Even Though

Even Though

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; September 15, 2019

14th Sunday after Pentecost

1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

 

Just before today’s reading, Jesus says, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Ironically, the tax collectors and sinners do just that, unsettling the Pharisees and scribes so much they can’t keep from grumbling, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Recognizing this as a perfect teaching moment, Jesus proceeds to share three parables about his Abba Father’s relationship to the lost. This morning we will consider only the first two: the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. These stories invite those who have ears to hear to slip on someone else’s dusty old sandals and venture into un-chartered territory.  And if the invitation feels a bit strange to us, it was nearly as strange to the original hearers—particularly the Pharisees and teachers of the Law.

 

Though it may seem that the Pharisees and religious leaders are against everything Jesus is for, they are likely faithful Jews trying to live out their love for Yahweh to the best of their ability. They wait in hope of the coming Messiah and it is their understanding that while they wait—they are to study, interpret, and apply the Law of Moses. Therefore, they must maintain laws of cleanliness, which includes not affiliating with the unclean and sinners. For them, the unclean and sinners are those who habitually break the Law and do dishonorable work, like that of a tax collector or a leather tanner or a shepherd.[i]

 

Nevertheless, Jesus has the gall to ask these “righteous” leaders to slip on the dusty sandals of a shepherd and to imagine one of their 100 sheep goes missing. “Wouldn’t you leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the lost sheep? And when you find it, wouldn’t you throw it over your shoulder, take it back home, and celebrate with your friends and neighbors?”

 

If asking the religious leaders to identify with a dirty shepherd isn’t enough, Jesus continues by asking them to slip on the sandals of a woman who loses a coin. Surely Jesus realizes these Jewish leaders begin each day with the prayer: “Blessed are you, King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile, for not having made me a slave, for not having made me a woman?”  Sure, Jesus knows, but that does not stop him. “Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, and sweep until she finds it? And when she finds it, doesn’t she call her friends and neighbors to celebrate with her?” Jesus concludes, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

 

If the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were not already offended by Jesus’ teaching, they are now.  But Jesus does not care because he yearns for them to see “kingdom living” in a different light.  He wants them to know it isn’t that God’s doesn’t love and care for the righteous. It’s just that God also cares for the precious soul who loses his or her way and through the grace of God, reaches a place in life where being found is possible. Indeed, there is joy in the presence of the angels when the lost are found.

 

While I have read these parables many times and have preached them more than a few, not until this week, did I really see God as the key player in them. Instead, I have tended to focus on what is found—a lost sheep and a lost coin. But in both instances, God is the seeker. The sheep does nothing to find itself. The coin has no capacity to find itself. No! God does the seeking and the saving and the calling for a celebration. The Pharisees and scribes, however, are unable to celebrate because they see no need to seek nor to save. Why bother? Who cares about one sinner? God—that’s who! In the eyes of God, each coin and each sheep matters. In the eyes of God, each man and woman and child matters. In the eyes of God, both the righteous and the unrighteous matter.

 

As you have likely heard me say before, I was twelve when I was baptized into the family of God. In the conservative Baptist church I attended with my uncle, the path to salvation was made clear every Sunday. If a person wanted to be saved, he or she must make the decision to repent from sin and profess to the preacher and the congregation his or her faith in Jesus Christ. To this day, I can recall the morning I took that first step down the aisle. My hands were sweating, and my heart was beating so fast I thought it would jump out of my chest. Still, my desire for the light and love of Jesus outweighed any fear that could keep me in my seat.

 

In the years to come, I had many questions about the act of “getting saved.” For example: Why did the preaching of my childhood focus on “getting people saved” almost to the exclusion of teaching people how to live as disciples of Christ? Why was there more emphasis on eternal life than the life we are called to live now—loving God with all our heart and mind and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves? Why did I witness the condemnation of people of other traditions because they were baptized as infants or, perhaps, because they could not recall the exact moment Jesus came into their heart? Thankfully, many of my questions were answered through the Reformers of our Presbyterian tradition, who recognized that even the DESIRE to know Jesus is pure grace. We cannot even muster up the will to profess Jesus without the prompting of the Holy Spirit. And though none of us deserve such love—it is doled out like manna from heaven for anyone who wants a taste.

 

Years before I met Rodger Nishioka at Columbia Theological Seminary, I read his book, The Roots of Who We Are. A Presbyterian preacher, seminary professor, and Christian educator, Nishioka’s reformed theology felt like a breath of fresh air to me and there is one story, in particular, that I carry with me still today.

