May newsletter piece

Paul & Silas

In Acts 16:16-24, Paul and Silas are walking through Philippi when a slave-girl starts following them and shouting that they are “slaves of the Most High God.” Paul orders “a spirit of divination” to leave her body, but without that spirit, she can no longer make money fortune-telling for her owners. In anger, the girl’s owners accuse Paul and Silas of advocating an unlawful religion. Paul and Silas are arrested, beaten, and thrown in prison.

Does that sound like anyone else’s story?

Jesus’ story, perhaps?

They are all innocents who are falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned.

But while Paul and Silas were imprisoned by shackles and stone walls, Jesus was imprisoned by death.

Paul and Silas are about as deep in prison as you can possibly get.


End of story.

Jesus was dead, and he’s been dead for days.


End of story.

Or is it? We know that Jesus didn’t stay in the tomb. We know that three days after his crucifixion, Jesus broke the bonds of death that were holding him captive and was resurrected. Not even the most powerful captivity known to humankind could hold the Son of God imprisoned!

So how does Paul and Silas’ story end? In the middle of the night, Paul and Silas are “at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. … Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose” (Acts 16:25-26).

At some point or another in our lives, we are all captives. It could be illness, injury, addiction, pain, pride, a busy schedule, or any number of things that imprisons us.

But that imprisoned life is not the life that God intended for us.

We were created for a life of freedom and loving relationship with God. In order to ensure that that life would be available to us in spite of our sins, God sent God’s Son to earth to conquer and thereby release us from the ultimate captivity: death.

What a gift!

How could we do anything but praise and thank God for God’s everlasting love and mercy?

When we remain in relationship with God, praying and praising as Paul and Silas did, God can do amazing things in our lives.

Stop for a moment and think about the things in our life that are holding you captive. Imagine them putting you in prison and forming chains around your feet, keeping you from moving on in your life.

Now do what Paul and Silas did: “Put your entire trust in the [Lord] Jesus. Then you’ll live as you were meant to live – and everyone in your house included!” (Acts 16:31).

Give that faith the opportunity to cause an earthquake in your life to shake loose your chains and open your prison doors.

Let your actions reflect the love and mercy that has been given to you by God.

 Pastor Lisa sign

Sunday’s sermon: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Texts used for this sermon – 1 Samuel 17:32-49 and Mark 4:35-41

