We find the resurrection not in selfishness or worry about personal salvation but in doing and risking for others. We find the Good News not when we exclude others but when we seek to include and love with extravagance! Read or watch the entire message below.

The story of his ministry begins in Galilee…

At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River so that John would baptize him. 16 When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him. 17 A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” Matthew 3:13-17 CEB

***

The clouds hung low. It was an accurate sign, a symbol of how she felt. There was too much to do and when she tried to take time away, the phone would ring or the text would beep or someone would stop by to say hello, or complain, or share things she “should be aware of.”

It was supposed to be a day off. It was supposed to be a sabbath to replenish her soul…

The clouds hung low as she left the laptop, landline, and office walls that closed in around her. It was late to start out on a hike this time of the year especially on a day when the clouds hung so very low to the earth.

She left anyway.

She prayed that her spirit would be resurrected on the trail.

***

The clouds hung low over the Jews in the Persian empire. It was an accurate reflection of the grief that Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, felt.

The vindictive, petty, and self-important Haman had seen fit to manipulate the king into ordering the extermination of all the Jews in the empire. (A good Jew, Mordecai had refused to bow down before anyone but God. This riled Haman and led to the evil order of destruction.)

The clouds hung low as Mordecai donned sackcloth and ashes and grieved outside the palace gate.

He lamented to God in his prayers. He yearned for a resurrection that would save the Jewish people within the Persian empire.

***

The waving palms and blue skies of last week were a distant memory. Dark clouds hung over the disciples following the brutal death of Jesus on the cross.

Having denied Jesus, Peter and the other men who were his disciples were in hiding.

But the women who had been with Jesus all along, watched the horror from a distance. At the moment of his death a powerful earthquake opened the graves of many holy people and they were raised from death.

After his death, instead of hiding, the women left their worries behind so that they could be near the tomb.

Though the clouds hung low I imagine the graves that opened at the moment of Jesus’ death gave the women hope as they prayed for a resurrection for Jesus.

***

So often in our lives we find ourselves on Good Friday. The clouds hang low in our lives and we doubt that they will ever lift.

Our bodies that in our twenties we thought would never abandon us, show signs of permanent wear. We worry with each ache and pain if this is the new normal.

When a dear friend falls, we are shaken by an earthquake as powerful as the one upon Jesus’ death. We’re reminded of our vulnerability and mortality.

We look at the lack of civility in our world. The shouted opinions on social media and in Washington coupled with closed ears make us wonder if we’ve degenerated too far.

The values that have evolved in our culture that are so different than how we were taught cause us to wonder. Were we that wrong? Is the world that wrong? Can I change and grow and keep up?

When we see mothers and fathers sobbing on national television because their children —  young men of color — were gunned down and their bodies left on hot pavement for hours our hearts rip as surely as the temple curtain upon Jesus’ death.

When our children in this country and Kenya, are not even safe in their schools and nothing seems to change because we’re too busy yelling at one another instead of working together, the tears fall from our eyes as surely as the blood of Jesus oozed from the holes in his body on the cross.

We look around us in this sanctuary, with the Good Shepherd glass hovering over us, and we wonder why others — young and old — do not find the meaning here that we do?

The dark clouds hover low in the sky and we pray for a resurrection.

Like Mordecai, we lament, crying out to God. Where do we find the resurrection? How do we know when we are about to witness a resurrection?

What do we do in just such a time as this?

***

Queen Esther and Mordecai, the uncle who raised her, faced one of those times. The entire Jewish population was at risk of being exterminated millennia before Hitler was ever born.

The disciples, the women and men, who followed Jesus faced one of those times after the cross. Good Friday and Saturday were times of confusion and fear. Denial. Hiding. Fear. Probably depression and panic. These were the clouds that hung near the earth.

Sometimes it is difficult to feel hopeful or to perceive God’s desire for our lives. We can pray, we can meditate, and we can rack our brains trying to discern God’s will for us and still we are confused.

Then sometimes there are those moments like there was for Esther and like there was for the faithful women who refused to hide.

That is Good News!

God is still speaking even in our time. God is still calling to us, offering the Good News of resurrection. Death never NEVER gets the last word. Love wins. Always.

The question is, are we listening? The question is do we trust in the resurrection?

[pause]

Faced with the destruction of his people, Mordecai turns to his niece Queen Esther. Esther has been concealing her identity as a Jewish woman from even the King.