 

Following a key-note address at an event, Nishioka was approached by a man and woman who were surprised that he was a Presbyterian since he talked about Jesus so much. He replied, “Well, he is kind of the point.” Then they asked him, “So when were you saved?” He responded, “Oh, I’ve always been saved. You see my parents love God and Jesus Christ, and from my earliest memory, I have known that God loved me and Jesus was my Savior.”

 

“Yes, but when were you saved?” they asked again.

 

“Well, if I had to name a day and time, I guess it would be when I was confirmed in our church. That is when I stood up in front of everyone and said that Jesus Christ was my Lord and Savior.”

 

“So that’s when you were saved?” they asked.

 

“Well,” I explained again, “I really believe I have always been saved, but that is a special time when I proclaimed it to my family and church.”

 

“Well,” they said, “That’s not good enough.” And they both walked away. What Nishioka came to realize in further discussions with them is that they had a very specific idea of what it means to be saved. They believed you could only be saved or converted in a dramatic way. But you see, there are different ways to be found by God—through a dramatic conversion, yes, but also through a nurtured conversion, like that of Rodger Nishioka, and like that of many of you, I daresay.

 

Undoubtedly, the most compelling example in Scripture of a dramatic conversion comes through the Apostle Paul. One moment he is going out of his way to terrorize Christians and the next he is preaching Christ to anyone who has ears to hear. In his first letter to Timothy, we find words of gratitude to Christ who strengthen him and called him into service EVEN THOUGH Paul had been a man of violence. Hear his words again, “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.”

 

Even though Paul was a man who persecuted Christians, he was found by Jesus on the road to Damascus. Even though the sheep had gotten lost in the wilderness and the coin had fallen through the cracks, they were found by the God who seeks and the God who saves. For you see, it is only by God’s grace that anyone is found—that anyone is saved. And it is only by God’s grace that we know what our response should always be—rejoicing and celebrating. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] Roger Van Harn, The Lectionary Commentary Series

 

Read the Fine Print

Read the Fine Print

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; September 8, 2019

13th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; Luke 14:25-33

 

Years ago, when Kinney and I purchased our home, I remember the two of us sitting in the bank office, reading a mountain of documents in great detail. Other times, reading the fine print has been just as important, like when we took out insurance policies or purchased an automobile. Along the way, we learned the dangers of floating interest rates and hidden costs. We learned the truth of that old saying, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!” As a society, we are cautious and for good reason. Most of us have been burned somewhere along the way so we know that reading the fine print is a smart thing to do.

 

Jesus is making his way toward Jerusalem. Along the way he picks up quite a crowd of people. Some come for no other reason than curiosity—Jesus is the new thing in town, and they don’t want to miss the show. Others come because they have nowhere else to go—they are the pariahs of society—sinners, tax collectors, the poor, the outcasts—but for some strange reason this strange, holy man shows them kindness and love. Then, there are those who follow because they are Jesus’ disciples. They’ve seen the wonders of his teaching and acts of compassion. They’ll follow him anywhere—or so they think.

 

Jesus looks around at the throngs of people and realizes it’s time for full disclosure. He knows there are many gathered around him who won’t make it to Jerusalem—let alone the cross. More than likely, many of them won’t make it over the next hill—not after he shares what he’s about to share.

 

So, Jesus pulls out his Discipleship 101 manual and begins to read: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Wait a minute! What did he say? Did he say that we must hate our family to follow him? He did! And there’s more!

 

Jesus goes on to caution those who are gathered ‘round to think long and hard before making the decision to become his disciple. His questioning goes a bit like this: “Can you afford it? I guarantee it will cost you! It might cost you your family. It will surely cost a lot of effort because only those who are willing to carry a cross can make the journey with me. I want you to sit down and take stock because those dreams and plans you have made—you may have to kiss them goodbye. All that stuff you have accumulated, that may have to go, too.”  Then Jesus hands out a signup sheet on his handy dandy clipboard and passes it around. (There’s even a waiver to sign for insurance purposes.) You see, this is no ordinary excursion. This is no quick jaunt to Savannah. This is a trip of a lifetime and it will take a lifetime to complete the journey.

