Fables and Faithfulness: Jesus' Breakfast on the Beach

Discipleship Lessons During Breakfast on the BeachMessage for Easter 3 on John 21:1-19 on May 5, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

In the early tech era of the 90’s, our favorite computer activity with our kids was playing a Living Book CD based on Aesop’s Fable, "The Tortoise and the Hare." We could click on a picture and the birds would sing, the Hare would run out of his house and brush his teeth, or a frog would play the drums. 

You know the fable; the Tortoise and the Hare engage in a race. The Hare is over-confident in his speed and he gets distracted during the race. He forgets to eat, so he stops to eat breakfast, he takes a nap, and he stops to tell on-lookers how great he is. He becomes so distracted and full of himself that the Tortoise crosses the finish line while the Hare is racing to catch up. At the end, the narrator asks the crowd at the finish line, “What is the moral of the story?” The animal members of the crowd pipe up with suggestions that clearly show they missed the point: “The journey is the reward?” “Don’t act like such a big shot?” “Always eat a good breakfast?” “No, No!” says the narrator, “It’s ‘slow and steady wins the race!’” “Ohhhhhh!” The crowd realizes how they have missed the point.

In our Gospel reading the disciples are learning lessons of their own. Peter and the disciples have received their marching orders from Jesus, but they are not sure they have what it takes to follow in his footsteps. Earlier, the resurrected Lord appeared to them two times, showed them his hands and side, and offered them his peace; Jesus breathed on them the Holy Spirit and sent them out with these words, “As the Father sends me, so I send you. If you forgive the sins any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

There’s the call. The disciples are sent out with a Gospel to proclaim, sins to forgive, peace to offer, and a church to build—the only problem is, they do not believe they can do it. They may know what to do, but they are not sure they have what it takes. Following Peter’s lead, the disciples go fishing.

Ironic, isn’t it? It was not long ago that Jesus called them away from their boats to fish for people. But now, despite the miraculous resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the disciples have returned to their old way of life. After three years with Jesus, they are still not sure they have what it takes, so they return to what’s familiar. Like the Hare in the fable—the disciples are easily distracted from the path that Jesus has set them on, and they hang up a sign that says, “Gone Fishing.”

Sound familiar? In your bulletin, we have a whole list of strategic plans and priorities that the Council has come up with after a full day of prayer and conversation at a retreat. I am sure you could add more ideas as well. We know what to do—in fact there are probably too many directions we can go, with too many opportunities in a growing community like northern Texas.
Like the disciples, the question for us may be, “Do we have what it takes? What is it going to require on my part and, do I have that to give? How do I know if I am ready or even called to participate in any of our congregation’s mission?” Maybe like Peter or Paul, you feel haunted by a past you fear disqualifies you from you serving. How do you move forward? This may be true in our personal life as well. The future is uncertain. Do we have what it takes?

Our temptation in these situations of self-doubt and uncertainty is to join the disciples in going backwards rather pay attention to what new thing God might be doing. You will notice that this did not work for the disciples. They are experts at fishing, and they fished all night and caught nothing! They are totally flunking. Going backward rarely moves us forward. We can learn lessons from our past, but our future is not there.

What lessons do the followers of Jesus need to learn to fulfill our calling and move forward? The answers just may be found in that old Living Book of "The Tortoise and the Hare"—not only the main moral of the story, but even the ones we thought missed the point.

Lesson #1: Jesus gets the disciples back on the right path by appearing on the beach that morning. He invites them to cast their net on the right side of the boat, and they caught 153 fish!
It’s an odd number—153. This is the only place it appears in the Bible, so why 153? One hundred fifty-three is the known number of species of fish during the first century! Jesus did call them to fish for people, so this shows that the good news of Jesus is to be proclaimed to all “species” of people, to the ends of the earth. Everybody’s in! The net won’t break because God can hold us all!  Every language, race, ethnicity, orientation, gender is in! Our job is not to judge, so enjoy the journey—The journey is the reward! Being part of God’s great plan to love and redeem the world is blessing enough! What does it take to move forward in mission? Share God’s forgiveness and embrace with everyone for The journey is the reward!

