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April 11, 2004 (Easter Sunday)—“What If It's More Than An Idle Tale?”

Pastor David Barber

Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 24:1-12

Webmaster's Note: Pastor Barber had quietly left the center of the LCH nave during the singing of the hymn of the day and began this sermon from elevated area above the board room to the left of the nave.

I have a word from the Lord!

"Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus isn't here. He's risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again?"

Several years ago on a Sunday morning a neatly dressed man disrupted a worship service during the pastor's sermon. He stood up in the balcony, and he announced in a clear and loud voice: "I have a word from the Lord."¹

Of course, no one discovered what the revelation was. Like an alarm clock his initial outburst rudely awakened several ushers, and even though they were groggy with disbelief, they sprang like gazelles up the balcony stairs. They escorted this man out the front doors of the church and into the street.

That probably wouldn't happen here--not because our ushers are less responsive nor are they sleeping. But it wouldn't happen here because it's just too difficult to get up these stairs, and by the time they arrived, you, would have heard the word of the Lord...and even a partial sermon.

But why should anyone be alarmed? Granted we don't speak from a balcony or a loft, but week after week Pastor Fritz and I stand up in front of you and proclaim, "I have a word from the Lord!"

And when we do so, no one stirs in anxious anticipation. No one gets terribly excited. No usher threatens to come forward, and no usher has a can of mace handy just in case the preacher or the congregation gets out of control.

It's business as usual. Some are trying to stifle a yawn because of lost sleep from the night before. Teenagers are daydreaming thinking of that someone special, and just hoping that the preacher won't be too boring or too long-winded this time. No one gets too excited when the preacher proclaims, "I have a word from the Lord!"

Even when that word is proclaimed from a balcony...and even when that word that is proclaimed is the most outlandish, far-fetched, and "off the wall" kind of stuff, "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!" no one falls on their face in terror or no one becomes terribly upset.

But in reality, the word that is spoken on this Easter Sunday is so new. It's so unpredictable and earth-shattering that ushers should have bound up these steps grabbed me by the stole, gotten me in a Lutheran headlock, and tossed me and my holy okole out on Punahou Street.

We're told that on that first Easter Sunday, the women went to the tomb. Notice that Luke tells us that there were several women and not just the usual and familiar two or three women that the other gospels refer to.

They brought spices, and they were coming to do what was good and proper for a corpse. Out of their piety and their goodness, they wanted to show their devotion to the dead Jesus.

When they got there, they received the surprise of their life, and Luke describes them as being terrified. They came looking for the dead, but the angels chide them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" They didn't come to look for the living because they didn't believe the words of Jesus about the resurrection.

These events when they were reported to the men didn't cause much of an earthquake. As one preacher said, the very first Easter sermon, delivered by the women, didn't score very high on the Richter Scale.²

When the men heard what the women had to say, it seemed to be an idle tale, a fish story if you will to these fishermen, or nonsense, or even a silly story from the lips of women who often exaggerate. And the men didn't believe them.

But why didn't they? After all, Jesus did tell them that the crucifixion wouldn't have the last word. I suppose we could suggest the usual answers. For instance, the people doing the reporting were women, and women weren't all that credible in the eyes of men at that time.

Or we can talk about skepticism...not just that of the disciples but our own. Dead people don't rise from the dead, do they? You haven't seen too many walking corpses out there in the cemetery, have you? Their reaction was pretty much what ours might be...It's just wishful thinking...too good to be true...or simply an idle tale.

But what if it is true? What if it's more than an idle tale? What if the suppositions and the assumptions on which you've based your life are not what you thought they were? What if all that has been suddenly shattered? What if it's not business as usual, and the foundations upon which you have constructed your world suddenly crumble around you?

What would this mean? And what implications does this have for life here and now? Maybe that's why the disciples are slow of heart to believe.

If the news of Sunday is true, then this means that the world of the disciples has been turned upside down. Although it might be difficult, the disciples knew how to handle Good Friday, but an empty tomb, that's a different story. This would mean that they now must become apostles and witnesses, sent to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Every once in a while I receive an e-mail that is worth saving in my sermon file, and I've just been waiting for the right opportunity to use it.