 

Of course, Jesus isn’t asking his followers to do anything he hasn’t done. He gave up everything to follow the will of his Abba Father. He left his heavenly address. Scripture tells us that he created a rift in his earthly family. It’s no wonder. He is the eldest son. He should be working in the family business. Instead he is gathering disciples, teaching, healing. People from Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem and beyond the Jordan follow him in droves. When unclean spirits see him, they recognize him and shout for everyone to hear, “You are the Son of God!” When Jesus gets home the crowd has grown so much, he can hardly eat. When his family hears all this, they attempt to restrain him. Some people even think he’s lost his mind.[i] Later when his family shows up outside the door and he’s told that they are calling for him, Jesus responds, “Who are my mother and my brothers? …Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and mother and sister.”[ii]  It appears that Jesus is not only redefining faithfulness—he’s redefining what it means to be family.

 

Jesus continues speaking to the crowd, reminding would-be followers to carefully consider what might be required. He even gives examples: “If you are planning an expensive building project, won’t you check to make sure you can cover the cost? Or if you are a king planning to go war, don’t you examine all your resources before deciding which option is best: battle or negotiations? Ponder your prospects well, for following me may cost you everything.”

 

Jesus shares all this because he wants people to know what they’re getting into before signing on the dotted line. In all things, Jesus must come first. On the screen of life, God gets top billing. Undeniably, reminding humans that God comes first is nothing new. It is an age-old problem. You’ll recall the first commandment given to God’s chosen people: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other Gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…”[iii]

 

Only God is to be worshiped—not family, not dreams and plans, and not possessions. At the day’s beginning and at its end, everything belongs to God. We are merely managers of all that we claim to possess. Living in such a materialistic society, this teaching of Jesus may hit us particularly hard. But you see, Jesus knows that the more stuff we accumulate, the more insulation there is between us and God; between us and others. After a while we may succumb to the danger of allowing our egos to take center stage—so much so that life becomes about taking care of me and mine: me and my family, me and my plans, me and my stuff. It’s a strange stance to take when we consider we entered this world with nothing at all and we will depart the same way.

 

There once was a rich man who was near death. He was very grieved because he had worked so hard for his money and wanted to be able to take it with him to heaven. So he began to pray that he might be able to take some of his wealth with him. An angel heard his plea and appeared to him. “Sorry, but you can’t take your wealth with you.” The man begged the angel to speak to God to see if He might bend the rules. The man continued to pray that his wealth could follow him. The angel reappeared and informed the man that God had decided to allow him to take one suitcase with him. Overjoyed, the man gathered his largest suitcase and filled it with pure gold bars and placed it beside his bed. Soon afterward, he died and showed up at the gates of heaven to greet St. Peter. St. Peter, seeing the suitcase, said, “Hold on, you can’t bring that in here!” The man explained to St. Peter that he had permission and asked him to verify his story with the Lord. Sure enough, St. Peter checked it out, came back and said, “You’re right. You are allowed one carry-on bag, but I’m supposed to check its contents before letting it through.” St. Peter opened the suitcase to inspect the worldly items that the man found too precious to leave behind and exclaimed, ‘You brought pavement?’ [iv]

 

God gives us everything—beautiful sunrises, good food, family and friends—even life itself. So, is it any wonder that Jesus warns no one can become his disciple unless he or she is willing to give up everything—all for the love of God? It’s radical commitment Jesus is after!

 

In an effort of full disclosure, Jesus cautions the foolhardy to reconsider. You know, drive the car before you buy it, read the contract before you sign it, and don’t start what you can’t finish. Becoming a disciple is not to be taken lightly!

 

Jesus continues toward Jerusalem. Few people will follow all the way. It’s still the same today. It’s no wonder! Following Jesus just might cost us: our plans, our priorities, our possessions. But then, why shouldn’t it? Jesus gave up everything—all for love of his Abba Father—all for love of us! In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] Mark 3:7-21.

[ii] Mark 3:31-35

[iii] Exodus 20:2-5a.

[iv] http://www.reflections-online.net/en/spiritual_jokes.php

Sermon, Welcome.

Welcome

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 25, 2019

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Heb.13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

 

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. It was a watershed moment in our nation’s history. Who can forget such powerful, inspiring words?

 

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

 

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…

 

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…

 

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

 

Martin Luther King did not grab such high-minded ideals out of thin air. He got them from none other than Jesus, who held similar high-minded ideals which happen to be on display in our gospel reading for today.

