Monday, April 20, 2015

Is s/he faking it?

Luke 24:36b-48, Easter 3 B, April 19, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

My Grandma in 2007.

When I was on vacation, I went with my father to visit my grandmother. When we walked into the memory care unit of the nursing home, we entered a large room. It was full of chairs and couches, and a few residents were scattered among these seats. There was a large - and loud! - television above the fireplace. 

These residents were all facing the TV, but it was clear that they were not really engaging with the TV. They certainly weren’t engaging with each other either. In a sense, they were faking it - they were pretending to watch the television. For all they were doing, they could have been staring at a blank wall.

My grandmother was among them. She wasn’t any more focused than anyone else. So my father and I sat on the couch with her. Now, it was the day after the tornados went through Iowa and Illinois. As part of conversation, I asked her, “Grandma, did you hear the terrible thunderstorm yesterday?” And with a blank face, my grandmother said, “Um…yes.” It was clear to me that my grandmother most certainly did not remember the storms that went on for hours.

Then my father said, “The storms were so bad that my office lost power. Grandma, did you lose power?” Her face still blank, she said, “Um…no.” Once again, it was clear to me that my grandmother did not remember at all. She was faking it. She didn’t remember anything, but she was asked a yes or no question. She could chose “yes” or “no,” and this time she happened to guess correctly.

Then we went to visit my dad’s Aunt Rose. Aunt Rose is long past the stage of faking it. She was calling out for her parents, her brother, and her husband, who all are deceased. Aunt Rose was ready to die.

After spending some time with Aunt Rose, we went back to visit with my grandmother, now in her room. We tried to chat with her for a while. Then a staff person walked in with her nightly pills. She introduced herself, “Hi Clara, my name is Sophie.” My grandmother decided then to introduce her visitors. She pointed to my father and said, “This is my son Jim.” (Which is correct.) Then she pointed to me and said, “This is…Linda.”

My heart broke a little. Not only did my grandmother get my name wrong, but she called me by my step mother’s name. My grandmother had been faking it well until this point. But in this moment she proved that she didn’t have it all together. 

We all have seen these signs of aging in the people whom we love. Especially when our loved ones have dementia, they slowly lose control of their minds. On the outside, they may look like they have it all under control, but on the inside, they are a mess. They are faking it.

Now let us look at the gospel lesson. When the disciples see Jesus, they aren’t sure if they believe he is really there. They wonder if Jesus is faking it. They saw him die. Is Jesus faking being alive? To prove it to them, Jesus shows his hands and his feet. The disciples see the marks of his crucifixion not as open wounds but as scars. Somehow, Jesus was not faking it. Jesus was alive.

But then the disciples wonder, “Is he still human?” Jesus was acting a little different, a little weird. He may be alive, but in what form? So Jesus did the most human, earthly thing - he ate with them. They cooked up some fish, and he ate. And this wasn’t like the ghostly trio in the Casper movie who gobbled up food just for the food to fall immediately to the floor. Jesus ate like a regular human. Jesus was not faking it.

Then the disciples wonder, “He may be alive and human, but is he God? Before, Jesus could do things that no one else could.” So, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45). Jesus revealed to them in moments what would have taken hours to teach and preach. Jesus showed them who he was and how he fit into God’s larger story. In that moment, in how he showed them and in what he showed them, the disciples knew that Jesus is God. Jesus most certainly was not faking that.

Jesus then tells them, “You are witnesses of these things.” And so they were. They shared their story with everyone they met. They even recorded their stories in scripture. 

We also are witnesses of these things. We read Jesus’ story in the Bible. We listen to it proclaimed. We witness Jesus in baptism and in communion. Yet we experience Christ outside of worship, too. We witness Christ in each other. 

Even when I was visiting with my grandmother, I saw Christ there. Christ was present the few times that I could see the spark of her soul still alive inside her. Yet most of all, Christ was alive among us making that visit holy, that awkward visit between grandmother, son, and granddaughter. And when my grandmother eventually passes away, Christ will be with her then too.

