’. One of the things I like about the story we heard from Acts is Peter’s default when confronted is to tell the story he knows, the story of Jesus. 
The women who went to the tomb hold key places in jesus’ story.I and we wonder what happened next. Mark wrote his ending for a reason, one that you might guess, but later generations were unsatisfied with its open end - so others supplied additional endings which most Bible's  now label clearly.

Jesus let death swallow him, he let the world’s system do it’s worse. 
HE died on that cross, and what did he find? New life.
After 3 days of death, new life came. 3 days that we like to forget, skip past. 3 days was a lifetime to his followers and those who loved him most.

Today we celebrate what happened next. Resurrection - not re-animation, not a zombie walk, not the living dead, but NEW life. — 
Different life, It wasn’t quite the same Jesus who met the disciples in Galilee or the locked room, or on the road to Emmaus. (each gospel has a different description; telling whether Jesus could be touched, or couldn’t be touched, or appeared thru walls) —- NONE of this is as important as seeing what REALLY happened here —— NEW LIFE comes from the place of death.

Jesus didn’t go from the Mt. of Olives to new life.  Not from the upper room to resurrection either.
He first had to die. 
We’ve stressed this as we’ve approached this day of celebration.
Truly, it is not easy to comprehend!

The women were dumbfounded. Comprehension was evidently a long time coming. When confronted with the scarily impossible our first tendency is to RUN! and they did.

The women, went in spite of uncertainty and they ended up running away!
Fear and trembling, uncertainty -  sounds like the kinds of feelings we have when asked to talk about our faith…
Or asked to try something that really stretches our limits.
In their case, it involved risk, but still they went. And in spite of what they were told, they held onto there fear, at least for awhile.

Maybe their all too believable reaction is also there for a reason. So we can explore our own experiences.
What CAN happen when we go to the places of death? 

Some of you may remember a book from the 60’s called The Cross and The Switchblade. David Wilkerson went to NY in 1958. While that may have been an ideal time here in Arlington as people from the City church began to talk of a new church in Arlington on a hillside farm. - in NYC, there was a place of death.

Gangs, drugs, overdose, sickness, violence surrounded him.  It wasn’t a fairy tale, but there were miracles. At least that’s how the people who found transformation described it. 

New Life - but Wilkerson had to go to the place of death to be part of it, to plant seeds, to cultivate, to mentor.

Here are some of the place you’ve seen resurrection. (Show painting and clippings from morning activity) 

New life can come to people:

Did you read the story about Trotwood COB in the March Messenger, our denominational magazine?
Traditional standards and measurements would classify them as a ‘dying church’ —- sitting in a city with a declining population and severe loss of jobs. The city has experience urban blight and white flight. 
Gangs and violence entered in when jobs and income base moved out. Youth and youth adults live in a dangerous world in Trotwood.
But into that place of death, a few people continued to go on Sunday mornings. And they also went to COBrethren workshops by On Earth Peace. From this was birthed “The Peace Place, a community nonprofit in Trotwood that uses the Agape - Satyagraha curriculum to teach peace and conflict resolution.
You will read about people who find safety and hope there, at least once a week, and some even come back on Sundays. In the quotes people say, “This is my family.” “This is the place that takes care of me.”
(it's a modern Cross &  Switchblade story.)

All is not perfect, but resurrection is happening there. But as with all new life, it doesn’t mean they are returning to a 700-member all-white church. No, new life for them means new challenges, new identities that include; 
  • a determination to study racism and learn how it is part of us all. 
  • A challenge to adapt to people who are ‘not Brethren’ and 
  • to add in new styles of worship
But at Trotwood you will find people who have found new life where there had been only death, and others who remain committed to bringing new life into the lives of their neighbors. (See March Messenger Magazine, publication of COB, Brethren Press)

See -New life can even come to churches.

You have probably heard about urban churches that found revitalization when they stopped looking inward and turned themselves outward. These church adopted ministries to help meet the needs of their neighborhoods.

I just read an more modern version of how a dying URBAN church found new life BUT it did so by ENDING all those ministries of outreach into the neighborhood! 
are you surprised?

Rev. Mike Mather says this, “The church, and me in particular,” “have done a lot of work where we have treated the people around us as if, (at worst) they are a different species and, at best, as if they are people to be pitied and helped by us.” 
(is that how we feel about those we help?)

With that in mind, Broadway United Methodist Church has — for more than a decade now — been reorienting itself. 

Rather than a bestower of blessings, the church is aiming to be something more humble.

“The church decided its call was to be good neighbors. And that we should listen and see people as children of God,” said De’Amon Harges, a church membe
THEY see Broadway’s transformation in terms like Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.” (1)

John McKnight is one of the founders of the way Broadway is building community from the inside out. 
He WAS HERE about it 4 years ago sitting in our church Fellowship Hall. A neighbor, Sandy Horwitt invited him to speak and we hosted the lunch. 

He advocates a way of discovering the gifts people have and building program around them, rather then inviting people to plug into an old existing structure.
NOW, When people come to the Broadway food pantry, instead of giving them a form to state how poor they are, they are asked to name 3 things they are good enough at that they could teach someone else. (2) . . . . .
New questions, —-new purpose, —-NEW LIFE.

What we MIGHT discover ANYTHING, when we are willing to risk going to a place of DEATH.
It WILL BE surprised.  All these stories have surprise in common. 
It might not make sense either,
yet that fits right in with today’s GOOD NEWS, 
 certainly how a few frightened women leaving an empty tomb saying nothing, became a world-wide following of Jesus’ people that has lasted millennia — makes NO sense, does it?

Not a set agenda, God’s agenda
not someone else’s life or a refurb of the old, but NEW LIFE!

Even when we are the ones stumbling down the path, uncertain about what we are doing, God can use us to create new life.

Let me leave you with one more story of resurrection.

The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work when they were in the hospital for an extended stay. 
One day a teacher in the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child's name and hospital room number and talked with the child's regular class teacher. 
"We're studying nouns and adverbs in his class now," the regular teacher said, "and I'd be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn't fall too far behind." 

The hospital teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. 
No one had warned her that the boy had been badly burned and was in extreme pain. Healing was not assured, and the risk of death remained on his horizon.

 Surprised and Upset at the sight of the boy, the teacher stammered as she told him, "I've been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs." So she stumbled thru the lesson with him. When she left she felt she hadn't accomplished much. 

But the next day, when she came to teach young patients again, a nurse asked her, "What did you do to that boy?" 
The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. "No, no," said the nurse. "You don't understand. We've been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He's fighting back, and already responding to treatment. It's as though he’s really decided to live." 

Weeks later the boy explained that he HAD given up hope until the teacher arrived. 
Everything changed when she sat down to teach. He came to a simple realization. "They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?" (3)

. . . 

God is bringing new life into places of death all around us.
We too can GO, SEE and JOIN the God of RESURRECTION.
The LORD is Risen!
“he is risen, indeed!”

(1)  Robert King Ministry Matters Death and Resurrection of an Urban Church
(3)  Bits & Pieces, July 1991.

No comments: