Too Good to Be True?

“Too Good to Be True?”

Easter He is risen

Luke 24:1-12 – April 21, 2019

Advertisements often promise us marvelous things. If we wash our clothes with this special detergent, our clothes will be whiter than white, cleaner than clean. The brand new car we see advertised is so shiny and the ride is amazingly smooth. If we buy this fancy shampoo, our hair will become unbelievably sleek and silky. The reality never lives up to the hype. We even have an expression for this: “Too good to be true.”

I wonder whether the disciples felt like this on that Easter morning, so long ago?

We need to go back to Friday, to get a better idea of what was happening. The women did not have time to take proper care of the body of Jesus when it was quickly buried late Friday afternoon, just before sunset. And then after Friday night came, it was the Sabbath. All observant Jews rested on the Sabbath day, as prescribed in the Jewish Law. More than that, it was the time of the Passover, an especially sacred time.

This Sabbath observance must have been especially sad and sorrowful for the followers of the Rabbi Jesus, dispersed as they were. I can imagine some huddling together in the upper room where so short a time before Jesus had led them in that Passover dinner on Thursday evening. Perhaps, a couple more hiding in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, a few miles down the road in Bethany. What must have been going through their minds?

The Easter morning story was read for us by Eileen: about the women going to the tomb, shocked to find Jesus’s body gone, and angels there instead. The angels tell the women the Good News, the Gospel message that Jesus is alive again. When they run back to tell the disciples, the men do not believe the women. Here again is what Dr. Luke says: “10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” As we said before, the disciples thought, “Too good to be true.”

The New Revised Standard Version translates verse 11 like this: “11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Rev. Rick Morley, one of the commentators on our Scripture reading from Luke said, “And the disciples thought it was an “idle tale?” How condescending, right? There go those excitable women again…<eye-roll> <knowing-glance to another disciple> <raise of the eyebrows> [1]

Let’s consider historical context: women in Palestine were second class citizens. They had very prescribed roles in life and in the family, had no standing in court, and could not even be witnesses in a court of law.

However—when Jesus called His disciples, He called both men and women. Both men and women followed Him. The Gospels say Mary sat and learned from Jesus’s teaching just as much as any of the male disciples, and when Martha complained to Jesus about how Mary was not “doing her woman’s job” in serving and doing kitchen duty, Jesus corrected Martha. Not to mention His courteous, egalitarian treatment of women throughout the Gospels—the woman at the well, the woman with the flow of blood, the widow of Nain, just to mention a few. Extremely significant to treat women as equals, especially in that time and place.

So, when the women followers—or, disciples—of Jesus ran back to the others with this witness to the Good News, the Gospel that Jesus is alive!—are we surprised to have the women’s witness dismissed as an “idle tale?” “Too good to be true!”

There is another, sadder side to this “idle tale” business. Rick Morley reflects further: “It’s a popular position in the world and an increasingly popular position in the church. I mean how many people—how many self-professed Christians—take Easter as a nice little hopey-springy cute-bunny-loving pastel-wardrobe-opportunity? How many people who almost never come to church, will come on Easter either because their spouse or mother forced them to—and while they’ll play the game and sing the hymns, they see the Resurrection of Jesus as a metaphor at best, or at worst a cute little myth?” [2]

Yet—this Gospel, this Good News was the women’s real experience! Dr. Luke reports “When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.” When they ran back to their friends, they did not spout deep theology. They did not expound profound sermons. No, they reported the facts. They told what had happened to them.

Some of these women were at the foot of the Cross on Friday. They had seen Jesus in agony. They witnessed Him suffering for hours, and saw Him die. Some of these same women were now swearing that Jesus was alive again. The angels said so, too!

Rev. Janet Hunt, a Lutheran pastor who has a church in De Kalb, a few dozen miles to the west of us, reflects on this Easter Good News, this Easter promise. She looks at it from a sorrowful perspective. “How will the Resurrection Promise resound in the ears of one whose winter has been long and death has seemed to have had the last say too many times?

“What will it sound like in the ears of one whose week-end is spent in a hospital bed waiting for a risky surgery first thing Monday morning, to the one who has just been arrested for his third DUI and who is waiting his court date, hoping the whole town did not read the police blotter last week, to the one who is afraid to hope that finally this pregnancy will hold?

“What would the gift of life where death has seemed to hold sway mean to those whose fleeing for their lives has left them at our southern border with futures still uncertain? To those whose livelihoods have been destroyed by flooding across our nation’s midsection? To already desperately poor people whose meager existence has been wiped out by natural disaster or disease?

