Posts Tagged ‘Easter’

I Gotta Share This 4-21-19

In this Easter sermon, I explore the unexplainable joy that we find in the resurrection of Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-gotta-share-this-4-21-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ be with you, now and forever. Amen.

Anyone remember the Beverly Hills Cop movies? There’s a little bit of dialogue that keeps popping up through the second one that I appreciate, as Eddie Murphy…a police officer mind you, continues to do little things that…MIGHT not be strictly legal…and every he time he does, he makes the same comment… “You know I wasn’t always a cop. I fractured an occasional law.”(pause) Over the past few years, I’ve found myself in similar moments…and in conversation over old stories of my former life…I’ve been quoted as saying “Well you know, I wasn’t always a pastor…”

Like anyone…I’ve got some stupid stuff in my past…and one in particular comes to mind today…a moment that happened when I was pretty young…maybe 10 or 11…when I tagged along with my older brother and one his friends, down the road about half a mile to the old farm place where my grandparents used to live…and where my dad had actually grown up.  Now we called this, quite simply, “the old place.” And on occasion we would go exploring through the old buildings that still stood there…and on this particular day…we ended up breaking windows. I don’t remember how it started, but it did. Not proud of it…but I was a part of it.

Now here’s the thing…I was the type of kid who was REALLY bad at keeping secrets…and so it wasn’t long before I spilled the beans about our little destructive escapade. I just couldn’t keep it in…now if you’re wondering…yes there were consequences…but those details aren’t really important…What is important, is that sense of needing to tell someone…of having news that you just can’t keep in…I want you to keep that in mind while we think about the amazing story of the resurrection that we are sharing today. (pause)
Now, as we know the story of the resurrection doesn’t really start on Sunday morning…it starts on Friday evening…with Jesus dead…his body taken down off the cross…wrapped in burial cloth and laid in the tomb with the entrance covered by a giant stone…all of this witnessed by a group of women who have been following Jesus throughout his ministry…right up to the point of his burial…long after he was deserted and left by the men who swore they would follow him, even to death…interesting to see who actually made good on that promise isn’t it? (pause)

Now all logic says that’s the end right. Jesus is dead. And death is it right? The end of the line…and even though these people have watched Jesus overcome death more than once as he raised 3 different people from the dead…they are still caught in grief…in pain…in mourning and loss and rightly so…because death is final…and everyone knows that.

And so, in the hopes of one final act of kindness and love for Jesus, the women prepare spices for anointing his body…and then as their Sabbath begins, they dutifully wait, until the first possible moment, here at dawn on the first day of the week…and they head to the tomb…to the place where they had watched as he was laid…in order to fulfill this last act.

But what happens next…defies…all…logic.  (pause) As the women approach the tomb, they see the stone rolled away…that’s weird…but okay…I guess that’s one thing they don’t have to do right? And so they poke their heads inside, fully expecting to see a body wrapped up in cloth…but its…not…there.  The tomb is empty except for the discarded burial shroud.

Confusing? Yep…Perplexing….you better believe it? And the women are just kind of looking at one another in their confusion when out of nowhere BOOM…there’s two angels standing there…and the women are so freaked out…so startled and so scared to be in the presence of these beings of heavenly origin that they hit the ground.

Now…we’ve heard stories like this before…when some heavenly being, whether God in some crazy weird form or an angel of some sort shows up…apparently its…freaky…I can imagine that the person is scared because that which is divine in nature has gotta be so much more than we can handle…and we hear this in the greeting of the heavenly being ALMOST every single time…as they begin with “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” (pause) Except this time…they…don’t…say it.  Did you catch that?

The very first thing out of the angels…is a question of joyful origin.  Why do you look for the living among the dead?  (Pause) Now wait a sec…think about that question…think about what it implies.  The man who was dead…we watched him die…we watched as his body was placed…RIGHT…HERE…he…was…dead.  And now, he’s not.   WHAT?!?

I mean, that’s the message right? And it is SO GOOD…that the angels can’t be bothered with anything else…this has to be shared right away…just like that time when I was 10 years old and just couldn’t keep in the news that we had done something stupid…the angels can’t keep this amazing news quiet either.

Remember how he told you in Galilee…He would be betrayed…he would be crucified…but then on the 3rd day…he would…rise. (pause) Jesus TOLD THEM ALL THIS NEWS…and not just once…we’ve got details of at least 3 times when Jesus told his followers that THIS VERY THING was gonna happen.

And each and every time…it would seem that the news just didn’t sink in for any of them…not for the 12…and apparently not for the women numbered among his followers either…at least not until this moment…this moment when they find the tomb empty…and they hear the proclamation of the Risen Lord…and they…REMEMBERED…his words.

You know what we call that? We call that faith…that somehow as we hear the story…and we remember the words that JESUS HIMSELF shared…the Holy Spirit takes that and somehow makes this unbelievable thing…this event that defies all logic…and makes it believable.

THINK ABOUT IT…death, which is supposed to be the ultimate end of the line…isn’t anymore. WHAT?  How does that work? Well…I DON’T KNOW…but it does…that’s the promise…and through the power of that same Holy Spirit that was acting in the hearts and minds of the women works in us too…and you know what…it empowers us to do the exact same thing.

Because this is amazing news isn’t it? Jesus was dead, but now he’s alive again…that’s too good to sit on…and apparently that’s how the women felt…that I can’t hold this in…I gotta share it…and who better to share it with than the men who were considered the closest friends of Jesus himself…and so they run off to the tell the disciples…and the disciples…blow it off.  Luke describes their reaction as hearing an “idle tail.” And since I wasn’t always a pastor, you probably know what OTHER 2 word phrase I would use to describe that…hint…it has to do with a male cow going the bathroom… (pause)

Isn’t that crazy…Jesus told these guys too…more than once…and now, hearing the proclamation…they promptly…do nothing…the only one who can even be bothered to get up and look is Peter, who goes and finds the empty tomb itself, still doesn’t believe it…none of these guys do until the resurrected Jesus actually appears before them later on that day…and even then they don’t quite grasp it until he picks up a piece of fish and eats it. (pause)
And you know…I always think that seems crazy…that not even THESE GURS could believe the gospel of the resurrection without physical proof…but that speaks to ludicrous nature of the gospel…the crazy news that Jesus was dead but is alive again. This gospel that we share…and that we profess as true.

So what is it…what was different about the women compared to men…because the ladies didn’t see Jesus…and yet the proclamation was enough to create faith in the resurrected Lord…and Jesus himself talks about this very thing in one of the other gospels as he addresses the disciples and says “You have believed because you have seen…but blessed are the ones who have NOT seen, and yet come to believe.”

