Monday, April 21, 2014

Roses to Bougainvillea

Easter 2014
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Resurrection Joy

On one of my face book posting this week, a 2 year old living in Minneapolis asked her mom when Santa was coming. The foot of new snow persuaded her that she was back at Christmas instead of waiting for Easter.

Do ever wonder why the Easter Bunny has not taken over the celebration of Easter in the same way Santa has co-opted Christmas?
There is certainly enough grist for the consumer mill to churn out untold amounts of revenue around this time of year. The supply and demand for chocolate alone must be fueling some kind of economic. 
Now, certainly we have seen a rise in the consumerism of Easter, I have seen Easter lights, Easter table decorations, bunnies for every room in the house and chickies galore.

But even with all of that, Easter hasn’t taken on the commercial significance of Christmas. No retailer will tell you that their store lives and dies according to Easter merchandise sales. And no other world religion has had to figure out how to incorporate Easter traditions into their practices. You won’t find too many Muslims or Jews with Easter egg trees in their living rooms.

Why is it that the world hasn’t co opted Easter? The miraculous story of a resurrection is no more or less feasible than a virgin birth. Women going to a tomb and meeting an angel is no more or less fantastic than shepherds hearing angels singing in the skies. And people gathered in an upper room with the door locked shut, suddenly confronted by Jesus with nail pierced hands and feet is no more or less strange than wise men from the east following a star to Bethlehem.

Why is it, do you think that the world doesn’t embrace this story and squeeze it for all of its worth?

Is a little baby much more easy to market than a crucified and risen man?

Or is it more than that?
Is it because the idea of the cross is so scandalous and horrifying that unless you have a really good reason to believe it, it is best left alone? And even more so, is it because the message of a death that has been defeated is so scandalous and horrifying?

Remember what Paul writes: For the preaching of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

I do believe that is why Easter remains, primarily, the focus of those who take their faith seriously rather than the casual Christian.

A cross as a central theme of the story is cruel. It represents the very worst of human imagination. Killing someone by crucifixion is tortuous. Ugly. Inhumane. We can try to put flowers on our crosses, or decorate them with jewels even. But a cross will always be stained with blood.
For the preaching of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

It is the power of God to us who are being saved not to us who have been saved. But to us who are being saved, because each day of our lives we need to know that we could throw the very worst at God, all of our sin, all of our violence, all of our hatred, all of our unfaithfulness, all that makes us turn from God’s way of being in the world. We can throw all of it at God, We can crucify the only truly good man who ever lived. And God will still love us. God will return our violence with love, our unfaithfulness with love, our hatred with love, our sin with love. 

No matter how you define resurrection, as an actual physical bodily return from the dead or a metaphorical continuation of the presence of Christ in the world...The truth of the resurrection is powerful. Believing that true transformation of dead things into alive things is beyond what most people can handle.

The stories we have of the resurrection accounts as well as Paul’s testimony are very clear. To proclaim resurrection is not a simple celebration of the coming of spring or a seed becoming a flower. It is a powerful way of speaking about God’s ability to transform, even the worst of our world into something gloriously redemptive. Gloriously Alive.

In the Easter story, we read of Mary and the women going to the tomb, ready to prepare a body for burial and put to rest all of their dreams. They thought they had met the Messiah. They thought they were living into something new. This Jesus was just beginning to make sense to them. But now it is just barely morning. The women bring spices and ointments to show respect for this Jesus whom they loved. But look the stone is moved. An angel of God says to them: He is not here, he is risen. Why do you seek the living among the dead.
God’s love transformed that morning of grief and despair into Joy.

We are witnessing, a story of women who lives were resurrected by the rebirth of their faith in this man called Jesus. God’s love did overcome violence. Grief does turn to joy. Mourning does turn into dancing.

When we read of the disciples holed up in a locked room for fear of their lives. And then we read of them going out into the world and preaching the gospel to every creature. We are not reading about the courage of a group of men and women who suddenly found a cause.

We are witnessing the rebirth and recommitment they were given through the Spirit’s work within them. Even though they abandoned Jesus and denied Jesus and fell asleep when Jesus needed them the most, the resurrected Jesus came to them and proclaimed forgiveness.
God’s love overcame their unfaithfulness.
These disciples these women were transformed into people who are very different from their pre-Easter selves. These fearful, unfaithful, scared, men and women were transformed into people who became followers of Jesus. True followers, who were willing to not only stand by Jesus, but live like Jesus taught them to live. Love like Jesus taught them to love. Be like Jesus taught them to be. They were now even willing to die for the way Jesus taught them to be. This was not a new cause, this was a whole new way of life.

The new testament community didn’t simply say that they believed in some kind of myth about a resurrected body, like some kind of good story or fable which could comfort them when they were scared or teach them some kind of moral lesson they could pass on to their children.

They lived as those who were transformed by the experience of the power of the resurrection.
Yesterday I spent time in my garden. The roses are showing signs of new growth. It is wonderful. But this is not resurrection.
Resurrection would be, if my roses that are meant for this climate changed over the horrible winter we just experienced into bougainvillea. Bougainvillea, a flower that only survives in temperate climates! Resurrection is changing roses into something they would never be without radical change happening in their very core of being. Resurrection is changing lives of fear into lives of hope and life and and meaning.

And we, each day of our lives are invited to experience the power of the resurrection.
(Resurrection happens in our lives when that person we can’t stand walks into our space and we find ourselves greeting them with the genuine love of person that can only come from God, for example)

We can share in the mission of Mary and the other women, the disciples, Peter, Thomas, Paul, and Stephen. We can share in their mission proclaiming the resurrection credible by living as the resurrected body, bearing Jesus' spirit to the places of death and allowing transformation to work through us so that the world can see the power of the cross.