"Rock, Hard Place" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

  • Being a safety patroller as a kid
    • Basic jobs of safety patrollers
      • Being stationed on corners to help kids cross street safely
      • Monitoring lines for various grade levels in the morning while students waited to go into school
    • Being a patroller was a pretty big deal.
      • Application – 4th grade
      • Mentoring period – followed older student around learned from them
      • Final step: practical exam (followed around by one of the captains to make sure you were doing things properly)
      • “Pay-off” – bright orange belt and a small modicum of power
    • A lot of the time, being a patroller was fun, especially if you ended up being grouped with some of your friends.
      • 7 different corners that you could be stationed on (2 or 4 people on the corner, depending on how busy the traffic was)
      • 7 different grade levels (K-6), each with their own door to line up at (2 people per door) → Door duty could be fun if you were on one of the ‘younger’ doors – kindergarten through 3rd The kids we were monitoring were younger siblings, friends’ siblings, or even kids that we babysat for. Most of them thought patrollers were really cool! But door duty presented special challenges, especially if you were assigned to patrol the door of whatever grade you were in or (even more challenging) if you were a 5th grader assigned to monitor the 6th grade door. Suddenly we were policing our peers.
        • Put us between a rock and hard place – doing the job we were supposed to be doing often jeopardized the peer acceptance that is starting to become so crucial at that age
    • And when I read through our passages today, it struck me that both stories also involve people being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
      • David’s difficult situation: single combat challenge in lieu of a major battle – in the text leading up to today’s reading, Goliath says to the Israelites, “Pick your best fighter and pit him against me.If he gets the upper hand and kills me, the Philistines will all become your slaves. But if I get the upper hand and kill him, you’ll all become our slaves and serve us. I challenge the troops of Israel this day. Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!”[1] → facing enslavement vs. grossly unmatched fight to the death – rock … hard place
      • Disciples’ difficult situation – caught in a crazy storm → 2 most important descriptors in same verse[2]
        • “huge storm”: think hurricane, not just a gust here and there → wind, rain, waves, lighting, thunder … total chaos
        • “Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it” – Gr. = filled → This wasn’t just a little bit of water splashing over the sides here and there. The boat was filling up with water. It was going down.
  • One of the things that struck me most about these difficult situations was the different ways they were handled.
    • David – confidence in God despite reactions of all those around him
      • Saul expresses doubt and disbelief: Saul answered David, “You can’t go and fight this Philistine. You’re too young and inexperienced – and he’s been at this fighting business since before you were born.”[3]
        • BUT David praised God: David said, “The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”[4]
      • But Saul wasn’t alone in his doubt. Not surprisingly, Goliath also expressed doubt and disbelief: “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks? … Come on. I’ll make roadkill of you for the buzzards. I’ll turn you into a tasty morsel for the field mice.”[5]
        • And again David praised God in the midst of an incredibly difficult situation – David’s simple but powerful declaration to the army of Israel: “Don’t give up hope.”[6]
  • Disciples’ response to their difficult situation is quite different from David’s
    • Context within the rest of Mark’s gospel: story follows on heels of the only parables found in Mark – 4 parables that inextricably link the Kingdom of God and the importance of faith, no matter how small
      • Mk’s segue into today’s story: With many stories like these, [Jesus] presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.[7]
    • Jesus tried to explain everything to them using these parables – these stories – in hopes that it would be easier for them to understand, but the disciples still didn’t get it. And then they encounter The Storm.
      • Hurricane whipping around them
      • Boat on the verge of sinking
      • Icing on the cake: Jesus is curled up in the front of the boat sleeping through the whole thing!
      • Disciples’ response: “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?”[8] → The disciples couldn’t swim away from the sinking boat because the hurricane would have drowned them. That’s the rock. The boat was sinking, and a sinking – or worse yet, sunken – boat can’t carry you safely to shore. That’s the hard place. When their conventional options were no longer viable, they panicked. Did they really think that Jesus didn’t care whether they lived or died? Probably not. But fear and panic do funny things to our ability to think, don’t they?