Lesson #2: The funniest part of the story comes next—Peter is fishing naked, and when he sees Jesus, he puts on his clothes to jump in the lake and swim ashore. We usually work while clothed and strip down to jump in the lake, but in the first century the one who saw someone naked was dishonored; Peter is honoring Jesus by putting on his clothes, but it all seems backward to us! The point is that Peter is naked. We see Peter in all his vulnerability. He denied Jesus three times, he fears his past disqualifies him, and that he does not have what it takes, and so he went back to fishing. But, Jesus sees right through Peter—he can put his clothes back on, but none of us can hide ourselves from God. Jesus sees us and knows us in all of our failings, fears and going backward. So, stop trying to hide. Don’t act like such a big shot.

You are not so bad God cannot love you and you are not so good you do not need Jesus! Peter gets to Jesus as fast as he can—he got this part right! Come to God in prayer, talk with Jesus throughout your day—rant and rave if you need to, cry if you feel it, dance when you’re moved—just do not run the other way, because he already knows all of who you are. What does it take to move forward in mission? Don’t act like such a big shot—get to Jesus as fast as you can, and take it all to the Lord in prayer.

Lesson #3: In the midst of this complete, stark-naked-knowing, Jesus invites Peter and the disciples to join him for breakfast on the beach. Jesus feeds them, body and soul with the physical food and the spiritual relationship they need to run with perseverance the race he has set before them—to carry the good news of God’s love throughout the world. Always eat a good breakfast. We can’t survive on this journey of faith, this mission of good news without proper nourishment. We need to be fed and loved at this table, where Jesus appears to us in the Lord’s Supper—our breakfast on the beach—to be loved, forgiven and strengthened for the day, especially when we don’t know what is coming next. And feed yourself physically as well with good nutrition, exercise and proper rest. We cannot carry out the mission of peace and love when we do violence to ourselves by neglecting self-care! This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn. What does it take to move forward in mission? Always eat a good breakfast, spiritually and physically.

Lesson #4: Finally, Jesus re-establishes a relationship with Peter and all the disciples based not on their good behavior, not on getting everything right, but rather, based on love. Peter’s three-fold denial is redeemed when he affirms that he loves Jesus three times—which he can do only because Jesus has already loved, nourished, and forgiven him. It is not just about how much Jesus loves us, it is about how much we love Jesus! Slow and steady wins the race. Take time to experience Jesus’ love and let Jesus know you love him! Three times! You do not have to rush to prove yourself. We do not have to rush to complete every goal this summer. Our mission is about love; it is about being as much as doing. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep” because we spend time loving Jesus first. What does it take to move forward in mission? Take time to experience Jesus’ love and let Jesus know you love him because Slow and steady wins the race.

God loves you, St. Luke’s, and every one of you as an important and valuable part of God’s mission in this world. The repetition of these faith practices will serve us well as we use them to discern how we participate in God’s unfolding mission here, and how we manage uncertainty in our personal lives. We all have what it takes as we make the next right step forward trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ whom we follow.

Remember that you are part of the 153 species that God loves, so, the journey is the reward! God knows you fully and completely, so bring it all to Jesus in prayer and don’t act like such a big shot! Nourish yourself spiritually and physically and always eat a good breakfast! And remember that our mission is all about love—taking time to experience how much God loves you, and how much you love God, how much God loves the world, and how Jesus equips us in love with what it takes to share this message, so slow and steady wins the race!

Image: Art by Peter Koenig

 

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The Road to Emmaus: The Walk of Worry and Revelation

The Road to Emmaus The Walk of Worry and RevelationMessage for Easter 2 on Luke 24:13-35, April 28, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

During Lent, we asked the question, “What keeps you up at night and why does this worry you?” A couple of you responded that you don’t worry—Jesus is with you and you sleep soundly. That is a wonderful gift and one I pray all of us might have. Others of us, myself included, are not always sounds sleepers.

• Some are up at night worrying about finances and if they will have enough to pay the bills
• Some of us are worried about our children
• Others are concerned about our adult children—about their faith, about not participating in a church, and praying they would become active in the faith in which they were raised.
• Some are worried about our health or a family member’s health
• A few of us have anxiety about getting everything done and being prepared for work
• Still others carry the burden of the violence and hatred in the world
• Some among us are worried about the security of their housing, about loneliness and staying connected to others
• A few are even worried about their faith—that they don’t understand the whole picture or that they shouldn’t question it.

Do any of these worry you?

