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Sermon transcript for May 25, 2014

Hope for Creation
Psalm 104: 1-24; Romans 8:18-23
Belmont UMC—May 25, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio - MP3

The Psalmist says, “You have done so many things! You made them all so wisely! The earth is full of your creations!” (104:24 CEB)

Do we have hope for this creation? Does it seem hopeless or beyond our ability to turn the tide of ecological destruction? Have we drifted into a state of fatalism and despair?

I framdc this sermon around 4 things that lead to hope for creation. We begin with gratitude, like that of the Psalmist, we move toward some honesty about the condition of our planet, we will spend some time with confession, and then we launch into action.

Let’s begin with gratitude! This world is a beautiful place, teaming with life and the wonder and awe of the Artist’s creation. I decided this spring to spend more time in the woods and I made three trips to the farm of my friend Jack Corn. I took the staff members with me on one of those outings. I went three times because the valley of wildflowers at the Corn farm changes daily and I wanted to see those changes. Some of you have made similar wildflower outings and you have shared those with me or on Facebook.

I could not begin to name all the flowers that we found on those outings; it would take too long, but being there reminds me of the need to care for our world, being there restores my soul.

This year I met a man named Jonathan at the Corn farm. He was there on my first and third trips. Jonathan is a tall man with long gray hair that he braids into a ponytail that hangs down the back of his overalls. He’s a bit of a hippy and he has tromped through those hills and valleys looking for beauty and he finds things no one else has seen. On third trip Jonathan was coming up the trail as we were heading back and he said, “Ken, did you see the dwarf irises?”

“Yes, but there not blooming.”

Jonathan said, “You did not go far enough. Follow me.”  We followed him way up into the woods where he led us to a patch of irises in full bloom, about 50 to 60 of them, in a little opening where the sun had coaxed them to life. If you don’t know what a crested dwarf iris looks like, check out our art gallery where you’ll find a gorgeous photo of this special flower, taken by Deborah Arnold.

Then Jonathan took me to a ledge along the creek bed near the horse pasture and he showed me a saxifrage flower. This was new flower for me. The base of the flower is a cluster of green shoots like grass. Long, dainty stems shoot up from the base and hold a delicate white flower. Beautiful! The wildflower book says that this flower grows where others cannot. Jonathan said, “This little flower thrives on hardship.” There might be a metaphor for hope there.

A few weeks ago my wife and I planted our little vegetable garden. As we dug into the earth, I marveled at all the discoveries to be made there. Grub worms and earthworms, beetles and little spiders. And of course, each one I found I pitched at my frustrated wife.

We need to teach our children to appreciate creation; it begins there. We need to help them connect with the earth in a more intimate way. I know families who go to Pigeon Forge each year for their vacation and never venture into the beautiful Smokey Mountains. There is a loss of intimacy with nature that must be reclaimed.

I am grateful for Bill and Mary Ruth Lane who are teaching our youth to raise vegetables. They are not only teaching them about gardening and where food comes from, and raising fresh vegetables for the Nashville Food Project, but they are connecting them to the earth in a new and intimate way.

We need to be honest about the condition of our planet. Paul says that all of creation is groaning and we know that full well. We have seen the oil spilling into Gulf of Mexico, gulls covered in oil and a fishing industry destroyed. We have witnessed the massive destruction of super storms caused by global warming. One and half acres of rain forests disappear every second. Polar ice is melting and the sea levels are rising. The news is not good.

We build cities in places that cannot fully sustain the life within them. I think I’ve read every Barbara Kingsolver book ever written but of my favorites is not a novel but the book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which chronicles her family’s year of trying to eat only local foods. At the beginning of that book she writes about her family’s decision to give up their second home in Tuscon, Arizona and move to their farm in southwest Virginia. “We wanted to live in a place that could feed us; where rain falls, crops grow, and drinking water bubbles up out of the ground.” They liked Tuscon; a lot of people have moved there because of the weather and cultural opportunities. But Kingsolver continues, “Like many other modern U.S. cities, it might as well be a space station where human sustenance is concerned. Virtually, every unit of food consumed there moves into town in a refrigerated module from somewhere far away. Every ounce of the city’s drinking, washing, and goldfish-bowl-filling water is pumped from a nonrenewable source—a fossil aquifer that is dropping so fast, sometimes the ground crumbles.” Other water arrives via a 300 mile long canal from the Colorado River. When told of this new water source, residents were told by city officials that the water was “kind of special. They said it was okay to drink, but don’t put in the aquarium because it will kill the fish.” (pp, 4-5) And so they moved to a beautiful sustainable farm in Virginia.

