Sunday’s sermon: Testimony is Invitational

Text used – John 20:1-18

  • Stories make up the realm of who we are – our past, our present, and even our future. Stories build meaning. Stories construct our shared experiences. Stories connect us to one another and to the world around us. And it’s been this way as long as humans have been communicating with one another.
    • Stories = how we relate to one another
    • Stories = how we teach one another and learn from one another
    • Stories make up the very structure of our lives → Just like the bones in our bodies give our muscles and sinew and our very skin something to cling to – something strong and stabile and solid – stories are the strong and solid foundation on which our identity is built. There is nothing in our lives that doesn’t involve some sort of story.
      • Your relationships produce stories → There’s nothing quite like listening to a pair of people – spouses, siblings, friends, neighbors – tell a story together.
        • Each person adding their own details and impressions
        • Each person remembering things just a little differently
        • Each person’s telling feeding off the other person’s telling until story itself has taken on a life/personality all its own
      • Big events in your life are saturated with stories: story of driving out to Bob and Arlene’s with Grandma Viv for Thanksgiving every year → passing the same one-room schoolhouse every year → hearing the story of how that was the schoolhouse that Grandma and Bob went to as kids
      • Even places in our lives our rich with stories.
        • All the stories that swirl around you when you’re in your home
        • Or this sanctuary. I bet if you asked …
          • Gail: story about the Bible stand and her dad
          • Cindy/Nancy: story about the rose window and Wayne
          • Joanne: story about paraments and her husband, Bill
          • Many: story about remodeling the sanctuary
          • If you flip open the Bibles in the pews, many of them have been given in honor or in memory of someone, and each one of those dedications comes with a story. Or if you flip open your hymnals, many of those bear name plates in honor or in memory of someone as well, carrying not only the story of that dedication but also the story of the congregation that those hymnals came from: The Presbyterian Church of Le Sueur.
    • Point: We are story. Story we are. Story is in us and through us and around us and flowing from us all the time.
      • Author Philip Pullman: After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.
      • And as Christians, this is particularly true. We find our identity, we find our hope, we find our purpose in God’s grand story of faith. It is the story that grounds us. It is the story that inspires us. It is the story that gives us direction when we are lost and comfort when we are in distress. And it is a story that is undeniably and inextricably a part of our own stories as well. And today, friends … today, we get to bask in the fullness and glory of the climax of that Grand Story of Faith. Today, we get to celebrate both the origin and the ultimate purpose of that Story. Today, that beautiful, miraculous, radical Story both circles back to the beginning and starts anew because today, we can boldly and joyfully declare that Christ our Lord is indeed risen!
  • Today’s gospel story is unique in that it’s the only Easter gospel account in which the resurrection Jesus actually makes an appearance in the garden
    • Mt’s account[1]: multiple women coming to the tomb → find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty → encounter the stranger/messenger/angel in the shining clothes: “Don’t be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said.”[2] → women run to share the good news (this beautiful, miraculous, radical story) with the disciples → encounter Jesus on the road
    • Lk’s account (very similar)[3]: again, multiple women coming to the tomb → find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty → encounter two strangers/messengers/angels in shining clothes: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised.”[4] → women run share the good news (this beautiful, miraculous, radical story) with the disciples → Peter (in disbelief at their story) runs to the tomb himself to check and finds only the linen burial wrappings → disciples encounter risen Jesus later (road to Emmaus story[5])
    • Mk’s account[6]: multiple women coming to the tomb → find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty → encounter one stranger/messenger/angel in a while robe: “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here.”[7] → women are so terrified and alarmed by this encounter that they flee the tomb, saying “nothing to anyone because they were afraid”[8]
    • That’s a lot of story all tangled up in one place … in one event … in one person! But John’s account tangles it even further. – today’s reading = Jn’s account[9]
      • Jn’s account = more characters
        • Mary Magdalene (goes to the tomb alone)
        • Simon Peter
        • Unnamed beloved disciple
        • Two angels dressed in white → not messengers as in the other gospels (only words they utter in Jn’s account: “Woman, why are you crying?”) → more placeholders
