Easter Day

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.

………………

“Why do you look for the living

Among the dead?”

This question has always rankled me a bit.

These poor women

Having followed Jesus

From the very beginning of his ministry

All the way back in Galilee

100 kilometers away

And three years ago,

Have faithfully followed him to the end.

They have come

In the pre-dawn light,

To honour their Messiah, their leader,

The one whom they believed would set their people free.

They have come to mourn him,

To weep over him,

To take care of him one last time

Before his body is laid in the ground

Forever.

And this angel has the gall

To ask them this sassy question!

Excuse me, mister, I don’t care how dazzling your clothes are,

But nobody talks to my girls that way.

How could they possibly have known to look anywhere else for him?

What else could these angels have expected them to do?

But as I contemplated this question

And wrote more corny angel jokes to spice up this sermon,

I realized:

All too often, we look for life

Among the dead.

We, and here I mean human beings,

Are a people with a constant desire for

More.

Every year, every week, every hour

We keep striving after more.

More prestige, more fame, more money.

Better job, better car, better behaved, smarter, more accomplished children.

We say things like, “I’ll be happy if I can just get

That new house, that promotion, that vacation, that pension level”

And then as soon as we reach it, we’re dissatisfied again

As we aim higher.

We are taught to do this from our earliest days.

Now, I’m American, so I don’t know if y’all hang posters

In elementary school classrooms that say,

“Shoot for the moon.

Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars,”

But we did.

Advertisers tell us that if we can just get

More thin,

More tanned,

Better groomed,

Better dressed,

Then we might finally be happy.

Even in churches, all over Christendom,

You’ll hear sermons extolling people

To give more,

To volunteer more,

All this more, more, more

Because we are all desperately searching for life abundant

And these folks promise that they have it.

But they don’t.

Because it will never be

Enough.

“Why do you look for the living

Among the dead?”

Here is the deal, friends:

Jesus Christ

Rose from the dead.

He did it!

It’s done!

It is accomplished,

As he said on the cross on Friday.

The life abundant we seek

No longer is something to strive after

But something that has been bestowed

By a Saviour.

A theologian has said,

“The attempt to engineer your own salvation

Is doomed to fail.”

In other words,

It is look for life

Among the dead.

All these self-help systems,

All these political philosophies

And new and improved products

And our old pal capitalism

Which would have us work and shop,

Work and shop ‘til we drop

They cannot produce life

Because they are dead things.

But Jesus Christ can.

We know that he can,

Because 2,000 years ago,

When they put him in a tomb

And said that he was finished

He got up from that grave

And said,

“I have come to bring you life

And have it abundantly.”

Quit looking for the living among the dead.

Quit trying to make your life mean something

Through your own efforts.

They are doomed to fail.

Because the enemy you are striving so hard against

Has already been defeated!

In Jesus Christ,

We are promised:

Death will be no more!

Mourning and crying and pain will be no more!

It is accomplished –

Not just for his own time and place

But for this and every future age.

And so this question,

So snarkily asked of these first followers

Who could not possibly have known the Good News that we share,

Calls we who should know better to account.

Because we keep looking for life

Among the dead.

Even now.

But Jesus Christ is risen.

And we too will rise.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?

He is not here.”

Look for him in the place he may be found

Where live everlasting

Is bestowed upon all.

Amen.

 

 

 

5th Sunday After Epiphany

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead

And defeated the power of death,

Free us from its fear

And give us life forevermore.

Amen.

……………………………….

 

Everybody wants to know the meaning of life.

Everybody!

That’s why The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Makes a joke about it being 42.

That’s why we started a class

Called God and The Good Place.

Because everybody – Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics,

Watchers of television –

Everybody wants to know the meaning of life

So that they can live a meaningful life.

We may disagree, though,

About what makes life

Meaningful.

Philosophers have argued about it for millennia.

Since Aristotle first considered the question of eudaimonia,

The good life.

 But it’s a hard question,

Which is why those philosophers are still arguing about it.

Todd May writes about meaning in life,

As having a narrative quality,

Like a story.

Meaning is created by the values we live over time,

By the story of our life

That can be described by those values.

It’s not a what, like 42,

It’s a how.

How we go about our lives.

It can’t be measured by any one moment,

Like that one time we held the door open for somebody

Or dropped some change in the Salvation Army bucket.

Its primary characteristic is steadfastness,

Faithfulness,

What theologian Eugene Peterson has called

“A long obedience in the same direction.”

So the question to be asked

If we want to live a meaningful life,

We should ask, “In what direction

Should I be obedient?”

The Corinthian community asked that question.

They’ve got trouble in River City, my friends.

They are at each other’s throats

About the right way to worship.

Some people think they shouldn’t eat meat

That’s been offered to pagan idols,

Others think that’s baloney.

Some people observe special days,

Others say that’s stupid.