“What does it mean to any and all of these and also to you and me to know that the story does not end with the closing of the tomb on Friday afternoon? Indeed, what if having heard it and believed it, we actually began to live like it was so?[3]

You and I do not need to preach a sermon, or give deep theological reasons why Jesus is alive. People today need to hear that Jesus IS alive. His life makes a difference. Jesus changes lives—he turns them upside down, and your life—my life—will never be the same again.

Is this first-person testimony too good to be true?

“‘I have seen the Lord’ insists that the ways of love will win over the ways of hate. ‘I have seen the Lord’ confirms that the truth of kindness can be heard over the din of ruthless, callous, and vindictive rhetoric. ‘I have seen the Lord’ gives witness to the fact that there is another way of being in the world — a way of being that is shaped by resurrection, that embodies anything and everything that is life-giving, a way of being that is so counter-cultural, so demonstrative of mercy, so exemplary of the truth of Easter that others will listen to you, watch you, wonder about you and say, ‘Wait a minute. Did I just see the Lord?’[4]

This—this right here—is where the Gospel begins, with this first-person testimony—the great Good News that Jesus is alive! This great Good News changes everything, for each of us, and for the whole world.

[1] http://www.rickmorley.com/archives/2546

“Idle Talk,” Rick Morley, 2013.

[2] http://www.rickmorley.com/archives/2546

“Idle Talk,” Rick Morley, 2013.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/needing-the-easter-promise-now/

Janet Hunt has served as a Lutheran pastor in a variety of contexts in Northern Illinois. Currently she serves as pastor at First Lutheran, DeKalb, IL.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4571

“True Resurrection,” Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2016.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

Seeing is Believing!

Seeing is Believing!

“Seeing is Believing”

Jesus and Thomas illustration John 20-24

John 20:24-29 – April 12, 2015

Seeing is believing! Or . . . is it?

I wonder what things come to mind when I mention the phrase, “Seeing is believing”? Or even, “I won’t believe it until I see it!” Sometimes, people can be really doubtful about things. I can just imagine several people I know folding their arms across their chests and saying, “Unless you show me . . . “

In the gospel account we read today, from John 20, the disciple Thomas had just that reaction. After the resurrection, the first time Jesus came to the disciples, Thomas was not there. We’re not told why, simply that he wasn’t there. Maybe he was scared, maybe he was away, or out of town. Maybe he was sick. We just aren’t told why he wasn’t there.

The ‘why’ is not the important part. The fact that Thomas wasn’t present is. Thomas had doubts. Sincere doubts.

Truth to tell, the other disciples’ story was a little farfetched. I mean, how many people have you known who came back from the dead, and walked through walls into a locked room?

I wonder. I wonder if Thomas’ reaction strikes a chord with anyone here today. How many of us today are like Thomas? Doubting that Jesus has risen indeed from the dead? Or, completely missing Jesus, and doubting that Jesus is even here at all, today?

Let’s think some more about Thomas and his reaction. Thomas not only doubted, he also refused to believe! He not only doubted, he wanted concrete proof. Tangible proof, proof he could touch and feel and handle. Thomas wanted to put his hands in the nail marks on Jesus’ hands. That’s pretty concrete.

As I thought more about Thomas and his reaction and attitude toward Jesus and His first appearance to the disciples, I was reminded about my children. Generally, children have concrete thinking processes, especially smaller children. I have four children, and I’m accustomed to talking with them and communicating in more appropriate ways for their age groups. My children are just about grown up now. But when I used to explain something about God to my children, sometimes it was difficult for the younger ones to fully grasp the ideas I’m trying to explain. And they can ask some pretty hard questions. Gee, sometimes it’s difficult for me to know how to explain things about God to anyone who asks!

Maybe Thomas needed more concrete explanations, too. We just aren’t sure. The Gospel of John isn’t clear at this point. We as readers don’t know why Thomas had difficulty believing. But the gospel account says he did.

How many of us today are like Thomas? Not sure? Not believing? Closed up behind the locked doors of feeble faith? Not believing that Jesus can make a difference in our lives today? Could Jesus come and reveal Himself to Thomas? Can He come and reveal Himself to those today who are fearful, doubting, and unbelieving? . . . Can He reveal Himself to me?

Perhaps Thomas even had difficulty finding something to believe in, since he had so recently seen his Master and Teacher arrested and crucified. Grief, fear, anger, dashed hopes, shattered dreams. I strongly suspect several, if not all of these, were operating in Thomas’ life at this time.

These strong feelings and emotions inside are intense, and raw. From what is known today about the stages of grief, Thomas could very well have been feeling awful, angry, fearful and upset. Thomas could have felt like his life was falling apart. But Jesus can break through all of that. Jesus could enter Thomas’ life with new hope, standing right in front of him. In the same way, Jesus Christ can enter through the closed doors of our hearts, and meet us where we are, with open arms.

