Sunday, March 24, 2013

EASTER SERMON: HE IS NOT HERE! ..Matthew 28:1-10.. March 30, 2013

When my children were very young we awoke on an Easter morning to find their little gold fish on its side, lifeless. I declared him dead. Being less sensitive in those early adult days I suggested we use the toilet as the means to bury the fish. As soon as I carefully poured the fish  into the toilet he began to swim actively. Well, suddenly the word 'resurrection' had a very real and exciting meaning to the children. That Easter they needed no Sunday School lesson or sermon to inform them of the experience of resurrection. Their fish was back alive. I learned to not be so quick to declare anything as dead. And I may have begun to consider that the actual experience of resurrection is an internal reality, not primarily something on the outside of us.

Resurrection is the great mystery and the great hope that the Christian religion brings to bear upon the question of life's meaning and purpose. Reading the ending of each gospel you will find they tell the story in different ways with varying details. Every gospel 'appearance' story of Jesus is unique. Not one of the gospels tells any appearance story that is also told by the others. This only shows that the story some fifty to hundred years after Jesus' death was told in different ways in different Christian communities. It was not a single set story. It was a story that grew and developed as more people were touched by this remarkable life of love and courage. But they all agree that somehow the presence of Jesus of Nazareth, the one who had loved his friends dearly, the one who had taken a stand against the exploitation of the common people by the political and religious powers in their lives, had not been successfully killed by his physical death. He had been raised by God from such a permanently destructive death. And the same hope that his word and action had inspired among abused, beleaguered and outcast people was even more alive now than before.
The Symbolism Of The 'Empty Tomb' Still Speaks.

It is unfortunate that our modern overly rational and materialistic attitude places a much higher value on Jesus' physical body and person being literally raised from the dead than on his Spirit being alive and living in the hearts of people then and now. To take the story materialistically may cause some to say, “Wow, how did that happen?”, but taking resurrection as a spiritual reality is what can make it trans-formative for our actual lives. Potentially resurrection can change and enliven ones whole view of life and love. Ever since that first message began to spread by his women friends and mother that 'He is not here. He has been raised.', other humans have been inspired to take up his call of love for humanity and his desire that among humankind God's way of responsible justice and courageous love 'be on earth as it is in heaven.' It would be a mistake this morning to attempt to explain perhaps the greatest mystery in human history. Mysteries are not meant to be explained but to serve as inspiration to the human Spirit. Inspiration to live fully, love extravagantly and serve selflessly for the good of all kinds of people. I wish to call attention to two phrases in Matthew's story.

  1. He is not here. They came in the darkness expecting to see the dead body of Jesus. The dead body of one whose stand against the abusive dominating forces over people had been crushed and ended by his enemies. They felt discouraged that his death proved again that good does not prevail over evil. But they heard a voice from the Sacred that is heard in all healthy religions , 'Things are not as they seem'. Our Christian faith has nearly been swallowed up by itself today by the thinking that the mysteries of faith are based and stand on proven physical facts. When the world of the Spirit is so viewed the stories of faith become dead stories of the past and have little power to affect our lives in the present. But when the old stories of faith are received as just that, stories of faith and realities of the human heart, then we too, with heart and brain in tact, can trust that 'He is not here. He has been raised.' He lives not as the mortal Jesus of Nazareth , not as one who is limited to time and space. No, he is not here. He is now everywhere. His Spirit lives. He is risen indeed!!

  1. It was women who the Matthew story says first experienced his living presence. How amazing that is. It says mounds about how Jesus turned the meaning of male and female upside down. In that culture women were rarely the first or leader of anything. Their word or testimony counted for little. They were second class citizens, no more powerful over the male hierarchy than slaves. But this writer says it was women who first received the understanding that Jesus was alive. His 'kingdom of God' had only been nourished by his murder. His life of love and justice had been vindicated by God. His influence over humankind had only begun, not ended. And the first men who got that new 'good news' were perhaps humbled, for it was from the mouths of women that they received it. Jesus will forever speak the most loud through the underdogs of life, through the otherwise powerless, the terminally ill, through the rejected , through the sinner. Jesus will always be lifting up , resurrecting, the part of humanity that has been pushed down and crushed, whoever that may be in any situation or generation.

