April 21, 2019 Sermon
Different Paths, Same Destination
First Reading: A reading from Acts 10:34-43, page 129 in the New Testament part of the pew Bible (Liturgist)
“Hear the Acts of the Apostles”
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
“We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Second Reading: John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."
Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"
She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?"
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."
Jesus said to her, "Mary!"
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher).
Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Sermon: "Jesus Called Her Name"
I'm ashamed to admit this, but when I first started working as a musician in my old church in Grand Junction, back in 1992, I had all kinds of presumptuous ideas about why people should come to church. I hope that you can find it in your hearts to forgive the immature expectations of my younger self.
You see, I was so idealistic about the reasons we come to church. I was infected by that religious disease called 'should-itis'. I had strong ideas about who should come to church, how they should come to church, and especially why they should come to church.
'Should-itis'. Its an inflammation of the shoulds.
Now, I don't think that I ever shared these shoulds with anybody, at least, not consciously, I know that in the deepest part of myself, that part that I don't want to think about very often, I looked down on people that didn't share my zeal, my fervor, my lofty sense of who God was. I guess I'm a little embarrased about that.
It took me a while to get over myself in this regard. It took me too long, in fact, to realize that I wasn't nearly as perfect as I thought I was. It took me several years to figure out that my motivations, my reasons for being at church were at least as suspect as anybody else's, and I had no reason to put myself above anybody. This was a difficult pill to swallow.
But, by God's grace, my heart was softened over the years. I began to realize that people come to church for many, many reasons. We all come to church with many different needs, and expectations. Some come with hope, some with curiosity, some with despair, some with grief. We come looking for Jesus, but we don't know really what Jesus might look like, or what we might do if we actually found him. We come from different places, and we come with different baggage.
And I wonder if maybe the disciples in today's story also came to the tomb that first Easter morning for all kinds of different reasons. I wonder if they came expecting different things. And I wonder what they were thinking and feeling when they left the tomb.
The story begins with a shocking discovery, and an invitation: Mary sees that Jesus' body is no longer in the tomb, and she runs to tell Peter, and the other disciple, so that they can see for themselves.
We never hear the name of the other disciple. It's just 'the other disciple'. The one whom Jesus loves.
Now, despite the fact that we never learn the name of Peter's companion, I think his story is interesting. And, I think we know him very well. He's the quiet type. He shows up early. He's polite, considerate: he hangs back and lets others go into the tomb before him.
If he were here today, I'm sure we'd see him sitting in one of the back pews. He's faithful. He comes every week. He works behind the scenes. He doesn't want any recognition for what he does, or thinks, or believes. He doesn't say much. He lets his actions speak for him. He doesn't claim to be a theologian: a lot of academic talk is a waste of time for him.
I admire and respect this disciple. He gets to the tomb first, takes in the situation: the folded up clothes, the stone rolled away, the fact that Jesus is gone. "Yep," he says to himself. "Jesus is Risen. I believe it. I guess I always have. Not much more to talk about."
And that's that. He goes back to his house, and we don't hear much more about him. We don't need to. God has blessed him with faith, a faith that is stronger than the proof of his eyes, stronger than the proof of abstract theological pontificating, stronger in fact, than death itself. This disciple shows up, looks at the situation, and believes that Jesus was who he said he was. It's simple. It's uncomplicated. It's authentic. It's real. And it's enough.
On the other hand, we've got Peter. And Peter is being, well, Peter. Throughout the gospels we consistently see Peter taking a while to process things. He tends to say things before he thinks. He tends to makes bold pronouncements that he has to walk back from time to time. His faith and his loyalty blow hot and cold. I guess I like Peter, because he re-assures me about my own ways of coming to terms with my faith.
Because, it takes him awhile to get to the tomb. Huffing and puffing behind the the other disciple, who obviously was more fit than Peter, he finally gets to the tomb, and without hesitation, goes right in. And he sees the same thing that the other disciple saw. Some folded up clothes, empty tomb, no stone, no Jesus.
But he's not moved to faith by these things. For once, he's quiet. He's not sure what he sees. He's still trying to figure out what's going on. But one thing is for sure. He's not convinced that Jesus has risen. The scene doesn't help him process the meaning of Jesus' death. He leaves the tomb just as confused and unsure about life as when he went in. It's going to take more than an empty hole in the ground and a bunch of white clothes to convince him.
