Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 5, 2015

2015.04.05 “Following Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes – Hope” – Mark 16: 1 – 8

Central United Methodist Church
Following Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes
Mark 16: 1 – 8
April 5th, 2015
Easter Sunday

And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back — it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.”– Mark 16: 1 – 8, the New Revised Standard Version

I have good news to share with you this morning; and not just about Easter. I don’t know if I should mention it because it might be premature; but recently, I received a letter that said I’ve won a million dollars. I don’t know for sure yet, but it said I’m one of the finalists, right near the top.

Don’t you hate it when marketers tease us like that? And yet it happens all the time. We receive junk mail or robocalls informing us we’ve won trips, cars, or prizes we never signed up for. If you saw the movie Nebraska (one of my favorites films of last year), that’s the premise: an aging, booze-addled father showing signs of early dementia makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize, which of course, doesn’t exist.  What he winds up with instead is a free hat.

Because of teases like this, most of us are experienced cynics. And the reason we’re experienced, is because at one time or another we fell for it. (Don’t worry, I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I’ve got a million dollars for anyone who will admit it)

For most of us it would make more sense to get a letter saying, “Face it, you don’t have a chance. You’re a loser. Why do you even enter these stupid contests; YOU will never win anything. That’s more like the truth, isn’t it?

And it’s not just cynicism about trivial stuff like this. As society has changed, we may feel let down by many of the institutions we respected and relied upon in the past, such as education, journalism, media, and of course – government – in all its dysfunctional forms.

Because of this, our cynicism has become deeply rooted, such that hope can be hard to come by. John Buchanan, editor of the Christian Century, said recently in his column that he has a friend who announced he had lost hope for the human race. His friend said the news each day was so consistently and relentlessly depressing, that he was certain the human project had run its course. We might flail about for a few more centuries, but the end of civilization was in sight, he said. (John Buchanan, Editor’s Desk, The Christian Century, April 1, 2015, p. 3)

Such is our cynicism, that even as we come to church on Easter Sunday, we bring it with us. After all, we’ve been to church on more than one Easter and heard the Easter story, sung our Alleluias and gone home, only to find nothing changed. Work was still a challenge, relationships remain troubled, the people we love still die, and so will we. So, in our cynicism and doubt, we may be ready to file the story of Jesus’ resurrection right up there with the Easter bunny. A rabbit that lays eggs.  A dead man who lives again. Yeah, we’ve heard that one before.

Truth be told, we preachers have a little cynicism in us too. Easter is a scary day for us: it feels like the last free throw in a basketball game with the score tied and 5 seconds left on the clock, except we’ve got a year to think about it. Most preachers think people come to hear us on Easter, when deep down we really know you just need a place to go before Easter Brunch.

So how, then, do we get beyond our cynicism to find hope?

During the Sundays of Lent, in a Lenten series entitled, “Following Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes,” I have spoken about the qualities of Jesus that we who follow him should emulate. Over these Sundays, we have talked about discipline, sacrifice, passion, love, purpose, and humility. The final quality for today, Easter Sunday, is hope.  In a world of cynics – which includes us – how do we find hope?

Surprisingly, for all of us who have had our hopes dashed too often in our lives, that’s exactly where the Easter story begins. With women on their way to a tomb, followers of Jesus who have had their hopes dashed irreversibly. “We had hoped,” they said, thinking that things would turn out differently, for Jesus, for themselves, for the Jewish people. They thought for sure this time they had won the big prize, that Jesus was the promised Messiah. They had heard his wonderful words, and seen his wonder-working deeds, but what had it come to?

Having defied the political and religious domination system of his time, Jesus was squashed like a bug; nailed to a cross like a common criminal, dying in helplessness and agony and shame. Rather than suffering for days, as was intended with crucifixion, Jesus died quickly. Rather than being left to rot on the cross, as again intended with crucifixion, his body was taken down and sealed in a borrowed grave, which these women had witnessed.

But what they found when they arrived at that tomb on that first Easter Sunday morning, wasn’t what they expected. When they arrived, what they had most worried about along their way – the stone blocking the entrance – wasn’t a problem, the stone was rolled away. The problem turned out to be, Jesus’ body wasn’t there. Who was there was a young man dressed in white, who startled them with the revelation:

“Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.”  (Mark 16: 6 – 7)

Even then, what happens next in the story isn’t what we expect. With the next verse, the story ends. And what does it say? That Jesus appeared to them, assuring them everything was O.K., and they all lived happily ever after? No, what it says, is, “They got out as fast as they could, beside themselves, their heads swimming. Stunned, they said nothing to anyone.” Is this any way to run a resurrection?