  1. 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee'. The women are told this by the angel and when they sensed the presence of Jesus he tells them the same thing again,' Tell my brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see me'. This is another voice that is the opposite of what is expected. Why do they not get to see him here in Jerusalem? Jerusalem is the city of power, the city of the wealthy, the place of the religious and political elite. Galilee is the area of the common people, the riff-raff; representing the powerless, the oppressed, the outcasts, the downtrodden. Also referred to biblically as the 'Galilee of the Gentiles' (Isaiah 9:1).              
    Jesus Healing A Blind Person...@ 1650 CE

What does this tell us about where to find the resurrected Jesus ourselves? The story is saying we should generally look for the spirit of Jesus in those who strike us as 'the other' and the unimportant, the non stakeholders. Jesus' concern is found in the lives and the needs, the hopes and dreams of ordinary people of everyday circumstances. We will not relate to the resurrected Spirit of Jesus by identifying with the pride associated with  big names, high powered, high tech religious programs, or places of corporate greed and political power grabbing. Jesus' Spirit will be in  places of power but  to correct the wrongs directed at the most marginalized among us.  Jesus will be heard in the voices of persons seeking to bring what is good , right and needed as the basic needs of human life.... reasonable physical  safety, opportunity to learn and grow, a sustaining share in the natural resources of the earth, an equal level of protection from the destruction by human disease and natural disaster, a human community where all people and all human needs are honored equally no matter one's race, ethnicity, religious heritage or any such difference.

'He is not here. He has gone ahead of you to Galilee.' Jesus still says to us on a new Easter morning, 'Go to Galilee. Only there will you see me.' If we would be ones who trust the central and final word of the Christ story we will carefully try to hear, trust and follow the words of that story. 'He is not here. He is resurrected and always going ahead of you to Galilee'. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

SERMON: REPENT OR PERISH...Luke 13:1-5..March 3, 2013

The word repentance has been greatly reduced from its more profound spiritual meaning. We envision a mean judge with his long finger in our faces saying something like, 'repent , repent you didn't pay the rent.' Some years ago I found a far more meaningful definition to be ' to perceive differently afterward.' Vine's Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words. Repentance is that profound religious experience of actually coming to a new, fresh and broader meaning of something in ones life experience.

A frequent theme in the gospels for the experience of repentance was 'Jesus healing the blind, the blind coming to see.' There is very good reason to think that the gospel writers themselves were not intending to tell stories of physical blindness being instantly healed. But were using metaphor and religious story to describe the incomparable impact that the love and courage of Jesus had on their recent forbears. Apparently the very association with Jesus resulted in some people having a 'repentance' or receiving a very new and different perspective of life and love. The traditional supernatural interpretation of the actions of Jesus is not the only way in our day to come to believe in him as strongly as any Biblical literalist, but in a transformed way. Seeing 'miracle' in this new way is I think one of my personal experiences of repentance. I truly see it differently than I did even well after I became an adult. To take the gospel blind healings as instant physical cures tends to make light of the fact that all through history the vast majority of blind people have never been cured. Instead many of them have spiritually and courageously transcended their handicap to live tremendously filled and fulfilling lives. I think of America's woman of courage Helen Keller as an example. In such lives is where we can often see the miracle work of God taking place in our own time and in our ordinary real lives, not miraculous physical cures, but moments and times of human transcendence above all kinds of restraints and difficulty.

These stories are surely primarily about the great need that all of us humans have(not just the physically blind), of being healed from our spiritual kinds of blindness, of experiencing repentance. Thus the stories are universally applicable and potentially transforming. Jesus' ministry was about raising people's levels of perception or 'seeing', about increasing their moral consciousness and awareness and thus extending one's compassion in an ever growing outward circle. An increase of moral consciousness  can be a sudden flash of insight following thoughtful  wrestling with a moral problem or after a meditative state of prayer or just a sudden change of attitude for the better and richer meaning of live and love. Such was the case of John Newton, the slave ship captain, which resulted in his words of the hymn 'Amazing Grace.' He suddenly saw the slaves in his ship as full human beings deserving of the same respect and freedom that he enjoyed. He expressed his personal transformation, “ I once was blind but now I see.”

Realizing life is to be an on-going experience of repentance one becomes more enlightened and comes to more clearly 'see' and 'know' several typical areas of awareness: 1. That each and every human being is an object of God's love, a love that does not value any person less than another. 2. That each person has gifts from God to give to others and that each of us has a need to experience ourselves as contributors to the well being of others.

To become aware of such things(and God only knows what others) is an example of how our blindness is healed just as miraculously as if Jesus had healed a physically blind person. Repentance is a present day miracle experience. 3. That none of us ever reach such a level of consciousness that we do not still have serious blind spots. So we are wise to live humbly in our dealings with others...slow to judge or devalue another person. One N.T. Writer says we often 'entertain angels unaware'.

The good news is we can all receive continual renewals and needed increases in our ever growing consciousness. The people around Jesus ,including his disciples, are pictured as seriously blind to much of life and love and the significance of what is happening right in front of them. We also are still such people. This can be a Christian description of the human condition. By God's grace change, repentance, can happen with any of us. We can rightfully expect that higher levels of ethical human consciousness, so desperately needed in our day, are a possible occurrence for us as individuals, churches, communities, the nation and even the whole world.

Dear God. Let your Spirit breath your healing power on us according to our need. May your Spirit be continually healing us of our blind spots and increasing our moral consciousness. We do come asking that personally, collectively and for our nation, May we receive your gift of repentance.