The disciples were filled with their own worries as they traveled along the Emmaus road—they were filled with anxiety, and disappointment about the future. A stranger joined them on the road and they repeated the recent events—the crucifixion, the empty tomb, the testimony of the women about the angel visitation saying that Jesus had risen. But these two were not buying any of that because disappointment and anxiety hung around them. “We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.”

That’s one of the most melancholy statements in Scripture—"we had hoped he would be the one…We had hoped….” We know how that feels, don’t we?  We had hoped our finances worked out differently. We had hoped our health was better.  We had hoped our kids would go to church. We had hoped there would be no more war by now. We had hoped we would stop wondering about our faith by this age.

It’s funny how worry and anxiety and disappointment can blind us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes. When the mind doesn’t believe something possible, it is hard for the senses to receive the information. Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus were so anxious, and so certain that Jesus was still dead, that the risen Lord appeared to them, walked along beside them, taught them all about the Hebrew scriptures and how Jesus was the fulfillment of that—and they still did not see him. The light of the world was right beside them, but to their eyes, the risen Lord just looked like a fellow traveler on the way to Emmaus.

But Jesus met the disciples where they were at—walking away from Jerusalem, not believing the testimony of the empty tomb, and full of disappointment and anxiety. That’s exactly where Jesus shows up in our lives, too. It is so easy to believe that fears, worries, doubts, anxieties separate us from God, drive God away from us, disappoint Jesus and mean that we are somehow outside the family of God and circle of faith—but that is precisely where Jesus meets us, walks with us, engages us, loves us.

And Jesus is not looking for an instant transformation—do you see in this story that building a relationship with Jesus is a process—a journey?! First, Jesus engages in conversation, and he listens to their worries. Second, Jesus teaches them and helps them to understand the whole Biblical story; in this resurrection story, bible study matters! Third, Jesus spent enough time with them for Cleopas and his friend to start letting go of their anxiety and start having a new experience—their hearts burned with them. Their hearts burned with a deep knowing, peace, and an experience of God’s love in that moment, in the story of Scripture, on that journey with the “stranger.”

While they were on the road, their melancholy and disappointment, anxiety and worry began to dissipate as they were reminded of God’s power—and they still didn’t know it was Jesus who was with them! With their anxiety and worry reduced, it was the disciples who made the next move. It was getting late—time to stop and eat. Their new friend was going to be on his way, but out of gratitude for his companionship and teaching, Cleopas and the other disciple offered Jesus hospitality—"stay with us and eat,” they invited. 

I wonder what would have happened had the disciples not offered Jesus this hospitality, first? It reminds us of the passage from Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels unawares” or Jesus, in this case! Without knowing it, they set the stage—or the table if you will—for Jesus to reveal himself to them.

Finally, that is what Jesus does. As he broke the bread, Cleopas and his friend finally recognized Jesus and, like their romp through Scripture earlier that day, they looked back on their time with this stranger and suddenly it all made sense—the teachings, their burning heart, their release from worry and anxiety. Their response was to stop walking away from Jerusalem and the other disciples, and turn around, and head right back.

Like these disciples on the road to Emmaus, the risen Lord meets us in our anxiety, melancholy or worry—and he journeys with us, building a relationship over time. As the old hymn says, “he walks with us and he talks, and he tells us we are his own.” He stays with us so that our hearts burn with peace, until we can experience the love of his presence, until we can open our heart and arms to him, until we see him at the table, and recognize him in our midst.

So, bring your questions, bring your doubts, bring your anxieties, and fears, and worries. For Jesus meets us at this table. Even though we have set it and invited him, Jesus is the host and we are his guests. Jesus meets us where we are in our journey, embracing all of who we are and covering us in the love and peace and presence of God who is victorious even over death itself. Let Jesus nourish you, hold you, and carry away worries, so that you might rest peacefully.

A friend of mine had a plaque in her kitchen that said, “Before you go to bed at night, give your worries to God, he’ll be up all night anyway!” Rev. Ralph Abernathy during the Civil rights movement once said, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future.” Lay your worries at the altar, for the Risen One who reveals himself in the breaking of the bread, holds the night, and our future secure.

Image by George Rouault, 1871-1958

 

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Seven Last Words with Reflective Texts

Seven Last WordsGood Friday Seven Last Words Service with Reflective Texts

I know this is out of order since we are in the Season of Easter but I wanted to post this in case you were interested in the poetry and essays we paired with the seven last words!