One guy’s sleeping with his stepmother!

We’ve been following their story in pieces for a month now,

And Paul keeps reminding them

That God makes them one.

That God has knit them together

Into one body

So could they cut out the arguing already?

But that doesn’t seem to be enough.

It’s not enough to just tell them to love each other.

Y’all who’ve parented children could’ve told him that, I bet.

I imagine that screaming at feuding toddlers to,

“Love each other, gosh darn it!”

Would go super well.

So Paul takes the time to remind them of the point.

He takes the time to remind them

Of the meaning of life.

Of why they are bothering to be the Church

In the first place.

Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Don’t believe him?

Think that sounds too wild, too out there,

Too good to be true?

Too wonderful to be believed?

If you don’t believe Paul, ask Cephas.

(That’s Peter, by the way.

The same Peter Jesus called first

Looking out from the crowd that surrounded him

At a guy who wasn’t even paying attention

Because he was busy washing his nets

To find the rock

Upon which he would build his Church.)

If you don’t believe Cephas, well the Twelve were there too.

If you don’t believe them,

Here’s five hundred other witnesses,

Yes, some of them have died,

But most of them are still around.

Available for questioning.

Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

That’s the point.

That’s the meaning.

That’s the direction we’re walking,

That’s why we are bothering

To do this whole thing called Church

In the first place.

That’s why Jesus told Peter

To cast his nets in the deep water.

That’s why he told him those nets which were empty of fish

Would be filled to bursting with people.

Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Death is defeated.

Sorrow will be no more.

Mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

Where, O Death, is thy victory?

Because God has swallowed you up forever.

That’s it.

That’s the whole point.

While there’s other good stuff about the Church,

It is all useless

If Jesus Christ didn’t rise from the dead.

Now, we at Good Shepherd are fortunate

Not to be at each other’s throats.

We do a pretty good job of not arguing

About the petty stuff.

But many Christians today, I think,

Wonder a bit about the point of the Church.

I mean, why bother?

With all of the scandals and the sins of the past,

With all of the time and effort it requires?

With all of the other groups out there

That seem more hip and with it and fun,

That don’t have the baggage that the Church does.

Let’s just stay in our PJs and make life easy.

Church is too

Inconvenient.

And faced with that attitude

Of indifference,

Those of us who have been faithful

May begin to wonder

About the point of our long obedience.

Will it matter

If there is no one to keep the flame

When we are gone?

There’s a narrative out there

That the Church is dying.

And it’s a scary narrative

For those of us who’ve given our life to this institution,

This place,

This people,

That’s provided meaning and value for us

For which we have sacrificed and laboured

In long obedience to the God we worship.

This narrative is all around us,

As budgets tighten,

As churches shrink and close,

As fear extinguishes hope.

A seminary classmate of mine has described his work as a youth minister

As that of an obstetrician

Whose only colleagues are hospice doctors.

“Yes, yes,” he says, “I’m sure that death indeed is taking place,

It’s just that I am so very occupied

With all this new life I’m seeing.”

I know how he feels.

I discerned God’s call to the priesthood

And served my first parish

In the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

When I showed up in 2009,

That diocese wasn’t dying.

It had just been through a terrible schism.

And there were many who had laboured long to avert that schism,

Because they feared that schism would mean death.

And in a way it did.

Certainly, it meant extraordinary change.

But wouldn’t you know it,

The same Jesus Christ who rose from the dead

Is in the business of resurrecting dead things.

That diocese had been through

The absolute worst thing we could imagine.

The worst.

Everything had broken to pieces.

But the Jesus Christ whose body was broken on the cross

Cradled our brokenness

And put it back together.

Because Jesus is in the business of resurrecting dead things.

And that’s the tradition I was ordained into.

That’s the spirit that my hometown gave me.

That we serve a God

Who is in the business of resurrecting dead things.

So I am not afraid!

When people tell me that the Church might die.

What have I to fear from death?

I serve a God

Who resurrects dead things.

I am not afraid

That my long obedience

Has been to no purpose

Because I serve a God

Who resurrects dead things.

I am not afraid

That the meaning of life might just be 42

And I have no idea what in the heck that means

Because the meaning of my life

Cannot be contained

Into just this mortal existence alone.

Our life is bigger.

Our God is bigger.

It cannot be threatened by death

Because our God resurrects dead things.

That is the point.

That is the meaning.

That is why we continue our long obedience in the same direction

Even when it looks like all hope is lost.

And that is why we keep looking past the crowd

For the unlikely folks who are washing their nets

To call them to come fish with us in the deep water.

It’s not easy.

It’s not convenient.

And sometimes it does seem like our efforts are wasted,

Like the end is nigh.

Like we’ve been fishing all night

And we’re too exhausted for another try.

But even in those times,

When even death itself clings so closely,

Don’t be afraid.

Our God is in the business

Of resurrecting dead things.

Amen.