All of creation is groaning and we need to hear the groans as words begging us to begin to be a little more honest about what we have done to the planet.

We need to spend a little time confessing our part in this destruction. When I served as a pastor in Clarksville during my college days, there was a man down the road who owned a small herd of goats. He bought goats to slaughter them for food, but he grew so attached to them that he had never slaughtered one and his little herd was growing. They were forever escaping the fenced pasture and I had helped him round them up many times, so many times that the neighbors would call me when they escaped.

One day he took me on a walk on his farm and he showed me the beautiful spring, which provided water for the household. He told me that he found a sink hole on the property when he moved there and he thought, “That would be a good place to throw my garbage.” Then one day the spring pump did not work and when we went to spring house, he found his garbage floating in the water. He said, “Everything is related to something else. Remember that.”

How I treat the environment is an expression of how much I love my neighbors, because how I treat it affects them. And it affects the neighbors that are yet unborn, who will inherit the effects of what I’ve done during my time on this earth.

We are terribly selfish in our country. We worry about me and mine right now and give little thought to others in the future. In the words of our traditional confession, “We have not loved our neighbors.” Our lack of concern for creation reveals this lack of love.

Politicians and pundits like to ask us if we are “better off today than we were 4 years ago.” That’s an incredibly selfish question. Yes, I think I’m a little better off, but the poor are not, many older adults are not, and the immigrants are not. And what difference does it make if I’m better off if the whole planet has died a little more every year over the last four. Our selfishness has made us short-sighted and has instilled in many of us a kind of controlling arrogance. Many persons who think green, vote brown, because they resent any threats to their present comforts and conveniences. We need to get real and honest and let go of our shameful selfishness. This confession would be good for the soul of our nation. 

Once we have spent some time with the reality check of confessing, we need to do some things.  We must not give into despair and give into the idea that the problem is too big and thus futile. We can do some things, some big things, some little things. Our Creation Care team can show you how to reduce your carbon footprint. We can change our purchasing practices and buy more local foods, support sustainable agricultural practices, conserve water and natural resources, switch to low energy light bulbs, use a rain barrel to collect rain for water gardens, install programmable thermostats,  recycle and compost. And we can insist that our politicians quit perpetuating lies that promote selfishness and shortsightedness. We can finish replacing those 60 year old single pane windows in our building. We’ve already seen a drop in utility bills since replacing a third of them.

Some of you are doing lots of these things and are modeling the way for the rest of us. I’m grateful to be a part of a church that has a Creation Care Ministry and to know how you have led the way in this important work.

Today, I’m honored to share this sermon with Caroline Cramer. You can go to the church’s Facebook page and find an article about the Cramer’s home and see a wonderful photo of their backyard garden, but Caroline is going to tell us some of the things her family does to care for the earth and live the good green life. 

Caroline Cramer's words:

“God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.”  

These are the words from Genesis.  We are reminded that every part of our world has been molded by God.  And we are reminded that God found each and every part to be supremely good.

My sisters and I are reminded of this every day.  We see this when we go hiking in the mountains.  We see this when we kayak on the river.  And we see this when we play in our backyard.

However, wherever we go, I am reminded that we often fail to remember the words of Genesis.  Mountains are polluted by acid rain and rivers are littered by trash.  I recently learned that because of climate change, St. George Island where my family enjoys going on summer vacation will disappear within my grandchildren’s lifetime. 

My mom and dad have taught me and my sisters to remember Genesis.  We create our own electricity with solar panels.  We recycle everything in our house and compost our food scraps.  We use something called a Nest for our heating and cooling to save electricity.  And we grow a lot of our food.