Mary comes to the tomb grieving. Early in the morning, before the sun has risen, she is at the tomb, weeping, with the weight of the world on her shoulders. She needs to see Jesus, and he's not there.
She sees the same things that the other disciples see. She even talks to angels. But in her sorrow, she doesn't realize who she's talking to. The whiteness of their clothing doesn't penetrate the darkness of her pain. If anything, her grief is intensified, and she is left without any hope at all. In the depth of her heartbreak, she mistakes Jesus for a gravedigger.
It's only when Jesus speaks her name that she realizes who he is. Jesus reaches into the deepest part of who she is, calls out to her, and in that calling reveals himself. And he sends her to tell the others.
Mary is the first Apostle. Jesus appoints her to be the first evangelist, the first to bring the Good News to the disciples. The world is flipped upside down. The gravedigger becomes a Savior, tears become laughter, grief becomes joy, death becomes life, and Mary knows that she is remembered, honored, and loved.
And what does Mary do? She runs to tell her friends. "I've seen Jesus!" she says. "He's real! He's not dead! He's everything that he said he was! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen!"
So, how have we come to church today?
How will we leave?
Maybe some of us have come to church like the un-named disciple. We've been here a while, some of us all of our lives. We got here early, perhaps as a child, and we've been here ever since. Sometimes we've run to church, sometimes we've walked, but we've always come.
We've grown up with the symbols of our faith, the hymns, the organ, the pulpit, the table, the font, and, we have faith. We don't consciously know why or when we have faith. We don't necessarily have a personal conversion story, we would never say that we saw angels, or talked with Jesus. We simply believe. We can't say exactly why. We just do.
Maybe some of us come to church like Peter, we take a little longer than other folks. Maybe we've come out of a hope for a change. But we're not sure what that change means. Maybe we've come just to see what someone else is talking about. Maybe we've come with friends or family.
And what do we see, when we peer into the tomb?
Maybe we see evidence that's not convincing for us.
We've come today not sure what to expect, and we leave with more questions than we had before we came. A savior that takes away our sins? What does that mean? A God who comes to us, who loves us, who died for us, who is raised from the dead? How does that make sense in the real world?
We consider the empty grave, we hear the ancient words, and let's be honest, we're not sure what to do do with the whole thing. I know that I have felt this way many times in my journey. How do we process an open grave? What are we supposed to do with it?
Or maybe, some of us come today like Mary. Our souls are crying out for God. We've come through the darkness, and we need to see Jesus. And we're not sure where he is.
Is he in the whiteness of the church decorations? Is he in the beauty of the lilies? Is he in the uplifting music of the choir? Is he in the sermon, in the prayers, in the hymns, in the Scriptures? We've come for Jesus, but we can't seem to find him.
But then he speaks our name. Out of the terror and confusion of our lives, Jesus calls us to him, and we realize that he was standing beside us the whole time.
The empty tomb means different things to different people, at different times in their lives.
For some, our faith in the good news of our Risen Christ is easy, like breathing clean air. It's simple, and it feels like something we've always done.
For others, it's more complicated. We have a history when we come to the tomb. We've got doubts, and questions. It's too simple to think that Jesus would come to take our shame, our guilt away. It's hard to imagine a God who would come to us, and take our sin from us. Believing in this is going to take some more thought, some more processing, some more exploration. It's going to take more than just singing about it.
And for the rest of us, we just want to see Jesus. To reach out and touch him. To say that we love him. To know that he knows us, to hear that he forgives us, and to see that he loves us.
Jesus is not in the tomb. And, He knows that we've followed different paths to be here today, and he knows we'll leave with many different thoughts.
And he's called us to be here, regardless of why, or how, or when we've come to look inside the empty tomb that we are celebrating this morning.
Everyone one of us is here because we were invited to come. That invitation might have come from a friend, a family member, the compulsion of habit, or from the voice of the Holy Spirit crying out from within the pieces of a broken heart.
And it doesn't matter how we come, or why we come. or when we come. What matters is that we've been invited.
Whether we recognize him or not, Jesus has been standing right beside us the whole time. He's calling our names, calling us to new life, to climb out of our tombs of worry, guilt, fear, or the limits that we place on the ability of love to mend our broken relationships.
Listen for his voice: The tomb is empty. He is alive. All is forgiven. Be at peace.