Sermon: Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016 – “Resuscitation, Resurrection, and Transformation”

 

“Resuscitation, Resurrection, and Transformation”

Text: Mark 16: 1-8

16 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.[a]

There was a man and his wife out for a drive early one Easter morning when out of nowhere a large white rabbit appeared in the road in front of the car. The husband who was driving, slammed on the brakes, but it was too late; the car struck the rabbit and the rabbit lay dead in the roadway. The man got out of the car to investigate when he noticed the rabbit had been carrying a large bag and there were colorful eggs strewn all over the roadway. “Oh no” he said to himself, “I think I have hit the Easter Bunny!” Distraught he went back to the car and told his wife about his discovery; “I feel awful” the husband said, “now all of those kids who are expecting Easter baskets won’t be seeing them; I don’t know what to do.”

“I know what to do” the wife responded and she reached for her purse in the back seat. From her purse she retrieved an aerosol spray can and proceeded to approach the dead bunny and sprayed it from head to toe. After just a few seconds, one foot began to twitch, and then another; soon the bunny opened its eyes and began to walk about. After a few minutes the Easter Bunny picked up all the strewn eggs and put them back in his bag and hopped off.

“That was amazing!” the husband said to his wife, “what is in that can that you sprayed the bunny with?”

The wife responded, “it is hair spray-see, it says right here that it brings new life to dead hair!”

 

There are a couple of reasons I wanted to tell this story. First of all, I always enjoy a funny story and I think this qualifies. But there is also a much more serious reason. I tell this story because I think it will help us understand the difference between resuscitation and resurrection and why that it is important.

You see, in our Easter Bunny story, the rabbit is resuscitated. It was the Easter Bunny before the car struck it, and after the amazing hair spray, it continued to be the Easter Bunny after resuscitation. When we speak of resurrection, there is a significant difference. When we speak of resurrection, I think we need to include the transformation that accompanies resurrection. In other words, the Jesus that left the tomb is not the same Jesus that entered the tomb. Transformation had taken place.

One of my favorite Easter symbols is the butterfly for this reason. The caterpillar that enters the chrysalis is a very different creature than what emerges from the chrysalis; this is resurrection.

Consider the Jesus that entered the tomb. He was a convicted criminal. He was considered a rebel and a possible threat to the political stability of the region. He worked for transformation of his faith tradition with little success. He was at odds with the religious leaders of the day. He challenged authority and called out hypocrisy. He travelled mostly on foot and impacted a relatively small geographic area. Ultimately, he failed and was executed. This was the end of the Jesus that entered the tomb.

But now consider the Jesus that left the tomb. No longer is he limited in travel or geography, for in fact he has impacted the entire world. No longer is he trying to transform his faith tradition of ancient Judaism, but rather has a new faith tradition called Christianity. No longer is he considered a convicted criminal, but rather the savior of humanity. No longer is he at odds with the religious leaders of the day, for he is the religious authority by which all other things are measured.

This is the power of resurrection. This is the transformation that takes place. This is what separates resurrection from resuscitation.

Now, for me, the remarkable aspect of this transformation isn’t so much about what happened to Jesus, but rather that it can happen to us.

Let me say this in another way. When I was describing the Jesus that went into the tomb, I spoke about all of things that Jesus experienced in his humanity. All those things went into the tomb with him. All that baggage, all those limitations, all the stigma of having been convicted and executed in the most violent of ways.; all of these things went into the tomb with Jesus. Yet, when the tomb was visited early that Easter morning, it was empty. All of the things that went in were gone.

We can participate in a similar transformation. We can put all of the things that we think are holding us back in that tomb. We can put all of the things that we are ashamed of or all of the things we no longer want to be in that tomb. If there are habits we want to overcome or addictions we want to overcome or certain character traits that we are not so proud of, they can all go into that tomb. We can pack the tomb full of everything in our past that keeps us from becoming the people we truly want to become. With the tomb full of our past mistakes and past personalities and broken relationships and the stigma of failure we can seal that tomb.

Through the power of resurrection and transformation when we revisit that tomb, we will find it empty. The old you is no longer, and only the new you shines through.

I believe this is the message of Easter. This is the message of the empty tomb. This is the message of resurrection and transformation. That, we, like Jesus, can enter into the tomb as broken and confused people. We carry into that tomb all the things that bring us down.

But then we emerge from that tomb as new beings. And all that we carried in with us has vanished, for the tomb is empty.

The caterpillar is gone and the butterfly remains.