Doing these things are not only the right thing to do, but they are also fun.  I can remember when my youngest sister was 1 year old.  She would escape through the dog door and my parents would find her picking strawberries in the garden.  My little sister would eat the strawberries fresh off the vine and also share a few with our dog Otto, who had learned to follow her around. 

We have a lot of fun with our garden.  We grow rainbow tomatoes, purple carrots, red okra and other things you cannot get in the store.  And in the Fall, we love digging up sweet potatoes.  It is like finding buried treasure.

Creation care to me is about recognizing that God made everything around us and that it is supremely good.  I am so thankful for all of you in this Church who have taken care of God’s creation so that me and my sisters can enjoy it.  And we promise to make sure that those generations that follow us will have the same opportunities by doing our part.

 

Sermon transcript for May 18, 2014

5-18-14  Belmont UMC
Heather Harriss, preaching

Audio - MP3

   

Sermon transcript for May 11, 2014

“The Shepherd’s Voice”
John 10:11-18
5-11-14  Belmont UMC
Ken Edwards

Audio - MP3

We like the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who knows us and calls us by name. We recognize his voice and we follow him. Where he leads us we will follow. It’s a comforting and idyllic image and one that we cling to in difficult and uncertain times.

The trouble is most of us do not know much about sheep or shepherding. I grew up on a farm but we never had sheep. We had cows and I know a little about cows. We had beef cattle on the farm and those cows were stubborn, they liked to be driven not lead. They could be very uncooperative, especially if we had a plan for them.

As a young pastor I made a home visit to see a man who had been in the hospital. The matriarch of this family was a woman named Gertrude, but everyone called her Pert, which fit her active personality. Pert was in her 70’s, still working and playing golf, and she owned about 100 head of cattle. During my visit, she came in the back door and said, “I’m glad you are here. I know you were a farm boy and I need you to help in a calf in a barn stall.” I looked down at my suit and knew I was not dressed for this. “Oh, just take off your coat and tie and roll up your pants. You’ll be fine.” An hour and half later I returned to the house, covered in sweat, manure and straw. Pert announced to the family, “The Lord has sent us a wonderful pastor. He can even herd cattle.” This was a successful pastoral visit on many levels.

I was always amazed at the cooperative spirit of my cousin’s milk cows. He owned a small dairy operation with an elaborate sterile milking barn. His cows wanted to be milked twice a day. He could stand on his porch with his coffee cup in his hand, making a whooping sound, calling the “ladies,” and they would come to the barn and line up. His cows were orderly and impressive.

Now I’m more of cat herder. I wake up every morning, make the coffee and begin herding cats. Cats do not like to be herded. I often wonder if Jesus knew anything about cats. If he had he would surely have given us some parables and metaphors about cat herding. But Jesus prefers the shepherding metaphor.

The Model Shepherd
The shepherding image is one that is used throughout scripture, from the Hebrew Scriptures and into the gospels of the New Testament. In Ezekiel we hear the promise that God will be a shepherd and will set a good shepherd over the people (chapter 34). King David of Israel is the heroic Shepherd King and represents a type (though flawed) for this model shepherd. The Psalm (23) exemplifies the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep that is knowing, loving and eternal.

It should be noted that the word we translated as “Good” as in Good Shepherd (kalos) does not mean the opposite of “bad” but it means “model.”  Jesus is the Model Shepherd. This model shepherd’s task is to feed the sheep adequately, care for them in their suffering, keep them gathered together, and put their well being before his own. It might mean laying down one’s life to protect the sheep.

The Model Shepherd is one who develops a wonderful bond of trust and recognition between the sheep and the shepherd. We imagine ancient times when the shepherd would lead the sheep to a watering hole. There might be lots of other herds gathered there for the same reason (this would be disastrous with cows). The herds would mix together, but when the time came for them to move on, the shepherd would call their names and every sheep would know to follow. Sheep go where they are led. They develop a close bond with the shepherd. They hear the Shepherd’s voice, and the bond of familiarity calls them to follow.

The passages we have read today are among our favorites. They invite us into relationship with God, and remind us of one who cares for us and watches over us. Several years ago I conducted the funeral of the father of a church member. At the graveside we recited the words of the 23rd Psalm. Later my church friend said that moment brought her the greatest sense of peace and comfort—listening to the familiar voices of her friends and family affirming the presence of the one who would shepherd her through her journey of grief.