Just as Jesus did not leave Thomas high and dry, to figure things out on his own, so Jesus will not leave us. Our Lord came to Thomas in the upper room, despite his doubts and unbelief, and Jesus also comes to us in our doubts, and in our unbelief.

Now, Thomas didn’t actually see Jesus, at first. He had just heard from others who had seen Jesus. But then, a second time, the risen Lord appeared to the disciples. Again, in the locked room, and this time, Thomas was there.

What were Jesus’ words to Thomas? “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.”

Thomas responded with that tremendous affirmation, “My Lord and my God!” Praise God for the sincere, heartfelt response of Thomas.

Jesus’ words to His doubting disciple serve as words of comfort and reassurance to me. I know I have doubts and fears, sometimes. And just as Jesus did not leave Thomas doubting, so too, Jesus will not leave me doubting, either. He will welcome me with open arms, coming through the locked doors of my fear, anger, doubt and unbelief.

Thomas saw Jesus. Seeing was believing, in Thomas’ case. Moreover, the risen Jesus continues with the statement, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” –here’s the best part of all. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

What was that Jesus just said? Did I read that correctly? “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” So–the Gospel of John says here that all who have not actually seen the risen Lord and yet have come to believe are indeed blessed.

That means Christians throughout the centuries are blessed, since they have come to believe in Jesus Christ and yet have not actually, physically seen Him as risen from the dead. That means you and I are blessed, since we have come to believe in Jesus Christ, too. How awesome is that? I am–you are–we all are blessed because the Lord Jesus says so!

Just as Jesus helped Thomas to believe, so the Gospel of John helps us to believe, too. This Gospel was not only written to bear witness so long ago, in the first century, some years after Jesus was raised from the dead. This Gospel was also written for the many generations which have come to believe throughout the centuries. And that includes us, too. Even though we may have doubts, and unbelief, and wonder whether, and why, or even why not, Jesus comes to us in our doubts and unbelief. Our Lord comes to us with reassurance and open arms and says “Do not doubt, but believe!”

Praise God that as we come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, we can have life in His name. And Jesus can come to us, at any point in our walk with the Lord, no matter what the circumstance happens to be, no matter where we are in our lives. Thank God that Jesus will be there for us and with us, no matter what. May we all be able to affirm, with Thomas, that the risen Jesus is our Lord and our God.

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

Woman-and-Jesus-

April 5, 2015 – John 20:18

Who doesn’t like to hear a good story? Storytellers are wonderful to listen to. Small children love to hear stories. Even grown-ups enjoy stories. Certain stories are told over and over again, in different ways. Cinderella. King Arthur. The Arabian Nights. Aesop’s fables. Even the Wizard of Oz. What about The Greatest Story Ever Told? That’s another name for the narrative of the Passion Week, following Jesus step by step from Palm Sunday through Good Friday, finishing up with the happily ever after ending on Easter morning!

We left Jesus on the cross, on Friday afternoon, when last we met in St. Luke’s sanctuary on Good Friday. Jesus had walked through the days of Holy Week, debating with the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders in the Temple. He had eaten a Passover dinner with His disciples on Thursday evening. The special thing Jesus did on Thursday was instituting the Lord’s Supper with the bread and cup of the Passover meal. Do this in remembrance of Me, He said.

After dinner, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He wanted His disciples to keep watch with Him, but they were too exhausted. After the events of a very busy week, just think. The disciples couldn’t keep their eyes open!

Then the events follow in rapid succession. The arrest, torture, trials, and sentencing. The walk down the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow. Jesus dragging the cross outside the old city of Jerusalem. The disciples fled. (I won’t blame them—since their Rabbi and master was sentenced as a criminal and enemy of the state, I suspect the disciples were afraid they might be connected with their leader Jesus, too!) We see the women at the foot of the cross. The faithful women. And Jesus’ mother, Mary. Then—Jesus dies on the cross. The earth quakes, the sky is darkened. All creation mourns as the Word made flesh, the creator of all the universe, dies on the cross.

As we continued to follow the Greatest Story Ever Told, Jesus is taken down from the cross shortly before sunset. His body is turned over to one of the Pharisees, Joseph of Arimethea. That Pharisee who came to Jesus one night early in His ministry, recorded in John chapter 3. Joseph hurriedly lays the dead body of Jesus in a tomb nearby. And, the faithful women are also there. They follow the dead body to the tomb.