    • Summer chaplaincy internship at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center → I visited with patients and their family members on some of the most challenging and critical units – surgical intensive care, outpatient dialysis, and the secured psychiatric ward, to name a few. And while every experience differed in terms of the challenges faced and the prayers needed, I noticed something: during difficult times, we like to make a to-do list for God. We like to give God parameters for the way we want God to work in a situation. When we look first at the rock and then at the hard place between which we’re stuck, we look for God to work in one situation or the other in the ways that we expect, ways that we can anticipate and understand and predict.
      • PROBLEM: We aren’t God! → doesn’t mean that help, strength, comfort, peace, and all those other things that we ask for are bad things or that they aren’t the solution to the problem
      • My questions this morning: Do we ever ask for the unconventional solution? Do we ever take our eyes off the rock and off the hard place and simply look up? Do we look to God simply because God is the One who created and sustains us and in whom we place our trust and our love?
        • Most dangerous prayer: Thy will be done
  • You see, our Scripture readings this morning remind us that God can provide salvation in the most unexpected of ways.
    • Obvious: David in and of himself = UNCONVENTIONAL → small, teenage boy (text called him “a mere youngster, apple-cheeked and peach-fuzzed”[9]) defeating a seasoned warrior who just happens to be 10’ tall!
    • Jesus’ reaction to the disciples’ request[10] = also unconventional:
      • The Message: “Quiet! Settle down”
      • NRSV: “Peace! Be still!”
      • Gr. = simply two different words side by side that both mean “be silent” → You see, in both Greek and Hebrew, when two words that basically mean the same thing are used together, it is taken as extra emphasis. This emphasis conveys the force of Jesus’ pronouncement. Whatever the disciples may have been expecting Jesus to do in that moment, I would guess that commanding nature itself to be silent and actually having nature respond in kind was not a part of their expectation.
    • Similar interesting point that can be found in Mark’s story
      • Result of Jesus’ rebuke to the wind: “The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass.”[11] – Gr. = “great calm” → Now, I don’t say this very often, but I actually don’t like the translation here. I think it effectively ends up taking away from the language of the story. In the Greek, the same word is used here as is used to describe the great windstorm – the hurricane – from a few verses back. Using the exact same word to describe the calm ordered by Christ inextricably and sacredly ties the two extremes together – a great windstorm tamed into a great calm by Jesus’ very words.
        • IN OUR OWN LIVES:
          • The great windstorm = the chaos, fear, vulnerability that we feel when we’re tossing about in the midst of a difficult situation
          • The great calm comes from placing our faith in God → Instead of trying to fix the situation ourselves by reminding God what we think we need, we trust in God’s wisdom, power, and love, believing – truly believing – that those are far more potent than whatever we had in mind and that they will bring us through the storm.
  • I know that this isn’t easy. Trust me, I’m a worrier who comes from a long line of worriers! And I knows I’m not the only one in this room! Most of us tend to be pretty fearful and worried when we don’t know how things are going to work out – when all we can see are the problems while the solutions remain hidden.
    • Interesting disclaimer about this in text: [The disciples] were in absolute awe, staggered.[12] – Gr. = “great fear/great terror” → God doesn’t promise it won’t be difficult, but God does promise to be there and to get us through.
      • Quote from Julie – African proverb: “Every shut eye ain’t asleep, and every ‘goodbye’ ain’t gone.” → situations we’re facing may cause us to shut our eyes, may cause us to whisper (or scream) our ‘goodbyes’ to people/places/things in our lives, and that may be painful … but that doesn’t mean we should be counted out because God isn’t counted out yet!
  • During my chaplaincy internship at the VA hospital, I spent many hours sitting with the veterans, listening to the stories of their lives, their service, and their faith. Each conversation was different, but they all had one thing in common: those men and women (and their families) had been through difficult, sometimes impossible situations, and despite it all, they’d maintained not only a belief, but a genuine trust in and love for God. We all face difficult situations in our lives – challenges for which we feel ill-equipped, situations that make us uncertain and worried and afraid. But when we find ourselves stuck between those rocks and those hard places, we are not alone in that space. God is there with us, and God is God is certain. Into the chaos of our lives, God speaks: “Peace. Be still.” Amen.