 

Jesus accepts a dinner invitation from one of the religious leaders. While he is being closely watched, he is doing some watching, too. As a result, he notices how the guests elbow their way to the best seats. Clearly, this is an opportunity for a teaching moment, so Jesus, as they say, “takes them to church,” using a parable. The parable he shares is designed to do what most of his parables are designed to do—invite his hearers to reflect on their values, and to turn those same values, upside down.

 

Jesus has a dream. It is a dream in which everyone is welcome to the table of grace. No one comes with her nose in the air ready to fight for the best seat. No doubt, Jesus’ vision goes against the beliefs of the people gathered around because what he is calling for is radical hospitality. There are no insiders and outsiders—no us and them! The reading from Hebrews continues with this theme, counseling believers to show hospitality to strangers for we might, in fact, be entertaining angels without knowing it.

 

Followers of Jesus are called to be in community and community is created when we act in loving service toward everyone. This is no place to trample our way to the best seats. Instead we work to make space for everyone—more than that—we welcome others without even thinking about our place in line. Yes, radical hospitality!

 

What might it look like if we held each person in such high regard? The following story offers a glimpse:

 

Once upon a time there was an abbot of a monastery who was very good friends with the rabbi of a local synagogue. It was in Europe and times were hard… The abbot found his community dwindling and the faith life of his monks shallow and lifeless. Life in the monastery was dying. He went to his friend and wept. His friend, the rabbi, comforted him and told him, “There is something you need to know, my brother. We have long known in the Jewish community that the Messiah is one of you.”

 

“What?” exclaimed the abbot, “The Messiah is one of us? How can that be?”

 

But the rabbi insisted that it was so, and the abbot went back to his monastery wondering and praying, comforted and excited.

 

Once back at the monastery, walking down the halls and in the courtyard, he would pass a monk and wonder if he was the one. Sitting in chapel, praying, he would hear a voice and look intently at a face and wonder if he was the one, and he began to treat all of his brothers with respect, with kindness and awe, with reverence. Soon it became quite noticeable.

 

One of the brothers came to him and asked him what had happened to him. After some coaxing, he told him what the rabbi had said. Soon the other monk was looking at his brothers differently and wondering. The word spread through the monastery quickly: The Messiah is one of us.

 

Soon the whole monastery was full of life, worship, kindness, and grace. The prayer life was rich and passionate, devoted, and the psalms and liturgy and services were alive and vibrant. Soon the surrounding villagers were coming to the services and listening and watching intently, and there were many who wished to join the community.

 

After their novitiate, when they took their vows, they were told the mystery, the truth that their life was based upon, the source of their strength and life together. The Messiah is one of us. The monastery grew and expanded into house after house, and all the monks grew in wisdom, age, and grace before the others and in the eyes of God. And they say still, if you stumble across this place, where there is life and hope and kindness and graciousness, that the secret is the same: The Messiah is one of us.[i]

 

If we truly see the Christ that dwells within each one of us, we will long to win the world over, we will welcome every passerby, and we will share the love of Jesus through acts of kindness, mercy, generosity, and love.

 

Today we come to the Lord’s Table to be nourished and equipped for service. There is no fence built around the Table to keep the “unsavory” out. The Presbyterian Book of Order informs us that none are to be excluded because of race, sex, age, economic status, social class, handicapping condition, difference of culture or language, or any barrier created by human injustice. We come to the Table to seek reconciliation. We come to the Table to be united with the Church in every place and time. Here we join with all the faithful in heaven and on earth offering thanksgiving to the Triune God. Here we renew our vows of baptism and commit ourselves afresh to love and serve God, one another, and our neighbors in the world.[ii]

 

It is with service in mind that we, here at First Presbyterian Church, continue our tradition of marking the Labor Day holiday with a Blessing of the Hands. During this time, we reflect on the work to which God has called each of us to do—work that will make Jesus’ dream a reality. Jesus left his heavenly home and entered the world to show us how to live. Boldly and with great enthusiasm, may our hands follow his example of showing love, kindness, and hospitality to rich and poor, male and female, slave and free, friend and stranger. Who knows! We might be entertaining angels!

[i] Megan McKenna in Mary, quoted in Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, 492.

[ii] Book of Order: The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2011-13, 96.