We are witnesses of these things. We witness the holy in the ordinary. We witness Christ among us in church and outside church. We witness Christ in our blessings and in our challenges. Our charge is then to share our story of the good news with others. May Christ give you the courage to do so. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Easter Day

Mark 16:1-8, Easter Day B, April 5, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and Salome collapsed into a heap of wails and tears on that hill named Golgotha. They were quite a distance away from Jesus, safely out of reach of the soldiers. Even so, for all three hours they could hear Jesus' labored breathing and as he cried out. When he breathed his last, their tears grew bigger as their wails grew louder. 

They remained there and watched Jesus' limp body as the soldiers drove a spear into his side. By the time the men took Jesus' body down off the cross, the three women were out of tears. Their emotions moved from uncontrollable crying to sheer numbness. 

When the men were about to take Jesus' body away to the tomb, the women simply stared. They were so numb that they could not move, yet they desperately wanted to follow Jesus' body. Gathering up what little strength she had left, Mary Magdalene grabbed the other Mary and Salome's hands. There was something in that gesture that empowered these women to share their strength. They arose in silence, walking hand in hand as they followed Joseph of Arimathea.

They kept their distance, yet they never let Jesus out of their sight. Once Jesus was safely in the tomb and the stone was rolled to block the entrance, the ladies remained there, hand in hand, until it was almost dark. 

Still in silence, they returned to where the disciples had stayed the night before. The men were nowhere in sight, yet the women were too exhausted to care. They collapsed once more, this time falling into deeply troubled sleep. Not one of those ladies had any actual rest that night.

The next day was the sabbath, so the ladies were limited in what they could do. They found some food and tentatively tried to speak to each other. They wondered about what they saw the day before. How could God's will be done in such a brutal death? What would come from Jesus' crucifixion? That entire day, they did not see any of the disciples.

When evening came and the sabbath was over, the women finally felt safe enough to leave their small dwelling. They thought about Jesus' body in that tomb and couldn't stand the thought that he was not properly prepared for burial. They could not save Jesus from dying, nor could they raise Jesus from the dead. Yet anointing his body with spices was the one thing that they could do. They needed to do this as a part of their grieving process.

So they gathered their money together and headed to the marketplace. They hid their faces so no one could discover their Galilean identity. They found a merchant who sold them the proper spices and scented oils for anointing a dead body. He looked aside at them as they were leaving. They wondered if he suspected who they were, so they rushed off.

Mary Magdalene, Salome, and the other Mary spent one last night in their cramped little space. As they shared a bite of food, they wondered what happened to the disciples. Without their strong fishermen's arms, these ladies had no clue how they would get that massive stone out of the entrance of the tomb. They fell asleep wondering and hoping.

Early the next morning, even before first light, the women awoke with anxious excitement. They continued to grieve for Jesus, and they were looking forward to anointing Jesus' body. So, they gathered up their spices and oils and left their abode for the last time. No matter what happened at the tomb, they were ready to leave Jerusalem.

As they approached the tomb, they noticed something very odd. The stone was on the ground next to the doorway. It was not covering the entrance to the tomb. Something seemed to be faintly glowing inside. Cautiously, nervously, Mary, Mary, and Salome approached that tomb entrance. 

Still standing outside, they all leaned in and poked their heads through the opening. They saw then that the glowing was coming from a young man in a white robe. He was sitting on the right side of the tomb. This man had no wings of course, but his appearance certainly was heavenly. This man must have been an angel.

Seeing the fear in their eyes and in their body posture, this man quickly started talking. "Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, whom you watched be crucified. I smell that you brought spices to anoint his body. Well, I have good news! You no longer need those oils! Jesus isn't here! He has been raised - God raised Jesus from the dead. See for yourself the place where his body was."

At that point, all three women fell on their knees, crossing the threshold of the tomb. They could not believe their eyes. Truly, Jesus' body was not in that tomb! Where could it be, they wondered? Could this young man truly be telling the truth?

Then the women looked back at the young man with hesitant hopefulness written across their faces. He continued, "Go. Tell all his disciples, even Peter, that Jesus is already on his way to Galilee. You will see him in your hometown, just as he told you he would."

Tripping over their own clothes and each other, Mary, Mary, and Salome dropped their spices and ran away. They didn't say a word to each other or to anyone else. They ran out of Jerusalem and followed the path to Galilee. They were going home, home! Where they hoped to be reunited with the disciples. And maybe - just maybe - they would see Jesus too.