Any idea just who Jesus might be talking about? (pause) HINT….LOOK AROUND YOU…AND IF YOU GOT A MIRROR LOOK IN THAT…BECAUSE YOU ARE THE PEOPLE HE’S TALKING ABOUT. (pause)  Folks…this faith thing is crazy…it doesn’t make any sense…but somehow it works…and whatever it is that the Holy Spirit is up to…somehow we are empowered and given the gift of faith…the gift of believing that he who was dead is alive again…and that through that same Spirit, we are made heirs of the same promise of the resurrection…and that somehow, someway…we have joined with him in a life like his…that one day each of one us will join with him in a death like his…but most importantly…we will also join with him in a resurrection like his.

This is what God has accomplished through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…to show us that there is NO length that God will not go in order to make it possible for us to be reunited with God…Now…that perfect love, while beyond our ability in this life…is possible…and even though our broken world killed him for it…God has shown us through that empty tomb…through the proclamation that Jesus was dead and now he’s alive again…God has shown us that Love is bigger than anything else…and that nothing…not even death gets the last word where we are concerned…God does…and now, empowered by the Holy Spirit, may each one of us carry this amazing news…news that takes us out of the place of death and into the joy of new life…and like the women who were the first preachers of the gospel…may we share this same amazing message with the world around us…so that they too, might come to believe this amazing news…this story that is SO GOOD…it leaves us with a sense…that I gotta share this. Amen.

A Locked Door 4-8-18

In this sermon, based on John 20:19-31, I explore the first few post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and what they mean for the disciples who were present.

You can listen the the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-locked-door-4-8-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Anyone ever found themselves on the wrong side of a locked door? It’s the worst isn’t it? As I think back, I can remember encountering this situation twice. Now the first time was during my first year at Iowa State. I got up one morning, like any other morning, and headed down the hallway to the bathroom for a shower. Now…during the time that I was in the shower, my roommate headed out for the day…and he did not realize that I was still on the floor…and so as he left, he locked the door.

And a moment later I came walking back down the hallway only to discover I was locked out…and wearing nothing but a towel…Panic ensues…Actually it wasn’t too bad…and a quick knock on a neighbors door and a call to the RA on duty got me back into the room within a couple of minutes.

Now the second time actually occurred on my wedding day of all days. 2 of my friends and I had taken my soon to be wife’s car to the carwash to get it all nice and shiny for the big day…and then headed back to my apartment. We got out of the car…out of habit I hit the door lock and slammed the car door…and instantly knew I had just locked the keys inside.

Fortunately, we hopped in one of the other’s guys car and zipped across town to my in-laws house…where we quickly managed to find an extra set of keys for her car…and I also managed to avoid the bad-luck scenario of seeing the bride too early on our wedding day…so all in all it worked out fine. (pause) But being locked out…That is the WORST feeling in the world, especially knowing that you did it to yourself.

Now…this idea of locked doors points us in the direction of today’s gospel lesson…a common one…one that comes up each and every year the week after Easter…that of the disciples locked away out of fear…and the Resurrected Lord appearing among them.

Now the setting is important here…and so’s the narration that we’re given by John…because we see the passage of time within this story…and if we’re paying attention we notice that this includes not 1 but 2 resurrection appearances of Jesus, though not the first one…but before we jump into this story…it’s probably a good idea to glance back at the first one.

Now, it probably goes without saying that the Easter Resurrection story here in John is a little different than what we heard last week out of Mark…a week ago we heard that the women who found the empty tomb ran off and said nothing to anyone out of fear. But John offers slightly different detail. Here in John, there’s only 1 woman at the tomb…Mary Magdalene…and this time we hear that the resurrected Jesus actually appears and encounters Mary.

If you’re familiar with the story…you know that she doesn’t recognize him at first…mistaking him for the gardener until he calls her by name, revealing something intimate in their connection…and with it Mary recognizes the Risen Lord. She runs off to tell the disciples with the mind-blowing testimony That “I HAVE SEEN THE LORD.”

Now here’s the weird thing…her passionate testimony…this story…this proclamation…this message that, maybe we would call “good news.” It doesn’t seem to take root…it doesn’t seem like the disciples, a couple of whom have already seen the empty tomb for themselves…it doesn’t seem like they buy her story…and so we fast forward from that morning…the morning of Resurrection Sunday…to evening of the same day…

And this is where the story picks up today. For us, its been a week…and maybe we’ve all experienced the come down from the celebration that is Easter Sunday…but regardless, here we are…but for the disciples, as we pick up today its just Sunday.  Jesus was betrayed and arrested and tortured and killed all within the past couple of days…and they’re huddled up behind closed doors…locked in out of fear…whatever Mary told them that morning, doesn’t seem like its had much of effect in the joy category does it?

I can only imagine what the mood was like in that house…in that place where they’ve gathered. Doesn’t seem like they’d be laughing and joking…its probably like any house that’s just experienced the death of a loved one…its usually quiet…subdued…as everyone there tries to process the reality that the person they loved is gone…and in this case…not only is the grief present…but so is the fear.

Jesus had been arrested and killed as an enemy of the state…that’s why he was crucified by the Romans…but he was targeted because he posed a threat to the cultural status quo of the powers that be in the Jewish culture…and the disciples were associated with him…this is why we hear of Peter’s denial during Jesus’ trial…this is why they all fled from the garden when Jesus was arrested…and this is why they’re locked away now…out of fear that they are going to suffer the exact same fate.

Perhaps its no coincidence that John tells us that now its evening…darkness is falling…and keep in mind that theme that runs throughout John’s gospel of light and darkness…the light of life shines, and the darkness of sin and brokenness and death within the world fights tooth and nail to squash it out…maybe its not out of line to say that the disciples were experiencing a “dark night of the soul” in this moment.

And yet…here in the midst of their grief…in the midst of their fear…this hopeless sense that they were metaphorically locked up in…not to mention the literal locked door of the house where they were hiding…in the midst of it…suddenly the Resurrected Jesus is there with the words “Peace be with you” and he says it not once but twice as he’s showing them the marks in his hands and side.

There can be no doubt…this is Jesus…somehow alive again…somehow here standing among them…and it is in this moment of recognition that the truth of Mary’s testimony…of HER good news begins to sink in…as they, in turn, are encountered by the Risen Lord, just like she did in the garden.

With this…we hear that Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into them…certainly reminiscent of the story that we’ll hear from Luke at Pentecost in a few more weeks…and now, empowered by the Holy Spirit within them…strengthened by their own personal encounter with the Risen, Resurrected Jesus Christ…we hear “Just as the father has sent me, so I send you.”

And with this…these 10 individuals, experience a change in identity…For up to this point, they’ve been disciples…followers of Christ…for that’s what disciples are…individuals who follow along after another…learning from them…being shaped by them…and up to this point, that is what they have done…that is what they have been.

But now, with Jesus literally sending them…they take on a new name…Apostle.  Because that’s what apostle means…one who is sent by God with a message. Sure we tend to use disciple and apostle interchangeably…but they do mean two different things. (pause)

Now here’s the thing…a second ago I said there were 10 disciples here…but when we think disciples we think 12 right? Well Judas is gone…he’s committed suicide by this point…and as we hear…Good ole Thomas the doubter is somewhere else. But these 10 Apostles, empowered the Spirit, they fill their new role by finding their friend Thomas and sharing the good news, just as Mary had shared with them. We have seen the Lord. (pause) And how does that go?

