Sermon transcript for March 31, 2013 - Easter
Evidence of the Resurrection
Easter Sunday—March 31, 2013
Belmont UMC—Ken Edwards, preaching
Audio - MP3
On this Happy Easter morning I look around this room and everywhere I look I see evidence of the resurrection. Thanks be to God! Everywhere I look I see signs of the divine reversal. Thanks be to God!
Hear this surprising resurrection text, one of my favorites, from Isaiah. “For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of a thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (55:12-13)
There are other texts throughout the scripture that remind us that God is the God of hope and resurrection, from the creation story, God making something out of nothing, making something from the void and bringing it to life.
There is story of about a couple named Abraham and Sarah, who in their old age, so old that the Bible says there was little life left in them, they find out that new life is on the way and is growing inside of an old woman. (Genesis 18) The news of this divine reversal takes them so off guard that Sarah can’t stop laughing.
There is that dramatic story of Ezekiel prophesying to a valley of dry bones and the bones come together and take on flesh and life. (ch. 37) This is a prophecy of hope in the midst of exile—one of the darkest periods of Israel’s history.
There is the story of Jesus bringing a man back to life, a man so full of demons, so mentally ill that he is left alone and nicknamed Legion. Everyone is afraid of him. He is isolated in a cave and left to his delusions and left to die alone. Jesus releases the man and brings him back to life, back to his community and family. (Mark 5:1-13)
Walter Brueggemann says that life in the Bible is always associated with relationship, so this man is brought back to life by being fully related to his community once again. When we welcome someone in, we welcome someone back to their community or their family, especially someone who has been excluded, that is a resurrection story. (The Bible Makes Sense, “From Death to Life,” pp. 109-121)
Resurrection is like homecoming. When the prodigal son returns home, what does his father say to the older brother? “This brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:32)
We are given this beautiful story in the Gospel of John that reminds us that sometimes we are staring Easter in the face and we do not see it. Mary is staring Easter in the face and she does not see it. Mary comes looking for the body of Jesus. She is experiencing overwhelming grief and she has come to do the last thing she will ever do for her friend, Jesus of Nazareth.
Mary has expectations. She knows exactly what to expect. She expects a tomb, death, decay and finitude. But there is no body. The tomb is empty. She is not sure what to do. She turns and sees a man she presumes to be a gardener. She says to the man, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”
In Mary’s mindset of the natural, the expected, she fails to see who this supposed gardener is, until he calls her name, “Mary.” And she knows!
She cries, “Teacher!”
Mary is staring Easter in the face and she does not know it. I suppose that has something to do with expectation. Resurrection is not natural, not expected. Mary expects death, not life. She expects a body, not an empty tomb. She expects a gardener, not a risen Jesus.
We do not see Easter because we do not expect Easter. We are like Mary; we expect logical explanations—we do not expect God to reverse the irreversible. But that is the message of Easter.
There are some people who will not see Easter because they have been trapped in a Good Friday mentality for so long. I say “will not” because I think it’s a choice, even if they are wired that way. We all know people who will not embrace hope and possibility.
I used to subscribe to The New Yorker but it came every week and I would fall behind on reading the articles. I did read all of the cartoons, however. I recall one favorite cartoon of a young man who went to see a fortune teller. She read his palm and she said, “You will be unhappy until you are 45 years old.”
He looked shocked and he said, “And then what?”
She answered, “And then you will get used to it.”
Some people and some churches do not want to see the hopeful possibilities and Easter hope escapes them. They are stuck in Good Friday and they’ve gotten used to it. Fred Craddock tells about a minister who, becoming so frustrated with his congregation because of its negativity and lack of vitality, that one Sunday night at the end of the worship service, he said, “Why don’t we all form a circle, hold hands, and try to communicate with the living.”
And there are those who cannot see Easter hope. They cannot hear the mountains and hills bursting into song or the trees clapping their hands. They cannot see the cypress and the myrtle, they can see only thorns and briers. They cannot see Easter because they have been so beaten down, excluded, saddened, wounded or traumatized by life that there is no way they can see Easter hope. We are Easter people and we will come alongside them and lift them up. We will love them, feed them, bind up their wounds and treat them with patient tenderness, until that time when they are able to hear the Risen Teacher saying their name, and then they will know, they will know, that Easter is real, and God has not forgotten them.
There are those who see Easter hope against all odds and they amaze us and inspire us. A few months ago we were privileged to meet Bishop Gabriel Unda Yemba of the East Congo Episcopal Area. Reverend Bill Lovell introduced him to us and he greeted us in worship one Sunday with such humility and grace. The Congo is an incredibly challenging place to be at present, with much political unrest and rebel activity. Many of the church buildings, homes and office buildings have been destroyed by rebel forces.
Bishop Yemba had addressed the Council of Bishops meeting in Georgia before coming to visit us at Belmont. He told the Bishops two stories. The first one was about himself. Several years ago he was taken by rebel forces and put in confinement in a very dark and small space. The quarters were so tight he asked the person next to him to move and when he did not Yemba realized that he was not alive. He soon realized that he was sharing a space with two live prisoners and three dead prisoners.
His Bishop tried to negotiate Yemba’s release but was unsuccessful. He sent a Methodist pilot to visit him but his captors would not release him. One day the other two prisoners were taken out and shot by a firing squad. The time came for Pastor Yemba’s execution and the soldier raised his gun to shoot but the gun would not fire. The commanding officer took this as a sign and released him. Back home people were praying for him with great fervor. He said, “God brought life from death . . . hope where there was no hope.”
He told another story about a young mother from one of their churches. Rebel forces came to her village to burn it. They came to her home, tied up her parents, threw her baby on the ground and took her into the forest to assault her and kill her. She cried out boldly to God to rescue her. When one of the soldiers was undoing his belt, two hand grenades exploded seriously injuring the soldiers but leaving the woman unhurt. Astonished, she got up and ran home. She could hear the cries of the wounded soldiers begging her for help.
She ran home, untied her parents and tended to her baby. Here is some Easter hope, friends: she and her parents returned to help the wounded soldiers. “Today, the soldiers, all amputees, are faithful members of the United Methodist Church and the young woman is a living testimony of the hope of Christ.”
Bishop Yemba said, “As a newly elected Bishop, there is no residence that awaits me, no office building, no vehicles, not even a bicycle. But I serve a God of hope. God has power to give hope to the hopeless. I am not afraid of the future.”
Why would Bishop Yemba speak of hope in the face of such fear and darkness? Why would a young mother bind up the wounds of her enemy attackers?
And why are we here this morning? Why do we feed the hungry? Why do we welcome the stranger? Why do we provide shelter for the homeless? Why do we comfort the broken hearted? Why do we bind up the wounded? Why do we bother? Why do we care so deeply for those in need?
Because we went to the tomb and found it empty on Easter morning. Because we believe that Jesus lives and continues to call us. Because we believe every encounter with someone in need is an encounter with the living Christ.
Look around you this morning. Look around you on any Sunday at Belmont and you will look Easter in the face. We are Easter People. We are the evidence that Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Sermon transcript for March 28, 2013 - Maundy Thursday
March 28, 2013
Pam Hawkins, preaching