Let the new you soar with the power of resurrection and transformation. The tomb of your past is empty. What was is no longer. Spread your wings and embrace the breeze.

May the power of re-creation, renewal, and resurrection be yours this day!

Amen.

Sermon: Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016 – “Through the Eyes of Judas”

“Through the Eyes of Judas”

Hi-my name is Judas. Judas Iscariot. Most people think they know who I am, they think they know all about me, they think they know the story about what happened. But most people don’t really know anything at all. My name is despised. They say I killed Jesus. They say I was a betrayer. They say it would have been better if I had never been born. They say these things because they simply do not know. They don’t know that among all the disciples I may have loved Jesus the most. They don’t know how my heart ached for the people we ministered to and how desperately I wanted things to change.

I remember the day we arrived in Jerusalem. The air was electric. You could feel the excitement as tens of thousands of people filled the streets. They were singing, some were cheering, others laid leafy palms at the feet of Jesus. Imagine that-the palm is a sign of victory-the people had already chosen their victor-the people had already declared Jesus King! The victory was ours for the taking!

That is what I was looking for; I was waiting for Jesus to give the word, I was waiting for Jesus to call the people into rebellion. All he would have had to say is “let’s not be oppressed any longer” all he would have had to say is that “we will no longer be occupied” – and with God on our side, we could have easily run the Romans out of town.

I remember thinking to myself, why is he waiting so long, what is he waiting for, the time for a call to action is right now-the streets are full of your followers and they would all do anything you tell them to do. Go for it, Jesus. But he didn’t. He stayed calm. He didn’t even offer any teaching or a speech or anything. By evening the crowd had dispersed and most of the excitement of the day was gone. He had missed a good chance to bring about the revolution he sought. Jesus was always talking about freedom from oppression and the coming of the Kingdom of God. He had his chance and he did nothing.

The next day I thought maybe I had been too hasty. Jesus went to the temple to teach and found it full of money changers and priests and Pharisees. The people in power were cheating those who had travelled a great distance to celebrate the Passover here in Jerusalem. It was a rigged system and Jesus knew it. I have never seen Jesus as angry as he was that day. This is it!, I thought to myself, Jesus has finally had enough, he will call upon the people to revolt, he will command his army of God and once and for all drive these occupiers from our midst.

Jesus picked up a branch and began to use it like a whip. He tipped over tables and shouted at the merchants-this should be a house of prayer and you have made it a den of thieves! I was right behind him, I had a branch in my hand as well. We were a small group, but I was ready to fight. Come on Jesus, let’s get after them!

He chased some of the merchants to the door of the temple, and he threw his branch onto the ground in disgust and then just walked away. He didn’t encourage the crowd that had gathered, he didn’t tell them how they had been cheated, he didn’t say anything about revolution…he just left. And I followed.

Now, what? I’m thinking to myself. We have all this momentum, people know who Jesus is, they respond to his teachings, they are tired of the Romans they are tired of the oppression. Why doesn’t he act? What is he waiting for?

Over the next couple of days I continued to wait for Jesus to make his move. Now was the time, Jerusalem was certainly the place, did he have a plan? What was our next move? Then it occurred to me that what we needed was a public confrontation. A huge spectacle where the crowds would clearly see the corruption and the oppression of the Roman guard, where they could see Jesus and be reminded of his teachings and be reminded that God is on our side and be reminded that the kingdom of God is at hand! A public confrontation is what was needed…and maybe Jesus just needed a little push.

So I met with the chief priests. I knew they didn’t like Jesus and didn’t appreciate his brand of religion. I thought I could use them. I thought I could leverage their hatred and despise of Jesus into our advantage and create a scene, create a confrontation where the people would finally revolt and we could be free of the Roman oppression once and for all. I had it all worked out.

On Thursday night, I told the Chief Priests, you will find Jesus exactly where you want him. He will be away from the crowds, just a few loyal followers next to him. He will be in the Garden of Gethsemane…you can arrest him there.

What I didn’t tell the Chief Priests was that once arrested there would be a public uproar, there would be an outcry and there would be the confrontation we needed to begin the revolution. I had thirty pieces of silver to contribute to the treasury. Think of things we can do with that money, we can finance our revolution, we can buy weapons or food or even a hired thug or two. This was the jump start we needed. Everything was working according to plan.

Thursday evening we celebrated the Passover meal. It was awkward. Jesus made reference to some feelings he had that told him I had acted on my own. I didn’t really deny it, but I thought we were still on the same page. I wonder how he knew? I figured that Jesus knew what I had planned and was playing along.