God speaks to Esther through Mordecai:

But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.” Esther 4:14b CEB

And she listens. She perceives the still speaking voice in the words of her uncle. Esther risks her own life for the salvation of the Jewish people in the empire!

Then, even though it’s against the law, I will go to the king; and if I am to die, then die I will.” Esther 4:16b CEB

Esther focuses on the divine claim upon her life. She strives first for the realm of God rather than her own personal well-being.

My friends, that is faith in God! That is trusting in the Good News! That is divine resurrection in action!

Because she listened for God, because she took a leap of faith when she was unsure how things would turn out, God was able to co-create with her just such a time for a resurrection.

Like Esther, the women who refused to hide with the eleven men — the twelve minus Judas — opened their whole selves to the revelation of God.

In Matthew’s version of the story, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb not with spices to anoint a dead body but to be near Jesus.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary have been paying attention to the teachings of Jesus. There are those moments in our lives when God breaks in if we but listen.

Instead of huddling in fear as the eleven men did, the Marys do not let fear or depression or panic keep them from hiking the trail placed before them.

They are not disappointed:

Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it…But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Matthew 28:2, 5-6 CEB

Because the Marys listened for God, because they took a leap of faith when they were unsure whether they would be safe in public, God was able to use them in just such a time as this.

Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead.”…With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. 9 But Jesus met them and greeted them. Matthew 28:7a, 8a-9 CEB

My friends, that is faith in God! That is trusting in the Good News! That is divine resurrection in action!

***

When we risk our own well-being, our sense of security…

When we risk the status quo so that God might co-create something new in our broken and fragmented world, we are living as God intends.

One of the great sins of our Christian faith is our overemphasis on personal salvation. That overemphasis leads us to selfishness and failure to take risks for others.

It was selfishness — Rome’s fear that Jesus’ teachings and actions could lead to their loss of power — that led to the crucifixion.

We find the resurrection not in selfishness or worry about personal salvation but in doing and risking for others.

We find the Good News not when we exclude others but when we seek to include and love with extravagance!

Notice that the first thing Jesus does after his resurrection is send the disciples back to Galilee, where it all began?

The Good News is that the story is not over. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “We’re gonna start all over again, only this time you’re gonna do the heavy lifting.”

***

The clouds hung low. It was an accurate sign, a symbol of how she felt. There was too much to do and when she tried to take time away, the phone would ring or the text would beep or someone would stop by to say hello, or complain, or share things she “should be aware of.”

It was supposed to be a day off. It was supposed to be a sabbath to replenish her soul. [trail off…]

The clouds hung low as she left the laptop, landline, and office walls that closed in around her. It was late to start out on a hike this time of the year especially on a day when the clouds hung so very low to the earth.

She left anyway.

She prayed that her spirit would be resurrected on the trail.

As she trudged upward, the low hanging clouds obscured her view and her hope. Her angst and worry became despair.

Good Friday wrapped around her.

From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. 46 At about three Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” Matthew 27:45-46 CEB

In her troubles, each step became a lament to God. Each step became a brutally honest emotion. And each footfall was heard by the same God who heard Jesus’ cries on the cross.

My God, my God, why have you left me? Matthew 27:46b CEB

Reaching a clearing, Heaven was opened to her and she saw the Spirit of God revealed through a break in the clouds. The mountain glistened in the sunlight.

She dropped to her knees in awe that the creator saw fit to love her. As tears were released from her eyes, she praised the One whose love is for everyone.

As she returned to the trailhead, she felt refreshed by the holy spirit of God that had washed over her.

The Good News of the resurrection was for her, too. The Good News is that the resurrection is for you and for me.

Praise be to the bountiful love that in the end will always overcome the low hanging clouds that encircle us. Praise be to the extravagant love that overcomes even death.

***

The story begins again in Galilee…

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. 18 Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20  teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.

Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” Matthew 28:16-20 CEB

The story begins again in Galilee… only this time, it is our job to be the Good News of infinite love.

You are God’s beloved!
As are you!

Open your hearts, your minds, and listen. God is still speaking! We live in just such a time for resurrections!

Amen.

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___

This sermon was delivered at the Condon United Church of Christ on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015 by Tim Graves. The text for the sermon was Esther 4:14-17 and Matthew 28:1-10. Scripture quotations come from the Common English Bible, copyright 2011.

Related

Did A Dead Man Really Return to Life? April 7, 2012

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