Monday, June 20, 2016

Not Enough Colors

John 20:1-18
[This in an Easter scripture, but I asked the congregation to think about Mary of Mandala while James read it]
A while back I had a discussion with a friend (although if you heard us you might have described it as an argument)
He was saying that we need more rules;  that the clergy would not behave in the right way without more rules.  (He also was telling me what the right way was).  He said the world is jut too confusing without them.
Well, the world is confusing, and I confess that there are times when it would be easier have a rule rather than having to take the effort to determine what the right thing to do in a certain situation. A while ago a person read a chapter of I Corinthians to our pastor telling her that she should not be in the pulpit. (she also was scolding the women who did not wear head coverings in church.)  How do we treat the person.  We don’t’ have a rule, but we do say that we welcome EVERYONE.  I have heard and been part of several discussions about that.
  I thought I was raising my daughters in a confusing time,  (And now the times seem even more confusing)
.  But I also felt that rules weren't the answer to my fears.  I could offer observations; and sometimes they helped, (and sometimes not so much). And I could let them both know that they were loved.
It seems to me that any peace we might find; any sense of security you or I may have has to come from within ourselves.
That, I believe, is the peace we see in Jesus, for Jesus peace seems to have meant, not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love. (I like that statement of Feredrich Buchner on the cover of the bulletin.)  I would like to talk about that sense of peace this morning.  I have chosen a person in whom I believe we can see this peace clearly.  
That person is Mary of Magdala, (but you already guessed that.)  Magdala was a village of the Sea of Galilee.  You might think that Mary was an unlikely person to use as an example because  some folks believe that Mary of Magdala was a prostitute, although the reference in the Bible is not at all clear about that.
What is clear in the Biblical record is that Jesus helped her find release from a very troubling problem.  (The author of the Gospel of Luke says it was seven devils - which would seem to indicate a very severe torment of the mind.)  The peace she found in that healing made it possible for her to become a disciple.   She followed Jesus from village to village.  The they killed him.   The killed the person who had helped her find her way back from hell.   When that happened Mary from Magdala was there to the bitter end.  On Sunday Mary from Magdala was among the first to go to the tomb.   (I would note that at the terrifying moments the men all went off and hid.  It was the women who stood my Jesus at the foot of the cross and the tomb)
Mary of Magdala and the other Mary were bringing spices to anoint his body; but, when they arrived at the tomb, the stone closing the entry of the tomb was rolled away.  She must have wondered why his body was not there; and where had it been taken.  What happened here, where had he gone.
I think that those questions refer to more than geography.
When I ask those questions about a friend i really want to know more than geography.
(Although you have to be careful about that.  A young boy asked his dad,,  “where did I come from?’  His dad gulped a couple of times and gave his son the whole lecture about the birds and bees.   The boy said.  I know all that.  John came from Issaquah, Jim came from Sequim, Jane came from Nob Noster, Missouri.  (We aren’t the only state with odd names)  So where did I come from???
We know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  We know that he grew up in Nazareth..   I also know that those facts are open for discussion.  But Kathy, in our Bible Study, asked us to look at his life to see how it impacted ours.  What we really want to know is what he believed and how he got strength and peace from those beliefs.
My youngest daughter, Becky, had a series of pets, and when one of the cherished pets died she would ask, “Where did  Perky go?  And I would reply with some words,  “Perky went into the ground.  or Perky went to be with God.  I had to use figurative language to come to grips with the mysteries of life. I simply don’t have enough colors in my crayon box.  I don’t apologize for that.
I know some facts about Jesus, but they only take me part of the way.
I know that he was honest and candid.
I believe that he was completely human.  
I believe that he was the most of God that could be poured into a human without destroying the humaness.
I believe he said what he meant and meant what he said.
I believe that when he forgave the people who were putting him to death he didn’t say that because it would make him look good;
or because it would make his mother happy to hear him say such a nice thing.
I believe he did it because it expressed who he was.   He just did it.   I can’t explain that fully.  Neither can I explain the beauty of the stars, -- or the sound of the wind in the trees, — or the beauty of the rose on the screen, — or the sound of the wind chimes in an orchard at a friends house. -- or the clean fresh smell of the air after a rainstorm.
I rounded a corner is the Denver art museum one afternoon and there was a sleeping figure so real that I wanted to tip toe to keep from waking her. --   Neither can I explain the strength and sense of peace I get from a hug of a friend. 
I read a lot, and have gone to a lot of workshops; I have the largest box of crayolas money can buy, but my imagination just doesn’t have enough colors to do justice to those events.