Later that night he was in the Garden. I went to the Chief Priests and we arrived at the Garden together. As we had discussed, I greeted Jesus with the customary kiss upon the cheek. “Rabbi”, I said to him, “our time is now.” He looked away and the Roman soldiers seized him. The rest of the disciples had been sleeping, they were a little groggy-one drew a sword and cut the ear of a Roman Centurion.

“Put away your swords”, Jesus said. “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” And then he reached out and touched the ear of the Roman Guard. It quit bleeding immediately. Then Jesus turned to the priests and said that he had been among them, teaching with them, in the temple with them, but they come now in the middle of the night to arrest him like a common thief…why is that? Then they led him away.

Some of us followed in the shadows. I was waiting for the right time, I was waiting for Jesus to give the signal. But it never came. Daylight began to fill the courtyard where they brought Jesus for trial.

They kept asking questions and Jesus would not respond. They beat him. They spit on him. All the while the crowd was getting larger and noisier and I began to think the plan might be working after all. Then they offered to release a prisoner and my heart jumped into my throat. This is it, I thought, the crowd is here, the anger is here, Jesus is here-it is all falling into place, Jesus will be released and the revolution will begin.

“Barabbas” the crowd roared, “We want Barabbas!” I couldn’t believe my ears. But then it got worse, much worse.

The crowd turned on Jesus. “Crucify him!” they shouted-“Crucify him!”

I couldn’t get my mind around what was happening. Jesus didn’t do anything, none of the others were around, everything was happening so fast. I ran back to the chief priests and told them they had to stop this, I told them that Jesus was innocent, I returned the 30 pieces of silver, but they said nothing could be done; it was out of their hands.

By now they were leading Jesus out of town on the way to Skull Mountain. What have I done? I kept asking myself, what have I done? I watched until Jesus disappeared from sight. I knew I couldn’t live with the guilt and the shame, I knew I couldn’t live if Jesus died at my hand. What have I done? What have I done? My choice is clear.

Matthew 27:3-5 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Suicide of Judas

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

 

Sermon: March 13, 2016 “Considering Preparedness”

Considering Preparedness

Text: Matthew 25: 1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids[a] took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.[b] Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids[c] got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids[d] came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

One of the things which has always interested me about Jesus is that when he taught in parables, there are always several different ways to approach the parable. The parables are rich with meaning, and often we can find several characters in the story as it unfolds that we can relate to. Generally we can also find characters in the story that we can aspire to become. In the story of the prodigal son, many of us can see ourselves as the wayward son, having made some bad decisions. But we can also understand the power of forgiveness of the father in that story and we can identify the father as someone we would like to become. Another example is the Good Samaritan, we can relate with what it is like to get beat up and be left for dead, whether we think about that as emotionally or physically, many of us have been beaten up by circumstances in life. But we can also see how the Good Samaritan gives us an example of something to strive for, a person to emulate. Of course, with parables, not only do we have the opportunity to see ourselves often in different parts of the story, but we also have the chance to identify God. This is an important aspect of the parable as well-it provides us the opportunity to look for and to find the Divine influence in the story.

These are some of the reasons I find this particular parable, the story of the ten bridesmaids that I read a few minutes ago, a difficult one to work with. I can’t find myself in the story, but worse yet, I can’t find a God that I can relate to.

Let me show you what I mean. We have 10 bridesmaids that are immediately identified as five being wise and five that are foolish; now certainly I can identify with the foolish because not every decision in my life has been the best one, but there is no resolution for the foolish. The five foolish bridesmaids are still left out, they are not allowed into the wedding banquet.

But the wise bridesmaids are not exactly the kind of people I would aspire to be. Look at what happens when the five foolish ones ask the five wise ones for help; they are told no-this is our oil, and if we share with you, we will all run out, so go buy your own.

In like manner, I wouldn’t necessarily aspire to be the groom in this story. When the bridesmaids that were sent away do return, the groom claims he doesn’t know them when they knock on the door. Who does that? The entire idea seems kind of petty and juvenile-you were not here and ready when we went in, so you are out of luck, nah, nah, nah-it reminds me of something you might see take place on a playground somewhere; but not in the teachings of Jesus. It doesn’t seem to fit.

Further observation leads me to wonder where God is in the story. Where is the unconditional love displayed, where is the forgiveness, where is the compassion? So there are a few questions around this parable that I find myself wondering about. What is the point of this story?If the problem actually was not enough oil, there would have been any number of ways to solve this problem. Why not share lamps and combine oil? Why not dispatch just one person to buy oil for the entire group? Why not leave just a lamp or two lit while the waiting takes place, so there is some light, and then have everyone light a lamp when the groom arrives? Like I said, I think there are any number of ways we could solve the problem that is presented, if that is actually the problem…but perhaps the parable is there to teach us something else.