Seeing Clearly

Seeing Clearly

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 25, 2019

11th Sunday after Pentecost

Heb.12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

When it comes to music, I love everything from Bach to Bluegrass. And it may be that Kinney knows a portion of every popular song sung since the ‘70s. Because of our love of music, we enjoy attending concerts. The one that brings back the fondest memories for me was at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts (or Wolf Trap, as it’s commonly called) located in Vienna, Virginia. It’s an indoor/outdoor venue on 130 acres of national park land, with seating for several thousand, some under cover, others, more casually, on the lawn. The entertainment was provided by Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers along with Edie Brickell. Since it was our first visit to Wolf Trap, I called the theater to chat with an employee, who was eager to provide tips to make the experience delightful—where to park, when to arrive, what to bring, how to get the best seats on the lawn, etc. Heeding her advice, Kinney and I took a picnic, rented comfortable stadium chairs, and got the best spot on the lawn, where we could see the concert as well as gaze up at the stars once night fell.

 

After we got settled, I began looking around—taking in the lovely setting. Since the show was sold out it was a packed house. Still, I was surprised to see lots of people sitting way off to the side with no view of the performers. They could hear the music and Steve Martin’s funny one-liners—without any trouble—but they’re view was obstructed. So, they were missing out on a lot!

 

In our gospel reading for today, the bent-over woman, who has “partial view seating” at best—is missing out on a lot. What has caused her ailment? We are told that a spirit has crippled her. Of course, in biblical times, evil spirits were believed to cause countless ailments. Some experts suspect that she’s elderly and has advanced osteoporosis. Others wonder if she might have been crippled in an accident or even been a victim of domestic violence. While we can only speculate as to what has caused her to be bent over, we can safely say that being so makes her life difficult. Doing the simplest of things like carrying water, cooking, or cleaning is a struggle. In addition to basic needs, she is unable to gaze into the eyes of people passing by. She strains to see the sky, the stars, and the sun.

 

On this fateful day, Jesus is teaching in one of the synagogues as he often does. It is, after all, the Sabbath, and Jesus is, after all, a faithful Jew. While Jesus teaches, the bent over woman appears. Since she has been this way for 18 years, people in the community likely pay her little mind. But Jesus sees her—really sees her. More than that, he calls out to her. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment,” he says. Then Jesus lays hands on her and she immediately stands up straight and begins praising God.

 

My, oh, my…I think I can hear her worshiping God even now. I imagine she starts dancing and creates quite a ruckus. Just the thought of it makes me want to join her. What a glorious reason to celebrate and sing praises to Yahweh! But wait, a man is raising his voice. It is the leader of the synagogue. What is he saying? It’s hard to tell with the woman singing at the top of her lungs. But the synagogue leader keeps repeating something louder and louder. Is he joining her praise or is he trying to drown her out? Sadly, it’s the latter. Listen to what he says: “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”

 

Jesus answers, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for 18 long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” For a moment, there is complete silence, until, one by one, those who oppose Jesus hang their heads in shame. Finally, the entire crowd begins to rejoice—joining in with the woman who has been healed. What wonderful things Jesus is doing! Praise God!

 

Wouldn’t you love to be a part of such worship? Wouldn’t you love to see what Jesus sees? Jesus is a “seer.” One scholar notes that in the four gospels, Jesus is reported as “seeing” 138 times. In fact, a recurring miracle of Jesus is to restore sight to the blind. It appears that the people of Jesus’ day have a problem seeing. Certainly, they are unable to see as Jesus sees.[i]  It makes me wonder what is different about the way Jesus sees the woman. How is it that he focuses not on her present condition but on her future potential? Had we been there, how might we have seen her? Might we have overlooked her, altogether?

 

Jesus sees the bent over woman, truly sees her and then Jesus does the unthinkable. He goes against religious norms to set her free. Unquestionably, the synagogue leader fails to see what Jesus sees. Since healing is considered work, and therefore prohibited on the Jewish Sabbath, all the leader can see is Jesus breaking the law. He sees and he is angered by Jesus’ audacity. “The woman isn’t in any mortal danger. She’s been this way for years. Surely, she can wait another day or two! What’s the rush?”[ii]

 

However, for Jesus, people are more important than the law. From his perspective, setting someone free from whatever has them bound is a perfect way to honor the Sabbath. Jesus notices the woman and he shows her respect, kindness, and love. He calls her out of her isolation; out of her shame. It is with a heart overflowing with thanksgiving that the woman responds by standing upright and praising God. For all to hear, she becomes a witness of the power of Jesus to transform lives.

