Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Easter! Find Your Voice

Resurrection and Justification                                                                                                 Easter 2018

"Find Your Voice"

Rev. Paul Mitchell

Vashon United Methodist Church

April 1, 2018
Romans 6:1-11, Mark 16:1-8

As a child, when Mom or Dad reached the end of a favorite story book, I did not turn and ask, “But what does it mean?” If you were like me, you said, “Read it again.” As an adult, my first response is more likely to be, “What happens next?” If the story really soaks in, I’ll come around to the question, “But, what does it mean?” And, of course, while we share our human condition, the same story could mean something very different to each of us. The Gospel accounts of Jesus illustrate this diversity of memory and imagination. Each of them reports similar events, drawn from a favorite story that has been heard again and again, and retold through the lens of meaning and experience of a particular person and community. Each telling emphasizes different implications. The first recorded Gospel account we have of Jesus is Mark, written some forty years after the events it strives to remember. Think back on some significant event that you experienced forty years ago – something vivid and important, that continues to hold meaning for you today – that continues to shape your life. Are the details accurate? Is the sequence of events unaltered? Has the importance of your own part in the story been inflated in your memory? Perhaps there was something a little unsatisfying, that became richer and more truthful by embroidering in a little more detail or finishing it with a clear conclusion.

There's something a little unsatisfying about how the Gospel of Mark ends. For one thing, it ends with the word afraid. It’s also unsatisfying to us because we want to know what happens next. In the early years there were various attempts to append an additional ending to the Gospel of Mark. And there are two, in most bibles you can see the shorter and longer ending of Mark, but those were additional – years later. I think the original, unsatisfying ending was deliberate, though. I think, like us, the first Christians were afraid or intimidated from speaking the marvelous truth they experienced. It might get them into trouble. The shorter, less satisfying ending reminds us that if they had not eventually found their voices, the good news would never be known.
Why do we go through this cycle year after year, after year? Why do we go back to the same readings again and again? Well, I'll tell you, for me, it comes from that passion that I have for the scripture, that every time I do, I hear something new. There's new life every time. Karl Barth, one of the great theologians of the early twentieth century, is thought to have said that “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other in order to hear God's news, good news for us in our time in place.” Our life as Christians in the world today happens at the meeting of the Gospel and of what's happening in the world – at the intersection between the Word of life and way of the world.
Often, when I read Mark’s conclusion of the good news, two lines leap forth, as if they were leaping off the page for me. The first one is this,
“But go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him just as he told you.”
He is going ahead of you. Just as he told you… in a kind of unpredictable way, but he told us where he's going. He's going back to Galilee, from whence he came, to complete the work that he started there. The second line that often leaps from the page for me is in the next verse.
“So they went out and fled from the tomb for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.”
They said nothing to anyone. Now we know that ultimately, they must've said something to someone because here we are today, right? Eventually they found their voice and they were able to proclaim what they had witnessed.
This year, once again, the text spoke to me in a new way when I picked up the newspaper, so to speak – actually it was my increased attention to the news apps on my phone over the past year and half. It’s a point of intersection between the biblical witness and the world in which we live. Perhaps you saw a meme I posted on our church Facebook page that said this:
“Without women preachers, we would have no knowledge of the resurrection.”
Matthew tells us that two women found the empty tomb first and conveyed a message to the men. Luke tells us that the men thought the women’s message was an idle tale. In John, Mary Magdalene’s message did not move the men from their hiding place. Mark’s original ending simply does not say. Their voices seem to have been suppressed. Not unlike the voices of women through the ages when men dismiss their witness or perpetrate violence against them and those they love. The voices of women have been awakened.
Other voices, too, have been awakened in recent years in response to crucifixions of the most brutal kind, and the spirit that rises in response. We can see this in the Black Lives Matter movement. Black men have been systematically executed, and their killers routinely exonerated. Exonerate means to remove the burden – ex onus – to take the onus off someone. It is to lift their burden. And yet, it seems clear to me, that the burden has been shifted rather than lifted. The burden has been shifted again and again onto the backs of those whose ancestors were considered not fully human – but rather beasts of burden upon whose backs our experiment in democracy was founded. When we confuse our faith in Jesus Christ with our nationality or citizenship we risk the peril of falling into line with those who executed the one we call our sovereign.
