Sunday, April 4, 2010

The women who told an 'idle tale' on that first Easter: Alleluia Christ is Risen!

This is my sermon for Easter Sunday, based on Isaiah 65:17-25, Acts 10:34-43 and Luke 24:1-12.

Alleluia Christ is Risen!

This morning, I want to welcome you to a way of life. For some, this might be a way of life you already know. For others, this might be a new way of life.

This way of life requires holding values that are sometimes foreign in our world, values like kindness and forgiveness, or courage and tolerance that goes beyond merely tolerating.

This way of life involves welcoming the stranger because once we were strangers in a foreign land.

The tools for this way of life are patience and listening to each other, and especially going out of our way to hear the still quiet voice that comes through prayer and reflection. And I can tell you that is sometimes in short supply with me.

This way of life involves feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and poor, and sometimes, sticking your neck out – to “be bold.”

This way of life will change you if you let it.

The way of life I speak of is a life of faith.

This life of faith is based on things hoped for and not seen, and comes by hearing with all our heart and all our mind for the living God who is right here among us, who loves us with no strings attached; who loves us especially when we feel we have little or no faith at all.

This life of faith is about God who has faith in us.

The life of faith is, first and last, about living into the promise of Easter.

It is about becoming the Easter people we are created to be.

It starts with a story, a story that those who first heard it thought “an idle tale” for it sounds preposterous, unbelievable, impossible, over-the-top.

Maybe the story is so familiar to you that the details have become lost, or reduced to the size of a greeting card. So hear it again:

The story is about a peasant Jew named Yehosua, or Joshua – or “Jesus” as we have rendered his name into our Anglo-Saxon Germanic language.

Call him Joshua, or call him Jesus, he was born to a young unmarried peasant girl, Mariam, or Mary; he grew up, and he roamed the countryside, captivating thousands of people with everything he did by welcoming everyone he met – rich, poor, male, female, saint and sinner alike.

Those who followed him saw in him a new way of life coming into being, an order not based on brute power but based on love and healing, prayer and forgiveness, and justice – yes, social justice – for the downtrodden and destitute.

And then everything went terribly wrong.

The Romans arrested Jesus because he posed a threat to their settled order of things. He was flogged and put to death on a cross. His followers fled, afraid for their lives, afraid the Romans would get them next.

Then something amazing happened to these people long ago and it changed their lives – and our lives – forever.

The first to see the Risen Jesus were the women who had been with him. The Gospel of Luke tells us what happened next:
“It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”
So it was that on the first Easter morning, the ugliness of death was swept away. The story of Jesus was not over, this new way of life was now in the open for all to see.

Jesus had gone to the Cross not to satisfy a bloodthirsty God, but to descend with us into the worst moments of life and death a human could suffer. And he did it to show us the way out, to show us how to live without fear and bring us to hope and wholeness.

Those who first saw the Risen Christ in the days we now call Easter, began to understand the real meaning of his life. They continued to write the story in the way they lived afterwards.
This story is also our story. We continue to write this story by how we live our lives.

This way of life is not just about the afterlife that we cannot yet see. This is also about how we live right now, here, today and tomorrow. Salvation does not wait until the next life but comes to us right now.

The life of faith is about living into that reality.

In the biblical tradition, faith is seen as a gift, not an achievement. But the biblical tradition also presents faith paradoxically; people go to great efforts to find the gift of faith, and sometimes the gift of faith is right beneath our nose, and we don’t see it.

Sometimes it is people around us who give us faith, who have faith for us when our faith fails.
And that brings me to the touchy subject of organized religion.

Why would anyone want to do any of this alone? The deepest questions of life, death, God, salvation, heaven and hell, are so large, so universal, so infinite none of us are capable by ourselves of finding fully meaningful answers.

This Easter season, I would invite you to join a community of faith if you don’t have one. If you live here in Charlottesville, and if any of this speaks to you, join us here at St. Paul’s. If you have been away from this church for a while, come back.

Join us – join me – and let’s explore this journey of faith together in this loving caring community.

And then we have work to do, people feed, the sick to comfort, children to rear, and a hurting world that needs every single one of us.

This way of life will change you if you let it. This way of life will change everything in this world.

This way of life begins today.

Alleluia Christ is Risen!

Art by He Qi

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