Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sermon for Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday, April 8th 2012
The Rev. Kate Ekrem
One of the things we have learned, this past week as we walked in the footsteps of Jesus on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, is that sometimes we have to just stop. We can’t fix ourselves. Our Lenten disciplines have failed to perfect us, giving up beer for Lent actually did not make me lose a single pound, I’m not a better person than I was on Ash Wednesday, in Holy Week we learn to be passive recipients of God’s love, all we can do is let Jesus wash our feet, and feed us, and sit at the foot of the cross and receive God’s outpouring of love.
But then comes Easter. You know it’s easy to get caught up in whether we believe in a real resurrection or not, was Jesus’ body raised from the dead, or was it just a spiritual thing the disciples experienced, is it literal truth or just a metaphor. But resurrection is not, really, something to believe in.
Resurrection is something to DO. Christianity is not really about a set of beliefs that we can argue about, that we can defend or deny. Christianity is about how you live, not just one action but the whole of your life, it’s a chosen kind of behavior. “A Christian is not someone who believes in Jesus, a Christian is someone who lives with Jesus,” (Andrea La Sonde Anastos in Awaken). Someone who lives with the Jesus who was raised from the dead.
In all three of our scripture stories today we have stories of people who lived with Jesus and did resurrection. First there’s Peter. He lived with Jesus, knew him as a friend, but abandoned him when he was arrested, and was killed. But then resurrection happened and it changed everything for Peter. In this passage from Acts he talks about how he used to think Jews and Gentiles should be separate, but resurrection made him realize God shows no partiality, God cares the same about everyone, and he spent the rest of his life spreading that message.
Then we have Paul, who in this letter to the Corinthian church tells the story of how he used to persecute Christians for being heretics, he was actually in charge of stoning people who taught about Jesus. Then he encountered the risen Christ, and that changed everything, he ended up joining those he’d been persecuting and trying to be a peacemaker bringing people together.
And then, the women at the tomb. They "fled, for terror and amazement had seized them" This is a great story for Easter morning, because while we may think that we can’t preach like Peter or pray like Paul, we can be like these women, we can be scared and amazed. If you are a visitor today, and are thinking this church is full of people who know Jesus better than you, and find it easy to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, or who totally understand all the implications of our Gospel story today, get that idea right out of your head. Even Jesus’s closest friends, these women who knew him so well, run away in terror. Doing resurrection does not come naturally to most of us. And it was just as weird and hard to the core disciples of Jesus as it is sometimes to us. No one knew Jesus better than these women, and they didn’t get it, or at least not right away. But eventually they stopped running, they did spread the word and started the church. They did resurrection.
What can these stories tell us about how to do resurrection? If Christianity is about behavior not belief, what does that behavior look like? How do we do resurrection?
*Number one I think, is include everyone. Peter’s big resurrection realization is that God shows no partiality. God loves everyone the same. You, me, Mother Teresa, Osama bin Laden, all the same. When we include everyone, we can give up on judging anyone, because we don’t need to evaluate or decide who we should include or not. Peter says Jesus is the only one who can really judge people, and he’s already decided we’re all in. And, don’t forget this part, we don’t need to judge ourselves, either. We’re included, too. You know the old Groucho Marx joke, I don’t want to be member of a club that would allow me to join? Well, too late you’re already in the club.
So how do we do that, since out there in the world people are judged and excluded? Can we treat everyone the same, or at least begin by noticing those times when we don’t, when we’re more comfortable with this group than that? One of the things I love about church is that in this increasingly polarized world, it’s one place where we can resist the urge to only hang out with like-minded people, it’s a place where young and old, those with kids and those without, those from many cultures, backgrounds and parts of the political spectrum, all come together, work, pray, and enjoy coffee hour side by side. Include everyone.
*Second, Do peace. Peter says, Jesus brings peace, and he does that by giving up power. Paul gives up power when he steps down from his official role of judge of heretics and joins the heretics. Any kind of power, if it’s going to work, requires some kind of threat of violence, and therefore can’t last, can’t bring lasting peace. As we’ve walked with Jesus this past week, we’ve seen that Jesus never tried to fight or escape from those who were arresting him, never defended himself at his trial, never resisted his crucifixion, and forgave those who killed him. (Andrew Sullivan, Newsweek “Christianity in Crisis”) To do resurrection, we must work for peace, and confront power without violence.
There are so many levels at which we can do peace and give up power, from not yelling at the kids so much, to letting our spouse be right for once, to not arguing with the in-laws over Easter dinner. And once we’ve done that on a personal level, we can take it to the next level of our involvement in the world. As Christians we’re called to stand up and point out when power is being abused, when the voiceless are not being heard. In our parish mission work, whether it’s going to a soup kitchen in Waltham or a farm school in Honduras, we strive to give voice to the needs of others, and to just be with those we serve, to let them decide and be in charge of how we are going to help them. We’re called to be servants, and to be peacemakers. Do peace.
*Lastly, Expect change. God changed everything in the resurrection, turned everything upside down. The women thought they were going to a funeral, and instead they found an angel. Peter and Paul both realized that their most basic realizations of what their religious customs even were, were totally thrown out the window. We tend to think religion is about keeping things the same, maintaining our traditions. But that’s not what we read in the Bible. The biblical story, the resurrection story, says that God is where the change is, where new life is bubbling up. It’s no secret that mainline denominations like ours are undergoing seismic shifts, that church won’t look like this in 50 years. Instead of being scared or disappointed by that, we can be excited. If you’ve hung out with our youth group lately, you know whatever’s next it’s going to be cool. When we see God’s new life breaking out, we can nurture it and help it grow. Expect change.
To do resurrection, we live with Jesus, the Jesus who preaches God’s love of stranger and enemy, the Jesus who confronts the powers that be but refuses to fight them, the Jesus who is willing to die rather than renounce the conviction that God’s future will happen. (Awaken)
This is not easy. If it was, those women would not have run away in fear. It’s actually not even possible; to include everyone, be peacemakers, live into change, not even possible to do this under human power. Only the God who brings life to the dead can make us into people who can do resurrection. But just when we’re most hopeless and helpless, just when we’re wondering who will roll away the stone, that’s where God comes into our brokenness and confusion, and says, "Do not be alarmed; He has been raised, he is not here." I've given examples from the life of our church this morning because I think church is where we learn this, where we draw together to support each other in doing resurrection, where, when we forget, we can remind each other that the empty tomb means new life.
This week we have been passive recipients of God’s overflowing love. I’m here to remind you, God loves you passionately, just as you are, and you don’t need to do anything earn that. Now, let’s get out there, and do resurrection!

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