Wednesday, April 23, 2014

“We Can Live Lives of Hope” (John 20:1-18)

He called me over to his bedside.  “Pastor,” he whispered, “I need to tell you something.”  I pulled up a chair and leaned in.  “I’m going to tell you something that’s very hard for me to talk about.  Last night I had a dream.  It wasn’t an ordinary dream.  In the dream I saw a lot of friends and even some family.  They all had one thing in common. They were dead.  I mean, these people have all died. I’ve attended many of their funerals.  Well, in my dream everyone was welcoming me.  Some looked younger, some looked older, but everyone was happy and healthy.  What I want to know is this.  Was this a dream—or was I where they were?  I really couldn’t tell.”

I asked him, “What do you think?”  He paused for a moment and then said, “I don’t know, I don’t know.”  We wondered together if it mattered.  “What’s the gift?” I asked him.  He said, “I’m not well, pastor.  Whatever is next, well, it’s going to be okay.”

“Sounds like God,” I responded.
“What do you mean?” he asked. “Well, God knows you’re anxious about your next journey.  Since God is love, God has come to comfort you.”

What you need to know is that just a few minutes prior to this conversation a member of the family had told me that this man was very ill—that that the doctors had told her he had a very short time to live—maybe a day, maybe two days.  In fact he died the next day after our conversation. 
I’d like to think he was prepared. 

Many years ago now a woman invited me into her home after her husband of many years had died.  I had officiated at the funeral—she and I had a good time actually planning the funeral.  She was Baha’i, he was Presbyterian.  “I want his funeral to be normal, “she said with a giggle.

Oh how she loved her husband.  Oh how she grieved.  “Do you think he was pleased with the funeral?”  She asked me.  “What do you think?” I returned.
So it’s about two weeks after the funeral when she invites me over to her home.  “I want to tell you something,” she said.  “I saw my husband.  I know you think I am making this up.  But it’s true.  I saw him standing behind the chair in which you are sitting.  It looked like him, only I could see right through him.”

“What did he want?” I asked her.

He told me he was okay.  He told me to get on with my life.  He thanked me for the service.

“Sounds like God, doesn’t it?” I asked her.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“Well, you were worried about your last act of love towards you husband.  God let him tell you thank you.  God is good.”

Today is Easter Sunday, the one day we find it a little more acceptable to talk about death.  What makes the conversation much, much easier is the GOOD NEWS of Easter as recorded in John’s gospel, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and my God.”

As Carlos Caretto writes in his book The Desert in the City, “It is not difficult to come to the conviction that Christ’s true prophecy is the Resurrection of the dead.  This is Jesus who, by rising from the dead, announced to men (and women) their own resurrection.” 

Talk about creative power!  Yet another NEW thing…
Several weeks ago my friend the master gardener invited me into her garden.  “I’ve got a new plant,” she said as she pointed to the ground, “It’s called MONK’S HOOD.”  I looked at the soil where dark green foliage was emerging.  “It’s a perennial.  When it’s full grown it will have tall blue spires.  Isn’t it delightful?”
Doesn’t God’s genius amaze you?  Who among us can count the plants and the planets, the people and the possibilities—including a life beyond this one from which we come, and to which we return!

But sometimes we forget God’s genius and creative power.  I know because I watch us retreat from the message of Christ, be it “do not worry” or “to forgive as we have been forgiven” or to “pray always and do good work” or “to love our neighbor as we love ourselves” and finally, “to help the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or those in prison.”

 Like those who witnessed the crucifixion, we doubt that God can do very much to change the way things are when put to the test…and so we join the “not doing.”

Mary Magdalene serves as a symbol for many of us (I think) in John’s version of the resurrection.   I think she represents those moments, be they days or even years, when we  are overcome by the worlds’ messiness and ugliness and the inability for love to make deep, deep inroads into the fabric of life.  We feel like losers.  We weep; paralyzed by violence or insensitivity.  Even though we’ve had incredibly rewarding moments with faith--the deep presence of God has escaped us for a moment and we lose our way—we get confused—we give over to despair —losing touch with what Robert Corin Morris calls “God’s wider vision of possibilities."

Do you know what despair does?  It retreats.  It whispers in our ear “give up”, “hoist the white flag of surrender” or “live a life of despair—be a victim.” 

The million-dollar question is always this when it comes to God’s relationship with us…who moved?  Did God abandon us, or did we abandon God?    If love and peace and justice aren’t winning, who rendered God, or love, useless and ineffective; God, or us?

That’s what hope is, isn’t it?  It’s  the ability to act LIKE GOD in the face of discouragement.  Hope isn’t a feeling—hope is participating in God’s renewing of the world—even when it looks like God is dead and buried in the ground.  Isn’t that beautiful?  Isn’t that Jesus?

Today, John tells us in his gospel, Jesus walks right out of the empty tomb and into the loving care of God—which is where he came from—and we are speechless.  Our bodies have limits—our soul is eternal.  Talk about surprise.   For Jesus, and for all of us…another NEW thing.

Sounds like God, doesn’t it?

What are we to do with resurrection?  We are to live lives of hope; of loyalty to God’s vision for a new earth—and let God surprise us along the journey.  After all Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Even death!

Pastor: Christ is Risen!

People: Christ is Risen indeed!

(Preached by Reverend Dana Keener on Easter Sunday 2014 at Central Christian Church in Billings, MT.)

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