[1] 1 Sam 17:8-10.

[2] Mk 4:37.

[3] 1 Sam 17:33.

[4] 1 Sam 17:37.

[5] 1 Sam 17:43-44.

[6] 1 Sam 17:32.

[7] Mk 4:33-34.

[8] Mk 4:38.

[9] 1 Sam 17:42.

[10] Mk 4:39.

[11] Mk 4:39.

[12] Mk 4:41.

Sunday’s sermon: Walking in the Light

One of the lectionary passages for this past Sunday was a small portion of the Walk to Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-49). But I feel like there are some Bible stories that just can’t be broken up into little pieces; they’re so much better and more impactful as a whole. So this Sunday, instead of reading just a snip-it of the Walk to Emmaus story, we read the whole story in chunks, stopping briefly in between to talk about how this ancient story still affects our daily lives and walks of faith.

Road to Emmaus“The Road to Emmaus #2” by Daniel Bonnell

Part I – That same day two of [the disciples] were walking to the village of Emmaus about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was.[1]

  • How often does this happen to us – we become so immersed in something that everything around us seems to fade into the background. → immersed in …
    • Events in our lives (major or minor, doesn’t matter)
      • Whatever it is that tugs at our hearts
      • Whatever it is that occupies our minds
    • Concerns of the people we love – get wrapped up in the things that those we love are wrapped up in
      • Their lives intertwined with our lives
      • Their hearts intertwined with our hearts
      • Their concerns intertwined with our concerns
    • Current events – everyone remembers where they were …
      • When JFK and MLK, Jr. died
      • On 9/11
  • In this introduction to the Walk to Emmaus story, the two disciples who are walking along are immersed in a little bit of all three.
    • Events of Holy Week – Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion – were major events in their own lives → They had followed him. Listened to him. Sat at his feet. Eaten at his table. Loved him. And watched him suffer and die – this critical part of their lives suddenly and violently ripped away. They were understandably immersed in what had just gone on in their own lives.
    • Inextricably linked to that – what happened to Jesus → not just the loss in their own lives that they were immersed in but also in the pain, humiliation, and injustice Jesus suffered
      • Their pain intertwined with his pain
      • Their sorrow intertwined with his sorrow
      • Their rejection intertwined with his rejection
    • Immersed in current events of the day – not just what had happened to Jesus (though, obviously, that certainly was part of it) but also the danger that followed.
      • Anti-Christian policies passed throughout Roman empire
      • Public sentiment stacked against those who had followed Christ
        • Jews didn’t like them
        • Roman citizens didn’t like them either: “Much of the pagan populace maintained a sense that bad things would happen if the established pagan gods were not respected and worshiped properly.”[2] → Jesus’ followers certainly weren’t respecting or properly worshiping other gods/goddesses
      • The two disciples who were walking along that day were so focused on all of this that when they were joined by a significant stranger, they failed to recognize him for who he was: Jesus.

Part II – He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?” Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?” He said, “What has happened?” They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hope sup that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”[3]

  • Friends, we have become a society that is entirely addicted to answers. We have the internet and Google and our calendars and our entire contact lists and even our very lives at our fingertips with the technology that we carry today. We have questions? We have answers almost instantaneously. → come to a point where we don’t like
    • Not seeing
    • Not knowing
    • Not understanding
    • ^^ Makes us uncomfortable, jittery, irritated
      • E.g.s
        • How do you feel when you’re trying to remember someone’s name or the lyrics to a song, and even though they’re on the tip of your tongue, you can’t for the life of you remember? It drives us crazy, right?!
        • iPad crashed last weekend – 2-3 days without my calendar functioning was far more unsettling than I’d like to admit
      • This portion of disciples’ story hangs on a significant question – possibly the most significant question: Where is Jesus?
        • Explained to this “stranger” about who Jesus was
        • Told “stranger” about horrible events of the past few days
        • Story culminates in a mystery – an empty tomb, a missing body, and women reporting that Christ had risen … “But they didn’t see Jesus.” You can just hear the skepticism, the wariness, the doubt in their voices as they say this. “[The women] came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

Part III – Then he said to them, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.[4]

  • I’m always torn when I read these verses – torn between two very different ways to interpret Jesus’ reaction. You see, no matter how you translate it, how you dress it up or dress it down, Jesus’ words to the disciples could sound harsh: “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said?”
    • First reaction = I want Jesus to be tender in his words
      • Want to hear patience
      • Want to hear encouragement
      • Want to hear temperance
      • “Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said?”
    • Second reaction = certain understanding with Jesus’ frustration
      • He tried telling the disciples time and time again throughout the Gospels about the fate that awaited him → now they were actually living those predictions … and they still didn’t get it.
        • World we live in right now – explaining to the boys time and time again
          • Yeses and no’s/whys and why nots
          • Pointing out the same puppy in the same book over and over and over again
          • Not an angry frustration … just a weary one → “Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said?”

