No Idle Tale

Sermon – Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 24:1-12

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip……” If you recognized those words they are the opening words from the theme song from a popular series many years ago called Gilligan’s Island. It was the fictional story of a group of people who were stranded on a desert island. It was fun to watch, and we wondered if they would ever be rescued, but it was just a story, a tale that someone was telling us.

Or maybe you recognize these lines, “A long time ago in a galaxy far away……” These words that enter the screen are the beginning of the Star Wars movies. Tales, or movies, about the fight between good and evil, and although they remind us of valuable truths, they too are only movies, modern tales.

Tales are just that. They are stories. Sometimes they contain the truth, but they aren’t the truth. Like fairy tales, they help us understand the truth a little better. And for example in the case of fish tales, these real stories start out true, but eventually spin out of control until they are unbelievable. We tend to think of tales as made up stories and we don’t take them seriously.

That’s exactly what happened to the women who came to the tomb that first Easter morning. Luke’s gospel says that when the women came to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body, they found the stone that sealed the tomb already rolled away. They couldn’t believe it. What happened? Who rolled the stone away? Where was Jesus? But while they were trying to figure all this out two angels said to them, “”Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” When the angels reminded them of what Jesus had told them, it all made sense. Yes, it was true. But when they ran back to tell the disciples, they didn’t believe them. The disciples thought they were telling them an “idle tale.” They thought the women made it up.

After all, they saw Jesus die on the cross. Jesus was dead and dead things don’t come back to life. The soldiers pierced Jesus’ side just to make sure He was dead. So of course the other disciples thought the women were crazy. They all saw Jesus die right in front of them. These women just wanted Jesus to be alive – they all did – but Jesus was dead. They felt these women were just telling an “idle tale.”

And it was common for women at that time not to be believed. Women at that time were thought to be not much better than the animals. They certainly weren’t respected and not encouraged to speak their minds. Yet these women weren’t just with Jesus and the other disciples. They were disciples. Jesus felt differently about women. He welcomed all people to listen to Him, even the women and children. So if He respected them, if they travelled with the disciples, why didn’t they believe this story the women told them?

Because it was too unbelievable! If I came and told you right now that a person we all saw die three days ago, and buried, was now alive, you would think I was crazy! You would say I lost my mind! Dead people don’t come back from the dead! This is unbelievable! If we saw this story on the news tomorrow we would say something is wrong. It’s a hoax. Things like that just don’t happen! It’s an “idle tale.”

And idle tales are something many people are good at spreading. It’s called gossip and it happens everywhere, even in congregations. People misinterpret things; truths get twisted, stories get made up, and before you know it friends become enemies and reputations and lives are ruined. So what do you do when someone tells you something that unbelievable? Do you just believe whatever you hear without asking if this fits the character of the person. Do you ask the person directly? Do you even try and seek out the truth or do you just believe whatever you hear? If something seems too unbelievable it usually is.

So why do we believe it? How do we know it’s true? Peter asked himself the same question, so he checked it out for himself. He saw that the tomb was empty. But why did he believe the women? Maybe someone really did take Jesus’ body. The gospel of John tells us that Jesus actually appeared to Mary, but in Luke’s gospel, the women have only the angels to believe. And even that seems like a far-fetched tale. Were the women just making it up? What would they have to gain by making up a tale like this? Women back then weren’t respected and they certainly wouldn’t have been believed for telling an outrageous story like this. They had to know that the other disciples would think they were crazy, but how could they not tell it? This news wasn’t something they could keep to themselves. Jesus was alive and He told them prior to the crucifixion that He would rise again, but they didn’t understand that then. How could they? It seemed too far-fetched. But now they believed it. They believed it because Jesus’ words and Jesus’ actions were one in the same. His promises were true. They were true then and they are true now. We can believe him.