I’m wondering if it is possible that this parable is a departure from what we are used to with Jesus and a departure from what we normally experience. If it is, then we must also encourage a departure from our normal techniques when it comes to interpretation of the parable. Maybe we are not to look for someone that we can identify with, perhaps there isn’t a character that is a hero that we can aspire to be more like. Perhaps there are not multiple layers of meaning and interpretation and multiple roles where we can plug our own experience in and relate to the parable; perhaps this parable is so different, it doesn’t have any of those qualities we have spoken of about other favorite parables.

So that really begs the question; what is this parable about and what are we to think of it?

The obvious answer to these questions can be found in the text itself. In the story we find reference to what is called the “eschaton” or the second coming of Jesus. This second coming is depicted as something as a surprise attack and you had better be ready, because there won’t be any second chances.

Well, it is time for the famous Pastor Chuck disclaimer; these are my thoughts and ideas and they don’t have to be your thoughts. You are welcome to interpret this parable any way you want, but I, for one, reject the notion of a surprise attack and even reject the idea of a second coming of Jesus.

There are many Bible scholars who agree that the references to the eschaton by Matthew is a redaction of what might have been an older and certainly an oral story circulated among followers and perhaps attributed to Jesus. I could spend the rest of my time supporting this case, but I will ask that for now, you just play along and entertain the notion that this parable actually has nothing to do with a second coming of Jesus.

Of course, then the next question is what does it have to do with if not the second coming? This is an interesting thought and can lead us to some interesting conclusions.

My first thought is that this parable may be about how the world actually is rather than what the world could become. In other words, it is a story of how things work, without condemnation, but also without any compassion. It is very matter of fact. A modern day interpretation of this parable may sound something like this; there were ten travelers, five who were wise and five who were foolish. The five that were wise left for the airport early and when they were delayed, they still had time to clear security and boarded the airplane with time to spare. The five who were foolish took too long to get through security and missed their flight. When the five foolish ones called the others on their cell phones and said “hey, wait for us” –the five wise travelers said “no” – then everyone will miss the plane. When the five foolish travelers reached the gate they were told the plane has already taken off and the gate is locked.

In my modern day translation of this parable there really are not any good guys and bad guys, there is simply the way things are. Airplanes are easier to catch before they leave the ground. There isn’t any judgement or condemnation present, but there also isn’t much compassion; if you get stuck in traffic or have other complications, you will miss your flight. I’ve been there and done that.

Of course, this parable has nothing to do with actual airplanes. But it has everything to do with awareness of your world and having the wisdom to bring some extra oil with you in whatever form that happens to take. In my interpretation, extra oil can translate into extra time, but extra oil can mean a lot of different things.

I want to take just another minute and point out what a little extra oil might mean for us.

Over the past year we have seen a few changes come our way and we have talked about even more changes on the horizon. I have spoken often of how people seem to be bailing out of Christianity, how many churches are experiencing membership decline and how the rising group of people who say they are spiritual but not religious will impact our future. I have told you on many occasions that what we have been doing for the last 30 years is no longer sustainable and we may have to find some new ways of being and new ways of doing.

I’m hoping a study of this parable may help you realize that when I say these things, I say them without condemnation and I don’t intend to inflict any guilt or responsibility on the church or any individual. What I’m saying is simply a reflection of what is; what I am saying is that if you arrive at the gate after your departure time, you will miss your flight. It is information about how the world works. It is information about how the world may have changed and it is information about what extra oil looks like as we move forward.

We need to be prepared for the future that has already arrived.

In September of last year I offered a vision for our future that I called the Revitalization of Lewiston First United Methodist Church. Many of you picked up copies of this document and looked at it. Others read it thoroughly and carefully. Then in October of last year we voted at our Charge Conference to pursue some of what is listed in this original document and we have made some significant progress.

I want to offer at this time another document. This one is much shorter. It is a Revitalization Recap and it provides background information about where we are, what we have accomplished so far and what we hope to accomplish as we move forward. You might say this most recent document includes what many of us consider to be extra oil for our journey ahead. This is an outline of how we prepare for how the world is. There isn’t any judgement or condemnation here; there is simply a plan for how to move forward with wisdom and take that extra oil with us and leave for the airport early.

Both documents are available in the lobby as you exit the sanctuary. Go in peace and go with God. Amen.