Part IV – They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.” So he went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. And that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared.[5]

  • On the night before he died, Jesus gathered with those he loved. And he took the bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “Take and eat. This is my body, given for you. Whenever you do this, remember me.” And they did. Jesus blessed and broke the bread, and they remembered.
    • Echoes of the recent past reverberated in their hearts and souls
      • Blessed … broken … “Remember me.”
      • Blessed … broken … “Remember me.”
      • Blessed … broken … “Remember me. Remember me. Remember.”
    • Imagine what the disciples must have been feeling in that moment, at that exact moment when realization dawned.
      • Did it begin as a gnawing familiarity like déjà vu? “This feels sort of familiar. Haven’t we been here before? Haven’t we done this before?”
      • Or did recognition explode like a firework in their consciousness?
        • One moment – talking to stranger they met on the road
        • Next moment – Jesus!
      • And then, in another instant, he was gone again.

Part V – Back and forth they talked. “Didn’t we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?” They didn’t waste a minute. They were up and on their way back to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and their friends gathered together, talking away: “It’s really happened! [Jesus] has been raised up – Simon saw him!” Then the two went over everything that happened on the road and how they recognized him when he broke the bread.[6]

  • Just in case we’d been left with any doubt about what kind of impact this encounter had on the disciples, we hear their powerful words in this verse: “Didn’t we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road?”
    • Fire = light
    • Fire = heat
    • Fire = consuming
    • Fire = always moving and changing and sparking
    • This is the reaction that they had as Jesus, veiled though his identity may have been, walked along with them and spoke with them about Scripture and about his role in salvation as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One who came to set all people free. “Didn’t we feel on fire?”
  • Thing about fire = it also spreads → disciples “didn’t waste a minute”
    • Got up and made the roughly 7-mile trek back to Jerusalem
      • Back into the danger
      • Back into the fear
      • Back into the place that contained so many fresh, painful, horrible memories
    • Remember, it was already late in the evening, so the road was dark.
      • Dark road was a dangerous road – shadowy corners, open stretches where robbers and other evildoers could hide and pounce
    • But then again, maybe the road wasn’t as dark as we would expect. – text from 1 Jn: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in [God]. … If we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another[7]
      • Light of God lighted their way just as it lighted their hearts
      • Experience God’s light in community with one another – companionship with one another in faith lighted their way as well → Think about times when this community has provided that light for you.
        • Guiding, teaching light
        • Light of welcome
        • Light of celebration and joy
        • Light of vigil and compassion
        • Light of grace in the face of our differences
      • This is why we walk together – to share the light with each other and take the Good News out into a world with shadowy corners and empty stretches of road. → see this when the two disciples finally reach their destination
        • Bursting to share story of their encounter with Risen Christ → find themselves in the midst of a retelling of Simon Peter’s own encounter with the same Risen Christ
          • Hear this kind of wonder and excitement in 1 Jn reading, too: From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in – we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen![8]But it wasn’t over yet.

Part VI – While they were saying all this, Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you.” They thought they were seeing a ghost and were scared half to death. He continued with them, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over. Look at my hands; look at my feet – it’s really me. Touch me. Look me over from head to toe. A ghost doesn’t have muscle and bone like this.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. They still couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It was too much; it seemed too good to be true. They gave him a piece of leftover fish they had cooked. He took it and ate it right before their eyes.[9]

  • Yes, a few of the disciples had already seen the Risen Christ. But listen to the wording again: Jesus appeared to them. – Gr. = “Jesus in the middle” → implies suddenness, unexpectedness
    • It’s no wonder Luke tells us the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost! But what are Jesus’ first words to this beloved group of followers and friends? “Peace be with you.” He knew their hearts and minds like no one else could have. He’d been living and eating and teaching and ministering with them for 3 years. He’d seen them at their best. He’d seen them at their worst. And he knew exactly what they would need in that moment of upheaval and incredulity.
      • First: PEACE
      • Second: proof – “Look at my hands. Look at my feet. Touch me. Feel my flesh and bone. Give me a piece of fish and watch me eat. It’s really me.”
    • Also what God gives us
      • First: PEACE
      • Second: glimpses of the Risen Christ in the world around us
        • People – acts of kindness and compassion, acts justice and mercy and inclusion, acts of peace
        • Creation – beauty, baffling intricacies of the universe, interconnectedness of it all