Other Shepherds
The Gospel reading suggests that it isn’t always perfect and idyllic. Sometimes the Model Shepherd would call after the sheep and they would be tempted to follow other voices. Some of those voices were thieves, fraudulent, and misguided. Some were persons who had no vested interest in the wellbeing of the sheep, but are more concerned with their own ambition. Some offered promises but could not deliver.

Over the years the sheep have been fleeced by false voices. From the Jim Jones types to those who promise shallow prosperity. The sheep have followed after voices that have led them to mistreat the Jews, justify slavery, advocate the abuse of women and children, and exclude certain groups from the fold. Sometimes those voices are not outside of our selves, but they are the voices of our own fears, prejudices and preconceived notions.

We like the image of the sheepfold. We like being inside the circle with other sheep like us and being protected by the Good Shepherd. But later in John 10 Jesus throws a wrench into the gears of this comforting image. He declares, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.”

But how do we discern the authentic? How do we know that the voices we hear are the voices of the model shepherd?

Samuel Goldwyn, the great movie mogul, was quoted as saying, “The most important thing about acting is honesty. Once you’ve learned to fake that, you can do anything.”

How do we discern? It was theologian, Albert Outler, who noted that John Wesley, the father of the Methodist movement, taught us to look at 4 sources to discern the authentic:  scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

Scripture: Wesley referred to scripture as the plumb line of faith. The scriptures contains God’s story, a story of God’s covenant keeping, faithfulness and love over a long course of time, among people who were at times primitive and other times quite sophisticated, among people who were sometimes obedient and sometimes impossible. God’s love remained constant.

It is true that we have often misused this story of God to justify our own misguided actions. One of my favorite cartoons depicts a young man who is flipping through his Bible. When his sister asks him what he’s doing, he says, “I’m looking for a passage to back up one of my preconceived notions.” We, too, have looked in the Bible to find verses to back up our preconceived notion. We quoted it out of context of placement, consistency and time. But in the broader picture of this story we come to know the voice of the Good Shepherd.Is what we are being told consistent with the story of God and the Jesus of the Gospels?

Tradition is about the way the church has understood our connection to God and our beliefs over a long period of time. Tradition gives strength and validity to those ideas.

Reason: We are to be thinking Christians. Reason allows us to ponder and question. Reason gives vitality to our faith and keeps us moving on this journey with a spirit of wonder and awe.

Experience: This is about our experience with God and an appreciation for the experiences of others. We ask ourselves if what I’m being told is consistent with these spiritual experiences. Tom Long writes, “Authentic ministry shares the cadence of Jesus’ own words, Jesus’ own work, and Jesus’ own promises and demands.”

The Sheep
“We are the sheep of his pasture.” And as the sheep we are to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow. And most of the time we do that. But the Bible also says that “all we like sheep have gone astray.”

Kathryn and I made a long westward trip in the years before we had children. We camped and hiked in some of the great national parks taking the southern trek through Colorado and New Mexico and up toward Montana and Wyoming. It was a great adventure. We had camped at Mesa Verde National Park. One day we were traveling back to our campsite after driving into Durango for supplies. The landscape was open and beautiful and we were the only car on the road that day. In the distance I could see a small boy riding on a horse along side the road. As we got closer, I could see that he waving a red bandana on the end of a stick and his facial expression was saying to us, “Slow down!” It was obvious that something was wrong. We did slow down and as we came over the next rise, we could see the reason--dozens of sheep in the middle of the road. We sat and watched the boy and his frantic family trying their best to move the sheep off the road. One stubborn sheep stood in front of our car as if to dare us to move forward. The whole scene would have been funny, except for the farm family’s predicament. At last the sheep heard the owner’s voice and made their way off the road and back toward their farm. 

“All we like sheep have gone astray,” and we come to this place again and again to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and to hear the call to follow.

