Easter sermon 2014
Preacher: The Rev. Dina van Klaveren
You all look gorgeous this Easter morning! Really. Lovely Easter colors. Hats.
I wonder about that original Easter morning, how terrible Jesus’ followers must have looked. Exhausted, that puffy look of crying about them. Lost. Grieving, Torn up inside. Not able to eat or concentrate, afraid of the authorities, and hiding. Peter and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and Mary Magdalene, wearing clothes they’ve had on for days, trying to figure out what they would do next, when Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty, and Peter and John start running. John gets there first but doesn’t go in, then Peter arrives and goes in to see the burial clothing there, but no Jesus. This is Good News to us, but at the time, it was just confusing news for Peter. Where is Jesus’ body?
John crouches and enters the tomb, sees the situation, and believes. He believes that Jesus is risen. And the two men leave for home. But Mary stayed and wept, and in her weeping she sees the two angels, and then turns and sees a gardener. And he was probably there all along, as she ran back and forth to tell the others, as she stood there weeping for her dead friend, there he was, no longer dead at all, but alive, risen from the dead.
These three followers of Jesus come to faith in the risen Lord in different ways. John sees an empty tomb and believes. Mary Magdalene finds Jesus gardening not too far from where she weeps and grieves. And Peter and the other disciples believe in the Risen Christ as Jesus enters their locked room that same evening. Except for Thomas, who wasn’t there, and comes to faith in the Risen Lord a week later, when Jesus shows him the wounds, and Thomas exclaims: My Lord and my God! That is a statement of faith for certain- Jesus is my Lord and my God. Remember, before this day of resurrection, the disciples knew Jesus was a great teacher, but may not have thought of him as God. That would have been blasphemy for their Jewish beliefs. The resurrected Lord is the game changer- and they come to faith in Jesus as their Lord and their God.
How did you come to faith? Or, how are you in the process of coming more fully into faith in the resurrected Lord? There are so many ways, so many stories of how God draws us into faith in and relationship with the Risen Lord
• One of you came to believe in God so early on that you don’t remember ever NOT believing in God. Perhaps you’ve doubted and drifted a bit from time to time, yet believing seems to be a part of your genetic code. You know God as your God like you know your name. This is a blessing, and I pray you thank God for the blessing of a strong, lifelong faith.
• At least one of you joined a church Youth group because the girls or guys were cute and friendly. And you had lots of fun, and realized that there was a way to understand life that was full of meaning, and that when you had difficult decisions to make, there were people who cared enough to listen and pray for you. You were taught ways to live, and it was practical and life giving to be in a community of faith. It fed you and feeds you still.
• At least one of you came to believe in God through a conversation with a co-worker or friend or therapist or relative. You were in a dark place, and someone you trust held that precious light of Christ out to you so that you could see your way through to your home in God. The darkness was all around, but someone who cared about you, and already knew the power of God’s love, did not hide their light under a bushel. They let their little light shine, and that little light led you home to your faith in God.
• I know someone who came to believe by reading the New Testament he found in the drawer next to his bed in a hotel when he was traveling for work. The living word, indeed.
• I know someone else who found a way to believe when she hit rock bottom, and was in jail, and was getting clean and sober, and felt the warmth of God’s presence guiding her through hell and back to real life. The twelve steps and a bunch of strangers guided her back to the faith she had replaced with so many self-harming behaviors, and she experienced the power of God’s resurrection, even when she thought she was better off dead. God said, no, you are not better off dead. You are better off resurrected from the dead. Seven years later she lives in the joy of resurrection still each day.
• I know someone who came to believe in the power of God’s love as he sat at his father’s funeral, and considered his own life, and how he would live it. In the midst of that death, in the moment of feeling alone, and confused, the faith that was buried and dead within him, the faith that had been buried under his tireless effort to attain and provide and carry all the pressure of life and responsibility for his family, that faith emerged at his father’s funeral, and he began to shift how he thought about his role in life. He carried the wounds of being so in control, so pressured, so distant from God and he worked to restore his relationships, to restore the meaning and joy that had been so long buried.