 

Have you been touched by God’s transforming power? Has Jesus helped you face something difficult? Maybe Jesus has given you a new perspective or a new attitude. If so, have you told someone?  We all have a story to tell, don’t we? The world needs your testimony and mine. People need to hear how we have experienced the hand of Christ, touching us, calling us to a better place, making us new.

 

Maybe we are facing something difficult right now, something that makes us feel bent over. Maybe sorrow, regret, fear or pain is our constant companion. If so, might we have the courage to approach Jesus and give him whatever burdens us?

 

Only Jesus can give us eyes to see clearly—eyes to see our own needs and the needs of those around us. No longer must we settle for partial viewing. Jesus wants us to experience all of life—peace, contentment, well-being, harmony, wholeness—God’s Shalom. And with Jesus, we can have the best seats in the house!

 

A poem written by Shawna Atteberry entitled, “Free to Stand and See,” says it so well:

 

Stoop and bent
Unable to see
Any beauty
Any good
Only my feet do I see

 

Bowed and burdened
With painful cares
Sore from aches and pains
Is there any where
There isn’t pain?

 

But wait.
What was that?
A whisper
Floats on the air
I hear–barely

 

Come it says
Come to me
Bring your burdens
Bring your cares
Come, give them to me.

 

Come release what weighs
You down
Yes, I will take this.
Now sit and rest.
Look up and see

 

So I sat and I breathed
I lifted my eyes
To blue skies with
Clouds and wildflowers
And him
He who called me

 

I see love and mirth
In his eyes
And I realized
The burden was no longer
Mine to bear.

 

We talked and we laughed
Then left hand in hand
Arm and arm
The burden
He easily bore.[iii]

[i] Peter Wood at http://thelisteninghermit.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/believing-is-seeing/

[ii] Ronald P. Byars, Feasting on the Word, 385.

[iii]By Shawna R. B. Atteberry , author, theologian, and storyteller; http://www.shawnaatteberry.com/2008/05/02/sermon-the-bent-and-burdened-woman/

We Are Easter People

We Are Easter People

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday

Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 24:1-12

 

The prophet Isaiah foretells the good news: For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight… Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust!

 

The year was 2009 and along with about 20 other pastors, I was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Although memories of the journey come to mind from time to time, during Holy Week and Easter they often ripple to the surface like waves. I catch myself daydreaming of the peaceful waters of the Sea of Galilee. In my mind’s eye, I leave those peaceful waters to follow Jesus to the city of his crucifixion—to follow Jesus to Jerusalem. I see the narrow, crowded streets. Along the streets are a vast array of vendors raising their voices to entice would-be buyers to their tables.

 

Recently, while reflecting on the Holy Land, I took a moment to open my travel journal to peruse its pages. Here is what I found from an entry marked June 11th:

 

Today is our first full day in Jerusalem. I have been outside reading and trying to gather my thoughts. Already I have heard the bells calling believers (of other faith traditions as well as our own) to prayer. With just a short walk I can be at the Mount of Olives; the place of the Last Supper; the place where Pilate pronounced his verdict; the Stations of the Cross that have been prayed and walked by millions down through the ages; I can be at the presumed sites of Golgotha and the Tomb where Christ was laid to rest.

 

Jerusalem is the place where Christianity was ultimately born. The birth of the church came through the ultimate pain and sacrifice of the very Son of God. How can there be such love? Yet in this holy place, there is hatred—people against people—religion against religion. From this place hatred radiates throughout the world. But the love of Christ radiates from here, too. The love of Christ reaches out toward those who are willing to accept the gift of God’s love—reaches out like the rays of the sun—reaches across the seas to other lands—other countries—other states—other communities—other people—and remarkably, even to me.

 

This morning we celebrate something extraordinary that happened 20 centuries ago over 6000 miles away. We celebrate because for us, too, a life-changing event has occurred. Jesus, the Son of God is not dead. He is alive.

 

From Luke’s gospel we catch sight of a loyal group of women who follow Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. Even when things begin to unravel and Jesus is arrested, they remain. They are at the foot of the cross. They hear him cry, “It is finished!” They watch him draw his last breath. The Jewish Sabbath comes and goes, and the women go early the next morning to the tomb with embalming spices in hand. They know that the tomb has been sealed and they probably know guards have been posted to keep watch over it. Maybe they hope these same guards will roll the heavy stone away for them. Imagine their surprise when they arrive only to find the stone has already been moved. And even more surprising, Jesus is nowhere in sight. The only thing left are burial cloths. Suddenly two men, dazzling in their brightness, appear and the women bow their faces to the ground in terror.