Part VII – Then he said, “Everything I told you while I was with you comes to this: All the things written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms have to be fulfilled.” He went on to open their understanding of the Word of God, showing them how to read [the Scriptures] this way. He said, “You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations – starting from here, from Jerusalem! You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses. What comes next is very important: I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you’re equipped with power from on high.”[10]

  • Again, Jesus teaches them, opening their hearts and minds and lives to God’s Word in the Scriptures. Again, he blesses them with a knowledge and an understanding that will equip them for the work ahead. And again, he reminds them that their work is not yet finished. “You’re the first to hear and see it.”
    • Doesn’t say “you’re the only ones”
    • Doesn’t say “I’m giving you all the answers, the only answers”
    • Jesus simply tells the disciples that they’re the first to hear these words – the fullness of the message of the Gospel.
      • Implies expectation to help Gospel grow
      • Implies expectation to share
      • But it also implies a willingness to share. The powerful love and forgiveness and grace that we find in the gospel cannot do the Great Good that God intends for the world if it isn’t shared over and over again.
        • Spark that was ignited in the hearts of those disciples along the road …
          • Cannot grow into a warming fire if it isn’t fed
          • Cannot spread its light and love unless it is shared
    • And Scripture tells us the disciples did share it.
      • Story after story after story in book of Acts
      • All the various letters that follow – those written by Paul as well as those written by others
      • Evidence in other NT reading today: We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of community with [God] and with [God’s] Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy![11] → That, friends, is why we continue to share the Good News … why we continue to gather together to worship and pray and praise … why we continue to work through this church … why we continue to call ourselves “Christians,” not because we have to or because society expects us to but because we know that joy – that resurrected, fire-burning-within-us, Christ-is-alive! joy – and we cannot help but share it with the world. Amen.

[1] Lk 24:13-16.

[2] “Anti-Christian policies in the Roman Empire,”

[3] Lk 24:17-24.

[4] Lk 24:25-27.

[5] Lk 24:28-31.

[6] Lk 24:32-35.

[7] 1 Jn 1:5, 7.

[8] 1 Jn 1:1-2a.

[9] Lk 24:36-43.

[10] Lk 24:44-49.

[11] 1 Jn 1:3-4.

Sunday’s sermon: Needing Empty

empty tomb

Texts for this sermon: Isaiah 25:6-9 and Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so they could embalm him. Very early on Sunday morning, as the sun rose, they went to the tomb. They worried out loud to each other, “Who will roll back the stone from the tomb for us?” Then they looked up, saw that it had been rolled back – it was a huge stone – and walked right in. They saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed all in white. They were completely taken aback, astonished. He said, “Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty. Now – on your way. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.” They got out as fast as they could, beside themselves, their heads swimming. Stunned, they said nothing to anyone.

