He Is Going Ahead Of Us

Martin Luther once spent three days in a deeply gloomy mood because of something that had gone wrong.  On the third day his wife, Katie, came downstairs dressed in mourning clothes.  “Who died?” asked Martin.  “God,” replied Katie.  Luther rebuked her, saying, “What do you mean, God is dead? God cannot die.” “Well,” she replied, “the way you’ve been acting I was sure he had!”

The thing is, God did die once, and Martin Luther would be the first to tell you that.  God, in Jesus the Christ, was crucified, died and was buried.  And on the third day rose again.  That’s what we’re celebrating this morning:  the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

The four gospels each tell the story of the resurrection a little differently.  Those differences really shouldn’t bother us too much.  Each writer was writing to a different audience and relying on different sources.  On the main points, though, they are remarkably consistent.  Jesus was crucified.  He was thoroughly and decidedly dead.  His body was not properly prepared for burial when he was laid in the tomb because the Sabbath did not allow enough time for that.  The tomb was sealed with a large stone.  On the third day the women of his company came to prepare his body and found the stone removed and the tomb empty.  They were addressed by an ethereal messenger (or two?) who informed them that Jesus had risen as he told them he would.  On these things all the gospels agree.

The Gospel of Matthew’s resurrection account is the most theatrical.  There’s an earthquake and an angel comes down to roll the stone away from the tomb which is already empty.  The angel then sits on the stone.  Matthew says that the soldiers guarding the tomb “shook and became like dead men.” The astonished women who had come to prepare the body of Jesus witness all this and later encounter the risen Jesus as they rush to tell the disciples what they have seen.  

Luke’s description of the resurrection is more subdued, but the story continues beyond the empty tomb to describe encounters with the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus and in the upper room where the disciples have been laying low.  

John’s account is probably the best known and best loved with its touching description of the encounter between Mary and Jesus when she mistakes him for the gardener then realizes who he is when he speaks her name.  

It’s not surprising that in years when the Gospel of Mark comes up in the lectionary cycle, most preachers opt to go with the Gospel of John instead. The resurrection account in Mark is so haunting.  So uncomfortable.  The angel—or young man dressed in a white robe—is there in the empty tomb.  He makes the announcement we expect to hear: “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.”  And then he adds, “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.” 

So far so good.  But it’s the ending that leaves us off balance. 

“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.” That’s the original ending of the resurrection account in the Gospel of Mark, in fact, it’s the original end of the whole gospel.  

That ending is so disconcerting that by the late 3rd or early 4th century someone decided to add on a section.  These unknown editors wanted the ending of Mark, the oldest and earliest of the gospels, to be more consistent with the other three gospels and, frankly, happier.

But Mark had his reasons for ending the resurrection account and the gospel the way he did.  

Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, has come to proclaim that the kingdom of God is beginning, that it is time for it to become a reality and not just a dream of the prophets.  In his teaching, in his sermons, in his healings and his exorcisms, he teaches his followers to confront the social structures, political structures, the religious structure that oppress and exclude people.  More than that he invites his disciples to begin to build an alternative way of life built on inclusiveness, generosity and equality.

When Jesus is crucified, it looks like all this has come to an end.  But now an empty tomb leaves questions hanging in the air.

It’s as if Mark is saying, “Christ is risen!  What are you going to do about it?  What are you going to do with that news?”

He has gone ahead of you to Galilee.  Back to where all this began.  Are you willing to go meet him where he is?  Are you willing to go back to the beginning?  Are you willing to start over?  Are you committed to building the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven?

N.T. Wright wrote, “Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.  The resurrection completes the inauguration of God’s kingdom. . . . It is the decisive event demonstrating that God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven. The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.”  

One of the important themes in the Gospel of Mark is “let those who have eyes, see.”  Jesus, in Mark, is forever trying to get his disciples to understand what they are seeing him do and hearing him say.  Now he wants them and us to understand what it means that he has been resurrected.

If death cannot hold Christ, then it cannot hold you, either.  Not forever.  God is, by nature, eternal.  We were created in the image of God, so we share in that divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  God is love (1 John 4:16), and the Holy Spirit has planted the love of God in our hearts (Romans 5:5, 8:9).  Christ is in, with, and under every fiber of our lives.  Life is eternal, love is immortal.  Because Christ rose, we, too shall rise.  “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:5).”  That is  what his resurrection means for us.