• Someone else was ignoring any and everything religious or God-related until a doctor gave her some really difficult news. Even though she tried to stay away from belief in God, God stayed near to her in the time of need. Each morning that she awakes, she begins her day with “Thank you for this day, God. Help me live it well. Amen.” And cannot imagine starting her day any other way.
• One of you, like me, came to believe in God early on, in “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Yet at some point, some adults told you some things about God that were troubling to you. Some adult told you that God would punish you for thinking a certain way, that a person would spend eternity in hell if this or that happened. It was confusing and you decided that suddenly, you couldn’t believe in that God. And you may have rejected the faith community because you could not reconcile what you knew to be true about God with what others were telling you . Hopefully, you grew up and realized that the adults made a mistake, and told you incorrect things about God. And you read something or met someone, or found a different worshiping community, and you knew that God was a God of love again, and could really believe in God, even though the world around you, including some adults you respected, had different views.
• I grew up believing, and I loved the church that raised me. But there were a lot of ideas about who was saved (and why) that after a while, didn’t seem to match up with my worldview. I left the world of faith – I decided I didn’t need religion or God or church when I left home for college. Yet I took several religion classes, like Intro to Judaism and Women in Religion. During the Women in Religion course I had an assignment to experience a religious event that was different from one’s upbringing. The teacher had a sheet of options, and I selected the one I felt was the farthest from my religious roots – I selected the pagan Beltane ceremony in a hippy section of Los Angeles. It cost $20 to participate and I was supposed to bring a vegetarian potluck item. I drove to this woman’s home, and handed her my vegetarian fried rice and $20. The ceremony began and these women were lovely, but it was totally crazy wacky stuff. I was raised to have manners and be respectful, and these women were really very kind, so I tried to be cooperative during the celebration and keep track of what was happening so I could write my paper for class later. At one point we were meditating and remember- I had decided I did not really need to believe in God anymore – during the meditation I felt and saw the Holy Spirit dove fly towards me and land on my outstretched hand, and look me in the eye, and claim me as God’s own. I tried to ditch God, but could not. God came and claimed me as I sat at a pagan ceremony, and I’ve not tried to ditch God since. I thought I could let die the desire to be in relationship with God, and in that dying, found God resurrecting my faith. Then I began looking into other faith traditions, and by the grace of God found the Episcopal Church.
• You have a story of coming to faith. Share your story with others, of how you came to know the resurrected Lord. Ask for their story, stories that are clear and concise, and stories that are yet unfolding and perhaps a little messy in some places.
• There are so many ways we come to faith. I met a man in his late 90s who came to believe that there was a God as he sat, cold and wet, in the trenches of World War 1. He had never been taught about God, yet knew as he sat in that trench, likely to die, that he was not alone. He decided to believe in God while he had plenty of time to ponder the matter in a foxhole. And he lived a long life, a long life of faith in the power of resurrection, a faith he and God worked out together surrounded by death and warfare.
If we have faith in God, if we believe in a God that is powerful, that God created the universe and continues to act in our lives, then even the unbelievable becomes believable. Even a death on a cross can be conquered through God’s power to save and bring life to dead places.
The resurrection is a hard belief for some of us. Some of us struggle with it, some of us accept it, some of us have experienced the resurrecting power of God in the dead places of our lives, and can identify very personally with God’s power to raise from the dead what seemed so lost, so tortured, so hopeless. Some of us have faith in the resurrection because we have seen it, we have claimed that power, usually after great loss, suffering, acceptance, vulnerability, even shame and pain.
The ways we come to faith in God are many and varied and – this is important- ONGOING. There is no singular right way to come into faith in God. There are many ways to believe in God, to fall in love with God, to be called home by God, to come to faith, to be born again, to experience resurrection, to understand you are God’s beloved, to hear the resurrected Lord call your name even as you weep, witness the joy of Easter.