"The shorter ending of the sermon"
The original ending of the gospel of Mark states that the ladies said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. They were afraid for their lives if they would be killed for believing that Jesus was raised from the dead. They were afraid that the disciples would not believe them. They were afraid that the angel had lied.

"The longer ending of the sermon"
But we have the benefit of history. We know from the other gospel accounts that these ladies did see Jesus resurrected. We know that Jesus is alive and that we have new life because of this. We have no reason to be afraid of the good news.

So your task this day and always is to share the good news. Tell everyone you see that Jesus is alive! Live your life every day a bit more joyfully because Jesus has been raised. Heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely. Whatever you do, do it in Jesus' name. Because Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

Good Friday

John 18:1-19:42, Good Friday B, April 3, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

On the Moth podcast, Melissa tells her story of the worst day of her life. The day started just like any other. Her father woke up early to work in their field. Her mother woke her seven-year-old self out of bed, followed by her three-year-old sister Heidi. Their baby sister Clara was cooing from the crib.

After the entire family was ready for the day, Melissa’s mother was hurriedly cleaning the house in preparation for the children’s grandmother to visit. Struggling to get anything done with two young daughters underfoot, their mother sent Melissa and Heidi outside to play.

Melissa immediately went to her tree house. Three-year-old Heidi was too young to climb the ladder by herself, so she said, “Up! Help me up!” In a grouchy seven-year-old mood, Melissa sent her sister away to play by herself.

Then, when their grandmother arrived, Melissa’s mother went outside to gather the family. She found Melissa in the treehouse but couldn’t find Heidi. Then, with a scream, their mom saw Heidi floating face down in the pond with her little red boat floating next to her. Heidi died that day.

For the past twenty years, Melissa has wondered, “If only I had helped Heidi up the ladder that day…” Then maybe her parents wouldn’t have divorced. Then maybe their family could have been happy. Then maybe they each wouldn’t have been ripped apart by their grief and guilt.

Now Melissa is married with a three-year-old daughter of her own. The pond in her own back yard freaks her out. With all of her old emotions rushing up again, Melissa talks to her mother. She confesses her guilt that she feels responsible for her sister’s death. 

Then her mother shockingly confesses, “I was the last one that saw Heidi that day. I never told anyone this because I didn’t want your father to blame me. I sent her out to play with her little red boat.” This confession lifted the guilt off of Melissa’s shoulders, yet she could see that her mother still carried that heavy weight of guilt.

Then Melissa talks to her father. He confesses, “[Your mother] wasn’t to blame. I was the last to see Heidi that day. I was working in the garden, and I saw her heading down to the pond with her little red boat. If only I had stopped working and gone down with her, things might have been different.”

So, for over twenty years, Melissa, her mother, and her father each separately bore the weight of guilt for Heidi’s death. They never spoke openly about what happened, so Heidi’s death created a chasm between each of them. They could not express their true feelings, so they stopped talking. Then, after twenty years, they finally were honest with each other. They finally could reconcile. 

We are gathered here to remember not Heidi’s death but Jesus’ death. Like Melissa, her mother, and her father, we each bear some blame for Jesus’ death. Yet, there are more than just three people who hold this guilt.

As we participate in the passion reading, we remembered how that first generation fell under evil’s power and condemned Jesus to death. Yet their words are not just for them. Generations throughout history have recalled and recited these words as well. Now it is our turn to passionately cry out, “Crucify him!” As painful as it is to say these words, it can also be cathartic.

When we shout for Jesus to die, we know that we are condemning ourselves to death as well. We deserve to die, but Jesus does not. As we watch Jesus being crucified on that tree, we see the guilt that we bear in his death.

But we do not bear this alone. If we can learn anything from Melissa, we can see how talking about our guilt and shame is the best way to share our burden. In this service, we all bear part of this guilt, so that no one person is crushed beneath this guilt. For Jesus did not die so that we might be burdened by his death. Instead, Jesus died so that we can be freed by it.

Melissa concluded her Moth talk with these words, “We all think that we need to carry these things alone, that somehow that will make it different. But we don’t need to carry them, and we are not alone…What we can do is to help each other, to love each other during this time we have together.”

Christ died a horrible death, yet his suffering was not in vain. All of the power of sin in the world was destroyed in that one death. Jesus died for us, yet his death is not the end of this story. Amen.