What faith they must have had! What tenacity, and what love. To follow their leader, their rabbi, their Lord and master, even though He’s dead. To care for His body, in the absence of the disciples. The men disciples who are in hiding.

The women are there. Not shunted aside, not put in second place. These faithful women play an important role in caring for their Rabbi and their friend, hurriedly washing and preparing His dead body for the grave, before the Sabbath begins at sunset.

As Friday night swiftly approaches, with it comes the Jewish holy observance. Especially this special Sabbath—which falls during Passover. No work is to be done at all on this holy day of rest, not even the compassionate work of caring for a dead body.

After Sabbath day and Saturday night end, it is now Sunday morning. Faithful Mary Magdalene heads out for the tomb even before the sun has fully risen. Can you see her, eager in her haste to get to the tomb? With some oils to anoint the body, perhaps? But as she comes near the tomb, she discovers the stone has been rolled away. The tomb is now empty. What happened? What on earth is going on? Mary runs to get some assistance, someone to come with her and check things out more fully. (Prudent, I say! Better to be safe, Mary!)

Sure enough, Mary tells what she discovered. Two of the—men—disciples come back with her. Mary returns with the other two, back to the tomb. They see the tomb, and sure enough. It is empty. And then, these two disciples turn right around. Go back to the rest. In hiding.

But—what about Mary? What does she do?

Again, I come back to the indisputable fact that the women are faithful and true. The women show compassion, love, and care for their Rabbi, their master and friend. Mary stays put near the tomb, and weeps.

What a roller coaster ride Mary has been on. Starting on Palm Sunday, their leader and master Jesus marches right into the lion’s den, right into Jerusalem itself. All through the Passion Week, Jesus appears in and around Jerusalem, in the Temple, doing anything but keeping a low profile. And I am certain the disciples and the women accompanying them knew very well that the Jewish leaders and most of the Pharisees were planning on doing bad things to Jesus. I suspect the events of Good Friday were not totally unexpected.

So, at this desperate point, early on Sunday morning, Mary weeps. She does not know where her Lord and Master’s body has gone! After many days and nights of worry, anxiety, strong emotion, and intense grief, I can well understand how Mary broke down in tears.

What about us, today? Have you ever been through days of intense emotion, gut-wrenching anxiety, even intense grief? All of those feelings tumbling and roiling through you? Then you know a little of what Mary was going through.

What Mary did not suspect at first was that she was in the Greatest Story Ever Told. She sees Someone through her tears, in the cemetery. She suspects this Person is the gardener, of all things! She says, still crying, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Then, Jesus—for it is He!—Jesus speaks to her. Jesus calls her by name. “Mary!”   Do you hear that? Jesus calls her by name. “Mary!” How sweet to have someone who loves you very much call you by name! Remember, I just said that Mary had been on an emotional roller coaster the whole week previous? Just think what this would do! Wow!

Mary’s eyes are opened. Mary finally sees clearly, and responds, “Rabbi!” “Teacher!”

There’s a word in the next verse that is sometimes misunderstood. In verse 17, Jesus tells Mary, “Do not hold on to me.” I’d like to tell you about this phrase. In the original language, Greek, the word ‘hold on’ or ‘touch’ is a present imperative verb. The verb in the sentence can be translated “Do not keep touching me!” Mary finally realizes that it was really and truly Jesus, in the flesh. And I bet she fell on her knees and grabbed onto His legs with every ounce of strength in her body. Clutching, crying, laughing. Can you just see her? Can you just see them? Jesus, gently trying to get her to let go. “Mary, Mary, can you stop clutching at Me?”

Can you see Mary now, as she understands in full. Jesus is alive! He is risen! Then, she listens to Jesus. Returns to the disciples, and declares the joyful truth to everyone!

So, Mary is not only a faithful friend and follower of her Rabbi, she is also someone who carries the Good News! The news that Jesus is no longer dead, but He is risen! He is alive again. I want all of you to understand this all-important point. Jesus has entrusted Mary with the Gospel message. Mary Magdalene is no longer just a supporting player, just a side note in the Gospel. Instead, she transitions to a lead actor in the Greatest Story Ever Told, here in John 20. And, one of the first and best preachers, sharing her experience, hope and joy.

What a story! Except—this is not make-believe. This is for real. This is very much the truth. Yes, Jesus is alive. Yes, He is Lord. And, yes, He has conquered death once and for all. Do you hear? Listen again to the words of Mary. She told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”

I pray that we all can affirm together today: He is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!

Alleluia! Amen!

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions and notes for Lent 2015. #40acts Do Lent generously! And, to the Rev. Dave Buerstetta for several ideas from his commentary notes on John 20:1-18.

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)