Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 20, 2014

2014.04.20 “So Live Your Life” – John 20: 1 – 18

Central United Methodist Church

So Live Your Life

Pastor David L. Haley

John 20: 1 – 18

Easter

April 20th, 2014

 

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, “They took the Master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.”

Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home.

But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?”

“They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize him.

Jesus spoke to her, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?”

She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”

Jesus said, “Mary.”

Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher!”

Jesus said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: “I saw the Master!” And she told them everything he said to her.” John 20: 1 – 18, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

Have you ever experienced not a Holy, but an unHoly Week? A week where you feel you experienced something similar to what Jesus experienced, during his Holy Week, an experience of suffering and dying?

MichaelBrowningMay I tell you about mine? Yesterday I went back out to my former town of West Chicago, to run the 2nd annual Michael Browning 5K Memorial Run. Michael Browning was a 23 year-old West Chicago police officer, killed in the line of duty 22 years ago today, as he attempted to prevent a man named Ronald Alvine from stealing a car from a local car dealership. Mr. Alvine is now serving a life sentence in prison.

 

Though 22 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. On Easter Sunday, April 19th, 1992, I came home from Easter services, and according to my Easter tradition, took a nap. I was awakened late that afternoon by a phone call; it was the police calling, for me, as their Chaplain, as they had discovered a 23 year-old pregnant woman dead in her bathroom. They transported me to a nearby gas station where I broke the devastating news to her husband. That was bad, but that wasn’t the worst of it.

Around midnight, my phone rang again. It was one of my fireman friends who had just transported Officer Browning to the hospital, alerting me to what had happened. I got up and went to the police station, where I encountered a distraught police force. In the middle of the night I went with two officers to notify Michael’s family. In the early morning hours, we went to Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, where Michael had been transferred, holding vigil with his family around his bedside, as he died.

MichaelBrowningServiceThree emotional days later, Michael’s Pastor, Mike Trench and I led the funeral procession up the road to Glen Oaks Cemetery, followed by the bagpipers of the Chicago Emerald Society, the hearse carrying Michael’s body, and about 300 police cars. In the cemetery, 1,000 officers gathered around for his service, as we listened to Amazing Grace played on a distant bagpipe. It’s a week I will never forget, the closest I’ve ever come to what Jesus and his disciples must have experienced during those events we know as Holy Week.

 

 

I know such weeks have happened to others, also. As most of you know, in the past we’ve done several series by Pastor Adam Hamilton and the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection near Kansas City; this week they had such a unholy week. WilliamCorporon&ReatUnderwoodYou heard about that shooting in a Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, by a Klu Klux Klan member, Frazier Glenn Cross, Jr.? In Cross’ racist rage, he killed two United Methodists and a Catholic. The two Methodists were a grandfather, a physician, Dr. Bill Corporon, and his 14 year-old grandson, Reat Underwood. Both were members of Church of the Resurrection. So, while preparing for a liturgical Holy Week, on Good Friday Adam Hamilton and the Church of the Resurrection held the funeral of two of their members, killed in a senseless, random killing.

 

If we had the time, I’m sure you could tell me about an unHoly week in your life. Maybe it was when your family broke up, or you lost your job or your house, or you watched someone you love suffer and die. If you’ve ever experienced any of those things, it was one of the worst weeks of your life, and you will never forget it.

When we experience a week like that, a we gain a sober appreciation of how high the stakes are in life, how tenuously we hold onto life, and are reminded how it could end at any moment, through a few cells gone awry, a sudden lethal heart arrhythmia, a random accident or an act of violence.

It is with such an appreciation of the precious and fragile nature of life that we come here today, to church on Easter morning. It is one of the oldest, deepest, most profound questions of the human heart: in the face of the inevitability of death, is there any reason for hope? In light of all the violence, suffering and injustice in the world, is there any reason, to live – not with fear and dread? – but with hope and resolve and confidence and joy.

What we affirm together here today, is that the Easter message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is such a reason.

When you have been through such a week in your life as I’ve described, we hear what happened to Jesus during his unHoly Week with new appreciation. It is the story of one, who – though he loved the loveless, forgave sinners, healed the sick, and brought the dead back to life, was – in two days time – labeled a rebel, betrayed, arrested, sentenced, tortured, and executed. This is no “they all lived happily ever after” story, this is what happens when you take on Empire; you get nailed to a cross to rot in the sun. We can only imagine the horror and helplessness of Jesus’ disciples, as they watched – from a distance – what happened to their beloved Master.

