Out of the Darkness

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
Date: April 21, 2019
Scripture: Judaism. Talmud, Berakot 15b | Luke 24:1-12

Sermon: “Out of the Darkness”

It was sometime in 1990, I am not sure of the exact date. I think probably late in the year, my grandma on my mom’s side was prone to strokes late in her life. I had decided to begin the process toward ordained ministry we visited grandma in the nursing facility in Douglass, KS. By this time the strokes had taken their toll and grandma was rendered speechless, literally, she could not speak. Along with that she had become so hard of hearing that she was unable to hear anything shared with her as well. To facilitate that part of her life she had a small chalkboard in her room that we could write in hopes that she could at least read them and have some sense of what we were trying to convey, though as memory serves, I am not sure she had the faculties to communicate that ability or not.

What I remember is a rather serene but unacknowledging facial expression as she sat in the chair in her room. I remember wanting to share with her my decision to enter into the ministry but of course unable to tell if she knew what I was trying to communicate or even that she recognized and knew who I was. I wondered then whether it was a frustrating and difficult place for her, without the ability to share, to speak, to hear, caught in a body that seemed to be a prison, at least from my perspective. I wondered if she was afraid or if she had the capacity for fear, her face certainly showed no sign of stress or struggle. It was a difficult place to be that day.

We have been on a Lenten Journey in the Labyrinth. A journey of twists and turns, of introspection and searching, accompanied by the Divine Presence whose love knows no bounds. And yet, even then, as we ponder this last week of celebration, the turning of the crowd, the final meal, the garden, the betrayal, the trial, and finally death… this week has encompassed the length and breadth of the journey of life, the highs and lows, the joys and sorrows, the hopes and the despair and so, there can be a good number of things that entomb us in fear.

We have been on a journey this season of Lent as we considered things that hold us, and cause us fear. What is it that holds us in fear? Fear is an incarcerating emotion. Fear can lock us down, lock us away, and keep us separate and separated from one another. Fear can be filled with anger, anxiety, dread, and drive us to isolation and hatred. Some of us have experienced more fear, isolation, and internal imprisonment than others. There are those wondering where the next meal is coming from or deciding between filling the prescription or paying the electric bill. There are perhaps those of us gathered here today who are caught between doing what is right and doing what is popular with the least amount of risk. There are perhaps those of us here today that struggle with dogma’s and doctrines of the church; atonement, communion, baptism, the very character of God, authority of scripture, the church in general, even…dare I say…. Resurrection? and are fearful of expressing doubts and asking questions because of past experience…or perhaps these things no longer hold meaning for us and we are fearful of what that means or if there are others like us who are asking the same questions and having the same doubts.

There are perhaps those of us here this morning who long for justice, who have been abused, condemned, judged, rejected, turned away from churches, homes, family, and friends because of sexual orientation, gender, immigration status, age, race, or the need for reproductive care. Perhaps there are those of us who long to speak up for justice and what is right but also fear abuse, rejection, judgment, and condemnation. Or maybe we just fear change. Maybe we are too comfortable with what we used to be, what we are, where we are and we would just as soon stay in this contented state of mind and not rock the boat?

But why do we fear… why do we fear embracing our full humanity… the full Human Being, Wisdom’s Child, as Walter Wink refers to Jesus and us with Jesus reflected in us he too asks the question of why in his book “The Human Being” “Why, if God is trying to incarnate in me through Wisdom’s Child. Do I resist? Can I repudiate the current world order and experience what Paul called “the glorious liberty of the children of God?”

For me, the “Why” is because it is fear laden work…risky! And yet we recognize stepping beyond these fear laden issues and attitudes can lead to isolation and rejection. It is fear burdened work to break free of the tomb, to step through the bars of our fear-filled cells into the light of freedom, equality, and justice for all. But the task, I believe, is worth the risk, it is worth the struggle.

We began this Lenten journey in ashes. Confronting the things that hold us in fear, imprisoned, entombed, and lay them to waste…to burn them away, to let go, and journey into a Lent of confronting our fears and embracing what we have come for today… Awakening! New Life! After all that is why we have come here this morning is it not? To know the struggles of Lent, the pain, and suffering of Holy Week are not the last word?

We have come here, to the tomb, with the women this morning. And discovered there is something afoot… something has changed…something is different… there is an awe-some-ness to the morning …we have encountered Resurrection!

So, what is Resurrection? Oh, I know we have all read the stories we have in our scriptures. Jesus died and then this morning we celebrate his being raised from the dead. However, what does it all mean? Do we know what it meant then? Do we know what it means for us now?