   

Sermon transcript for May 4, 2014

Their Eyes Were Opened
Luke 24:13-35
Belmont UMC—May 4, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio - MP3

Let’s begin with a quote from Frederick Buechner, “Jesus is apt to come, into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable moments. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but . . . at supper time, or walking along a road . . . He never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.” (The Magnificent Defeat)

As we hear this text we always ask the obvious questions: Why is it that these disciples do not recognize Jesus? What causes their eyes to be opened to his presence? And we might turn the questions on ourselves and ask: Why is it that we fail to acknowledge the presence of Christ in our lives each day? When we do see the risen Christ in our everyday lives, what causes our eyes to be opened?

My extended family comes together on several occasions throughout the year. One of those is Easter Sunday. We are blessed that my parents at 85 years of age are still up to hosting those gatherings at their home in Springfield, TN. Our gatherings are a little chaotic, checking on the little ones who have grown a lot since our last gathering at Christmas, pulling food together, waiting for the niece or nephew, who always seem to be running late. Then we hold hands in the kitchen and pray over our food, and then we gather around the big cherry dining room table. And there is always a wonderful “aha” moment for me. Yes, this is it; this is how I remember it. This is what it feels like to come home. It doesn’t feel like Easter without that this gathering and these people--my people. It is about relationship, presence and familiarity.

It must have been something like that for these two disciples who walked along the road to Emmaus with Jesus, who was a stranger to them. They invited him to stay with them and he sat at the table with them. He had opened the scriptures to them, as he had so many times before. Then at the table he took bread and broke it and blessed it and their eyes were opened. This was the risen Christ.

What happened to you this week that made you aware of the risen Christ?

My wife and I served as counselors for a Junior High camp one year. It was a week long event at Beersheba Springs, where we have our All Church Retreat, but it was during more primitive time when there were no rooms with bathrooms. One had to walk down the path to a bathhouse and the water was always cold.

We had a wonderful time. Eighty-five junior high youth--I was responsible for a cabin of 5 boys and Kathryn had a cabin of 5 girls. This made up our small group each day. We went hiking, shared our stories, went swimming below the waterfall, saw a lot of snakes, and provided nourishment for a host of mosquitoes and ticks. We went to Vesper Point for devotionals, gathered around bonfires at night and told ghost stories, made crafts and shared Bible studies.

We were serious and silly, controlled and out of control. I spent a lot of time with the boys in my group. I taught them a few things about kindness. There were times when I thought they were completely impossible and other times when they gave me much joy. I kept us with some of those guys until were out of high school.

At night we gathered in the large room above the dining hall. This room had always been a bit run down. On our last night we gathered there for a talent show that was a lot fun.

Our camp leader announced that we would have closing communion service the next day before heading home. The tradition was that the service was held in the chapel, but he told us that he had decided to have the service in the room above the dining hall. I looked around the room; it was a wreck. It did not look like a place that could house a sacred gathering like communion. I questioned his decision and he assured me that it would be okay.

The next morning we gathered in that room. We sat on the floor. A make-shift altar was set up in the middle of the room. On the altar were rolls like the ones we ate in the dining hall and there were a few paper cups, the ones we had used for snack time. They were filled with grape juice. There was a well used candle and crude cross made of sticks.

Our leader held up a roll and he said, “This is bread. You know bread. Your mom probably bakes bread and you’ve been eating bread all your life. Wheat flour, yeast, oil, and things like that make up this bread. It is merely bread.”

Then he picked up a paper cup with grape juice and he said, “And this, this is grape juice—no big deal, right--juice that has been squeezed from grapes. Some of you drink grape juice everyday and never think twice about it.”

“But today, when you eat this bread and share this juice, something wonderful will happen to you. You will think about Jesus. You will remember how much Jesus loves you and you will sense his presence with you in this place. The reason I wanted to come here, to this familiar place, for this closing service, is to remind you that Jesus has been with us all week, whether we thought about him or not. He was with us on our hike and here with us last night when we were having fun and he has been with us around tables in the dining hall.”

We passed around rolls and cups of juice and I watched my 5 boys tear pieces of bread and dip them in the cup and I watched their eyes fill with tears as they became aware of Jesus’ presence with them. It was something about relationship, presence and familiarity coming together. Our eyes were opened and we knew Jesus was with us.

