Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Sermon for April 5, 2015 / Easter Sunday

The Rush to Completion
Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside. When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened. Mark 16:1-8
This week, a lot of families packed up for road trips to visit relatives or go on vacations. And about 1 hour into the 10 hour trip, drivers heard the classic complaint coming from backseats of millions of cars: “Are we there yet?” We’ve all asked some version of this question. We want immediate answers about our futures; our jobs, our relationships, what schools to attend, which organizations to join, what car to buy. “Are we there yet?” We pray for a sick loved one and want God to get involved yesterday. We grow discouraged if our prayers aren’t answered on our time and in our terms. We work for justice among the downtrodden and it feels like we make no difference. One community worker I talked to, who serves the poor of our county, said, “It’s the same thing ever day. I give out money to meet immediate needs, I try to help people learn how to earn a living, but every day more people come to me for help. Often the same people are the first in line.” She was saying it. We are all saying it. “Are we there yet?”

I confess, I’ve asked it as a minister. Is our pledge to create a just peace stanching the flow violence we see in our communities? Is our church doing enough to offer radical hospitality that welcomes people of all races cultures, ages, abilities, sexual orientations, and gender identities? Are we known for the quality of our caring and our commitment to compassionate justice? Are we there yet? Well  … yes and no. Yes, we are on the way. And no, we are not there yet.  Whether its church, work, family or our personal lives, each of us lives in a constant tension between the already and the not yet, the what is and the what is still to come.

Let’s be honest. How many of us woke up today singing, “My God, what a morning,” and how many of us woke up saying, “O my God, it’s morning”? How many of us came here with the full assurance that Christ has given victory over all our problems? I mean, isn’t that what churches are supposed to say at Easter? Aren’t we supposed to holler hallelujah and insist that on Easter, everybody’s a winner? Because Christ arose, isn’t love supposed to bloom, health flourish, sinking careers suddenly soar, acne clear up, miracles abound, church attendance skyrocket, and ruptured relationships get healed?

Well, maybe some of us aren’t there yet. Our days can feel so trivial. We roll out of bed when the clock wakes us up, get battered by news headlines, and tested by traffic. Our concentration is interrupted by meetings and small crises that feel like cosmic ruptures. Eventually we settle into well-defined lives of comfortable piety, well-fed virtue, and practicality. For some of us, life is a victorious limp.

That’s my experience, at least. I won’t speak for you. My life is up and down, peaks and valleys. Sometimes I feel fired up with the Spirit. Other times I fill my spiritual hunger with unhealthy substitutes like work, reading, ice cream, TV, day dreaming, or sleeping. Sometimes I sense God’s presence leading me in new exciting directions. And sometimes I allow myself to be hardened to God and I don’t to pay attention to the call of love in my life. Am I there yet? No. My life is already and not yet. My life is, and it’s yet to come. How about yours?

Something strikes me about today’s resurrection story from Mark. I’ve read it dozens upon dozens of times. I’ve preached on it at least 5 times. Something new jumped out at me this week. It has to do with the words of the angel at the empty tomb. Remember, the women approached the tomb and saw the enormous boulder that closed the entrance to the rock–hewn grave of Jesus was rolled away. Now they are terrified. You can sense the chill running down their spines. Then they see a young man – an angel – who says, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here!”

I want to tell you something about that phrase. Hang in there with me – you are about to get a Greek grammar lesson (The text we have was translated from Greek). The Greek phrase “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified” is written in something called the perfect tense. In Greek, the perfect tense lets us know that something decisive has happened, but the effects are ongoing. Think of the ripples on a pond after a stone has been tossed in. The stone is the decisive event. The ripples are the ongoing effect. So, the Greek phrase in the perfect tense can be translated, “Jesus of Nazareth, who has been crucified.” It’s a witty way for Mark to get at the point: The risen Christ still has holes in his hands. The angel declares that even though Jesus is risen, he is still in the state of being crucified. Jesus is already and not yet; already risen, but not yet healed; already alive, but wearing the perpetual marks of death. The foundations of Jesus’ new Earth are already established, but his kingdom is not yet finished.

Resurrection is not just a one-and-done moment.  I know we want to hurry the resurrection. We want to rush to completion. But the transition from death to life is not complete, yet. The effects of crucifixion still ripple out today. Our world is far from Christ’s new earth. We see heartache, pain, illness, evil, bullying, unemployment, death, and all kinds of frightening events that seem to blot out God’s light. Jesus-The-Already reminds us that the beginning of something new has begun. Jesus-The-Not-Yet reminds us that we are not there yet. The risen Christ, invites us to live into the reality of new life, wounds and all.  He summons us to get in touch with our own wounds and then help liberate humanity from our death dealing ways.  In other words, there’s still some work for us to do in this already-but-not yet world. There is still some work for us to do, because we are not there yet.

Therefore, I’m not going to talk anymore about the risen Christ as if it’s something that happened way back when and has no impact on my life today. Instead, I’m going to watch for the Rising Christ. Resurrection is not a done deal. Resurrection is an ongoing process. We can still experience its effects. Jesus still has those scars -- those nail marks in his hands and feet -- and they remind us that Christ is rising for all oppressed people who have been tortured or victimized. Christ is rising to make God’s presence known among the poorest and most despised of humanity. Christ is rising to give power to those who are cast aside. Christ is rising to restore us to abundant compassion. Christ is rising to say, “Yes” to freedom and, “No” to bondage. Christ is rising to be present in our struggle for a better today and a greater tomorrow. Christ is rising to show us how it’s done, because we are supposed to be following his example -- because we are supposed to be rising with Christ in this already/not-yet world.

When we find a way to keep hope alive, even when doubled over by our wounds, we are rising with Christ

When we admit our failures and breathe in forgiveness, we are rising with Christ

If we find love when it seems impossible in a world of despair, we are rising with Christ

If we let God touch our deepest sorrow and find the strength to become agents of joy in this already-but-not-yet world, we are rising with Christ

When we can stand in solidarity with the victim and the oppressed, when we hold unjust systems accountable for their actions; when we use our resources to promote equity and justice; when we teach our children Black Lives Matter; when we scream “No” to anti-LGBT laws like those proposed in Indiana; when we petition the Maryland assembly for prison reform and transgender equality; when we resist gun violence at home and abroad -- be it Garissa, Kenya or Ferguson, Missouri; when we open our lives to the spirit of unity God intends for all humanity, we are rising with Christ

When we approach our communion table and say, “No matter what … no matter who you are, no matter where you came from, no matter what you’ve done or where you’re going, no matter what, you are welcome here,” when we do that, we are rising with Christ.

Maya Angelou was a poet, and like most poets, she was a truth-teller; an unwavering voice who would not tolerate pushing people to the margins of life. The second class status and silencing of women, especially African-American women, really bothered her. Maya defied counterfeit social constructs that allowed men to treat women like they weren’t fully human. So, I want to close with a selection of verses from her poem, “Still I Rise.” As you listen, imagine Jesus speaking. Yes – I want you to imagine Jesus as a Black woman. Imagine her confident voice of strength, offering power for the broken. Imagine she will no longer be pushed into being a passive voice. Imagine she is the Rising Christ, inviting us to keep rising with her.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries …

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise …

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise

Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise

I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise

Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

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