Yah…ummm unless I see his hands and stick my finger in the nail holes…I don’t buy it…WAY TO GO THOMAS…what do you think guys…let’s give him a nickname that will stick for the next 2000 years. (singsong) DOUBTING THOMAS…DOUBTING THOMAS.

But wait a sec…didn’t they JUST do the exact same thing?  Didn’t they just hear the good news of the resurrected Jesus and ignore it? (singsong) DOUBTING DISCIPLES…DOUBTING DISCIPLES. (pause) Now we know what happens next don’t we…a week goes by…and apparently, they’ve got a pretty short memory, because once again, they’re all locked up…and the same thing happens…once again, Jesus passes through the walls…through the locked door…and is standing among them…and this time there’s Thomas…and he has his encounter with the Risen Lord…and unlike the rest of the disciples turned Apostles…he makes the proclamation My Lord and my God…he’s the only one who ever does that. (pause)

Here’s the thing…long has Thomas gotten a bad rap…but I can’t help but think that its misplaced…Thomas needed to experience a personal encounter with the Risen Lord before this mind-blowing reality of a risen Lord could sink into his heart. And I find myself wondering…are we any different?

I often think about my own experience…and how many times I had to hear the gospel…the good news…before it actually touched my heart…before I experienced that spiritual 2×4 that I often talk about…and I think about the “locked doors” that prevented it… “Locked doors” some of which were self-inflicted, whether I realized it or not…and I wonder about the “locked doors” that existed, or perhaps still exist…in your lives.

The doubts…the fears…the concerns…pride…whatever it is that stands in the way…somehow Jesus has overcome it…maybe this is why we hear, not once but twice…in two different occurrences that Jesus is able to somehow pass through the barriers that stand in the way in order to be revealed to those that he loves and claims as his own.

And so when we stop and think about that…what does it reveal about our God?  That we have a God who willingly wades into every single place of death and despair in order to bring new life out of it. This is what the resurrection shows us…that there is no length that our God will not go to for you…that no matter what the barrier…no matter what the closed door…no matter what the lock…not even death is enough to keep our God away from you…this is what the resurrection is about…about our God bringing new life out of every single place of death and brokenness…even the ones that we create for ourselves.

We’re all Thomas…every single one of us…at one time or another…and maybe even a lot times over the course of our lives…but you know what…that’s not a bad thing…that’s just the way it is…and that’s not a reality to mourn…it’s a reality that reveals over and over again, a God who cares SO much about every single individual that no amount of locked doors, whether literal or metaphorical, will ever be able to get in the way…and it is my hope and my prayer that we can be a people who will continue to share this good news…because I believe that we have been sent…just like the disciples…we are apostles, called to carry the good news of this God who won’t stay dead…whether it makes sense or not. Amen.

This Is Weird 4-30-17

This morning’s sermon is based on the Road to Emmaus story found in Luke 24:13-35. I explore what is, to me, a quite familiar story, but wonder if it is as familiar to everyone.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-is-weird-4-30-17

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I have confession to make…sometimes pastors will reuse a sermon. This can happen for a variety of reasons…maybe a week becomes too hectic and they don’t get a new sermon prepared. Sometimes, they just said what needed to be said really well the previous time. (pause)

Now, I will say that this is not one of those times…but I have been guilty of this tactic…called recycling…in the past…and though it pains me to say it…I have done it with this very scripture.

The first time I preached on this passage, July 2012…it was towards the end of my year of internship. That congregation does not follow the lectionary as we do here at Underwood, but it came around during a sermon series and happened to fall on my week to preach…I’ll admit it…I was proud of that sermon…it was a good one.

Fast forward 3 months, and I was slated to return to my home congregation and preach…but it was a crazy week…and I…shamefully, recycled that Road Emmaus sermon…that was the fall of 2012. (pause)

Then, in 2013, I was called here to Underwood Lutheran…and my first Sunday was July 7…we moved into town on the 5th and I knew that in the craziness of the move…I would not have time to prepare a sermon…once again…shamefully…I recycled that same Road to Emmaus sermon. (pause)
Low and behold…the next spring…actually my first Confirmation Sunday as the pastor here at Underwood…the lectionary brought the Road to Emmaus back around again…now that time, I actually prepped a different sermon, so at least I’m not completely unoriginal. (pause)
Now here’s the thing…I have enough history with this particular gospel lesson in my history as a preacher…that this week, as I worked towards today’s sermon…I was convinced that this passage comes up every single year in the lectionary.  I was mistaken…but, given my personal history…its safe to say that this is a familiar passage for me…and maybe, just maybe…it’s a familiar one to you as well. (pause)
Now to put things in context…this is another post-resurrection appearance of Jesus…we’ve been having these over the course of the past few weeks as we move through the early part of the Easter Season…and so it stands to reason that we’re going to have the resurrected Jesus appearing to someone that he knows.

As I stand here, the first though that goes through my head is that we all know this story.  2 minor disciples of Jesus…followers though not among the “12” disciples…are heading home. The festival of Passover is over…the Sabbath has come and gone…and so they join the throng of faithful Jewish people heading of the city.

Now remember…even though we celebrated Easter and the Resurrection a couple weeks ago…for these two guys…its still that day…the women had just found the empty tomb and heard the angelic proclamation that morning…and a few of the men had gone and seen the tomb…but as the moment that these two guys hit the road…no one really seems to know what’s going on.  Is Jesus alive? Is he not…is there something crazy going on?  What should we do? Do we pack it all in and go back normal?

This is the state of these two guys…the man that they had followed…the man that they thought was the Messiah…the one to deliver Israel…had died…and despite some odd happenings that morning, no one seemed to know what do.  And so they walk along when another random guy starts walking with them and asks “What are you talking about?” (pause)
Now we know the rest of the story, its Jesus…they don’t recognize him for WHATVER reason…there’s a little back and forth, as these two guys are flabbergasted that he seems to be unaware of what’s been going on…asking if he’s a stranger…but then he opens up the truth of the Old Testament scriptures to them…and once they finally arrive in Emmaus, they invite him in…they all sit down together, he blesses the bread and breaks it…and BOOM…their eyes are open and they recognize the Risen Lord…and now everything makes sense to them so they hightail back to Jerusalem where they find the others and excited relay the message they have encountered the Lord and he was made known in the breaking of the bread.

That’s the story…familiar right? We’ve heard it plenty of times in the past…and combine it with the past 2 weeks’ worth of hearing about Jesus appearing in random ways to various people…and maybe, just maybe, its become a little too familiar.

I wonder if anyone else has fallen into the same trap that I have this week…thinking that EVERYONE knows this story…and like the 2 disciples…astonished that someone would have to ask “What are you talking about?”

