Sunday, March 31, 2013

An Idle Tale

Luke (23:55-56) 24:1-12
March 31, 2013
The Resurrection of the Lord!

            Once upon a time in a land far, far away there lived a gentle man, full of life and love and grace.  From his first breath this man was special.  An angel told his mother, just a young woman – only engaged, not yet married – that she would have him.  When it was time for him to be born his mother and father were traveling.  No inn, no hotel, no house with rooms to rent would give them shelter.  He was born in a cave surrounded by animals instead of the midwives and other women from his mother’s family who should have been there.  Shepherds tending their flocks in the surrounding hills came to make him welcome, telling stories of angels singing his praise and all the heavens shouting for joy. 
            When he was just learning to walk on unsteady legs, strange men from the East arrived at his door, led by a star that proclaimed he was really a king.  But another king trembled at the wise men’s visions and ordered death to make a sacrifice of life.  The little boy and his parents escaped to Egypt, coming back when it was safe.  But for this child, it would never really be safe.
            When he was not a boy, but not quite a man, he left his parents during the festival and went to the temple.  He didn’t consider the anxiety he might cause or the worry he might wreak.  He just knew that he had to be in his Father’s house.  So there he was.  His questions challenged the teachers.  His wisdom confounded the learned.  But when his parents arrived, scared, angry, panicked, he went home with them without arguing.  He was as obedient to them as he would be to his call. 
            The stories of the boy stop there.  But the stories of the man begin a few years later.  He is baptized by his cousin in the River Jordan.  Unbelievable stories of temptations in the wilderness emerge.  They couldn’t be true, just legend and myth.  Yet this man walks by the sea and calls fishermen to follow along.  The men leave their boats and drop their nets, give distracted goodbyes to bewildered families and go.  They just go. 
            The man heals the sick and the lame.  He gives strength to the weak.  He tells them stories about God and the Kingdom.  He challenges dusty practices and holds the leaders accountable for what they do, and what they don’t do.  He blesses and feeds and loves.  He loves the scorned.  He loves the forgotten.  He loves the despised, the sinful, the wasteful, the worried and the lost.
            The crowds with the man and his disciples grew.  More people heard of him.  More people needed him.  More people believed he could save them.  He was their warrior, their champion, the One God sent to lift them from their bondage and their misery. 
            And the leaders didn’t like it.  Not one little bit.  They were afraid of him and his message of love, his stories of grace.  The sinners felt loved in his presence.  The outcast felt welcome.  Some were beginning to say that God loved equally, extravagantly.  God loved even those that no other right thinking person would love.  This man must be stopped.  This man with his love must die.
            So the leaders planned and schemed and strategized.  And the man knew but didn’t stop it.  He saw where his path was leading but he didn’t change direction.  He just kept walking and loving, one foot in front of the other, until finally he arrived in the great city.  The city where he’d once sat in the temple as a boy.  The city of his ending.  The city of his beginning. 
            When he first arrived the crowds thrilled with excitement.  The throng of people there to make him welcome shouted and waved and wept with joy.  At last!  At last!  Their hope, their salvation was among them.  Now would be the final showdown and might would finally make right. 
            But the man did not do what they thought he would do.  He did not seem to be the one they were waiting for after all.  He would not stop preaching love.  He would not take up arms.  He challenged the people he wasn’t supposed to challenge.  When he first set foot in the city, they thought he was pure silver, but now he seemed tarnished. 
            crucify him.  Crucify Him!  CRUCIFY HIM! 
            So they did. 
            Even the ones who loved him thought that all was lost.  They locked themselves away during the Sabbath and mourned, wondering how it had all gone so terribly, horribly wrong.  But the women, delayed by the Sabbath, kept their appointment to anoint his body with spices.  He might have died a criminal but he would be buried as one of their own, as one they loved. 
            They went looking for death.  Instead they found life!  The stone was rolled away.  The tomb was empty.  Men in dazzling cloths questioned while they were there at all.  Life could not be found in a tomb.  Love could not be contained by death.  Why did they look for the living among the dead?
            The women ran.  They ran back to the men.  Breathless, exhilarated, stuttering and stumbling over their joy, they told them what they had seen, what they now knew.  Their Teacher, their Friend, their Lord was risen!  He was risen indeed!
            Their words were dismissed as an idle tale. 
            An idle tale. 
            Once upon a time in a land far, far away. 
David Lose, preacher and professor at Luther Seminary writes that if we’re not a little incredulous about the story of Jesus, especially the resurrection, than we probably haven’t been paying enough attention. 
            No matter how much we hesitate to admit it, it’s kind of easy to understand how those not of our faith can see it as the stuff of fairy tales.  Even the ones who were closest to Jesus, the ones who followed him, sat with him, ate with him, learned from him, heard from his own mouth that he would suffer, die and rise again dismissed the women’s witness as an idle tale. 
            Many people, of all different backgrounds, classes, colors and creeds, can affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was a good guy with a good message who was martyred because of greed, ambition and political deceit.  But that this Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God; that he died and came back to life?  That they can’t swallow.  It’s too much of an idle tale.  When people die, they die.  The end.  To use Anna Carter Florence’s great quote, “if the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on?” 
            And yet what we count on, what our faith is grounded upon is the belief that Jesus did not stay dead.  Jesus was resurrected.  For Christians, this idle tale, this foolishness, this fantastic, incredible, unbelievable event, is the core of our faith.  Jesus died.  Jesus rose again.  New life.  For him and for us.
            Yet even saying that, I have to acknowledge that it sounds like an idle tale.  And I say that as a one who believes.  Because I realize that a life of faith does not preclude doubt.  As strong as my faith may be at times, my doubt is always there.  There’s a reason why the words, “I believe, help my unbelief,” resonate with so many of us.  Faith and doubt live in tension.  My faith and my doubt walk hand in hand.  I believe in the resurrection and yet I also know that it sounds nuts.  That’s essentially what the men say to the women.  What is translated as “idle tale” in Greek is leros.  We get our word “delirious” from that.  When they hear the women’s story about the tomb being empty, they look at them and say, “You’re nuts.”  Peter runs to the tomb to see for himself.  He sees that stone pushed aside.  He sees that the tomb is empty.  Luke writes that he leaves amazed, but that doesn’t mean that he believes.  Even physical evidence did not completely penetrate his unbelief. 
            It’s nuts!  Yet still we believe.  Still we raise our voices and proclaim that Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.  And it’s not because we can prove it as fact.  It is because, in one way or another, we have experienced the resurrection as truth.  Fact and truth are not synonyms.  Crazy as it may seem to others, in my life I have experienced the power of the resurrection, I have experienced its truth.  I have had moments, albeit fleeting ones, when not only have I recognized God’s presence in my life, but I have stepped out of my fear and embraced the abundant life that Jesus spoke of.  I’ve seen what was dead in my life give way to something living.  I’ve felt the love that Jesus was, is and will be.  I cannot prove it as fact, but I can claim it as my truth. 
            The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the idea that God died on a cross and was resurrected from that death to new life sounds pretty nuts.  But in spite of my unbelief, I believe.   Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  On that day long ago.  On this day.  On every day.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  And we and this world are forever changed because of it.  Let all God’s children say, “Alleluia!  Amen.”

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