What If?

Notes from www.billbrucewords.com
Easter Day, April 1 2018
Trinity on Church UC Kitchener

Texts: Acts 10:35-45, Mark 16:1-8

Worship began with a couple of technical glitches this morning.  That should not surprise us – in a new small space, with new technology and new staff.  With the usual festival import-export crowd, I anticipated critics of my performance, and bristled a bit.  After all, worship is participatory, not a spectator sport.

In a meeting in the chapel this week, I had said ‘to hell with meeting members’ needs.’ I thought we were helping God with more than that, ‘mending the world’ with anybody who would cooperate!  Somebody said ‘I wish we had that on tape.’  So today, I repeated the less profane version, then admitted that 15 years ago in this season, a lay leader gave me the following magazine clipping:

When you judge other people,
remember one overriding axiom:
‘Everybody is having a hard time.’

Everybody is insecure.
Everyone is tired –
we all need more sleep.

Everyone wishes she had more courage,
more money
and better social skills.

Everyone wants more glamour in his life,
and we all desperately need more laughter.

Few can figure out
how they ended up living the life they lead.

Don’t be misled by flippant talk;
it’s a battle for everyone….

Give people a break.
It’s not easy doing life.

With that warning to myself, I offered the following homily (that’s a shorter-than-usual sermon):

Mark’s gospel is short, blunt, journalistic, hard, spare.  ‘Just the facts, ma’am’, ‘keep it simple, stupid’, ‘do and act’.  Mark tells us that Jesus taught, but not often what Jesus taught. A number of us spent time in Lent revisiting Mark, with audio CD recordings, online audio and daily notes of 250-400 words.  A few came weekly to my ‘garret’ to talk about the gospel, which ends today:

They said nothing to anyone,
For they were afraid.

These women at the grave in Mark were good.  They were better than the male disciples, the ‘twelve’. Mark tells us that these women stayed by Jesus on the cross to the end, though the men all fled. They knew the right thing, and did it. They got ready to follow through with proper funeral practice, spices to anoint the body. They showed up. He called, they came.

When they got to the tomb, it was open. The big stone was moved. Inside was a young man in a white robe, on the right side.  He was not Jesus. They were alarmed. They knew what to expect, and how to face it and how to endure it, but this was outside their reasonable expectations.  They were prepared to suck it up, do their duty – but not for a missing corpse.

Good news!  He’s not here.  That’s not good news to embalmers.  You do the right thing, go through the right motions, go to the right place, and some guy tells you that the good news is, ‘he’s not here. Sure…  We’ll go tell the disciples that – and what to do now. They’ll listen. Sure…

The risks are huge and real. Breaking habits of being good girls, the Marys are supposed to tell the deserter disciples to go to Galilee, looking for Jesus.  They won’t be heard.  Worse, they may be heard, and silenced, by the same forces that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.  Sure…  

The women ran away. Remember, these were not women prone to running away. They had stayed by the cross, to the end. They had come to the tomb,
prepared to stand in the presence of death again.  You know women like that –
you are women like that. You don’t run away, usually. When these women run away, ‘terror and amazement had seized them’.

This is possession talk, in Mark: of losing control, of being controlled, of seeking control, when terror and amazement seizes us.  This is not rational.  It does no good to say ‘don’t panic’ – we do panic. Where do we go, to whom to we go, when we are seized like that?  When jolted out of your rut, out of the ordinary and familiar, why is that scary?

They said nothing to anyone,
For they were afraid.

Heroic saintly leadership is great, but alienating in the end. If the mighty leaders are superhuman, what’s left for the rest of us to do? John’s version of Jesus and the disciples can be pompous…  I find the twelve in Mark much more ‘relatable’, and even the strong women who are smart enough to be scared seem familiar.

What if Jesus left the whole thing in the hands of these women, even when they were seized with terror, and trusted them to get past it?  What if they did get over it, and it mattered this much? We’re here, thanks to them! What if they didn’t get over it, and it mattered this much, but some who deserted, betrayed, denied him came back?  We’re here, thanks to them!

Thomas Berrigan, the American anti-war Catholic priest, famously wrote:

The opposite of faith is not doubt –
The opposite of faith is fear.

Berrigan also wrote this:

Being a Christian needs redefining in every age; and every age hesitates between two great choices: that of insecurity in the world, and that of a security that merely draws on what has gone before, and remains on solid ground.

The real effort, never really done with, is to discern what Christ is saying to us from the real world…  All else is a mortician’s job, or a child’s game.

Are you scared? Why? How?  What is possessing you? What can you do
about naming risks, taming risks, taking risks?  What disruptions are beyond your control?  It’s one thing to put one foot in front of the other, to do your duty, to suck it up.  It’s another to experience massive change.  

Some of us are possessed by our possessions.  Some are possessed by our vocations.  Some are possessed by addictions.  One way or another, we know about losing control, of being controlled, of seeking control, when terror and amazement seizes us.  Do we know as much about being freed, released, or exorcised from our varieties of bondage?

Nelson Mandela is often cited as the model of a freed human being.  Upon his release from prison, and election as president of South Africa, he often repeated words of Marianne Williamson, for which he gets credit:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves,
‘Who am I to be brilliant, talented, gorgeous?’
Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people may feel better around you.

We were born to make known the glory of God that is within us.
Not just in some of us –it’s in everyone.

And as we let our light shine, 
we unconsciously give other people permission to shine.
As we are liberated from our fear, our presence liberates others.

I suggested that Peter’s wonderful speech in Joppa in Acts 10 may be another example of a famous guy getting credit for something he learned from women, in his case from ‘the Mary’s’, in ours from our mothers, sisters, and daughters.  He says God shows no partiality, and accepts anyone from any nation who reveres God and does what is right.  What does God say when God gets started each morning? ‘Where does my world need mending, and who can help?’

That’s our legacy.  It’s not a cold, empty, dead tomb.  It’s a warm, full and abundant life in the open.  God shows no partiality.  God does not demand we buy the Jesus thing to get to heaven, and send all others to hell.  Reverence for the divine, and doing good in response, is plenty.  

Is it too abrupt to say ‘to hell with meeting the needs of members’?  Is it too much to ask that we up our game, and aim to help God mending the world?  Perhaps I lack empathy for Trinity, losing last Easter’s big cathedral space, magnificent pipe organ technology, and settled beloved pastor of 4 years.

They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The opposite of faith is not doubt – the opposite of faith is fear. 

Whatever possesses us, seizes us with terror? What and who can release us from it? What if the body’s not here – and abundant life beckons?  What word do you have for our hearts, O God, give us ears to hear this Easter. Amen.