The First Word: Father Forgive them for they know not what they do

Luke 23:26-28, 32-34
And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people, and of women who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

A reading from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If you’ve ever really forgiven somebody, forgiven some real wrong, all forgiveness is suffering. If you say I forgave and I didn’t suffer, it wasn’t really that serious a wrong. But if you have ever really, truly been wronged, and you have forgiven it, then you have suffered. Because all forgiveness is a form of suffering. If someone has wronged you deeply, there is an indelible sense of debt, an injustice, a feeling you can’t just shrug off. And once you sense this deep injustice, this debt, there are only two things you can do. One is you can make the perpetrator pay—you can find ways to make the perpetrator suffer and pay down the debt, or Two you can forgive.

Prayer: As you forgave those who harmed you, and those who silently watched, help us to suffer forgiveness for one another. Join our heart to yours, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Extinguish the 1st Candle

The Second Word: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Luke 23:35-43

And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Lignum Vitae, a poem by Bernard Fyles

What wood is this?

Olive or oak, cedar or pine?
Unsuited for the cabinet makers’ art
Unfit for turning, inlay, elegance,
too warped for any honest use,
door frame or ladder or carrier’s cart.

What wood is this?

Sold cheap to minimize the grower’s loss.
Too many knots, too twisted,
no good except for firewood or a cross.

What wood is this?

Rough joints, rope lashings,
hold it together for the task ahead,
and the carpenter’s hands
that might have shaped it
as they shaped the world
are made to drag it through the streets instead.

What wood is this?
It is the wood of death,
the wood of life.

Prayer: As you offered words of promise to the criminal, may we also hear you offer words of promise to us. Join our heart to yours, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Extinguish the 2nd Candle

Third Word: Woman, behold your son! Behold your mother!

John 19:25b-27
But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag′dalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

A Reading from, Clare of Assisi: A Heart Full of Love by Sister Ilia Delio

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! I wonder how many of us look on the cross as the “mirror of eternity”—a reflection of eternity in the crucified Christ. We rarely think of eternity hanging on a cross unless of course we understand that eternity is God, God is love and God’s love is expressed in the crucified Christ. God is revealed as all-embracing, out-pouring love in the figure of the crucified Christ [in whom] we see a reflection of the eternal God who is the fullness of love. Gazing on the crucified Christ as a way of encountering God can be difficult because we are not attracted to crucified bodies or suffering humanity. To gaze on the crucified Christ is an embrace of the heart—a desire to allow the otherness of God’s love into our lives. It is difficult to see another person’s suffering, if we have not come to terms with our own suffering which opens us to receive the blessing and presence of God.

Prayer: As you helped Mary, your mother and John, your friend, remain in the embrace of your heart, help us to experience your love in suffering. Join our heart to yours, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Extinguishing the 3rd Candle

The Fourth Word: My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Mark 15:33-35
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land[a] until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “E′lo-i, E′lo-i, la′ma sabach-tha′ni?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Eli′jah.”

Lead, a poem by Mary Oliver

Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing.,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.

Prayer: As you cried out to God in anguish, help us to cry out to you, trusting you hear, and understand. Join our heart to yours, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Extinguishing the 4th Candle

The Fifth Word: I thirst

John 19:28-29
After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), “I thirst.” A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth.

A reading from, Mother Theresa’s Devotion to the Thirst of Jesus by Edward Sri

In the chapel of the Missionaries of Charity—the order founded by Mother Theresa, there’s a crucifix with the words, “I THIRST” painted in bold black letters next to it. Mother Theresa said these words, “I thirst,” were a constant reminder of the purpose of the Missionaries of Charity. "We have these words in every chapel of the Missionaries of Charity to remind us what Missionaries of Charity are here for: to quench the thirst of Jesus for souls, for love, for kindness, for compassion, for delicate love."

Ever since her call to serve the poorest of the poor in 1946, Mother Teresa insisted that the Missionaries of Charity were founded "to satiate the thirst of Jesus," and she included this statement in the founding Rules for the new religious order: "The General End of the Missionaries of Charity is to satiate the thirst of Jesus Christ on the Cross for Love and Souls."
Mother Theresa says, “Why does Jesus say ‘I Thirst’? What does it mean? 'I Thirst' is something much deeper than just Jesus saying 'I love you.' Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you — you can't begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for Him.”