We can be people who are being saved.

St. Symeon wrote of this transformation:

We awaken in Christ's body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ.
He enters my foot, and is infinitely me.
I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous?
NO? Then open your heart to Him
and let yourself receive the one
who is opening up to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ's body
from St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022). Translation by Stephen Mitchell.

For us, this is not just a good spring story, this is the story of the power of God’s love in the world, in our world. As God moves and lives within us, the resurrection becomes true each day. The power of the cross, the power of love overcoming violence and hatred and sin and unfaithfulness. This is Resurrection.

As God moves and lives within us the world is transformed given new shape and new birth.. All of this for the glory of God.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Now and Forever, Resurrected People

John 11:1-45
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

Chatfield United Methodist Church
April 6, 2014

The Gospel lesson for this Sunday is the story about Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha. The Mary and Martha who would often have Jesus in their home for a meal. The Martha who complained because her sister Mary wasn’t helping with the supper. The Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiped them with her hair. That Mary and Martha. We don’t know how many meals Jesus shared with them, but we do know that, of all the followers of Jesus they are the ones who seem to be by his side, willing to speak plainly to him and willing to treat him with deep love and devotion. The scriptures say: Jesus deeply loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Mary and Martha somehow got word to Jesus that Lazarus was very ill. Actually, Lazarus was dying.

Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived on the outskirts of Jerusalem. In the town called Bethany. It is a pretty little village 2 miles from Jerusalem.

Lazarus fell ill during the time when Jesus ministry was really heating up.
He was making a lot of people uncomfortable and many people downright angry.
Particularly the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.

So it was not advisable for Jesus to go anywhere near Jerusalem. Even Bethany was too close. People were so angry with Jesus that there were plots to kill him.

But Jesus loved these people. He had eaten sacred meals in their home. A mere death threat was not going to keep Jesus away from the people whom he loved.

 Jesus timed his arrival in such a way that he did more than attend to the last days of a dying man. Jesus timed his arrival so that Lazarus had been dead and buried for 4 days. Well past the time when a body in the hot climate of the middle east would be able to walk out of a grave on its own two feet. After 4 days in the grave, Jews believed that death was final. Jesus came to Bethany 4 days after Lazarus was buried.

Jesus timed his arrival so that he could show the world what kind of new world they were living in. Jesus timed his arrival so that he could show this beloved family and all the Jews who were surrounding Mary and Martha hoping to console them at the loss of their brother, that God was doing a new thing. A thing that had been promised but was so outrageous that it was unbelievable. Jesus wanted people to see that resurrection, the coming back to life after death, is a reality. Is the new norm in the kingdom of God. 

Jesus taught that not only was there a resurrection of the dead; but that God’s glory was revealed in the resurrection of the dead. That Jesus was going to become for the world, the resurrection.
Here was his opportunity to show his followers just what he meant.

Throughout history there has been a fascination and a debate about what happens when a person dies. The bible study group on Tuesday learned that some Jews of Jesus day believed in the resurrection of the death and some did not. This difference of beliefs separated Jews into ‘camps’. The scriptures are far from clear about the sequence of events. Does a person die and immediately meet God, or do they lay in the grave waiting until a future resurrection when all of God’s children will walk again with God in a new Jerusalem?

The answer to that question depends on the scripture verse we reference. 2 Corinthians 5:8 seems to teach that we are absent from our body and present with God immediately upon death. But in 1 Corinthians there seems to be the teaching that at some point in history all the dead will rise together.
So we can’t make any definitive statement about when the dead will rise, but we can say with great assurance that we side with the Jews who teach, even today, a resurrection of the dead.

But Jesus wants to push us even further than that. Jesus wants us to see that there is a resurrection of the dead, right here right now, before the grave. This is why he says: I am the resurrection and the life. Not I will be, but I am. Jesus says to us: “You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.”

We don’t have to die in order to be resurrected; we can live resurrected lives every day of our life.

Most of us, I doubt any of us; will be literally called out of a tomb. But God can call us out of death into new life every day of our lives.
As a matter of fact, I know it has already happened to all of you. I know that we all live each day as resurrected people.

I want you to remember a time that you thought you would never get through. A really difficult time in your life. Maybe it was a death of a loved one, or a grave illness, or maybe it was your teenage years, or a lawsuit, or a child’s struggle with issues, or depression. Maybe you are going through a difficult time like that right now. I know some of you are.  .

Remember how Psalm 23 describes this time in our lives: We are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. The shadow of death. Now remember how you came out of that shadow of death. How you began to see the light around you again. How the weight of the grief left your shoulders. How you were able to breathe again.
That is resurrection.

We can go through the shadows of death without being overcome by darkness because we have a God who is resurrection and life. Who enters this world knowing that he was bound for death. We have a God who does not fear that journey to death. Who will even travel to his beloved friends’ home two miles from danger. So that our God can show us, life out of death.
And we can have a story to hold onto when we are in our own tombs of doubt, grief, anguish, and pain. We can remember Lazarus who was dead for 4 days with no hope of resuscitation. We can remember Lazarus who walked out of that dark tomb no longer stinking of death but living into life, again.

The Psalmist writes: Where could I go to escape your presence, God? If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too! If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me; the light will become night around me,” even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you! Nighttime would shine bright as day, because darkness is the same as light to you!

This is what Jesus is doing, coming to the tomb of Lazarus 4 days too late. Showing all who have eyes to see: There is nowhere you can go that God’s presence cannot find you. There is no dark place that will over come you because God’s light over comes all darkness.
And in raising Lazarus he is saying: Look, there is NOWHERE, not even the grave.

The Gospel story ends with these words: Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

May we believe ourselves to be, now and forever, resurrected people.