But here’s the thing that I realized this week…not everyone knows this story…I think, this is what Jesus is modeling for us today. He approaches the two men with a question…asking them what they’re discussing…and what they’re discussing is the death of the Messiah…as well as the crazy possibility that maybe, just maybe that dead man was alive again…its crazy to them that he would ask…because apparently its all anyone in the city had been talk about since the previous Friday when Jesus had died on the cross…this is why they ask him if he’s a stranger. (pause)
But I’ll say it again…I think Jesus is modeling the stranger in our midst.  (pause) Now I’ll admit it…I live and breathe this stuff week and week out…and sometimes I forget that even regular church people aren’t as familiar with stuff as I might be…but even beyond that…there are times when I taken completely of guard and find out that someone is utterly unfamiliar with this whole story….and not just the road to Emmaus, but the gospel in general.

Granted we live in a society where, most people have in the very least, the passing idea that Jesus is somehow connected to God and that he died and that on Easter he wasn’t dead anymore…but for some…that’s pretty where understanding stops…that’s just the reality.

I came face to face with a good reminder of this through the week. I was sitting down with the high schoolers…and we read through this story…and our newest member Brandy, who is just scratching the surface of a lot of this stuff…she starting asking questions.

Wait a sec…so this is Easter right? And he had just risen? Yes.  And now he’s appearing to his friends…but they don’t recognize him? Yes. Why not? Does he look different? I don’t know…but for some reason they don’t.  Okay…but then when he finally broke the bread, and they recognize him…he disappeared? Yes. (Pause) This is weird. (pause)

Sometimes it takes someone seeing this with a fresh set of eyes to reveal very important truth.  WHATEVER IT IS, that the resurrected Jesus was up to during these various appearances…it doesn’t make a lot of sense to us…and maybe, just maybe, its not supposed to make sense.

After all…this whole gospel story is pretty off the wall isn’t it? The ultimate creator of the universe and everything in it…an entity or presence or something that we call God enters into our reality as one of us…and then God dies…and then, defying all logic…this dead man who is also God, is raised from the dead and starts popping up in random places before ultimately going back to heaven, but empowering his followers with the Spirit of God and the command to announce that somehow, someway we have been forgiven of our brokenness and through his resurrection, somehow we will be given life after death. (pause)

Sometimes I say that…and I don’t even want to believe myself…and yet…because of the power Holy Spirit…I do…and as I see a few of you nodding out there…or as I simply look out and see you gathered here today…it would seem that you believe it to.

This is the amazing thing about the gospel…this thing that shouldn’t make any sense…and in many cases…doesn’t make any sense…suddenly…does. We can’t explain why…we can’t explain how…and yet, just as the two men experienced but didn’t recognize until Christ was revealed to them…something about all this burns within us.

But today, here’s the takeaway.  We need to remember that not everyone gets it…not everyone knows it…and some have never heard it before. And so I pose this question…who is the stranger that needs us to tell them what happened? Who is the stranger that needs to hear the events that surround this dead messiah who somehow isn’t dead anymore?

I ask this question, because I think that when we miss those opportunities in our regular day to day lives…maybe we’re missing the presence of the Risen Lord.  Maybe we’re walking along, and our eyes are kept from realizing that God is at work right in front of us…or even that God is here with the stranger in our midst…just waiting for the opportunity to open up a whole world that we all get to be a part of.

So yah…this whole thing is pretty weird isn’t it?  But its also pretty wo

Behold 4-16-17 Easter Sunday

In this Easter Sunday sermon, I explore Matthew’s account of the Resurrection, found in 28:1-10. We see a lot…and we are intended to. The tomb is open so that we can be witnesses to what has occurred.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/behold-4-16-17-easter-sunday

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The first of my grandparents to die was my grandpa on my mom’s side.  He and my grandma had moved to the Phoenix Arizona are when I was 5 years old…and they were still living there in the midst of my junior year of college, when Grandpa, quite suddenly had a serious health problem. He hung in there for a while…long enough for my mom to get down there to see him…but shortly after that he died. There was a small funeral for him, attended by those who could make it…but the timing was off for me, happening right in the midst of college mid-terms and sadly, I was unable to attend.

Then about three years later…I was finished with college. My wife and I had been married for about 18 months or so, and we decided to fly down to Arizona to visit my grandma…and while we were there, the three of us hopped in the car and visited the cemetery where my grandpa had been buried.

Now of course, I had mourned my grandfather when he died…but when we walked up to his grave and I looked at his tombstone, I just…lost it. I can’t explain why this happened, but I learned an important lesson that day. There are certainly things that you just have to see in order to fully experience them…and in this case…it was the grave of my grandfather.

(pause) Now, perhaps it seems a little strange to kick off an easter sermon by talking about death. Admittedly, I sort of thought the same thing as I sat at my desk on Friday, working my way through the preparation of this message.  As you likely realize, Friday was, of course…Good Friday…and I struggled with this message because my head was in two different places…I was thinking about Good Friday and our worship service that was coming up that evening…and at the same time I was thinking about this morning and the joy of Easter Sunday…and I was stuck in that tension between the two…I was stuck in thoughts about death while I was trying to think about new life.

But then I read today’s gospel lesson again and I realized that this is exactly where the story of Easter begins…with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb…and rest assured, they know where to find it.  If we back track just a little ways, we hear that these two women have been witnesses to all that Jesus has endured. They are among the women standing there when he dies on the cross…and they are watching when his dead body is taken off the cross and laid in this very tomb.

And so, as the action picks up…early morning on this random Sunday 2000 years ago…these two women are walking to see the tomb.  That’s an interesting point here in Matthew’s gospel…there are no spices in tow…and nothing about going to anoint his body…the tomb is closed…he’s dead and buried…they are simply going to see the tomb.

Now I pondered on that fact for a while…and then I remembered what happened to me at my grandpa’s grave…sometimes you’ve got to see it…and maybe, just maybe they were going there in order to try and feel a tiny little bit of connection to this man that they had known and loved.

Isn’t that what we do when we visit a cemetery…when we walk up to the grave of someone that we loved in this life…when we sit there and talk to them…what is it that we are doing, besides trying to have a tiny little bit of connection to this beloved person who has crossed the boundary that death creates.

Make no mistake…we all know, as we walk up to that tombstone…that in no way are we going to see the person again. We know that if we talk them, they aren’t going to talk back again…we all know about this division…this boundary created by death…and the two women knew it too.

They knew he was dead…but yet they went to SEE the tomb…and make no mistake…they saw the tomb…but they saw a whole lot more than that…Interestingly enough…the phrase “to see” or “to behold” is all over this short passage today…and there is a lot to behold.

They went to behold to tomb…and BEHOLD…there was an earthquake….and BEHOLD and angel descended from heaven and rolled the stone away. The angel greets the women, telling them fear not…You are looking to Behold Jesus who was crucified…BUT BEHOLD…he is not here…come and see.