The story in the Luke has a lot to do with expectation. The disciples did not expect to see Jesus because they knew he had died. Have you ever run into someone completely out of context and it throws you a bit and you cannot remember who the person is or where you knew them? It happens a lot to those of us who have served in a number of ministry settings. Well, the walk to Emmaus is Jesus completely out of context for the disciples. But the story teaches us to live with expectation of Jesus in our midst.

Where were you this week when your eyes were opened to the presence of the risen Christ? It happened for me when I was sharing a meal with former pastor and friend, John Collett. It happened when I was visiting Belmonters in the hospital. We held hands and prayed together. It happened when I was comforting a young man whose father had died. It happened late last night when I received a text message from a young pastor, that read, “Praying for you; love you!”  

It will happen for us this morning when we gather around this table and break bread together and remember. What happens at this table is about relationships, and presence, and something wonderfully familiar.

   

Sermon transcript for April 20, 2014

Why Are You Weeping?
Belmont UMC – Easter, April 20, 2014
John 20:1-18
Ken Edwards, preaching

Recently, I was sitting in a circle of good friends, colleagues in ministry. We were sitting on a porch on bright spring day, sipping ice tea and talking about Easter. As I looked around the circle at these beloved friends, I realized that 2 of them had experienced the death of young adult children. Then the two of them began to talk about preaching Easter sermons following their children’s deaths. This was powerful and moving experience for me. There was a lot of love and grace in that circle.

That may not be the kind of thing we want to hear on Easter. But is not this is the point of Easter. We are not here today to deny the reality of sadness, but to be reminded that the story doesn’t end with weeping. And if Holy Week is the ultimate climax of God’s love story for us, the story does not end on Good Friday and it’s just getting started on Sunday morning.

There is a lot of sadness and weeping in these weeks of Lent. Two weeks ago we read of the story of the death of Lazarus, the story of his sisters, Mary and Martha and their grief, the story of Jesus standing at the tomb of Lazarus and weeping. There are actually two stories of Jesus’ weeping—toward the end Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives, looked out over the city of Jerusalem and wept as he expressed his longing for the welfare of his people. There is the sadness of Jesus’ last days and Passover meal with the disciples, the sadness of farewell, and the sadness of betrayal.

Today’s Gospel story begins with sadness: “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” Mary was weeping.  Mary of Magdala had followed Jesus with inexpressible gratitude since the day he freed her from 7 demons. Released—made whole by the love of God. If Mary wanted to know what resurrection was like, she only needed to remember how he had given her life back to her. From that moment she had lived in complete devotion to Jesus.

Mary was weeping. She had been at the cross until the gruesome end—even after the disciples ran away in fear. She had been there when they took his body down. She had been there when the body was placed in a borrowed tomb. She had listened as the stone had rolled across the entry with heavy, grinding finality.

The Sabbath had passed in silence—Mary had been alone in her grief, battling with the reality of what had happened. On Sunday she made her way back to the tomb to mourn and to help prepare the body for a proper burial. She was prepared for facing death; she was not prepared to find the tomb open and the body missing. Being a realist she assumed the body had been taken. It was bad enough that he had been executed, but then someone had stolen his body.

Mary wept at the thought of this. Mary wept because that is what we do at the grave of a friend. Mary wept because the one who had set her free had died a prisoner’s death. Mary wept over a world in which there are powers that seem to beat the life out of love and kindness. Mary wept over a kind of mob violence that would choose a Barabbas and execute the Prince of Peace.

There were plenty of reasons for Mary’s weeping—futility and despair ruled her emotions. We have felt this futility—we, too, have wept at the side of a friend’s grave or at the bedside of a terminal patient. We have wept over injustice and scenes of senseless violence. Sometimes there is nothing left to do but weep.

But on that Sunday morning Mary encountered a person she assumed to be a gardener.  “Do you know where they have put his body? If you moved it, tell me where you have laid him, I will take him away.”

But the man did not answer her question. Instead he said one word, her name, “Mary.” No angels singing, no jubilant choruses, just “Mary.” The man said her name and with that her predictable, rational, cause and effect world came to a screeching halt—hope sprang up inside of her and she replied with one word, “Rabbouni” or “Teacher.”

