Sermon April 5, 2015
“Is That Your Final Answer?”
Some of you may remember the show Who Wants to be a Millionaire with host Regis Philbin. Contestants are asked multiple-choice questions that go from easy to very difficult. They are allowed lifelines to help when things get difficult. They can ask the audience, phone a friend for help, or get half of the choices removed so they are choosing between two and not four answers. Regis would ask the question, contestants would talk it through out loud and then answer. Regis would always follow with “Is that your final answer?” That isn’t so bad when the question was worth $100, but when it reached the $500,000 mark and the person risked losing everything if they were wrong, it was stressful for those of us watching at home. “Is that your final answer?” I feel the stress even now.
I have always found Mark’s telling of the resurrection compelling. He ends in the middle of a sentence. A literal translation of the Greek would read, “To no one anything they said; afraid they were for…” It feels as if Mark got distracted and just never got around to finishing his sentence. The resurrection is so difficult to understand that I appreciate Mark not making it neat and tidy for us. We are left with more questions than answers. If you are the type that prefers closure to this kind of open-ended account, you may want to try another gospel. Mark ends with frightened women fleeing the tomb in silence and preacher Tom Long complains, “That’s no way to run a resurrection.” (Christian Century, 2006)
I disagree. The resurrection is a miracle that doesn’t fit into a paragraph, a box, or apparently, into a tomb. Let’s be with it as complicated as it is rather than seeking an easy answer to this miracle that defies human understanding. Astonishment, trembling, fear and silence aren’t inappropriate for Easter. As one commentator said, “Easter is no time to be glib and chatty about the empty tomb and risen Lord.” (Preaching Through the Christian Year, p. 225)
We are left with awe at what God has done. Sometimes there are no words. This isn’t a story about us. It is about God who is not willing to be contained in human definitions and understandings. It calls us to shift our attention from our human centric world to God’s amazing power to bring life where there is no life. Only God can breathe life into dry bones and make them live. Only God can call Jesus forth from the tomb to walk among us and set us free. Only God can bring hope to the places where humans have given up. It invites us to place our hope in a God that calls forth a staggering belief in what can’t be done nor even conceived by us.
I try to imagine the women making their way to the tomb and I wonder what they were feeling. We talk about their incredible grief. But do you think that perhaps they came with some relief? This One whom they loved and followed got into the most difficult situations and created tension and stress wherever he went. It wasn’t all sweetness and light. Following him was often terrifying and very risky. Perhaps they came to the tomb thinking all that was behind them only to discover that he had risen. Oh no, here we go again!
It is easy to look at the women and say that they blew it! They really should have told people. They had this amazing message and they were too scared to share it. But what if they did exactly what they needed to do because there is another ending that waits to be lived out in us?
Today, we hear the words, “He has been raised; he is not here.” We come bringing all the times we have denied, betrayed or failed Christ and one another. We come confused about our past, bewildered by our present, and scared about our future. Christ walks among us and offers us a new beginning. We are human. Our fears and our failures do not define us. They are redeemed when the risen one reminds us that they are NOT our final answer.
In the summer of 1961, a shopping center came to Thornton, Louisiana. Sidda had just finished second grade. To celebrate this grand opening, Lawanda the Magnificent, a huge elephant came to offer free rides to any kid in the area. The whole community came for this occasion and everyone took turns riding the elephant. Sidda knew this was coming. She had dreamed of this day for weeks. When the day finally came, she was beside herself. Lawanda was the most amazing animal Sidda had ever seen. When it was her turn, she climbed up onto the platform and she froze in fear. The adults tried to coax her onto the elephant, but she couldn’t do it. She climbed down in humiliation.
On the way home, she realized that she had made the gravest mistake of her seven-year-old life. She burst into tears and claimed she didn’t feel good. She cried all the way home and finally confessed to her mother, “I will die if I don’t get to ride Lawanda.” Her mother’s response was, “Okay, time to implement plan 27-B.” When they got back to the parking lot everyone was gone and they were feeding and hosing Lawanda down. Her mother asked sweetly if they would possibly consider one more ride for her daughter, but the man refused. At that point, she went through a herculean effort to get some cash so Sidda could ride Lawanda. She would not be deterred…after all; this was a matter of life or death. She made a deal with Lawanda’s owner and they climbed on together. Her mother helped her imagine that they were in the jungle and the jungle came alive around them. Reflecting on the ride years later, Sidda said, “All we had done was circle that puny shopping-center parking lot, but when that ride was over I was a different little girl.” (from Divine Secrets of the Yaya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, Chapter 29)
God can take the worst the world has to offer and turn it into wonder and beauty. Death can’t dim God’s glory. The last word belongs to God. No matter how we have hidden in fear, stopped short of our own goodness, or failed to see Christ in one another, God goes ahead of us to give us a new beginning.
Mark wrote this gospel to stir people to action. He believed that there was no time to wallow in our failures and disappointments. It was his hope that people would carry the message of hope and resurrection to a world that desperately needed it…and still does. The resurrection becomes real to people as they see the risen Christ in us.
Clarence Jordan was a farmer and New Testament scholar who lived in Georgia and founded Koinonia Farms. Clarence was instrumental in the creation of Habitat for Humanity. He took Jesus words seriously and often found himself in trouble for that, but he was clear about what it meant to follow Jesus. He said, “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.”
People aren’t convinced that the resurrection happened because they see the tomb is empty. They are convinced when they see his followers (that would be us) living in a way that reflects the power of a God for whom death is not the last word. When we live passionately with hope and confidence, the risen Christ is reflected in and through us. God has done the heavy lifting with the resurrection. Now it is up to us to live in a way that reveals God’s power and love.
Mark ends the story of the resurrection with silence. The next part of the story is ours to write. Now we face the million-dollar question. Christ is risen…what will we do with this news?
Is that your final answer???