And for thousands of years after Jesus’ death and resurrection Jesus’ followers have been believing this story and telling it to anyone who would listen. To make a name for themselves? No, because this is an unbelievable story – too good to be true – and telling this story would cost many disciples their lives. If the early Christians wanted their religion to spread they wouldn’t have written down that women were the first to see the risen Jesus, because women weren’t taken seriously to begin with. Early Christians wouldn’t have suffered persecutions and death for an “idle tale” that wasn’t true. No one dies for a made up story. Eventually, they change their story so that they won’t be killed, unless…..

Unless it’s a story worth dying for – a story so incredibly fantastic and life changing that you want the whole world to know. A story so revolutionary that you can’t keep it under wraps. A story so earth shattering that you can’t think of anything in the same way again or do anything the way you did it before.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah is risen from the dead! He is risen indeed! What does this mean to you and me? It means that God has changed the way everything works. Death no longer has the final say. St. Paul says, because Christ lives , we too will live forever.

So what are you going to do about it now that you have heard this news? This isn’t just an “idle tale” people, this is the truth! And it means that nothing is the same. We may experience periods of darkness, but the light of Christ has overcome the darkness. It will not consume us. Death has been swallowed up by the light of the resurrected Christ! We have to run out into the world and tell everyone. By shouting on the side of the street? Well, you might get locked up for that, but we have other ways to spread this news.

Don’t just spread idle tales or gossip; spread the love of Jesus. Go to the person that has been annoying you and do something kind for them, show them love, pray for them and pray for God to change your own heart. Go to the person you have been carrying a grudge toward and forgive them. Call that person that has been avoiding you and tell them that God loves them and that you love them and you want them in your life. Run to the person that you feel your relationship is on faulty ground and tell them they are a gift from God and you want to set things right again. Find a person in your neighborhood, on your street, in your school, or where you work and do something loving for them. Find out what they need and help them. Listen to others. Show compassion where it is most needed. Bring this church out of these four walls and show others that the tomb is empty. Invite a friend to church next Sunday – seriously. This news is too good to keep to yourself. This is no “idle tale.” This is a matter of life and death. Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!

 

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The Space Between Crucifixion and Resurrection

Holy Saturday Easter Vigil – March 26, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 20:1-18

Quiet, stillness, silence……these words can fill a person with deep peace and tranquility. They can conjure up the peace of listening to the ocean waves, the silence of the deep woods, or the quiet on a garden walk. But sometimes these words instill a sense of anxiety, tension, and even fear. The space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday can be an unnerving one. ELCA Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said in a recent article about Holy Saturday that “I think the space between crucifixion and resurrection – truly terrifying and truly compassionate – beckons us from our life to life in Christ.” The space between crucifixion and resurrection can indeed be a truly terrifying experience.

Voids have a way of evoking uneasiness, and our minds can get carried away in dark directions. Instead of seeing the possibilities, we can fear the worst. “What if this is it?” “What if it never gets better?” “What if all hope is lost?” The space between today and tomorrow can seem to last forever. And in that space we may feel intense pain.

That was especially the case for Mary Magdalene and the other disciples. While it was still dark -making their way through the shadows – they came to the tomb expecting one thing, but discovered something else. They came expecting certainty and what they discovered was emptiness. The stillness, the silence, filled them with anxiety, and worry, and fear. The space between what was and what would be was more than they could bear. What followed was a scene of total chaos. Mary Magdalene frantically running and repeating, “Where is Jesus?” “Where have they taken him?” She was out of her mind with worry. Disciples outrunning each other to see if it was true, then left Mary alone. Mary, weeping uncontrollably, kept searching for answers – searching, and feeling hopeless. The space between crucifixion and resurrection was a frightening place indeed.

And it is for us as well. The space between the known and the unknown can leave us feeling as frantic and frightened as Mary and the disciples. There are so many times in our lives when these spaces of uncertainty overshadow us. Waiting for test results to come back from a school exam, a job interview, or doctor’s lab-work, can be a frightening place to wait. Each hour and day as the time passes we can become more tense. Our minds can begin to fill in the spaces that are silent and still with thoughts that are dark, and critical, and frightening. We can imagine the worse-case scenarios and play them over and over again in our minds like the newscasts that show images of fear that play over and over in our minds. And when we are already feeling hopeless the news reports of violence, terrorism, and disasters fuel the negative and dark forces that try and overtake our minds and spirits. They can lead us to believe that the entire world is falling apart and we may find ourselves like Mary weeping uncontrollably. We want answers, but there are none to be found. And the sound of quiet, stillness, and silence no longer soothes our souls and we don’t recognize that the answers are there waiting to be seen. And something has to break the silence.