Resurrection.. is God's exoneration of Jesus….
We know that Jesus was held guilty and executed in the domination system of his time. Resurrection is God's exoneration, God lifting the burden from him saying,
“No! There is no guilt.”
In Jesus Christ we are baptized into death, Jesus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection. But for me, our salvation is accomplished more through the resurrection than through the Crucifixion, more through our exoneration, through the lifting of the burden of guilt from us than it is through the execution of Jesus. Baptism means that we are joined into his passion – his passion for life – and his exoneration.
Now, I'm a universal pluralist, which means basically that I think somehow in some way God is going to redeem all of creation, not because of something that we do or we're capable of or that we deserve or that we choose, but because that's God's mission in this creation is to redeem the whole of creation. All suffer. We all suffer because we are made capable of suffering in order to care for others so that all will be exonerated. But we, as members of the body of Jesus Christ, have been baptized into a particular passion and a particular exoneration. We are joined into the passion of Jesus’ Way and we've talked about that many times. Jesus’ way of forgiveness, Jesus’ way of generosity, of hospitality, of inclusion, and of justice, seeking the way the world was meant to be – in Jesus’ language – shalom.
Back to Mark, back to the Gospel – the good news. And those two lines that leapt out, that leapt forth this year, right off the page.
“He is going ahead of you.”
Jesus is always on the move. He's never going to be where you expect to find him. He's always a step or two or ten or light years ahead of us. We can never quite catch up with him.
“You were looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised, is not here.”
Says the man in white. Not an angel, but yet a Divine Messenger.
“He is going ahead of you to Galilee.”
He's gone back into the world. He's gone back to work. Back to the work that he started – or to a new work, a new creation. What did he encounter there in Galilee? Oppression, violence, military occupation, subjugation of a people to a domination system, and fear….
It sounds like where we are today. We are in Galilee, and Jesus has come here to continue his work. Would he not encounter the same thing if he were here today? When he goes ahead of us? Into our Galilee. But now that he has overcome death, nothing can stop him. And we, we have been baptized into his passion and his exoneration.
“But then they said nothing to anyone.”
They had lost their voices, their courage, their heart. Was it merely grief and shock? Or had they begun to understand that in following Jesus, something was expected of them. Had they begun to understand that in exonerating Jesus, God was setting before them a new path, that path of forgiveness, generosity, hospitality, integrity, and justice. Especially when it comes into conflict with the principalities and powers. This is especially where God has exonerated our work as followers of Jesus Christ, when we come into conflict with the principalities and powers. Yet we know that they eventually found their voices. Otherwise, we would not be here today.
Who will we find when we catch up to Jesus already at work in Galilee? I think we would find another chorus of voices that has arisen in response to executions of human life and spirit – the voices of young people, courageous, articulate young people who have time and again witnessed the silencing of voices – by gunfire. Here in Galilee we have heard the voices of young people around the world crying “Enough is enough!” in response to a culture that values possessions more than life. They have joined the chorus of voices crying “Me Too!” in response to a culture that values power more than life, and the chorus of voices crying “Black Lives Matter!” in response to a culture that values privilege more than life.
During this season of Lent, if you happen to have been here on Sunday, you know that I imagined myself with the voice of someone who observed the intersection between the Word of life and way of the world. It was a rich experience for me – trying on the voices of others, a Judean seeker, a privileged Cesarean gentile, a temple merchant, a Pharisee, a Greek seeker, a Roman Centurion. In that process I believe I found an amplification of my voice and God’s voice in the experience of others. Have you found God’s voice in any of those voices? Have you heard your own voice in any of the voices of the crowd? of the disciples? of Peter, maybe Pilate? maybe the chief priests and the elders? Have you found God’s voice in courageous women, of people of color, of young people? There is perhaps a bit of each one of them in each one of us.
So today, finally, after all these weeks, I speak in my own voice. My voice has changed through this experience of listening for the voice of the other.
Find your voice.
Go ahead to Galilee.
See if you can catch up with Jesus.
Bring the newspaper or your news app in one hand and the Bible or your Bible App in the other.
See with the mind of Christ.
Take the path of Jesus.
Find your voice.
Raise your voice.
Christ is risen. Christ is risen, indeed.
Christ is risen. Christ indeed.
Hallelujah! Amen.
Easter people raise your voices.

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