 

The men say to them, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” And that’s when it hits them. That’s when the women remember all that Jesus had said about his death and resurrection. They head straight to the disciples and the others to tell them what has happened. To the Eleven Alumni of Jesus’ School of Religion, their words seem like an idle tale—absolute nonsense. Nevertheless, Peter races off to see for himself.

 

He, too, sees the empty tomb and the burial cloths lying inside and he leaves in amazement.

 

Despite Jesus having foretold these events repeatedly to his disciples, it is beyond their comprehension that he might rise from the grave. So, if the disciples are hesitant to believe the women, what chance do we have? How can we accept such a fanciful tale? In order to believe that the Son of God conquered death so that we might live, our view of reality must change. We may have to consider that life is not what we think it is—nor is death, for that matter.

 

Actually, it all seems like nonsense—until you believe! Like Peter who must go and see for himself, each one of us has to experience the Risen Lord in our own hearts and minds and souls. We cannot rely on our grandmother’s faith or our father’s faith. And we will have to do more than learn about Christ as some grand, historical figure. Truth be told, we can be well versed in rituals, hymns, liturgies, sacraments and creeds of the church, and still be ignorant of the meaning of Easter.[i]  Martin Luther once wrote, “It really doesn’t matter if Jesus rose from the dead if he isn’t risen in you.”

 

Has Christ risen in you? We, who are baptized believers, we are Easter people. And Easter people are equipped by Christ’s Spirit to live as witnesses of the Resurrection. As one scholar notes:

 

Resurrection, after all, is not some buoyant ideal, unconnected to the real world. It is an invitation to live as Jesus lived, a doorway to a life in which meals are shared with enemies, healing is offered to the hopeless, prophetic challenges are issued to the powerful. Only now it is not Jesus who does these things—it is we ourselves who see at last the subversive power of the resurrection in order to live it now… [On that morning] the women knew. The women remembered. The women believed. The women responded by breaking their own silence to speak their own truth. Which is, after all, what God asks of us.[ii]

 

The women break their own silence. The women speak their own truth. It is still what God asks of each one of us. Otherwise, how will the world know that Isaiah’s prophecy has come true?

 

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating…

 

But some days rejoicing is difficult. There is no doubt that we live in troubling times. Around the globe, terrorist attacks have become more the norm than the exception. Too many people in our own country are filled with hatred and eager to promote fear, confusion, distrust, and violence. Even faith groups who claim to be Christian war against one another. For too long, too many Christians have sat idly by, hoping and praying that God would intervene. But maybe God is waiting for us to intervene. We are, after all, Easter people. We possess good news—good news for those who are sick and cannot afford decent health care; good news for neighbors who are hurting; good news for families in need of healing; good news for those who have lost hope.

 

Once Jesus bursts forth from the tomb, everything changes. No longer is Jesus restricted to Galilee or Jerusalem. Jesus is everywhere and he offers wholeness to all creation and to all people of the world.  As Easter people, we have experienced the power of Christ’s resurrection. We know that new life is possible for the vulnerable, the alienated, the desperate, and the grief-stricken. We know that resurrection touches us all, is available for all. The story is as real today as it was in the 1st Century.  In the words of Karl Barth: “Resurrection remains the center around which all else is moving, from which all comes, and to which all is leading.”

 

Here we are, gathered as a community of faith on a spiritual journey. Along the way we offer mutual support and concern; we mentor one another; we rejoice with one another on good days and grieve with one another on bad ones. Here, the presence of Christ is known to us in the preaching of the Word, through the waters of Baptism, and at the Table of our Lord. Here in this place, through liturgy, prayer, and song we are bound together in our common search for transformation and union with God. [iii] Christ is here among us to gather us in, and then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ sends us out to be his hands and feet in the world.

 

Since we are a forgetful people, we return Sunday after Sunday for a Little Easter to be reminded of what happened on that first Resurrection morn. It’s no idle tale. Rather, it’s an invitation to believe and participate in God’s unending work for good, for life, and for love.

 

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating…

 

Yes, let us be glad and rejoice. For Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

[i] http://www.methodist.org.nz/board_of_ministry/refresh/10_minutes

[ii] Nancy Claire Pittman, Feasting on the Word, 353.

[iii] Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, 161.

*Bulletin Cover by Stushie Art; Used by subscription