We have all been through a year like nothing we’ve ever experienced before.  Because of the pandemic, we’ve faced trials and challenges no one anticipated.  Our way of life was radically changed.  We have laid dear friends and family into the hope that springs eternal, trusting in this promise of resurrection.

Now, with the vaccines and the virus numbers going in the right direction, people are talking about getting “back to normal.”  But wouldn’t it be better for us to be talking about resurrection?  Wouldn’t it be better for us to talk—not about resuming our old life—but about new life, and what that will look like and be like, and how we will do it, and how it will be different?

Jesus rose to new life.  We are being invited to rise to new life, too. He is going ahead of us, back to the starting point and inviting us to follow, and to join him in the continuing work of building the kingdom of God.  

Christ is risen!  We have a chance to start over!  What are you going to do about it?

In Jesus’ name.

The Time is Ripe

Mark 1:14-20

Pepleirotai ho Kairos.  “The time is fulfilled,” says Jesus as he begins his ministry in Galilee.  The word for time here in Mark’s original Greek text is kairos, the word you would use to say the time is right.  It’s the right moment.  Kairos.  It’s the word used to say that a fruit is ripe or that someone arrived just in the nick of time.  There’s another Greek word for time: chronos.  Think chronology.  That’s the word we use to say that the time will be  six o’clock in the morning when the alarm goes off.  But the word here in Mark 1:15 is kairos.  The time is fulfilled, says Jesus to the people of the Galilee.  The time is full.  The time is ripe.

Who are these people he’s speaking to as he moves through Galilee?  The Galilee was one of the richest areas in Palestine.  It was the breadbasket of the region, rich in wheat and barley and oats, and also with olive groves, vineyards, and orchards.  Dried fish from the Sea of Galilee provided the primary source of protein for the region and helped to feed both Caesar’s and Herod’s armies.  But for all this, the majority of the people were poor.  A system of high rents paid to wealthy absentee landowners, heavy taxes paid to Herod or Rome, and heavy tithes paid to the religious system of the temple guaranteed that most of the people lived in a perpetual cycle of poverty.  These were people who had lived for generations under someone else’s heavy hand.

Pepleirotai ho Kairos.  “The time is fulfilled,” proclaims Jesus to these people and to people of every time and place who have lived or are living under systems that hold them down, push them to the margins, pick their pockets, and crush their hopes and dreams.  The time is fulfilled.  You’ve waited long enough.  Enough is enough.  The time is ripe.   

 “The kin-dom of God has come near,” he tells them.  It is arriving.  It is in reach.  It is imminent.  It is doable.  And then he says this: “Repent and believe the good news.”

Do you remember what I said about “repent” a few weeks ago?  

Repentance.  In English it’s a smudged and leaden word filled with regret and contrition. Repentance is a stinging backside, bruised knees and hunched shoulders.  I suggest we ban it and replace it with the Greek word: Metanoia.  Metanoia is climbing out of a dank hole into the sunlight.  Metanoia is being freed from the nasty habits that ruin your health and suck the life out of your wallet.  Metanoia is putting on new glasses with the right prescription and realizing that you had only been seeing a third of the details and half the colors in the world.  Metanoia  is shoes that fit right, have cushy insoles, perfect arch support, and take the cramp out of your lower back.  Metanoia is thinking new thoughts and behaving in new ways.  Metanoia is a change of mind, a change of heart, a change of life, a new direction.  

“Metanoiete!” Jesus says.  He says it in the imperative, as a command.  Put on those new glasses and those better shoes.  See the world in a better, clearer way.  Walk into the world in a new way that doesn’t cause pain for you or anyone around you.  Think about the world in a new way.  Think about yourself in a new way.  Think about your neighbor in a new way.  Think about who might be your neighbor in a new way.

“And believe the good news!”  Pisteuete! Another imperative.  Another command.  Believe!  It’s not a request to accept the idea, to consider it thoughtfully, to mull it over.  It’s a command to believe it, to trust it, to act on it, to base your life on the good news that the kin-dom of God, the reign of God is within reach.