There is mystery in the texts that tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection… none of the four gospels agree as to exactly what happened. Mark, the earliest of the gospels written in the canon of scripture and its oldest ending sees no risen Jesus, the women run from the tomb and say nothing to anyone. Matthew and Luke do not agree on who was there. Luke says the “men” don’t believe the women and their idle tale… John has a different take on women… having Mary be the first preacher of the gospel… not a small doctrinal point.

It is obvious, at least to me, resurrection is not about the creedal in the flesh resuscitation of Jesus that we have for so long made it into. So, if that is the case, what is resurrection? For the ancients…. And for us?

Robin Meyers in his book “Saving Jesus from the Church,” says this, “Is it possible to rise from the dead without one’s body, and if so, how would this be verified? Is Easter a molecular event or a spiritual one?

Rudolph Bultmann – “Jesus rose into the kerygma – that is, in to the faith of the first believers. In other words, the conviction of the followers of Jesus that he was still with them was itself the resurrection. What can be known with certainty is that the Jesus movement in Judea did not cease after the execution of its leader under Pontius Pilate – but expanded! As a Pharisee, Paul believed in the resurrection of the dead, and certainly believed that Jesus had been raised.

But the question Paul goes on to ask is, “With what kind of body do they come?” “What is sown is perishable, what is raised in imperishable … it is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. Bultmann says, What I am saying, is this: Whatever sort of vision Paul claims to have seen on the road to Damascus, it had nothing to do with a body.”

Does this mean we no longer need the resurrection? Does this mean we no longer embrace or include resurrection in our faith, in our doctrines, or relationships? By no means!

Bernard Brandon Scott, in his book “The Trouble with Resurrection” says of the story as it emerged among the ancients and written down…“Israel being raised up in the Hebrew scriptures was always Corporate resurrection. Paul’s understanding of resurrection was as part of community the body of Christ, the church, the community of faith…resurrected…we are resurrected…We Are Risen! Together!

However, for Scott it is even more broad, more encompassing than this as he writes, this metaphor applied to the people of Israel as a corporate raising up, Paul’s alluding to the Body (pointing) of Christ being raised up…“This metaphorical system,” he writes, “also has overtones of God as creator who will restore creation.” Resurrection is fully about the resurrecting of all creation… on such a day as this Resurrection Sunday… this Earth Day! Scott goes on to say…“The power of fiction – fiction does not mean untrue or unreal but describes that which is powerfully imagined and remembered. Fiction is a powerful way of unmasking truth or reality. [it] reminds us of the power of scenario – resurrection is not “A” moment but a story. Its truth is not in its literalness, but its POETIC VISION. The trouble with resurrection is that we have literalized, narrowed, and constricted it, turned it into a creedal belief, and in the process forfeited its great claim and hope.” We keep waiting … And still God does not act. Ironically it is in precisely this situation that we need the hope of resurrection. Crucifixion is not the end, Empire did not win, cannot win. God’s justice is always coming to life; the Kindom of God is like … In the end we are [brought] back to faithfulness and a world that should be.”

So, with this there are a multitude of ways Resurrection, even the resurrection of Jesus on this Easter morning, can be understood… no clearer today than it was in the various stories 2000 years ago. But as Marcus Borg, theologian, author and teacher so appropriately says…. “Believe what you want about the resurrection, believe what you want about how, why, when, the Christ rose from the dead…but what difference does it make in your life today, how does it fill your faith today, how does it fuel you to make this world a better, more just, compassionate, kind, and humble world…. Here and now?

Maybe one of the problems with resurrection is we have left it at the empty tomb some 2000 years ago! We have walked away from the tomb and are still waiting for God to “do something else!” Still trying to prove it happened…Still being caught up in the minute details of the telling and missing the point, when resurrection is still happening. It is happening all around us. Like the Bishop in Diana Butler Bass’s book “Christianity After Religion” said when asked if he believed in the resurrection, “Believe in it?” he said, “I’ve seen it too many times not to!”

