A sermon preached March 27, 2016 based on Luke 24:1-12.
I recently took up fasting; I started about 6 weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday as it turns out. Now many of you have heard me share about my prior experiences with fasting, many of you have heard me mention that as best as I can tell the purpose of fasting is to humble me because when I fast I get angry and listless and mean. Up until recently I would have said that the main reason to fast is to remind myself how much of my good character is really just the product of a full belly.
But at least once this time around, things went way better, and in ways I couldn’t have predicted and I can’t quite describe now, I had this prayerful, beautiful encounter with God that lasted all Wednesday long. This time, it took me until Thursday to fall apart. I was sitting at my desk trying to finish my weekly email to the church, when I realized I bored and anxious at the same time and that all I had left to do was write one paragraph, but all that I wanted to do was anyting else. And I thought his is weird, and I thought this feels like some sort of personal failing on my part, and I felt like the new Testament writer Paul when he says “The thing I want to do I do not do, and the thing I don’t want to do I do.” And I wondered what was wrong with me, and then I took a look at my right hand, which was still holding the dregs of my fourth tall cup of coffee for the day. And I thought “oh.” This is not a spiritual crisis. It’s caffeine. It was at once a relief and a disappointment. It was a relief because caffeine is a lot easier to master than self-control. And it was a disappointment because what was going on in my mind felt so much more important than that. I wanted God to win a titanic struggle for the desires of my soul. Instead, I got told, put down the mug. And I couldn’t help wishing that the moment had meant something more.
If you are here today, I can only assume it’s because you are looking for something more, and I can’t help feeling the fact you even have that desire is in it’s own way something of a miracle. It’s a miracle because of all the voices inside and around you that are testifying that there is nothing more, that life and experience and existence can only be figured out by reducing them to their material parts. Now, when a preacher starts to preach about materialism, usually you expect us to start naming the usual list of consumerist villains. You expect us to rail against the kind of materialism that tells us we will find happiness in what we wear or drive or watch or eat or vacation in. But that materialism is small potatoes compared to the testimony of all those who tell us that I and you and we are nothing more than the material of our skin and bones and the stuff between our ears. And that all these experiences we have – the struggles and the fears and the joys and the beauty that feel so very momentous, that feel so cosmically important – that these are random interactions of various materials. That we ourselves are nothing more than the material proteins and acids we’ve inherited from our parents and life is nothing more than our material interacting with the material we call food and breath and our fellow human beings. The more we see of our material, the less it seems to mean. We can do an MRI on our brains to see what chemicals light it up when we pray. We are slowly, but inexorably reducing our biggest questions to their material parts. I was listening to the radio a few months back as an interviewer probed the mind of a university professor who has given herself the title “Neurophilosopher” Years of research has convinced her that the answers for most of the questions that matter – what is the good life, who am I? what am I hear for – are to be found in our brain chemistry, and thus when we are talking about our minds, or our souls, or our self, we are really just talking about one part of our bodies. We are talking about stuff that doesn’t exist apart from the material in between our ears. And we are talking about something that will die with the rest of our body. What was it that we said to one another just 6 weeks ago as we smeared dark material across our foreheads – dust you are and to dust you will return. Even in this spiritual place, among spiritual people, it some times sounds like this material stuff, this bodily stuff is all there is.
Brothers and sisters, hear the good news. Christ is risen; Christ is risen indeed. A body is not a problem of our God. This is Easter! This is the day that Jesus took the material stuff, the stuff that he made, the stuff that he called good, and intersected it with the power of resurrection. This is the day that Jesus came back in his transformed, resurrected body to eat and breathe, and to touch and speak to his disciples. This is the day when Jesus showed that his great plan is not to take us out of this world, or help us rise above the world, but Jesus is transforming this world and everything in it, even us. This is the day that all the longings of humanity and all the longing of God began to intersect with physical reality. This is the day that our faith began to move from a promise to a fact. Listen to how Paul preaches it “ This is the good news that I preached to you, you are being saved through this news: that Christ died, was buried and rose on the third day. And has appeared to Peter and the Twelve and all the apostles and even to me.”
For Paul, and for all the new testament, the good news is not an argument, it is an announcement. Resurrection happened to Jesus, and it will happen to throughout the creation. One day, we will be resurrected and all that God made good will be good again. This is what happened, this is where the world is headed, this is now the way world works.
Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed, and one day we all will be. It happened for Christ, it will happen for us, this is the way the world works.
And so we are a people of hope, living as if the resurrection is the new way of things in the world. And if we were wrong, as Paul says, then we should be pitied above all people. If Christ is not risen, then all of this is all there is, and no amount of right living will change that. But Christ is risen; he is risen, indeed. And while we wait for all the world to be resurrected, he has given us signs of what it looks like. He has taught us how to live by resurrection.
A people of resurrection are a people are unconquerable, because they know that even the worst word will not get the last word.
A people of resurrection are not optimists, telling ourselves that everything is ok and nothing is broken. A people of resurrection are not pessimists, who have given in to the way things are, convinced that nothing ever changes.
A people of resurrection are a people of hope – we are people who know that everything can be changed in a moment.
A people of resurrection are a people who know how dark the grave is, and who know how bright the light shines through when the stone is rolled away.
A people of resurrection know that Friday and Saturday are loooong. But they are temporary. Even if they last your entire life, even when your trials bring you to the grave God’s love will outlast them.
Friday says that this is all there is, but Easter says that all that is is God’s, and God will not let it go.
And God will not let you go. Friday says “this is all you are,” and Easter says “All you are is God’s.” So do not be afraid.
If you are here, looking for something more, then hear me. If you will be God’s new creation, that will be more than enough. If you will surrender your will, your plans, your hopes, and your disppointments to Jesus, If you will let him have the last word over your small moments, and your big ones, that word will be resurrection. Do not be afraid – of the big momentsor the small ones – in this moment, you can belong to God. His love, his grace, his power - that's all there is to know.