“Mary!” “Mary!” The sound of her name breaks the silence and Mary Magdalene turns to see the risen Jesus standing right there next to her. He was there the whole time, but she didn’t recognize him from the weight of her fears. But Jesus’ voice broke through the silence. Jesus’ voice broke through the fear. Jesus’ voice broke through the darkness of death and the light came pouring out. The light of hope. The light of joy. The light of the resurrection. Jesus broke the chains of sin and death just like he promised he would. God raised him up on the third day and proved that there is no power on earth that is stronger than God. There’s no evil on earth that is stronger that God. There’s no problem on earth that is too big for God to handle. Resurrection was standing right in front of Mary and resurrection is standing right in front of us!

We may not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. And God is already there. God is with us today, in the future, and in the space or void between. For remember that in the beginning of the world, the world was a formless void, but God was there right from the beginning and God will always be there. We may not always feel the presence of God, but just like Mary Magdalene on that first morning, God was already in her midst in the person of the resurrected Christ. Just because we can’t see resurrection doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Resurrection is all around us. We only have to listen to hear the voice of Jesus.

He is calling our name. Each and every one of us. He is calling out and saying look, listen, I am here. I am the resurrection and the life. And tonight we proclaim that we are resurrection people. We believe that life comes from death. We believe that hope springs forth out of the darkness. We believe that resurrection is not only possible, but real. That is what we celebrate this night.

And that is why in the shadows of darkness we have hope. In the darkness before the Easter dawn – in that space of uncertainty – is where it all begins. In the space between the crucifixion and the morning dawn – this Holy Saturday – we keep vigil and begin our joyful celebration because the resurrection is upon us. Resurrection is happening and resurrection will keep on happening. Look around. Listen and believe with the eyes of faith.

We are people of the resurrection. The space between certainty and the unknown need not frighten us because the space between is the birthplace of resurrection and new life. The space between is one of quiet, stillness, and silence in preparation for the breaking forth of new life – new life in ourselves, new life in our families, new life in our congregations, in our communities, and in our world. New life that transforms hate into love, new life that transforms condemnation into compassion, new life that transforms betrayal into forgiveness, new life that transforms bitterness into understanding, new life that transforms everything is touches. New life is the promise of the resurrection. Be not afraid. Sing out in joy! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!

Take, Eat, and Serve

Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 13:1-17-35

 

Tonight is a strange service in the life of the church. Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, named after the Latin word maundatum or mandate, is unlike any of our other services. For many, it’s an uncomfortable service, perhaps even more uncomfortable than Good Friday. On Good Friday we are asked to reflect on Jesus suffering and death, but tonight there is a physical responsibility on our part. Tonight we are asked to actually do something. And not merely asked, but mandated or commanded by Jesus to do something – something quite uncomfortable. We are asked to love one another as he has loved us. At first it seems easy enough. We all know how to love one another, at least we think we do. But the kind of love Jesus is commanding of us, his disciples is not an easy kind of love. What Jesus requires of his disciples is tough. And the reaction today is just as shocking as it was for the first disciples.

On this night we remember the last meal Jesus had with his disciples before he was arrested, suffered, and died. Jesus knew what was going to happen and that’s what makes the events of this night so significant. He knew one of his disciples was going to betray him. He knew one of his disciples was going to deny him. He knew the other disciples and followers would abandon him. Yet knowing all this, Jesus gathered them together and shared a meal with them. This was the very last meal, the very last thing that Jesus would do with his disciples. It was no ordinary meal. It seemed like it at first until Jesus got up from the table right in the middle of the meal. He did something unusual; he took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around his waist. And then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet and wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. The disciples were shocked! That’s servant’s work, not work for Jesus, their Lord, and the one Peter professed to be the Messiah!