The angel has a message…and a command…go and tell the disciples…he has been raised…but go into Galilee and there you will BEHOLD the risen Christ…this is so amazing…also frightening…but with joy the women run away from the tomb…and wouldn’t you know it…BEHOLD, there’s Jesus….who tells them the very same thing…don’t be afraid, but go tell my brothers to go out into Galilee and there they will BEHOLD me. (pause)

If the old saying is true…and seeing is believing…then we’ve got a lot to believe today don’t we? But what is truly amazing to me, is that what the women expect to see is the polar opposite of what they experience. They went looking for the tomb…but they found a whole lot more…and so…do…we. (pause)
Now…I don’t even need to tell you that Christ is Risen do I? I mean, of course he has…but you already know that…you’re already here today…clearly the Resurrected Jesus is something that is prominent enough on your radar that you are already here.

But imagine if you didn’t know that…because that’s the situation the women found themselves in. They went expecting death…and interestingly enough…but what they experienced included and earthquake, and an angel opening up the tomb…and then the angel pointed something out to them…not the Risen Christ…they didn’t find him there…the angel pointed out the lack of a dead Jesus. You are looking for Jesus was crucified, but see he is not here.

Here’s the amazing thing about that angel’s message and action of rolling away the stone. He didn’t show up in order to let the risen Jesus out of the grave…somehow that had already happened, even with the stone blocking the entrance…he moved the stone to let the women…and to let us IN…so that we can BEHOLD that the tomb is empty…that death didn’t get the last word…and that somehow, some way, there’s more to this story.

Now in it in their fear AND great joy…experienced at the same time mind you…as they follow the command of the angel to go and tell the disciples what they experienced…that’s when they encounter Christ…not among the dead, but out there in the world….and his command, repeated to the women in order that they might share it with the disciples is the same…tell my brothers that they must go out into the world and THERE they will see me. (pause)

This is the big deal about today…like the women, we expect to find death…and sure enough, we all experience it…and I’m not just talking about physical death…but something I tend to call little deaths…because this world is not perfect…and our lives are not perfect…and simply being followers of Christ in whatever capacity we find ourselves today does not excuse us from that.

We come to worship this morning…expecting the empty tomb…expecting trumpets and joyful proclamations…expecting the Resurrected Jesus…BUT…we come bearing all sorts of little death…you know what they are in your life. Those things that you struggle with…those voices in the back of our heads that tell us that we aren’t good enough…that we aren’t smart enough…that we haven’t done and will NEVER be good enough. We all have those hardships…those trials…those things that stand in the way of joy. (pause)
BUT…the tomb is empty. (pause) Death doesn’t get the last word…and what we experience…what we see…what we BEHOLD in the empty tomb is that we have a God who can…who has…who DOES create new life out of death…and as we go forth…out there into the world, bearing the news that the tomb is empty…bearing the knowledge of our experience…of our own story about what we have seen God do in our lives…when we are out there….that’s where the joy of the resurrected Christ meets us…and as we share this news as WE have experienced it…just like the women…just like the disciples at the end of the gospel…that’s where we find the Resurrected Lord….not in here…because here today…we find an empty tomb…but out there…as we bear this news that the tomb is empty…that death doesn’t get the last word…as we look in the face of the beloved child of God that we share this news with….that’s where we see Jesus….and maybe, just maybe, they’ll see him too. (pause)
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, for he is risen…and that’s something to behold. Amen.

This Makes No Sense 3-27-16

HE HAS RISEN!

In this sermon for Easter Sunday, taken from Luke 24:1-12, I explore the empty tomb and the angelic proclamation, but recognize that we have yet to see the Lord.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-makes-no-sense-3-27-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

During my first couple of years of college, I worked part time for a local pharmacy. I had a few different duties in that job, but my main one was making deliveries. The store offered the service of deliveries, a service utilized by quite a few shut-ins around the community, not to mention the three different nursing homes in town.

Now I really enjoyed this job, because the majority of my time was spent driving around town in my boss’ brand new, light blue, Chevy pickup, and keep in mind that this was in the late 90’s right about the time that remote car locks came on the scene. That was always my favorite part of deliveries. First stepping out of the truck and clicking that button, hearing the “CHIRP” of the horn…or on the flipside walking back out to the truck, hitting the button in my hand as I stepped up to door, and hearing the click of the door unlocking.

Except one time…I had just made a delivery to one of the nursing homes…and was walking back out through the parking lot…and as I stepped around the front end of a light blue pickup, I clicked that button…and nothing happened…so a second later when I reached out for the door handle…it didn’t open.

I didn’t think too much of it…and so I clicked the button again…nothing…now things are starting to get weird…but I thought, hey, I’ve still got the actual keys in my hand…I guess I’ll just unlock the door manually…kids, you might not realize this, but there was a time when we actually had to pull our keys out of our pockets and stick them in the car door to unlock it…crazy huh?

But when I tried that…it didn’t work either…and I just kinda stood there for a moment in disbelief…my mind could not comprehend the problem…which I’m guessing by now you have figured out (pause). Wrong truck…there happened to be 2 different light blue Chevy pickups sitting in the lot in that moment…and I was standing at the driver’s door of the wrong one…something that I discovered when I finally had the brilliant thought to click the lock button and I heard the “CHIRP”…from two spots away. (pause) Now I wish I could tell you that this is the only time that has ever happened to me…but I can’t. I did the exact same thing just a month or two ago in the parking lot down at Walmart…when I walked right up to a maroon Chrysler 200…and could not figure out why I couldn’t see the light’s flashing when I hit the unlock button…

Sometimes our minds just cannot accept the truth of what we are seeing…we cannot manage to wrap our heads around what are witnessing or experiencing. (pause)

And now…Easter Sunday…the Resurrection…one of the most important instances within the entire Bible…so important…that it is one of those stories featured in all four gospels…now of course, each account has some small differences in terms of details…but the overarching arc of this event holds true.

Jesus is buried on Friday…everyone waits through Saturday…women go to the tomb first thing Sunday morning…the stone is removed…the tomb is empty…and angels show up making proclamations about what has happened. (pause) That about covers it right? And Luke’s account that we have shared today is no exception.

But one thing about it that jumps out at me…is that the women must have had an experience sort of like what I did when I could not wrap my head around the issue with the car doors failing to unlock…now keep in mind, the women had watched everything happen on Friday…including the removal of Jesus body…and the placement of his body in the tomb…that’s why I included those extra couple of verses at the beginning of the gospel today…there can be no doubt…they watched it happen…and they knew…where the body of Jesus was…they knew where they were going.

And so when they show up early Sunday morning…and they find an open tomb…confusion…for they had seen the stone rolled in front of the door…but all that aside…then they step into the tomb…expecting to see a dead body, wrapped in linen, laying there on the stone floor of this small cave, carved out of solid rock.

But when they step into that tomb…there’s no body…and we hear that they were perplexed…which is really just a nice way of saying that they lost their minds over this. HOW CAN THIS BE? WHERE IS HIS BODY? WHERE IS THE LORD? (pause)
All logic says that his body should be laying there in the tomb…it was there a couple days ago…it should be there now…but…it…isn’t. And all the women see…all they experience in this moment…is an empty tomb…an empty grave…his body was here…and now it isn’t. (pause)

And as they stood there…perplexed…confused…out of nowhere…a couple of angels show up with a pretty question. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  Imagine being the women in that moment…faced with this question…Why are you looking for him here? “Well duh…he’s dead…this is his grave…where else would he be?”