Somehow God had wondrously intervened and defeat and futility had been turned into hope and purposefulness. That day a new hope dawned in the lives of Mary and the other followers. That day a new hope dawned in human hearts—our hearts.

God has a way of bringing hope to desperate situations. God has a way of turning things around. The resurrection means we do not have to settle for darkness and defeat—that we know that more deeply than we have ever known that love is stronger than hate, that good is stronger than evil, that truth will outlast falsehood, and that life will triumph over death. We know that faith is not in vain. We know that God has caused hope to dawn in human hearts.

We need this hope—hope that carries us through the dark days of this life. We need hope when the unpredictable or unimaginable happens. We need a confidence and courage in the midst of life events that would normally evoke resignation.

The resurrection means that we can stand by the side of the tomb and hope no matter how much evidence piles up against it. God gives us this hope!

So in the circle of colleagues on that bright spring day, one of them shared a story that she found helpful when her son died. It is a story told by a Pastor after his friend, David, had returned from a funeral near his Mississippi home town. His nephew, Zeke, had been the victim of a drunk driver, leaving behind his wife, Andrea, and two small children.

The Pastor asked David about the funeral. David began sharing his happiness at being back in his rural Mississippi community. David then spoke about the funeral, “The service was alright but gathering at the cemetery, that made the difference. As we brought the casket to the grave, the little band played spirituals, songs of pain, grief and sorrow like “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” We all sang through our tears.”

“The elders read scripture and prayed as the casket was lowered into the ground. We began covering it with dirt. We wept together and we wept individually.”

“Suddenly, a stillness settled over the cemetery. Out of that quiet the band resumed, increasing their volume and tempo . . . resurrection jazz; trombone, trumpet, saxophone . . . Everyone sang their way back to the cars and to the church for dinner.”

“Incredible,” said the Pastor, “but what about Andrea and the children? They have no father, no husband.”

David continued, “They will weep for a long time . . . the house will seem empty . . . the clothes in the closet a constant reminder of what should have been. But at the cemetery that day we were all reminded that we have two songs to sing:  a spiritual of sorrow and a hymn of promise.”

The Pastor asked, “Can the family sing both songs?”

David replied, “I don’t know. Perhaps they can only sing spirituals of grief . . . I do know that the church will sing both songs every week. They can will sing spiritual songs of trouble and songs of promise . . . they will sing with Andrea and on behalf of Andrea . . . My guess is that eventually Andrea and the children will sing both songs . . . for one another and for others in the community in grief and joy.” (Source unknown)

My friend was saying that for a long time after her son died all she could sing were the spirituals of grief, but others sang the hymns of promise and resurrection for her, until she was able to stand with them and sing them, too.

For a time in her life, Mary of Magdala, could only sing songs of sorrow. I don’t know what it means to have 7 demons and the scriptures don’t offer a description, but during those days, it must have felt like being trapped, and cut off from community. It must have felt like dying. Jesus set Mary free and brought her back to life. 

Today, Mary stands in a garden and hears the Lord calling her name. Today, Mary stops her weeping. Today, Mary can sing the songs of promise and resurrection. And today, she goes out to preach the first Easter sermon, five words, “I have seen the Lord!”

The message of Easter is not a denial of death or grief—realities of life. But Easter means that we believe the words of Paul that “Nothing in life or in death can ever separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8) And we affirm with Psalmist, “Weeping may last for a night but joy comes in the morning.” (Ps. 30) 

And as Easter People we hope for those who have lost hope and we sing the hymn of promise and resurrection for them when they cannot.  God will use us to give birth to hope. Today, hope is dawning in human hearts. God is turning things around. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Call to Serve:
We hear the call of God to take the hope of resurrection into the world.
Everywhere the church goes, Easter is happening:
Where the hungry are fed, Easter is happening!
Where the poor are raised up. . .
Where the stranger is offered hospitality. . .
Where the prisoner is visited. . .
Where the good news is shared. . .
Where the thirsty are offered a drink. . .
Where those who weep are given hope. . .
Everywhere the church goes, Easter happens!

   

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