Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Sermon: The Rest of the Story

Sermon Texts: 1 Corinthians 15 and Mark 16

Sermon Notes

Today’s Gospel reading reminds me of a Paul Harvey radio spot.  I’m sure everyone remembers Paul Harvey, the master storyteller who died this past Feb. who had been on the radio in Chicago for 50 years. 


He’d start a story, say about a 13 year old boy who received a cash prize from Franklin Roosevelt, and then after a commercial break we’d find out that “the rest of the story” was that the 13 year old boy was one Fidel Castro.  Little chance encounters and surprise endings were to be expected on Paul Harvey’s show. 


So today’s scripture reading sounds like the first half of a Paul Harvey radio spot.  It lacks that satisfying conclusion.  In fact, the original Greek is even more incomplete and dissatisfying, ending in the conjunction gar, which means “for.” 


A literal translation would be “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them…they were afraid for…”  Tom Long says “It is almost as if the author of Mark had suddenly been dragged from his writing desk in midsentence.”


So, no doubt some of the fourth and fifth generation of Christians saw the ending unfit for a Gospel of Jesus Christ—especially in comparison to some of the other Gospels available—with their inspiring stories of the appearances of Jesus.  Who wants to receive a Gospel which ends with the disciples of Jesus being afraid? 


So they tagged a few of them on there to the end of Mark.  But, we know how Mark’s gospel truly ends because we have the written testimony of some of our most trusted Church Fathers who speak about Mark’s ending without referring to these other endings.


Story about actor who memorized Mark, went with original ending….uncomfortable silence at end.  “AMEN!”  Decided that his conclusion had betrayed the original intention of the author. 


Second night, walked briskly off stage after saying “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”and the audience was stunned.  He said the electric buzz was palpable among the people as they left that night as the audience talked with each other about the non ending. 

This electric charge is what some Biblical Scholars believe was the intended result of ending the story in this way.  It is compelling.  It grips us and makes us want to enter the story and grab the women by the shoulders and shake them. 


Mark’s Gospel is known for something called the “Messianic Secret”  At every turn, when Jesus performs some miracle or healing, he orders the recipients or the witnesses to remain silent about the implications of such things.  It is as if Jesus is afraid of the consequences of the cat getting out of the bag.  It’s at the end of the first chapter, when he heals a leper and then “sternly” tells him not to mention it to anyone.  Mark 8: 27-30


And in every case, Jesus’ own instructions to keep silent are disobeyed.  The word gets out, and the movement grows.  Some say the reason Jesus wanted to keep his identity a secret was because he wanted to re-define the meaning of a Messiah.  The Hebrew people had certain expectations about what the Messiah would accomplish. 


Scriptures told them the Messiah would rise up and dispel the conquering forces.  He would free Israel and sit on the throne in glory and splendor.  He would be the return of King David, who many Jews spoke of with the same sense of romanticism that our own culture remembers the mythical King Arthur.


So, the secret in this instance is reversed—the women are charged to Go and tell, and instead they run and hide.  They are finally given the go ahead to spread the message far and wide, because now no-one will co-opt the movement of this Messiah and try to turn it into something it is not.  Now Jesus is not able to be grasped and manipulated.  He tells Mary in the Garden in John’s resurrection account, “Don’t grasp onto me.” 


“But go,” the young man said, “tell his disciples (and be sure and tell Peter too) that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee.”  (Galilee?  Plain old ordinary Galilee where it all began?)  That was the women’s “home turf,” Lamar Williamson said.  The sort of place where the “same old same old” (routine) happens.[i] 

“Yes! The messenger said—that’s exactly where you’ll see him just as he told you” (Did he tell us that?)


So, the Messiah returns to his disciples in exactly those kinds of moments.  He joins them in a locked room as they are hiding out in fear of the authorities.  He joins some as they are back to the old routine of fishing, and he cooks fish and bread with them on the lakeshore.  He joins two on a walk from one town to another, never revealing himself until right before he leaves.


Instead of the Messiah coming in glory and transforming the world in some strong armed display of God’s strength, this Messiah who was put to death on a criminal’s cross makes resurrection appearances in the midst of the mundane and transforms our lives so that we might transform the world into the one God envisions empowered by the Spirit of God. 


Did you notice the young man’s instruction included some specific instructions to be sure to include Peter too?  Why single him out?  Because Peter is the one who on this day is probably still bogged down and sulking in his guilt for denying his Master three times.  The resurrection includes this major revelation that can transform even the most shamed disreputable lives and actions: You are forgiven. 


This is the rest of the Story—as Paul writes to his friends in Corinth—Jesus invades the mundane and shameful lives we lead, and can transform them with forgiveness and grace.  This forgiveness and grace inspires confession.  Then, Christ can use that transformed life to accomplish amazing things.


   It is the kind of transformation that inspires, even compels us to spread the message.  We are loved and cherished by God!  Paul was able to spread the message of Jesus far and wide, and his letters are the first written records that we have of the movement to which we belong.