But then the angels give them the rest of the story…Yes…he was dead…but no longer…and look he is not here for he has risen…Remember his words that he told you…he predicted that this would happen…he told you he would die but then…that he would be raised.

And with that…the divine light bulb goes off for the women…and they remember that Yes…JESUS DID TELL US THIS…and it has come true…and that confusion…that state of being perplexed…that lifts…and their minds and their hearts are filled with faith…with belief…and not just belief in what the angels were telling them…but belief in the promise that Jesus had made…that he would rise again…and filled with this faithful joy, they run off to the disciples and share their experience.

I can only imagine the excitement that the women were feeling and showing as they shared the news…that the tomb is empty and angels appeared saying he is risen…can you imagine it?  (pause) Well something tells me that they must have been pretty worked up, because as we hear…the disciples…the very individuals who you would fully expect to get it…to understand it…to believe it…don’t. Luke tells us that the disciples thought the women were feeding them an idle tail…which is just a really nice politically correct way of saying the disciples thought this was a giant load of B.S…and they don’t believe a word of it.

The only one to even give it a second thought is Peter…and we hear that he runs off to see the empty tomb…only to head off from there in amazement…aka…just as confused as the women initially found themselves. (pause)
So just what the heck is going on here? We’ve got an empty tomb…and we’ve got an announcement of the Risen Lord…but what we don’t have…is a Risen Lord…granted…he shows up later…Later on that day he pops up on the road walking with two random disciples who cover 7 miles without recognizing him, until he breaks bread for them.

We hear somewhere during the day he shows up to Peter…and then later that night…he shows up out of nowhere with the entire group of disciples…who freak out, thinking he’s a ghost…and its not until he grabs a hunk of fish and eats it in front of them that they start to believe that its really him…

But that’s all later…here today…in our joyous celebration of Easter Sunday…there is no Jesus present…and when I realized that…it really made me stop and pay attention…and I began to ask the question…what is it that we are celebrating today? (pause
And the answer…the tomb is empty…and there has been an announcement that he is risen…and at this point…that’s it…HALLELUJAH!!!!! AN EMPTY CAVE! (pause)

But you know what…we all know that’s the not the end of the story…and even though we cut it off there today…it goes on…and we do hear about those instances when Jesus shows himself to his followers…and the interactions they have with the Resurrected Lord before he eventually ascends to Heaven and sends the Holy Spirit among us…and gradually, as those different individuals encountered the Risen Lord, they believed…but Jesus had a message for them…You have believed because you have seen me…blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.

And guess what my friends…that includes us…because look around…Have we seen the Lord? (pause) As much as I would love to say yes…I can’t…can you? (Pause) And yet you are here…and why? Well, because somewhere there is an empty tomb…missing a body…and because someone proclaimed to you that He Has Risen…

Now the funny thing about this…is that there are two possible reactions to this…two ways to respond to an empty grave and a proclamation of Resurrection…we can believe it as the women did…or we can blow it off as a big load of B.S. like the disciples did at first. (pause)
And think about it…doesn’t that pretty much cover the bases of responses? It does for me…because for a long time…I thought it was…and IDLE TAIL…but I kept hearing the proclamation…the words that Jesus himself had said…that he would be killed and then he would rise…and somehow…someway…the Holy Spirit managed to get in my brain…and I believed it. (pause) And since you are here…I’m guessing that you believed it too…maybe even just a little tiny bit…enough to bring you hear today to see if maybe, just maybe that tomb really is empty.

But others don’t…that’s just a reality of the world we live in…some believe this news that we claim as the best news in the world…but some laugh it off…because its utterly ludicrous to think that IF there’s a God out there…that God would become human…and that God would die…or that someone who had died…would come back. It defies all logic…and our minds cannot make sense of it. (pause) Mine couldn’t.

But maybe that’s okay…and maybe we don’t have to make sense of it…maybe we don’t have to understand it…maybe, the tomb just has to be empty…and someone needs to tell us He is Risen…Amen.

Saturday People 3-13-15

In this sermon I explore John 12:1-8, the anointing of Jesus. We see even in the midst of life, there is the tension of death present. We live in this reality.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/saturday-people-3-13-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I’ve heard it said that of our 5 main senses, smell is most strongly connected to our memory…that certain aromas can instantly remind of us of certain moments or places or individuals…and I think that’s true. In the very least…I know that my sense of smell keys in to certain things…and I’m guessing that many of these aromas are pretty universal.

Who can deny the smell of a freshly cut orange…or the wonderful aroma of lilac flowers in the early spring…two of my personal favorites are the smells that come up from freshly mown grass or freshly turned dirt…its wonderful.

But on the flip side…sometimes smells, while identifiable, are also pretty stinky…it never ceases to amaze my kids when we find ourselves driving down the road behind a livestock trailer and I’m able to identify whether its carrying cattle or hogs or horses…simply by the smell…Certainly its true…aromas…our sense of smell…its important and strong.

I bring all of this up because today’s gospel appeals to our sense of smell…the anointing of Jesus…and the abundant gift that Mary bestows upon Jesus when she anoints his feet with a pound of costly perfume…and an aroma that fills the house. (pause)
Now I think most of us are fairly familiar with this story…it shows up in all four gospels…and while the details get a little muddled across the gospel boundaries…the basic plot is the same…Jesus is reclining at the table, enjoying the hospitality of his host, and a woman comes in and pours oil on him before wiping his feet with her hair, when low and behold, someone squawks about the waste of resources.

The setting changes…the identity of the woman and the host changes…and the voice of opposition changes across the different gospels…but the story itself remains pretty constant. That being said…a couple of these unique details here in John’s account catch my attention. First off, we hear that the event occurs in the home of Lazarus…and we also hear that it occurs after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Just how long after, we’re not sure…but that story occurs in chapter 11 of John, so it couldn’t have been too long.

And so we know that Lazarus, as he’s reclining there at the table alongside Jesus…sharing this time together with the Lord…Lazarus is experiencing a bit of a unique situation. He’s been dead…but now he’s alive again…one of only 3 people that Jesus brings back…but at the same time…we have no indication that Lazarus is now experiencing life in “THE RESURRECTION.” That life that we are promised will come in the last days…rather, all indications show us that Lazarus, along with those other two individual’s raised by Jesus, were simply experiencing life in the same way that they had before…and in the end died once more…but in the meantime…where do we find him? Here…spending time with Jesus…experiencing ongoing relationship with the Lord…and now let’s put a pin in that and come back to it in a bit. (pause)

The second interesting point that John’s account of this story makes…is Jesus’ response when Judas squawks about wasting the oil…all selfish motivations of Judas aside…Jesus says that she has prepared him for his burial…and that’s what this anointing is all about…its coming right up…we hear that its 6 days before Passover…a few more days and Jesus dies.