What specifically is Jesus thirsting for in us? He longs for our love — our attention, our ardent devotion, the total entrusting of our lives to Him. At this most difficult time He proclaimed, 'I thirst.' And people thought He was thirsty in an ordinary way and they gave Him vinegar straight away; but it was not for that thirst; it was for our love, our affection, that intimate attachment to Him, and that sharing of His passion. He used, 'I thirst,' instead of 'Give Me your love'. . . 'I thirst.' Let us hear Him saying it to me and saying it to you.”

Prayer: As you thirst for our love, our attention, our ardent devotion, help us to quench your thirst with our lives, with our total trust, with our intimate attachment to you. Join our heart to yours, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Extinguishing the 5th Candle

The Sixth Word: It is finished

John 19:30
When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

A poem by Frederick William Faber, 1849

O come and mourn with me awhile;
O come ye to the Savior's side;
O come, together let us mourn;
Jesus, our Love, is crucified.

Have we no tears to shed for him,
while soldiers scoff and foes deride?
Ah! look how patiently he hangs;
Jesus, our Love, is crucified.

How fast his hands and feet are nailed;
his blessed tongue with thirst is tied,
his failing eyes are blind with blood:
Jesus, our Love, is crucified.

His mother cannot reach his face;
she stands in helplessness beside;
her heart is martyred with her Son's:
Jesus, our Love, is Crucified.

Seven times seven he spoke, seven words of love;
and all three hours his silence cried
for mercy on the souls of men;
Jesus, our Love, is crucified.

O break, O break, hard heart of mine!
Thy weak self-love and guilty pride
his Pilate and his Judas were:
Jesus, our Love, is crucified.

A broken heart, a fount of tears,
ask, and they will not be denied;
a broken heart love's cradle is:
Jesus, our Love, is crucified.

O love of God! O sin of man!
In this dread act your strength is tried;
and victory remains with love;
for he, our Love, is crucified.

Prayer: As you finished the demands of holy love--a body broken, a soul crucified—help us to find our wholeness in you. Join our heart to yours, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Extinguishing the 6th Candle

The Seventh Word: Father into thy hands I commend my spirit!

Luke 23:44-46
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Prayer: As you enter the realm of death, may we trust that you usher into the realm of life. Join our heart to yours, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Extinguishing the 7th Candle

Closing Prayer: Lord, Open Unto Me, A Prayer by Howard Thurman

Open unto me — light for my darkness.
Open unto me — courage for my fear.
Open unto me — hope for my despair.
Open unto me — peace for my turmoil.
Open unto me — joy for my sorrow.
Open unto me — strength for my weakness.
Open unto me — wisdom for my confusion.
Open unto me — forgiveness for my sins.
Open unto me — love for my hates.
Open unto me — thy Self for myself.
Lord, Lord, open unto me! Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

 

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Easter Sermon

Easter SermonA sermon preached for the Resurrection of our Lord on April 21, 2019 on Luke 24:1-12 and Acts 10:34-43 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women leave as the barely lights the eastern sky. Jesus was buried on Friday just before the Sabbath began, so there was no time to properly bathe and anoint his body for burial. As soon as it was light, they set off to do women’s work—to wash, and bathe and bless Jesus body and as they would do so, to grieve, to remember, tell stories. As they would bind his body, they would begin to bind their hearts, and each other’s to deal with this tragedy and loss.

But as they arrive at the tomb, there is no work for them to do. The stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty; they are expecting the stench of death, and all they smell is the dawn of a new day, and the mineral of an empty rock. Two angels dazzle them and ask them the oddest question, “why do you seek the living among the dead?” Of course, they were not looking for the living among the dead—they were the living looking for the dead. But, it’s wonderful isn’t it? That angels reinterpret their intention, as if to say that any of us who are looking for Jesus are not seeking an old dead faith but are really searching for the living risen Christ among us.

“He is not here,” they say. “He has risen. Remember how he told you that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and to be crucified and on the third day rise again.”

Remember what Jesus said. Remember what Jesus did. Remember your time with Jesus. Remember. Trust today because you remember what Jesus did for you yesterday, and last week, and last year. The whole Bible is written really to help us remember what God has done before, so we can love and seek and pray to Jesus today.