I can imagine how Mary must have felt when she rushed back to the village and her story tumbled out in a rush.  Peter and John rushed to the tomb and neither did they know what to make of it.     Nor do we.    Exactly what happened remains a mystery.  —  Was it just a story the gospel writers made up, or did it really happen.  —  If it happened what difference does it make to us when we lose our job, or when someone we love more than life itself is desperately ill,  or wrestling with 7 devils like Mary was.  (which is to say they are going through mental torment and anguish.
So the disciples went back home again  — but Mary stayed at the tomb weeping and thinking.   I would guess that she was remembering Jesus.  (re membering — putting his life back together from her memories)   Maybe she was remembering the time when life started to come together for her.  The time when something Jesus said started her back to wholeness.  The moment when the torment in her mind started to lessen.
(That is the meaning of salvation for me; the movement toward wholeness)
But memories don’t seem to be enough.  Mary sensed that some one was standing near; she turned and the stranger asked.   —   “Why are you weeping?”    Now that is a very personal question that has to be answered in the first person.  You can’t answer that question by quoting someone, or quoting something you read once in a book or on the internet
it might be asked of some one who realizes that they are not going to accomplish everything in life that they hoped to. ———
It might be asked by any of us who realized last Wednesday when Steve and Kathy moved to Seattle, that they we really leaving us.  And although they are near, Kathy is not our pastor after the last day of this month.   (And not only that but she won’t be talking to us for a year while Paul Mitchell is getting to know us and we him as our pastor.)  —
It might be asked by a person who feels betrayed by someone and has hurt them and caused them to cut themselves from other relationships and now they feel so lonely.  —
It might by asked of all of us who have experienced one of days when nothing seems to go right.  While I was working on this service I let my attention lapse and closed my finger in the car door.  (Ouch) (Or maybe some other words)   And then I decided to clean up my keyboard, messed it up, so that it wouldn’t work, and then when it started to work it decided to erase what I had written….   Well you know how some days seem to go.      —      Why are you weeping??
 Or at a deeper level, we, you and I, may be longing for a profound relationship with God which seems always to elude us.
—  We attend church, but we live as if don’t see or understand how God can really be interested in us.  —  as if we don’t quite see how  God can love us with all of our shortcomings.
Why are we weeping  —  for whom are we looking?
Mary from Mandala said something like, “I am looking for a friend, my teacher who died last Friday.   That was a good answer for her.   —    But I would suggest it may not be adequate for us.   If we are looking for a teacher who died a long time ago why not choose Socrates, or Buddha.  Jesus left more than teachings.  Mary knew that.  Mary was’t just looking for a friend, she had experienced Jesus in her life at some very deep levels.
I answered the phone one evening and when I heard the voice speak my name I recognized a friend I had not heard from for quite a while.  A lot of good feeling came swelling in.  So I don’t have any trouble understanding how that voice affected Mary.  How the life and love and peace came flooding back.  She thought all of that was gone, but here it was.   That one word, her name, changed everything for her.
I don’t know how to explain the mystery of that moment, I try, but in the end I know I do not have enough colors in my box of crayolas.
There are a number of those mysteries with which I still struggle.  — But then Jesus never claimed to clear up all the mysteries of life, did he.  It seems to me that Jesus was more interested in changing lives than in explaining.
I would expand on that thought with this story about Jesus at the wedding feast.  It was in a group discussion about Jesus changing the water into wine.  One man gave this reply:
“I don’t know about that… But in my home Jesus changed alcohol into furniture and that is miracle enough for me.”
I know folks who could give the same kind of an answer although it would not always be alcohol — but anger  -  or despair —  or hopelessness  — or loneliness  -  changed; —  transformed into something positive and good and beautiful.
Mary didn’t find Jesus,  Jesus found Mary.   
The gospel — the good news isn’t seeking and finding.  It is being sought and found.,   
On hearing the voice Mary went to tell the others,  “I have seen the lord.”
  It seems to me that there is more to life than meets the eye.   My friend on the street corner was right on when he said that there is a lot wrong with this world.  A lot of confusion, anger, needless conflict and bloodshed and abuse.
However it seems to me that what is needed is not a rule; it is inner strength and peace.    I am speaking now from my own experience, but I may be speaking for you as well because we are all in this together.
I have found that the more I come to experience God in my life the more my values change  — they become inner values rather than outer rules.   So I find myself  laughing at some of the things I used to be afraid of.   I don’t have enough colors in my box to explain that..   It is something like the difference between watching skiers on television and skiing yourself.
I can’t point to any moment when my life started to change as some folks do, but I do remember a lot of little events and a lot of individuals who have contributed.  I know that my faith is changing from something I learned by reading about other peoples faith, to an experience of God in my life.
I find that inner experience somehow frees my spirit to soar.
I have a friend who tells me,, from time to time, that she isn’t through raising me yet.  (She usually says that when I have done or said something really dumb.)  When we baptize someone we affirm that we will help them grow in faith. I don’t remember my own baptism, but because those words are part of that service, I know they were there.   I continue to call on that support as I continue to grow and learn
I have grown through some emotional pressures I never would have dreamed I could survive when I started this adventure.    I am still going though some .. —  that is still a part of the adventure   —  I have away to go yet.   Please don’t misunderstand that.   I am not saying I am finished with the journey.  I believe that this salvation about which I am talking is more a matter of direction than it is of destination.   (Robert Raines says that success is a moving target.)  I find that to be true of salvation as well.  But through all the journey God is holding me together  — holding me up.
I am discovering more and more that it isn’t my hold on God,  it is God’s hold on me that brings the peace I am finding.
Maybe that is your experience also.  I wish for you Shalom  —  God’s deep peace.

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