  • It’s Easter morning! After the precious intimacy and inescapable foreboding of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday … after the prolonged agony and utter rejection of Good Friday, we come this morning to rejoice! We come to sing praise! We come to celebrate a resurrected Lord and a risen Savior – one who has conquered the darkness of sin and death once and for all! Alleluia!! … So then what’s the deal with this crazy text from Mark? We have …
    • An empty tomb
    • A stranger in white
    • Witnesses so startled that they leave saying “nothing to anyone”
    • What kind of Easter story is this? We’re used accounts of angels in shining garments. We’re used the women who first found the empty tomb running quickly to share the Good News with the disciples: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” We’re used to an appearance by the newly resurrected Jesus. Excitement … jubilation … relief … resurrection! But instead, Mark simply gives us an empty tomb, a stranger’s promise, and an abrupt ending.
      • (Describe short/long ending of Mark)
        • Pew Bibles – p. 830
        • Longer ending – vv. 9-20[1]: includes reassuring elements like Jesus’ resurrection appearances, a commissioning of the disciples (“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation”[2]), and the ascension of Jesus → But scholars are pretty certain that this wasn’t part of Mark’s original gospel. It doesn’t appear in the oldest Greek manuscripts. The earliest theologians show no knowledge of these verses. The Greek that it’s written in – the style and word choice and flow – doesn’t even match the way the rest of Mark’s gospel is written, so it’s fairly clear that this “longer ending” was added much later in an attempt to clear up the abrupt, unnerving ending that we sit with today.
    • But does this shorter, vaguer, more abrupt ending make Mark’s Easter story any less important? Any less relevant? Any less formative and informative for our own journeys of faith centuries later? I don’t think so. So what can we learn from that empty tomb? From the stranger in white? From those silent witnesses?
  • If truth be told, we don’t often think of “empty” as a good thing, do we?
    • Empty shampoo bottle/toothpaste tube → throw it away (not useful anymore)
    • As any parent (especially any parent of two almost 2-yr-olds) can tell you, there are few things more detrimental and counterproductive than empty promises, be they positive or negative. If you say that it’s time for a timeout, then it’s time for a timeout. If you say you’re going to the park after lunch, then trust me … you’d better go to the park after lunch.
    • Our culture treats empty time like a wasted opportunity. We’re always multitasking, conference calling, consolidating our entire lives into one scheduled block of time after another. – result:
      • Overworked
      • Overbooked
      • Overstimulated
      • Overextended
    • We find emptiness uncomfortable, jarring. – feel it in our own lives, feel it in our gospel reading this morning
      • Evident in the women’s response – The women who came to Jesus’ tomb that morning were looking for anything but an empty tomb. → empty tomb could’ve meant a number of bad things
        • Romans might have taken Jesus’ body to keep him from being inspiration for even greater revolution
        • Jewish leaders might have taken Jesus’ body to further defile and demean him even in death
        • Some other random, anonymous person might have stolen his body for reasons unknown
      • See women’s negative gut reaction in Gr. – women were “completely taken aback, astonished” = amazed, yes, but also distressed/alarmed → They came looking for a body – a body to anoint with the traditional spices and balms. But instead, they found an empty tomb. They came ready to mourn and grieve. But instead, they found an empty tomb. They came prepared for obstacles – the stone blocking the entrance, the possibility of Roman guards or others who might try to keep them away from Jesus’ body. But instead, they found an empty tomb – a distressingly, unnervingly empty tomb.
      • Encounter challenging, jarring nature of emptiness in Isaiah passage, too – text: We waited for [God] … The God, the one we waited for![3]
        • May sound like no big deal, but Heb. “waited” = implications of waiting in tenseness and eagerness → This isn’t simple, twiddle-your-thumbs kind of waiting. This isn’t pleasant, carefree, lying-in-the-grass-watching-the-clouds kind of waiting. This is waiting steeped in tension and trepidation. This is waiting thick with expectations and unfulfilled promises and fragile hopes. This is hold-your-breath waiting. This is cross-your-fingers, wing-and-a-prayer, please-God-we’ve-waited-for-so-long waiting. Waiting in tenseness and eagerness.
          • Waiting that has endured trials and tragedies
          • Waiting that has outlasted challenges and doubts and abuses and setbacks
          • Waiting through the emptiness
            • Empty hours that crawl by as we wait