It was a difficult time and space in my grandma’s room that day… we hoped we had conveyed our love in ways she had understood… and as we rose to leave… across her lips came one simple word, the only word she had spoken in the time we had been there…. “Kent,” she said. “Kent.” And I am here to tell you… that was resurrection… and the story goes on, every year, every week, every day, every moment…

Resurrection is the story of our faith, however, it is more than that, it is the story of God, it is the story of Creation… all around us in every breath of life, resurrection/new life…Resurrection is about a new thing… about Justice…about participating in the Kindom, it is happening all around us, every moment if we are mindful and awake to it! We are not uninterested, uninvolved onlookers…Resurrection is an ever evolving happening! We are invited into the Resurrection story to be an active part of its Poetic Vision through our awareness and in our participation.
Every time one comes home after a long absence…
That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Every time the treatment, the care, the surgery gives a second chance….
That’s the Poetic Vision Resurrection!

Every time we stand at the grave of a loved one and believe there is something more…
That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

When 15-year-old Greta Thunberg speaks at the Climate Summit and tells leaders of the world, “Change is coming whether you like it or not!”

Every time a young person stands up to gun violence and says, “No More!”

Every time a confirmation class stands and says, “Not until the whole church is open to EVERYONE! That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Every time a troubled soul encounters a community of faith and God and turns their life around…
That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Every time an LGBTQIA youth is embraced by family, community, the church fully and chooses life and authenticity over ending it all…
That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Every time a woman stands up and says “Me Too” and is believed…

Every time those in need find affordable healthcare…

Every time the immigrant finds sanctuary…

Every time policies are passed to create inspections for safe, livable, and affordable housing for the most vulnerable…

Every time the least of these… the outcast, discriminated against, the marginalized, the ignored, the oppressed, the hated, the turned away…. Are fully embraced by the church…
That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Every time the world tells us we are foolish and we should fear and someone stands up and says, “NO!”

Every time we see, or are, a glimmer of hope in a fear laden world…

Every time the church stands up against the powers that be and says, “Enough is enough! We will not be moved!!”
That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Every time Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, persons of all religious expression or no religious expression come together and ground themselves in love and understanding for one another and the common good of all…

Every time the Power of Love Shows up and conquers fear…
That’s the Poetic Vision of Resurrection!

Word out of Silence, Light out of Darkness, Blossom out of Seed, LIFE out of Death, Love out of Hate!

Fear and isolation, exclusion, hatred, bigotry, injustice… do not have the last word! Left behind like old used rags in the empty tomb! it is Love that has the last word.

We are the church and until hate and bigotry, exclusion and injustice, hunger and poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and the most egregious of theological malpractice grounded in fear laden dogma and doctrine, is reduced to ashes we will continue to rise.

We are the church… and we are RISEN to participate in making justice happen until it rolls down like waters and an ever-flowing stream.

We are the church! And the church needs to recapture the Poetic Vision of a constant, continual, evolving life of resurrection. To continue calling itself back to life, continually rising again, rebirthing itself into new life…into the beloved community of All!

Resurrection is Resistance!
Resurrection is Practice!
Resurrection is Love!
Resurrection is
THE Way of Life!

And for we who gather on this hope filled, Life infused, Grace immersed Day. Even on this day… as the senseless bombings in Sri Lanka bring back fresh memories of The Christ Church Mosque Shooting, the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting, school shootings and humanity’s addiction to weapons and violence… We will not fear those who wield fear, bigotry, and religion like a weapon…We will not fear the powers that be and an empire who says, we should not even risk the journey! We Will Carry on the Vision!

We gather as a people of the Resurrection and say, “No!” because we know… Love. True Love. Never. Dies. Love will always rise up out of the darkness! For Wisdom’s Child, Jesus…We… Are Risen…. We are Risen Indeed! This IS So! Amen.

Wink, Walter, (2002). The Human Being, Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN.
Meyers, Robin R. (2009). Saving Jesus from the Church, How to Stop Worshipping Christ and Start Following Jesus. Harper One, New York, NY
Scott, Bernard Brandon, (2010). The Trouble with Resurrection, From Paul to the Fourth Gospel. Polebridge Press, Salem OR
Scott, Bernard Brandon, (2010). The Trouble with Resurrection, From Paul to the Fourth Gospel. Polebridge Press, Salem OR
Scott, Bernard Brandon, (2010). The Trouble with Resurrection, From Paul to the Fourth Gospel. Polebridge Press, Salem OR
Borg, Marcus J., (2003). The Heart of Christianity, Rediscovering a Life of Faith. Harper Collins, San Francisco, CA
Bass, Diana Butler, (2012). Christianity After Religion, The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, Harper Collins, New York, NY

Wisdom Readings
Judaism. Talmud, Berakot 15b
Just as the womb takes in and gives forth again, so the grave takes in and will give forth again.

Luke 24:1-12
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.