        • And, of course, Jesus. – text: [Mary] turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).[10] → What a story! What a story! Can we even imagine ourselves as Mary in that moment? Can we feel first her despair and consternation at finding the body of her beloved Teacher missing? Can we feel her racing, anxious heart and her racing, frantic thoughts? “Where is he? What have they done to him? Where have they put him? What does this mean?” Can we feel her confusion and desperation when she first encounter “the gardener”? Can we feel the dawning of recognition and awe, not slow and steady but quick and crashing the second she hears her name fall from those lips that were both familiar and wholly unexpected? You see, friends, this is the beauty of the story of our faith. It invites us in.
          • Invites us into the experiences of others
            • Experiences of God
            • Experiences of faith
            • Experiences that mirror our own
            • Experiences that are vastly different from our own
            • Experiences like Mary’s encounter with the Risen Christ on that first Easter morning
            • Scholar: Before they became the Bible, the stories of Scripture were lived. Unfortunately, that seems lost on many of us. Once they became cemented within the canon, they no longer smelled of the real world. The dust of ancient walking paths settled, and the sweat of an early morning run evaporated. … John tells the story of that first resurrection morning, and the portrait he paints … invites the reader to feel at home with people a lot like us.[11]
  • Friends, our faith is a relational faith. We were created to be in relationship with God, and in order to demonstrate the love and grace not only possible but promised in that relationship, God came down to dwell among us in Jesus Christ. God took on the fragile and mundane form of the same creatures that God created for love and faith and devotion. God endured the pain and shame and suffering and brokenness of humanity on the cross to make that love as unmistakable and conspicuous as possible. That pain and that brokenness are a part of our story. That love and that grace are a part of our story. The miracle and scandal of that cross and that empty tomb are a part of our story.
    • Story that shapes us
    • Story that is shaped by us and our own experiences → How we tell the story of our faith shapes how people hear the story and, in turn, process their own stories. Our story adds to their stories and vice versa.
      • Sort of like a beautiful, complex macrame creation full of different colored threads, different kinds of knots and hitches, different textures, different bits and baubles to accent and adorn this Grand Story of Faith that we all share
    • Like the story that Mary experienced that morning, it’s a story meant to be told … meant to be shared … meant to be proclaimed
      • Exactly what Mary did – text: Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.[12] → Mary told the disciples. And probably the other women that had followed Jesus as well. And her friends. And her relatives. And maybe even strangers she met on the street. And the disciples told others. And the other women told others. And Mary’s friends and relatives told others. Maybe even the strangers on the street told others. And they told others. And they told others. … And here we are today. → built into the resurrection story itself is not just an invitation but a directive to tell the story and to keep telling the story
        • Learn from the way Mary told her story → Mary had just come from the garden in the early morning hours. She had been weeping. She was probably hot and sweaty and dusty after first running to get Peter and the belove disciple, then running back to show them the empty tomb, then running again to the disciples after her encounter with Jesus. She was probably still shocked and confused and overcome with emotion as she told her story that first time. Maybe her words were jumbled. Maybe she mixed up the order of events in her excitement. Maybe her story came out all in a rush before she could even remember to breathe, so she had to repeat it. I’d be willing to bet that it was perfect and measured and edited and practiced. But it was her story, her beautiful, miraculous, radical story. And she told it. And she kept telling it, not because it was perfect, but because it was
          • Thomas Long (book: Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian): Christians believe that we cannot tell the truth, not the whole truth, without talking about God, and if we cannot tell the whole truth, we cannot be fully alive as human beings.[13]
  • Friends, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! It’s a story that’s true. It’s a story that’s powerful. It’s a story that’s worth telling. Again and again and again. Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Mt 28:1-10.

[2] Mt 28:5-6a.

[3] Lk 24:1-12.

[4] Lk 24:5b-6a.

[5] Lk 24:13-35.

[6] Mk 16:1-8

[7] Mk 16:6.

[8] Mk 16:8.

[9] Jn 20:1-18.

[10] Jn 20:14-16.

[11] Sean White. “John 20:1-10 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: John, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 308.

[12] Jn 20:18.

[13] Thomas G. Long. Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 5.

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