The meaning of the resurrection is that Christ enters our lives in the here and now—in the mundane or unexpected—in the Galilees of our own lives.  In the midst of our relationships with spouses, family, work-friends, and neighbors: Christ is Risen!  In the midst of daily tasks and chores, and work and play: Christ is Risen! 


The story is unfinished because it includes you and me and future generations.  It acknowledges the reality that our first instinct is to shrink from the truth that will change our lives and run the other way instead.  But the “rest of the story” is that our weakness, our fear and our frailty doesn’t impede the advance of Christ, who comes into this day and all days with a resurrected truth that we are forgiven!



This is the day the Lord has made and it’s going to be a ………..

Good Day!

[i] Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching—Mark, Louisville:  John Knox Press, 1983, Lamar Williamson, Jr. p. 285.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Palm Sunday Sermon

Mark 11: 1-11

Always loved Palm Sunday—parade! Here’s a celebration that we remember by getting actual palm branches and waving around—it really puts us in the story. We’ve started the Easter Celebrations!

However, I’ve also come to see this day as a precursor to the less glamorous occasions and stories we’ll hear about later in the week.

We’ll hear about Jesus gathering his friends together in the upper room and giving them bread and wine and telling them it is his body and blood. We’ll hear him give his final mandate that his disciples should “love each other as I have loved you.” He’ll say this after having gotten on his knees and washed their feet—a task that was usually reserved for slaves.

We’ll hear about his journey to the cross, and his ultimate crucifixion with 2 criminals. We’ll hear him cry out to God with his last breath a passage from Psalm 22, “My God, My God, Why have thou forsaken me?”

We prefer the solace and peacefulness, the sureness of Psalm 23 to the anguished cry of Psalm 22, and so many of us just stay home and skip the holy memorializing of these events during the week. We skip right on over from the promise of Palm Sunday to the Joy and exultation of Easter without registering what comes in between.

This is why it is important for us to acknowledge today—these Hosannas are hollow. This glory is fleeting. The crowd disperses before the processional even reaches very far inside the walls of Jerusalem. Mark tells us that at the climax of this parade, when Jesus is proclaimed and celebrated, he arrives in Jerusalem—then he comes home to the Temple! We are on the edge of our seats!

Can you imagine the elation of the disciples? We’re in this processional of people who have finally opened their eyes to the reality of the Messiah in their midst—when he gets to the temple, what will he do—tear it down and then miraculously build it back up as he promised to do a few days before? Will he gather his followers into a great mob and drive out the Romans who’ve filled the temple with their idols? Will he stride into the Holy of holies and tear down the curtain so that all may be in direct communication with their living God?
Mark grips us, and then snuffs out the narrative tension:

……he “looks around at everything and as it was getting late returns to Bethany with the 12.”

He “looks around at everything??????” What? Matthew and Luke both tell us that after the entrance on a colt (or 2 colts, oddly) Jesus storms into the temple and overturns the tables! Now that’s the kind of radical action we’d expect!

Yes, Mark’s narrative is a perfect preface for the tumbling disappointment that will be felt by all the characters in the upcoming days. It is no wonder we use these palms every year to begin Lent, when we burn them and place them on our heads as a sign of our “fair weather fandom” Too often we’re there proclaiming Jesus when the time seems right—when we get caught up by the crowd, but when we are faced with the one-on-one opportunity to make our witness with Christ, we fall short. We fall away. We deny our allegiance to Jesus.

These Palms make good ashes.

Maybe that’s why Mark focuses so much on the instructions Jesus gives his disciples rather than the parade.

Significance of riding a donkey: Zech 9:9
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king [a] comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
This text imagines a king who serves his people—who will work for them. Not Lord his kingship over them. King is humble.

The way Jesus arrives in Jerusalem is how he expects us to conduct ourselves.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Don Woods, Rest in Peace

Donald Woods

Donald Dee Woods 73, died on Thursday, April 02, 2009. Don was born on September 24, 1935 in Okmulgee,Oklahoma to the late Henry and Donnie Woods. He was also preceded in death by a daughter DeeAnna McAlister and a son Mike Ray.

He is survived by his wife Topsy of the home, daughter Kathy Weimer of Henryetta, daughter Janet Wilkinson of Eufaula, daughter Susan Myers and husband David of Morris, son Randy Ray and wife Sharon of Okmulgee, son Stacy Hay of Mannford, daughter-in-law Sherry Ray of Okemah, special friend Matt Maxwell of Okmulgee, brother George Woods and wife Donna of Morris, sister Mary Grice and husband Ed of Morris, sister Linda Chasteen and Rick Sturman of Henryetta, 17 grandchildren, 6 great grandchildren, and a host of nieces and nephews.

Don was an avid fisherman, loved bowling, Nascar, his family, and Trixie. A memorial service honoring his life will be held on Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 2 pm at the McClendon-Winters Funeral Home Chapel in Okmulgee. Condolences may be made at mcclendon-winters.com.