Even though they are terrified, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women begin to remember what Jesus said, and it all starts to make sense—Jesus had talked about dying and rising again! Jesus’ body is gone, dazzling men are here—it’s all happening just as Jesus said!
They returned from the empty tomb and the angel visitation excited to tell the incredible news that all was not lost! They will help the rest of the disciples remember what Jesus said—and proclaim it has come true! The resurrection is now!

But the disciples and all the other followers of Jesus do not remember, and they do not believe the women’s testimony. Don’t you find it interesting that the women, who are terrified, believe the angel visitors, but the disciples do not believe the women? (I’ll let you think about that for a minute).

Their words seemed to the disciples an idle tale. But “idle tale” is not the best translation for that word. “Idle tale” makes it sound like the women were gossiping, but the original Greek word is much harsher than that. The disciples thought the women were “delirious,” or spouting “garbage.” It’s very dismissive.

Perhaps you have had this experience at one time or another in your life—of being dismissed, like you’re crazy, treated as if you are disposable and unimportant. It must have been an awful feeling for Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women—to have this amazing, transcendent, spiritual experience, this realization of Jesus’ resurrection after death, remembering everything he had said, and this cosmic convergence of the real meaning of his ministry, this moment of everything falling into place and making sense.

And then to share it with their closest friends—their tightest community—only to be treated like garbage.

It’s heart-breaking in our day and age, when we still hear about people being treated this way. About a month ago, a man stopped by the church wanting to talk with the pastor and looking for help. He had a real family crisis on his hands and I gave him some referrals, what help I could, including a few Hunger Helper lunches, I prayed with him, and then I told him, “you can’t deal with this alone, so I would love for you to come to worship so you can be a part of a Christian community.” He started to tear up and was surprised I invited him to church. He told me when he asked to talk to the pastor at another church, he was told to leave or they would call police— he was treated like he was crazy, or a criminal for being in need.

In my first congregation, there was a mother and son who came to worship from the neighborhood. Ella was limited intellectually, and her son, Alex had down syndrome. They just loved walking to church and being part of the community. After a time, they joined the choir. Sadly, some of the choir members started to complain because they thought Ella and Alex would ruin their anthems. They didn’t ruin anything, but none-the-less, they were viewed as disposable. God bless the choir director, MaryAnn, who would have none of that, and included Alex and Ella in the choir.

Peter preaches to this very point in our Acts reading as he comes to truly understand that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.” No one is disposable. No one is garbage. It’s 2,000 years later and the entire Christian world is still working at living out the radical inclusion that Jesus embodied in his life, that his risen Spirit empowers in his resurrection, and that was preached in the earliest days of the church.

God calls us to live this Easter reality today, becoming a community that shows no partiality. There are still many people our society and the church treats as disposable, who need to experience a God who loves them and a community who welcomes them. If you have ever been dismissed or mistreated, you know how important it is to carry out the mission of sharing the unequivocal love of God in a radically inclusive community.

Who is it in your neighborhood, school, workplace, on your commute, or where you shop that society dismisses as unimportant? God calls us to embrace the discomfort of welcoming and listening to those at the margins. God calls us to give these sisters and brothers time, space and community in which to rise with Christ into the fullness of who God made them to be. In the first century, it started with listening to the testimony, wisdom, and experience of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women. Peter finally decided to check out the empty tomb himself, and the others eventually believed the women. Thank goodness Peter and the other disciples started to listen to the women, or the good news might not have made it all the way to us today!

In fact, building an Easter community that shows no partiality is what it means to be named St. Luke’s. Remember that Luke, more than the other evangelist, shows us the Jesus who was always reaching out to those at the margins—the sinners, the cheats, untouchables, the sick, the demon-possessed, the blind, and the poor—those society dismissed as delirious, outcast, and social garbage.

Of course, a resurrection community in Jesus’ name, called St. Luke’s would include every last one of God’s great diversity people—no matter who they are—amazingly, including YOU! Believing that Jesus died and rose for YOU—no matter what—is the first act of faith that enables you to welcome others, expanding our diversity and making a radically inclusive Easter community a reality. 

There’s a dazzling table set by our risen Lord and your name is written a piece of bread and a cup of forgiveness. You are included, you are valued, you are loved, you are matter to God and to this community. Receive the grace of the risen Jesus for you and remember to go from here to seek out those at the margins. Show no partiality and participate with Jesus in living the Easter community. All are welcome! Alleluia!

 Image: Empty Tomb by renowned Christian artist, He Qi

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Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.

 

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