They were just as shocked when only a short time ago some of these same disciples witnessed Mary, Lazarus’ sister, interrupt another meal where they were gathered and drop to her knees and anoint Jesus’ feet with oil and wipe them with her hair. That was not what a woman in Jesus’ time was supposed to do, and this was not what Jesus was supposed to do. At least, not in everyone’s eyes. Everyone but Jesus, that is. For Jesus, these are exactly the actions of a faithful disciple. These are exactly the actions that proceed out of great love.

Yet, Judas protested when Mary dropped to her knees and anointed Jesus with costly oil. Peter protested when Jesus dropped to his knees and washed his disciples feet. And we protest today when we are commanded to drop to our knees and show one another our dirty feet and wash them clean. It’s uncomfortable. It’s hard for us to do something so intimate. It’s hard for us to be that vulnerable. Sometimes it’s hard for us to allow ourselves to both give and receive love, but in doing so we give each other a gift. Our natural tendency is to want to keep our distance, to not get that close to people, especially people who we may not necessarily like. It’s dangerous to do what Jesus is commanding us to do because it might change the way we feel about people. It might actually change us, transform us. And change is something that most people try and avoid at all costs.

But that is exactly what Jesus came to earth to do. He came to change the way we think and the way we act. He came to change our understanding and perception of life. He came to show us a new way of living, a way that is based on love- sacrificial and self-giving love. Yet that is exactly what caused people to turn against him. On Palm Sunday Jesus began his entrance into Jerusalem greeted with crowds cheering him on and praising his name. Yet, the plot to get rid of him was already underway. And the one who would betray him was one of his own disciples. Judas was sitting right there at the dinner table with Jesus and the other disciples. How could Jesus even be in the same room with him? Yet Jesus celebrated his last supper with the one who was about to betray him. Jesus got down on his knees and washed the feet of the one who was about to betray him. Jesus showed love and tenderness to the one who was about to betray him. That’s what real, true, honest love looks like. And that is what Jesus commands us to do.

That’s why this night is so difficult. That’s why this service is such a challenging one, because Jesus is commanding us to do things that may go against our very nature. He is commanding us as his disciples to love exactly like he loved, which means to love even when you know you will not receive love back. Even when you know that the very things you say or do will be rejected. We are commanded by Jesus to take and eat and then fed with the very life of Jesus to act as he did – to feed others with the grace we have received, to care for their physical and emotional needs, to really listen to people and try to understand them instead of judging them, to listen to their stories, to put ourselves in their shoes. Instead of our own individual needs taking priority, Jesus commands us to focus on others and the mission of spreading the kingdom of God here on earth. We are to love like Jesus. Live like Jesus. Be like Jesus.

Jesus’ call to follow him pushes us to go places we’d rather not go, to try new things, to go beyond our comfort zone, and focus on the real mission of the church. One church community in Atlanta, Georgia, The Open Door Community – takes Jesus’ command of washing others feet so seriously that they now hold a foot care clinic on Thursday evenings where the homeless of that city can come to have their feet bathed and their foot problems treated by medical volunteers. We don’t have to duplicate that ministry, but there are different ministries that the Holy Spirit is calling us to do right here where we are. I know that last night many people were moved by the Journey Through the Stations of the Cross. There are other things that we as a church can do so that others can hear and experience God’s message of love and grace.

Jesus’ command to wash the feet of others is only the beginning, but it is where it begins. It begins right here tonight as we wash each other’s feet and experience the amazing power of God’s love – love that begins with service. There is a power in serving, a power that comes from Jesus and can transform lives. On this night, we have been given new symbols of the Christian church. In addition to the traditional symbols of the cross, a cup, and some bread, Jesus lifts up a towel, a basin, and some water. Jesus kneeled down in service in order to lift up the glory of God. May the Holy Spirit give us the grace and power to do the same. Take, eat, and serve. Amen.