But despite who he was, what he said, what he did, without what happened on Easter, we would know nothing of it. Without Easter, there would have been no Christian faith, no Church, no Christmas, no Sermon on the Mount, no Lord’s Prayer, no Holy Communion. Jesus’ life and mission would have been a failure, and we would never have heard of him. The entire course of Western civilization would be different. We would be different, certainly not sitting here seeking hope this morning.

I wish I could tell you what happened that first Easter morning is straightforward and clear, convincing beyond doubt; it is not, despite what some may tell you. That’s why it requires faith.

The earliest accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are not the story of the empty tomb, as described in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but the 1st Letter of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, which Tonya read for us earlier, written some 20 years after the events, around AD 55. According to Paul, it was not the evidence of the empty tomb – in fact Paul does not mention the empty tomb. Rather, it was the appearance of the risen Jesus to his followers, including Paul. Even then, it takes Paul 58 verses to try to explain the status of Jesus’ body after his resurrection. It did not seem as easy a question for Paul as for many contemporary Christians, for whom Jesus simply exits the tomb to a new life, looking either like a character from the Walking Dead or someone who has had his robe ironed for him before he makes his appearance.

When we turn to the Gospels accounts of the empty tomb, written 40 to 60 years later, even there, confusion reigns. As author Frederick Buechner once put it: “It began in the dark …. There was the sound of people running, of voices … of fear and great joy … confusion was everywhere. (Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark). The angel’s word was not, “Jesus is raised, now you will all get to see your loved ones in eternity.” Rather, it was, “He is not here, he is risen, go and tell!” Could Mary, even in her grief, really mistake Jesus for the gardener? As Barbara Brown Taylor has observed, somewhere in this story there is a naked gardener!

What we proclaim in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ is both meta-historical and metaphorical: it transcends history and reason and intellect, it confounds what we think we know, and addresses our deepest hopes and dreams. It addresses that deep place in our hearts where we must decide – in the face of the worst life throws at us – who we will be, how we will live, and whom we will trust. It is less a message about what happens when we die, than a message about how we are to live.

Three years ago, we lost prematurely to death one of America’s greatest preachers: Peter Gomes (May 22, 1942 – February 28, 2011), at the age of 68.

PeterGomes Peter Gomes was the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School and Pusey Minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church. In the words of Harvard’s president, he was “one of the great preachers of our generation, a living symbol of courage and conviction.”

In one of his book of sermons, What We Forgot to Tell You, Rev. Gomes said:

“The evidence of Easter is a reconfigured Easter people, people who are no longer afraid of the dark, people who dare to live by their affections and not by their fears, people who know that they need not die in order to truly experience resurrection living …. “In short, people such as you and me who aspire to be people like that. We are the Easter people, for death, in all of its cynical, calculating, greedy ways, no longer has control over us. We have a better idea, we claim a greater truth, we live because we are loved; and because we are loved, we can live.” (Peter Gomes, What We Forgot to Tell You)

I wish I could tell you that at the end of that unHoly Week I experienced 22 years ago, there was a resurrection, but there was not. The resurrection was proclaimed, and as long as those of us who knew him live, Michael will be remembered.

But one thing it did do, which was to get our attention, and made us think about the meaning of living and dying. It’s one thing to think about such things in the context of someone who lived long ago; it’s another thing when it’s someone you talked to the day before. Yes, it was a tragedy, but there was also a nobility to it: Michael died doing what he’d always wanted to do all his life, which was to be a police officer, and he died as a hero, in the line of duty, at that. The lesson we learned, was, live boldly, even heroically, and do not fear death.

One of the movies our church Men’s group watched together was Act of Valor, a movie about the Navy Seals. In that movie, one of the Seals sacrifices his life to save his brothers by jumping on a grenade.

After his death, he leaves for his young son a poem by the Native American leader of the Shawnee people, Tecumseh (March 1768 – October 5, 1813).

TecumsehTecumseh was a leader and a sage; I cannot say if Tecumseh was Christian; because of the things done to them in the name of Jesus, many Native Americans had good reasons not to want to be Christian. I do know Tecumseh is supposed to have said: “When Jesus Christ came upon the Earth, you killed Him. The son of your own God. And only after He was dead did you worship Him and start killing those who would not.”

In the light of Easter, in the light of that unHoly Week I experienced two decades ago, I have come to love what Tecumseh specifically said in his poem about dying and death:

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart . . . Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide . . . When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”*

Thanks to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, even in the midst of our unholiest weeks, let us live with hope and resolve and confidence and joy, and when the end comes, let us die like a hero going home. Amen.

* The complete text of Tecumseh’s poem is as follows:

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.” ~ Chief Tecumseh

 

 

 

 

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