That’s coming up for us on the calendar as well…two weeks from today…we’ve got the triumphal entry, which incidentally, immediately follows this story in John…and then we’re off through Holy Week and the glorious resurrection of Jesus…the empty tomb…the risen Lord…cue the trumpets and bring in the Easter Lilies. (pause)

If you’re anything like me, you’re ready for Easter. This season of Lent is just long enough…and just dark enough…that by this point…I’m ready for that empty tomb…and as I think about that…I’m reminded of something an old mentor of mine taught me…that we are Easter people…we are people of the resurrection…and we live in a reality where the tomb of Jesus is empty for he has risen…but each and every year we go through this time…this time of remembrance…this time of preparation…and even though we embrace the promise that we are a new creation…and that we join with Christ in a resurrection like his…we also realize that we have to go through Good Friday before we can get to Easter.

We have to go through Death before we can get to the new life that lies beyond it…and in our story today…Jesus reminds us of that. “Leave her alone, she has kept it for the day of my burial.” (pause) Jesus knows that he has to go through Good Friday to get to Easter…and as much as he might have feared it…and as fervently as he prayed to the Father to allow Good Friday to pass from him…he still took it.

Now here’s the thing…we are promised in the waters of our baptism that we are claimed by God as his children…and we receive the promise that we inherit the gift of the resurrection…we will join with Christ in a resurrection like his, but we also join with Christ in a death like his…and this is not shocking…we all owe one death in this existence and there are no exceptions to that…but in addition…we also experience what I can only call a “little death” each and every day.

Remember that we are forgiven of the sin and pain and darkness that exists within us…we feel it, but we are forgiven of it…and every day, when we sense that darkness and repent of it and turn ourselves back to the one who created us we are that new creation…but by doing this we are experiencing that little death…each and every day. And so, in addition to being Easter people…people of the resurrection…we also realize that we are Good Friday people…because we have to go through the death before we can get to the resurrection.

This is true in the big picture…that we each experience death, but through the promise of God we join in the resurrection…and it is also true for us in the here and now…as we experience the little death of sin and darkness before experiencing the promise of new life in Christ.

Now its important that we realize this…that the gift of Jesus isn’t limited to just some new life out there in the unknown future…that’s part of it…but he has told us that he came to give us life and give it abundantly…in the here and now…

That abundant life is lived with God…in relationship which is made possible again through the death and resurrection of Christ…he has made it possible for us to turn away from the darkness that is still present with our reality and within our individual lives…to turn away from it and return to the path intended for us by the one who made in the first place.

The Hebrew have a word for this…and its connected to something I’ve talked about before. On Ash Wednesday I talked about the word TOV…the GOOD…the way that God made us and desires for us to live…and this notion of repentance…of turning away from that sinful darkness and returning to God…of turning back to the good…back to the TOV…the Hebrew calls this T’SHOOVAH….everyone say that with me..T’SHOOVAH…its one of those words that requires excitement to say…and I think that stems from the fact that its exciting and life giving…it is life abundant when we spend it in the TOV…in the good life intended WITH the LORD. (pause)

Now all that being said…it raises the question…where do we find a life in T’SHOOVAH? Do we find it as Good Friday people…in the recognition of death? (pause) I don’t think so. And do we find it as Easter People…embracing the resurrection that we have yet to fully experience? (pause) I don’t think so. I think we find in the middle of the two…in the midst…in the tension that lies between death and resurrection.

So maybe we are Good Friday people…and maybe we’re also Easter people…but I think we find T’SHOOVAH…when we realize that we are Saturday people…living in the tension between death and new life…between the cross and the empty tomb…a life lived, not perfect, but TOV…GOOD…a life lived in relationship with the Lord. (pause)

And now I’m going to go back to that spot where we put a pin…and Lazarus…reclining at the table with Jesus…having experienced death…literally in his case…but yet to fully encounter the resurrection…and what are they doing? Seems like they’re simply spending time together…abiding together…living life together.

Through Christ, this relationship is possible, because we see in Jesus that God dwells among us…with us…and through Christ, we are drawn to the Father…but not only that…through Christ we are also given the ability to forgive one another…to repair the broken relationships between us as individuals…

This abundant life…promised by Jesus…IS experienced in the here and now…it is found in relationship with God and one another because if you recall clear back in Genesis, when God is making humanity and he calls it TOV, he recognizes that it is NOT good…it is NOT TOV…for us to be alone…and through the reconciling work of Jesus Christ…the work that we are invited into…we live in community together. (pause)

We are Good Friday people…and we are Easter people…and as we see today, we are also Saturday people…and we are all of these rolled into one…we live in the tension between death and new life…a tension that was present within today’s story.

I’m going to wrap this all up with one more thought…remember how Mary poured out the oil…and the aroma of the perfume filled the entire room? Jesus said that she did it to prepare him for burial. This was common…for when a body went in the tomb and began to decompose, it smells…death has a smell and if you’ve been around you know what I’m talking about.

And so, when they put a body in the tomb, they anointed it with perfume…to try and mask the smell of death…but you can’t…the two mix in together…the fragment with the foul…the pleasant with the painful…life with death.

And that’s what Jesus is talking about as he looks towards his own death…the death that makes new life possible. Its all wrapped up together…for Jesus and for us. This is the tension of being Saturday people…and what a blessing to know that we are not alone in that tension…but that we have one another…and we have a God who exists there with us…so let’s live here in the abundant life lived together with God and one another…let’s live on Saturday knowing that its T’SHOOVAH. Amen

 

Still Waiting On The Ending-Easter Sunday 4-5-15

In this sermon for Easter Sunday I explore Mark 16:1-8. This is Mark’s account of the resurrection, but it’s abrupt ending and no real resolution seemingly leaves us hanging.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/still-waiting-on-the-ending-4-5-15-easter-sunday

