Sermon March 27, 2016
“Sharpening Our Wits”
We gather here on this Sunday each year to acknowledge the greatest moment in the Christian story. But sometimes I wonder if it we are up to the task. Even the first followers couldn’t assimilate the news. Luke tells us that the women went to the tomb and were blown away by the news that Jesus had risen. When they return to tell the men, the men don’t believe them. Peter runs to the tomb to see for himself and he was amazed at what happened. The ones who walked with Jesus weren’t prepared for the news that he had risen even though he had warned them it would happen. How do we prepare for such overwhelming news today?
Tom Long tells of a friend’s son who was a big fan of both Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers. “The boy faithfully watched both of their television shows, and one day it was announced that Mister Rogers would be paying a visit to the Captain Kangaroo show. The boy was ecstatic. Both of his heroes, together on the same show! Every morning the boy would ask, ‘Is it today that Mister Rogers will be on Captain Kangaroo?’ Finally the great day arrived, and the whole family gathered around the television. There they were, Mister Rogers and Captain Kangaroo together. The boy watched for a minute, but then, surprisingly, got up and wandered from the room.
Puzzled, his father followed him and asked, ‘What is it son? Is anything wrong?’
‘It’s too good,’ the boy replied. ‘It’s just too good.’”
(Christian Century, April 4, 2001 p. 11)
Have you ever felt that? You anticipated something for so long and had such excitement about it. When it finally came around, it was too good to take it all in at once. Perhaps that is what is happening here. Jesus isn’t in the tomb. Yes, they knew this was coming or at least they had been told it was coming, but how do they wrap their heads around an empty tomb?
Luke tells us that two men in dazzling clothes said to the women, “Remember how he told you…?” Jesus had warned them this would happen. Somehow that is what they needed to hear… “Remember…” All cylinders are clicking into gear now. They run back to tell the others, but no one believes them.
The word remember is used many times in the Bible. It does not refer to passive waiting, but it is a call to active engagement. In the scripture this morning, the word remember changes everything. The women go from being grief-stricken and paralyzed to spreading the news of the resurrection. If the men in dazzling clothes had not jogged their memory, they might still be standing at the tomb immobilized.
So what do we do with this story today? We begin by remembering. If we have heard the story before, we are practicing resurrection by walking around in this strange series of events once again. Then we sharpen our wits so that we are prepared to spread the resurrection throughout the world. Eden Phillpotts said, “The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.” Sharpening our wits is a call to action. It is a call to tune in to signs of God doing the impossible in our midst. How do we know the resurrection is real? We know because despite the horror we see and hear on the news every day, there is something greater still. We need the resurrection. The world needs the resurrection. Editors at The Christian Century asked some of their bloggers the question, “Why do you need the resurrection?” That is a great question for each of us this morning.
Here is how I begin to answer that question:
I need the resurrection because the terrorist attacks in Belgium this week leave me feeling helpless.
I need the resurrection because people came by the church this week needing help that I couldn’t give them.
I need the resurrection because I left Project Share wondering where everyone would sleep that night.
I need the resurrection because I am distressed at the lack of civility in politics and I cannot figure out how to mend the chasm that exists between the two sides of the political spectrum.
I need the resurrection because I look at these beautiful children each Sunday and I want to give them hope and love that cannot be defeated.
The resurrection helps us sharpen our wits and reminds us that with God nothing is impossible. The resurrection is responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall. In Leipzig, East Germany, the Kikolai Protestant Church began prayer meetings on Monday evenings with the belief that resurrection means that “all things are possible.” The people felt God’s presence and the number of prayers soon swelled to over 200,000 people, ninety percent of whom were non-Christians but were drawn by the energy of the prayers. One Monday evening, the pray-ers poured out from the meeting to protest in the streets. Called Wir sind das Volk (We are the People), the group created the movement that toppled the Berlin Wall. (The Christian Science Monitor, 17 August 1994, p. 19)
The resurrection shows us there is a way to heal the deepest wounds in our world. It shows us that violence and destruction will never have the last word. The resurrection reminds us that God has conquered death. It shows us that our own dead ends are not the end of the story. We have the chance for new life even when it seems no life is possible.
The difficulty in the resurrection is that no one actually saw Jesus rise from the dead. There are no eyewitness accounts. We are left with an empty tomb and some clothes lying around. Clothes lying around doesn’t mean Jesus is raised. It could just mean there are teenagers around! One facebook post showed people standing around an empty tomb. One says, “He’s not in there!” He checks his iPad and then says, “Oh wait, he’s changed his status to risen.”
An empty tomb does not prove the resurrection. The resurrection is proven in the changed lives of people. No pressure, but we are proof that the resurrection is real. Remember that before Jesus’ resurrection, his followers were pretty fearful and they were always messing up, but after the resurrection, they were courageous. They boldly spread the gospel everywhere they went. They healed people. In the coming weeks, we will hear stories of these bold followers. We will get a glimpse of resurrection each week in the lives of people who give themselves wholeheartedly to living their faith.
The witness of Malala Yousafzai stuns me. Malala is a powerful advocate for education for all (especially girls who are banned from school in certain parts of the world). Malala has been fearless in her quest to make education available to all. She is from Pakistan and began speaking out at age nine. When she was fifteen, the Taliban shot her in the head. It was not clear whether she would live, but she did and she speaks around the world. She is the youngest nobel laureate. If you haven’t heard her already, I encourage you to listen to this seventeen year old speak. She is a powerful example of the resurrection as she continues to lead this movement.
There’s nothing about perfection here, but a beautiful and powerful reminder that resurrection isn’t a moment or even a day. It is a lifetime. We will return to that empty tomb over and over where we hear the word “remember”. That is when we come back to our senses so that we can bring the good news that God isn’t finished with us…with any of us…yet to the world. As we show up with our unfinished selves, God is quietly changing us from the inside out to become bearers of light and love to the world.