            • Empty feeling that grows as those hours pass
  • Yes, the emptiness of the tomb must have been scary. It must have been startling. It must have been unsettling and perplexing, so much so that Mark tells us the women were stunned into silence. The emptiness of the tomb was unprecedented and unexpected, yes, but it was also wholly unavoidable. You see, friends, in order to experience the joy and glory and miraculous ness and majesty of Christ’s resurrection, we must first find the tomb startlingly and inexplicably empty.
    • With the women, we hear the words of the stranger in white: “Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the one they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty.”[4] → “He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer.” These few short statements are our proclamation of the Good News of the gospel in Mark. The One who was dead is alive again! Jesus the Christ has been raised up! Death has been defeated forevermore by the One who came for all! Alleluia! All of that packed into two short phrases: “He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer.”
    • OT text, Isaiah also surrounds that tenseness and eagerness with reassurance and proclamation – full text: People will say, “Look at what’s happened! This is our God! We waited for [God] and [God] showed up and saved us! This God, the one we waited for! Let’s celebrate, sing the joys of his salvation!”[5]
      • Doesn’t ignore the waiting
      • Doesn’t gloss over the waiting
      • But he also doesn’t let the emptiness of the waiting overpower the magnitude and the importance of God’s response. Isaiah acknowledges that yes, we waited, and this was God’s reply. Yes, we waited, and see, God was there! → acknowledges God’s presence even in the empty places
        • Speaks of God’s actions in the face of the emptiness: God will banish the pall of doom hanging over all peoples, the shadow of doom darkening all nations. Yes, [God will] banish death forever. And God will wipe the tears from every face. [God will] remove every sign of disgrace from [God’s] people, wherever they are.[6]
          • Scholar: The prophetic voice declares that life, not death, is what God endorses.[7]
          • John Claypool, pastor of a large Presbyterian congregation in Atlanta: The worst things are never the last things, and the final sounds of history will not be ‘Taps’ but ‘Reveille.’[8]
  • “And that’s all well and good,” you may be saying. “Alleluia! Christ is risen! God is with us now and forever! … But what about those women? What about Marks abrupt and, frankly, unsatisfying ending? With an ending like that, it sort of feels like the women at the tomb actually let death have the final word.”
    • Our Easter challenge that lasts throughout the year: living into the ambiguity of the ending
      • Thinking logically – women must have eventually told someone
        • Very presence of our faith, of our worship today shows that eventually the women told someone
          • Stephanie: Their first reaction may have been understandable terror … but it wasn’t their final reaction, and our very existence as people of faith is a testimony to their witness.[9]
        • Is: People will say, “Look at what’s happened! This is our God! We waited for [God] and [God] showed up and saved us! This God, the one we waited for! Let’s celebrate, sing the joys of his salvation.[10] → “People will say” … witness!
      • Challenge/Key: letting God’s presence in the emptiness inspire action
        • Scholar: God is present not only in the loud hallelujahs and glorious proclamations of a grand, churchly Easter morning … God persists as well in the midst of speechlessness, in death, in the outer regions of our own experiences and of our social lives, where life unfolds underfoot.[11]
        • This is the beauty and the blessing that we find hidden in Mark’s strange and sparse resurrection story. It gives us the chance to write the rest of the story together.
          • What is our response?
          • What is our witness?
          • How do we share the Good News?
          • Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

[1] James Tabor. “The ‘Strange’ Ending of the Gospel of Mark and Why It Makes All the Difference” from Bible History Daily, an online publication of the Biblical Archaeology Society, Originally published April 2013, reposted 2 Feb. 2015, accessed 3 Apr. 2015.

[2] Mk 16:15 (NRSV).

[3] Is 25:9.

[4] Mk 16:6.

[5] Is 25:9.

[6] Is 25:7-8.

[7] Gene M. Tucker. “The Book of Isaiah 1-39: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 6. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 217 (emphasis added).

[8] Rev. John Claypool, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA as quoted by George Bryant Wirth in “Easter Day – Isaiah 25:6-9, Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 363.

[9] Rev. Stephanie Anthony, pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Hudson, WI.

[10] Is 25:9 (emphasis added).

[11] Jones, 356.