The sender of this e-mail verifies that this story is true and a part of the historical record. There is a new monk who arrives at the monastery. His name is Sebastian. He is assigned to help the other monks in copying the old texts by hand. Sebastian notices, however, that they are copying from copies, not the original manuscripts.

So Sebastian goes to the head monk to ask him about this. He points out that if there were an error in the first copy, that error would be duplicated in all the other copies. The head monk says, "We have been copying from these copies for centuries, but you make a good point my son."

So Sebastian goes down into the cellar with one of the copies to check it against the original. Hours go by and nobody sees him. So, one of the monks goes downstairs to check on him.

When he arrives, he hears sobbing coming from the back of the cellar. He finds Sebastian leaning over one of the original books crying. The monk asks Sebastian what's wrong, and in a choked voice, Sebastian replies, "The word is celebrate"...not celibate.

That's God's word for us on this Easter Sunday--"Celebrate." Celebrate all the ways of God and the workings of God within our lives and in the world. Celebrate the partnership that God has entrusted to us as we move with resurrection power to all those places where we live and work.

The word is not "celibate." We are not to abstain from the world and our involvement in the world...as if the world is too evil for us or too painful with all its darkness and death.

The Crucified and Risen One goes before us, and he disrupts our lives with a call to the way of the cross. He leads us not out of the world, but right into the center of its suffering and brokenness.

He unsettles us and turns our world upside down with the news that death doesn't have the last word. Jesus is on the loose, and he asks us to follow him to all those places that need hope and healing.

He asks us to follow with compassion, with kindness, and with forgiveness. He asks us to be vessels of non-violence, justice, and peace--transforming and renewing systems of death and destruction with the new life that God is giving to all people and to all children.

Many times this task appears to be just too overwhelming and overpowering for us, but we do and we can make a difference especially when we invite and allow God's resurrection power to work creatively and imaginatively within us.

A 1950s movie entitled Stars in My Crown depicts a post civil war town where the Ku Klux Klan tries to intimidate a proud black man to sell his farm for next to nothing. But he wouldn't sell.

They did everything to make him move. They burned down his barn, shot through his house one night, and eventually threatened to hang him by sundown the next day if he didn't agree to sell.

The following day came, and all the leading citizens of the community came to the farm dressed in their white hoods. The farmer came out on the porch to meet them wearing his best clothes. He said that he was ready to die, but before they hung him, he wanted read his Last Will and Testament.

The local Methodist minister read the will, and those present realized quickly that the old man was giving everything to them. He willed the farm to the banker who seemed so hell-bent on having it. He gave his rifle to another man who had first learned to hunt with it. He gave his fishing pole to still another person.

The old man gave everything he had to the people who were prepared to kill him, but he killed them first with creative love, with active and courageous nonviolence, and with kindness. And the impact was incredible.

Seeing goodness given in the face of such animosity was more than any of them could tolerate. One by one, in shame, they turned away and the entire lynch mob disappeared.

It doesn't always work this way, and we have no guarantees. But it happens enough to give us hope and to give us the strength to persevere as faithful witnesses to the resurrection.

In all those places to where Christ sends us, we need to remember that these are places where Christ has already traveled. And in every sorrow, and in every wrong and injustice that jumps out at us, we see the face of Jesus.

But the light in which we see Jesus in all these situations is the light of the Easter dawn. This light is full of promise. It's charged with life, and it blazes with the very love of God who makes all things new.³

Truly, this is no idle tale, and it's not "back to business" as usual. We can't return to the security of our Good Friday experiences and the deadening grip of this world's burnt-out systems. For all of this has been completely renewed and transformed with the light of Easter.

This is the word of the Lord for today: "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!"

Amen.

¹ Revised from a sermon by Dr. Tom Long, Empty Tomb, Empty Talk.

² Ibid.

³ Pastoral Letter from Bishop Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop, ELCA, (Easter 2004).


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