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Of the many different things that I spend my free time on, I think it is safe to say that there are two that probably dominate the majority of my attention. Reading fiction…and watching movies. I pursue both of these with equal excitement…because I just love being immersed in a good story…and sometimes, I’m even lucky enough to encounter both mediums of story-telling at the same time. (pause)
I’m talking, of course, of movie adaptations of popular books…and the longer I’ve paid attention, the more I realize that MANY movies are in fact adaptations of some sort. Now some movie adaptations are done really badly…and fans of the original story will pick it to pieces…finding fault with every single aspect that fails to meet their expectations…but then there are other times when the film makers do a REALLY good job, resulting in a movie that really pulls it off…and I love it when I encounter a movie like this.
Honestly, I think its great…to be able to see the characters in the flesh…living out the story that had only existed in print…and in the images within my mind that the printed words help create. Honestly, in my humble opinion…for the most part…a movie adaptation of a good book is almost a positive experience.
But that being said, I’ve noticed a trend in recent years…particularly when movie makers set out to adapt a series of books to the big screen…and this trend is taking the final book of the series…and splitting it into multiple movies…and there are MANY examples I can choose from…The Hungers Games is in the midst of it right now as we wait for Mockingjay Part 2 to hit theaters this November…and a few years back it was the Harry Potter series as we watched Deathly Hallows Part 1 in November of 2010 and then had to wait until the following July to wrap up the story in Part 2.
Now, the theory presented by the film studios…is that the complete story is so big and so important that they really need to divide it into multiple films to be able to convey it properly…and they claim that part 1 is simply the beginning of the end…but we know the truth don’t we? They just want to turn one $300 million dollar payday into 2 $300 million dollar paydays right? (pause)
But you know what…as I’ve thought about some of these situations, particularly as I sat and watched Part 1 in both the Hunger Games and Harry Potter, I wasn’t that upset…because I had read the books…I knew the stories…and sure I was excited about the visual aspect of seeing it up there…but I didn’t mind the anticipation of it all.
But I do remember a time when filmmakers went with the 2 part aspect of finishing up the story when I didn’t know how it was going to end…and it happened all the way back in 2003 with the release of The Matrix reloaded…which cut to the credits right after a shocking reveal of the hero unconscious right alongside of the villain…and then making us wait 6 months to find out how it would all end.
It was SO FRUSTRATING…and they left me sitting on the edge of my seat…with no idea what was going to happen next. Good story telling? Yah maybe…a good marketing technique…absolutely…but at the same time, absolutely maddening in terms of absolution…because there just wasn’t any. (pause)
And I’ll be honest with you…when I pick up the Bible…and I turn to the resurrection stories…I want absolution…because here on Easter Sunday we are coming out of the long dark season of Lent…and this year, at least here in our little community…one that is perhaps even darker than usual with some tough events that have happened recently…and so we look to the gospel…and we’ve come to expect something from it…we’ve come to expect the glorious resurrection…and the appearance of Jesus, resurrected…especially after the darkness of Friday and his torture…and his death…and all day Saturday as we sit in the knowledge that Jesus is dead in the tomb…here on Easter Sunday we want to cue the trumpets…turn on the lights…and experience the joy of seeing the Savior of the World alive once more…
But today…the lectionary plays a bit of a joke on us…and we hear Mark’s account of the resurrection…and Mark, not only fails to give us much in the way of absolution…but Mark fails to give us an ending period…listen again to the way that Mark ends his gospel, here in chapter 16 verse 8…So the women went out and fled from the tomb…for terror and amazement had seized them…and they said NOTHING to ANYONE…for they…were…afraid… (long pause)
This bizzare and uttery abrupt ending of Mark has been a topic of debate for almost as long as the gospel itself has been in existence…Some people believe that the final part of the scroll simply got torn off…and that there was in fact more to the story…so much in fact that within a couple hundred years of the death and resurrection…different “authorities” actually wrote additional endings to Mark…I’m serious…you can find them in your Bible…footnoted as additions of course…But isn’t that crazy…to think that the author of the Gospel simply ends the story like this…seemingly right in the middle of a thought…and certainly without any sort of resolution to the story what so ever.
I mean, COME ON!!! Jesus was dead…there can be no arguing that…and these three women that come to tomb on Sunday morning were there to see it…we hear them named specifically in chapter 15…watching the death of Jesus and watching as his body is placed in the tomb…and now following the Sabbath they head to the tomb…and find the stone pushed away…and there’s no body to be found…for Jesus isn’t here anymore.
No longer is Jesus among the dead…and the women hear from the angel, we also hear the same words….YOU are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified…he has been raised…he IS NOT…here. (pause) And as he told you…he has gone on ahead of you…and you will see him again. (pause)
But we don’t…and neither do the women…and the crazy thing is…that these witnesses to the resurrection…or in the very least…these witness to the empty tomb…run away…and don’t tell anyone. (pause)
And so now we come around to this question once again…what do we do with this? What are we to think about this empty tomb…and this proclamation that Jesus has been raised from the dead…and that he has gone on ahead of us…out into the world?
What do we do with this? How are we…people who have heard this story over and over again all of our lives…joining with 2000 years worth of individuals who have also heard the story and likewise have come to expect to encounter the risen Jesus on Easter morning…how do we explain this ending…this lack of resolution? (pause)
I’ll be honest with you this morning…if you’re sitting there asking yourself that question right now…and perhaps you’re looking back up at me as I stand here before you today, thinking that I’m going to explain it for you…well, then I’m going to disappoint you this morning. Because these are valid questions…but I believe that they are questions that I CANNOT answer for you…but I will offer you a touch of insight…insight that actually comes from Mark’s gospel…just the opposite end of it. (pause)
Mark Chapter 1 verse 1 reads “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” And according to Mark…the good news of Jesus doesn’t begin with his birth…but it begins right smack dab in the middle of the story, with his baptism and his ministry…and then Mark tells us about his ministry…filled with countless interactions with different individuals who encounter the Lord and are changed…but often times lack the understanding of just how it has happened…in fact Jesus own disciples…the men closest to him fail to understand just what’s going on…and in the end, he is betrayed…and he is tortured…and he is killed…and now today we hear…we don’t see…but we hear that he has been raised and he has disappeared out into the world where we will encounter him again… (pause)
And just as the women were amazed and terrified and I’m guessing pretty confused about this empty tomb…I think we share in this same confusion…Jesus was dead…but he’s not in that tomb anymore…and apparently, he’s not even hanging around it.
Apparently Jesus doesn’t have time to see if we understand it or not…because he’s got work to do out there in the world…and that…is where we go to start to find the answers to these questions that we have…to find the resolution of just what this empty tomb and abrupt halting to the story in Mark means.
We don’t find it in here…I’m sorry we just don’t…we find it out there…in the midst of our lives because THAT is where we encounter the risen Lord…and that means something different for each and every one of us because each and every one of us has a different experience. (pause)
So today, we sit here today…and we do celebrate the proclamation that we have come to believe that Jesus has been raised and he is no longer among the dead…and we rejoice in the promise that he has made that we will one day join with him in a resurrection like his…but in the midst of this, we also realize that the story is NOT over…that the work of God is still happening out there in the world…that we CANNOT simply tidy all of this up in a simple 15 minute sermon that answers every question and covers every contingency.
Rather, we have to go out there…and keep on living our lives…seeing where and when and how the risen Jesus Christ find us in the midst of our lives. (pause)
And I know that there is a lot of ambiguity in what I’ve said…and it hasn’t really resolved anything…but you know what…I think that’s what Mark intended when he wrote those final words…and left us all hanging with the question of “What comes next?”
And so I’ll ask that question…as you leave here today…having heard the proclamation that Jesus Christ is risen…well then…What comes next?
And then I’m gonna be a punk…and I’m not even attempt to answer it for you…because that’s between you and God. I’ll let the two of you hash that out…but I will tell you this…sometimes its just maddening to not know the resolution…and together with God, out there, we just have to live with it…because sometimes…Sometimes…