Most of us hate unsatisfying conclusions, right up there with bogus prize notifications. Like a joke without a punch lines, like a movie which fades to the credits and leaves us hanging, like sermon that go on too long and ends unsatisfactorily, we hate unsatisfying conclusions.

And frankly, part of the reason we do, is because too much of life turns out that way. A job that sours. A relationship that fails. A marriage that ends. A child who disappoints. Wars that end badly.  Loved ones who die prematurely. We’ve all known unsatisfying conclusions, echoing Jesus’ disciples, “We had hoped . . .”

So unsatisfactory was the ending of Mark’s Gospel that at least two emotionally satisfying endings were added later. But the earliest and oldest manuscripts end there.

On the other hand, if we think about it, we may love Mark’s Gospel just the way it ends, precisely because it is not neat, and doesn’t try to explain what happened. It announces that Jesus isn’t in a tomb where everyone expects to find him, but is already out ahead of them where they will experience his presence again in a new and different way. That would be back in Galilee, which is home for them. That’s where they live, have families, work and play. Galilee is the daily routine. That’s where Christ promises to meet them.

What an intriguing suggestion: that the risen Christ comes to us, not in the places we might expect, not in the structures we have made for him – in religious tradition and rites, in liturgies or creeds – not even in churches. Instead, the Risen One meets us where we live and work and play. He promises to bring life and rebirth and love and hope into our lives at their most human and most ordinary moments, even in the times of our deepest cynicism.

Now that we think about it, isn’t this what Mark told us at chapter 1, verse 1, that his Gospel is “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.”  Now we understand what he meant: not only was chapter 1, verse 1, the beginning of the good news, but the whole story – including the last verse as the women run from the tomb – is only the beginning as well. There is much more to come, including us. After all, how do you end a story about a resurrection?

And this is why – even in our cynicism – we come to church on Easter morning to hear the Jesus story again, to be reminded that finally, there is no injustice which God will let stand, no evil God cannot overcome with good, no hatred God cannot transform with love, no death God cannot resurrect into life. Even in our cynicism, this gives us hope, the same hope Jesus had.

HenriNouwenWe should be realistic and admit that hope does not solve all our problems, nor make them go away, not even death. The late Henri Nouwen, in a thoughtful book he wrote a few years before his death in 1996, Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring, says:

“The resurrection does not solve our problems about dying and death. It is not the happy ending to our life’s struggle, nor is it the big surprise that God has kept in store for us. No, the resurrection is the expression of God’s faithfulness to Jesus and to all God’s children . . . The resurrection is God’s way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste. What belongs to God will never get lost – not even our mortal bodies. The resurrection doesn’t answer any of our curious questions about life after death, such as, How will it be? How will it look?  But it does reveal to us that, indeed, love is stronger than death. After that revelation, we must remain silent, leave the whys, wheres, hows, and whens behind, and simply trust.” (Henri J. M. Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring.  HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, p. 108 – 109)

FlyingRodleighsAnd how do we learn to trust? By way of illustration, Henri Nouwen went on to tell of his friendship with the Flying Rodleighs, a troupe of trapeze artists who performed in the German circus Simoneit-Barum. After he went to see their show, and watched them fly through the air, flying and catching each other as elegantly as dancers, Nouwen became so enraptured that he became not only one of their greatest fans, but friends with them, attending their practice sessions, going to dinner, and even traveling with them.  He said:

One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, in his caravan, talking about flying. He said, “As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.”

“How does it work?”  I asked. “The secret,” Rodleigh said, “is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything.   When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catchbar.”

“You do nothing!” I said, surprised.“ ”Nothing,” Rodleigh repeated. “The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It’s Joe’s task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.”

Says Nouwen:

“When Rodleigh said this with so much conviction, the words of Jesus flashed through my mind: “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.”  Dying is trusting in the catcher. To care for the dying is to say, “Don’t be afraid.  Remember that you are the beloved child of God. He will be there when you make your long jump. Don’t try to grab him; he will grab you. Just stretch out your arms and hands and trust, trust, trust.”  (Nouwen, p. 66-67)

Dear friends, beloved brothers and sisters, let us trust, trust, trust, which enables us to overcome our cynicism, our doubt, and our fear, and live in hope. Why?

“Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer.  Now – on your way. Tell his disciples . . . that he goes ahead of you . . . You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.”  Amen.

(With thanks to Rick Rusaw, Senior Minister, LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado, in his sermon, “Easter Brings Hope,” for the idea of the introduction)


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