Just Such a Time for Resurrections

Just Such a Time for Resurrections

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.

license cc

___

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

The Essence

The Essence
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

Resurrection is a truth. We see its evidence as clearly in nature as in our ancient texts. The loving divinity that fuels our existence always trumps death. This is the essence of the Good News of Easter.

 

license cc

__

Related

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

One Year Ago Today

One Year Ago Today

One year ago today I was in surgery. One year ago today, my children and wife paced awaiting news. One year ago today, my life changed.

Sun Flower
Sun Flower. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I am healthy.
The surgery was successful, though recovery included an infection which still tingles from time to time.

I learned about vulnerability. I learned about weakness and allowing others to care for me. I learned that hospital scrambled eggs can be an orgasmic experience after  more than a week of liquid diets and IVs.

I am healthy.
The surgery was successful, though recovery included an infection which still tingles from time to time.

I felt the love of my congregation, my community. I felt the love of my wife whose love manifest in our new mantra, “No more TMI.”

I cried out to God during those days! I sobbed in my wife’s arms the day the biopsy came back negative.

When a trip to the living room wore me out, I whined that I might never hike the trails of the Pacific Northwest again.

I felt the love and presence of the divine in those days as my community prayed for me. I felt the love and presence of the divine in the loving skills of medical professionals. I felt so many things, some about which I blogged and others I could barely admit to myself.

I am healthy.
The surgery was successful, though recovery included an infection which still tingles from time to time.

My journey continues. My struggle and joys continue. My gratitude for the web of divinity that connects me to every human being and every spring bud is boundless. I’ve experienced a resurrection firsthand!

One year ago today I was in surgery. I wouldn’t change a thing even if I could, especially that tingle. Amen.
___

This is the eleventh of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy and removal of my right colon.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural, May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos, May 27, 2014
No Big Deal, May 29, 2014
Mortality, June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories, June 6, 2014
Perseverance, June 10, 2014
Scars, June 19, 2014
Embracing Emotions, July 2, 2014
An Unexpected Onion, January 14, 2015
One Year Ago Today, March 28, 2015

 

 

license cc

The Lichen & Leaves of Hope

The Lichen & Leaves of Hope

McCall Point Trail still smells of burn. Containment lines are marked as no-hike, restoration areas in the natural preserve. In many ways, my first journey on the trail since the early-August Rowena Fire was sad. The loss of brush and many trees is significant.  To contain the fire, firefighters had rightly destroyed delicate vegetation to build containment lines.

But the grasses will return in the spring. The many surviving trees have already started to sprout new leaves despite the season. The lichen in all its delicate beauty has found sustenance in scorched fenceposts and tree stumps.

New leaves sprout from a blackened tree. Photo by Tim Graves
New leaves sprout from a blackened tree. Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves
The delicate and hardy lichen finds a home on a burnt fencepost. Photo by Tim Graves

Related

Additional Post-Burn Photos of McCall Point

In the Valley of Dry Bones (photos)

McCall Point Trail, June 2012  (photos)

 

Wandering In the Shadow of a Volcano

Wandering In the Shadow of a Volcano

Three things are obvious at the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. One, the eruption of the volcano wreaked destruction and devastation on the landscape. The scars are still apparent on the journey up the mountain.

9281759103_d6bb4b0171_b

Second, it is in the nature of Creation to heal and resurrect in response to death or destruction. The area is alive and continues to heal itself a mere thirty years after the 1980 eruption.

Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves
Mt. St. Helens (July 2013). Photo by Tim Graves.
Mt. St. Helens (July 2013). Photo by Tim Graves.

And, so, it was fitting that on my short hike in the area I should happen upon cocooning larvae and butterflies.

Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves
A butterfly at the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in July 2013. Photo by Tim Graves
A butterfly at the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in July 2013. Photo by Tim Graves

Finally, by observing nature — creation — it is clear that God continues to create. Our God is a creating God. Living is process. When we perceive it as a destination to be reached, we live in angst, anger, and tension. However, peace envelopes us when we acknowledge and accept that we are on a journey with each place we find ourselves merely temporary. We find peace in simply being and wandering.

New life at Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (July 2013). Photo by Tim Graves
New life at Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (July 2013). Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves
Resurrection at Mt. St. Helens (July 2013). Photo by Tim Graves
Resurrection at Mt. St. Helens (July 2013). Photo by Tim Graves

I Like Colors!

I Like Colors!
Grey Sun (Photo by Tim Graves)
Grey Sun. Photo by Tim Graves

There’s a way in which my adult son Isaac and I are different. I tend to err on the side of more color in my attire. He tends to err on a more subdued color scheme. We recently had a Facebook discussion in which we discussed our very different perspective on the appropriate color of his childhood home. He told me that he was embarrassed by the bright, warm yellow (with green trim) that we painted our 1850s historic home we owned in upstate New York.

Yes, I like color! I’m wearing a lavender shirt as I write this post. I have a bright yellow sweater. I wear bold stripes especially in the winter months. My ties have been known to be dramatic. For me, having a yellow house was inspired by a 1970s Barbara Streisand song, Everything. In the song she lists things she’d like to do; my favorite is, “Move into the White House, paint it yellow.”

For me, color reflects the magnificence of the season of new creation: spring. The flowers are dressed in a vibrant spectrum of colors. It’s as if they are giggling and laughing at winter and its endless greys. That is why I am particularly fond of the Grey & Sun Wind and Solar building in the small town in which I live. I can see it from my office window. Even on the dreariest of days it shines bright. It giggles and laughs at winter reminding me that to everything there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3). Spring always returns.

Promise of Resurrection

Promise of Resurrection
Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves

As the morning sunshine rises each day, the promise of resurrection is manifest. Within the natural world we see evidence that the nature of things is death followed by new life. Our hope — reflected in nature — lies in the faithfulness of the creator whose promise of new life is evident all around us.

Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable. Hebrews 10:23 CEB

Circle of Resurrections

Circle of Resurrections

In the hot July sun, I discovered a little shade beside a dribble of a waterfall. Sitting sipping from my water bottle, I discovered new life beside the holy rocks. Beneath the stagnant pool was full of polliwogs darting with youthful exuberance.

The hot July creek doesn't so much flow as it drips. Photo by Tim Graves
The hot July creek doesn’t so much flow as it drips. Photo by Tim Graves
At the base of the summer falls, new life danced beneath the surface. Photo by Tim Graves

At the base of the summer falls, new life danced beneath the surface. Photo by Tim Graves

Journeying the same path today I paused again for a sip from my water bottle. Sitting on the hard rock, I closed my eyes to listen to the powerful tumble of the spring waters. Rising above the sound of the cascading waters, the ribbits of frogs confirmed that this was the same holy ground upon which I sat last July. Nature with its endless cycle of death & new life tells us about the nature of the Creator.

The dribbling waters of July give way to powerful baptismal falls. Photo by Tim Graves
The dribbling waters of July give way to powerful baptismal falls. Photo by Tim Graves
The pool beneath the falls await the time when it will once again teem with exuberant youth. Photo by Tim Graves
The pool beneath the falls await the time when it will once again teem with exuberant youth. Photo by Tim Graves

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 NRSV (Read in context.)