That, according to Jesus, is the gospel.  That is the good news.  The kin-dom of God is immanent.  The kin-dom of God is arriving on earth as it is in heaven.

And notice this:  He doesn’t say a word here about receiving him into your heart and making him your personal Lord and Savior.  He doesn’t say anything here about being saved.  He doesn’t say anything here about forgiveness or atonement.  There is nothing spiritual in his language here at all.  When he says “Believe the good news!” it is a call to action.

“Believe” in Mark’s gospel is not a sit-and-think word.  “Believe” is a get-up-and-do word. 

In this gospel Jesus is on the move and calls others to move with him.  As he passes along the seashore he calls Peter and Andrew and James and John and they drop their nets to follow him.  He teaches as he moves.  

He calls us where we are and in the same imperative voice says, “Come!  Follow me and I’ll teach you how to bring others along!”  

He calls us to travel with him.  To work with him.  There is so much to be done.  There is an old world to dismantle and a new world to build.  The kin-dom of God is within reach.  The kin-dom of God is arriving.  

If we can see him with eyes refocused by metanoia, if we can hear him with ears opened by metanoia, if we can be freed from our preconceived ideas and learn to believe him with a trust and faith transformed by a metanoia of heart and mind, then we can begin to see the kin-dom take root and grow like a garden spreading across the desert.  

And this isn’t just “me” work that Jesus is calling us to do.  This isn’t just about saving your own soul, although, “the one who endures to the end will be saved,” said Jesus.[1]  But there’s a lot to do before we get there.  

This is “us” work.  Building the kin-dom of God requires all hands on deck.  It requires unity.  As President Biden said in his Inaugural address, “It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: Unity. Unity. Uniting to fight the foes we face: anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness.”

He was talking about healing our country of the divisions that have been tearing us apart, but the same thing applies to making the kin-dom of God a reality on earth as it is in heaven, something we pray for every time we pray the prayer Jesus taught us. 

“History, faith and reason show the way, the way of unity,” said President Biden. “We can see each other not as adversaries, but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace — only bitterness and fury. No progress — only exhausting outrage.”

At the founding of this country our founders gave us a vision to strive for: “We, the people…in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity…”  That has always sounded to me a lot like the kin-dom of God.  It’s collective.  We the people—all of us want to form a more perfect union.  That’s ongoing work.  All of us want to establish justice.  That’s ongoing work.  All of us want to ensure domestic tranquility.  Is this not merely the country, but the world we all want to live in?  A world where everyone’s well-being is secured by the solemn word and promise of everyone else?  A world in conformity with God’s own vision of equity and justice?

This is the collective work we are called to, the work of the kin-dom, the work of taking care of each other, the work of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

“So we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us,” said Amanda Gorman, our inspiring, young poet laureate.  

“We close the divide because we know to put our future first,

we must first put our differences aside. 

We lay down our arms 

so we can reach out our arms to one another, 

we seek harm to none 

and harmony for all.

we will raise this wounded world 

into a wondrous one,

We’ve braved the belly of the beast, 

we’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace 

and the norms and notions of what just is, 

isn’t always justice.

We will not march back to what was 

but move to what shall be

we will not be turned around 

or interrupted by intimidation 

because we know our inaction and inertia 

will be the inheritance of the next generation, 

our blunders become their burden. 

But one thing is certain: 

if we merge mercy with might and might with right, 

then love becomes our legacy 

and change our children’s birthright.

There is always light 

if only we’re brave enough to see it, 

if only we’re brave enough to be it.”[2]

Pepleirotai ho Kairos. The time is ripe. The kin-dom of God is in reach.  It always has been.  Metanoiete.  Change direction, and believe the good news.  In Jesus’ name.


[1] Mark 13:13

[2] The Hill We Climb (edited) Amanda Gorman, from President Biden’s Inauguration

Make Believe

It’s only a paper moon, sailing over a cardboard sea, but it wouldn’t be make believe if you believed in me.—Paper Moon, 1933

Make believe. Those two words have been sticking in my head ever since I read this excerpt last week from Wishful Thinking by Frederick Buechner:

“You make believe that the tasteless wafer and 
cheap port are his flesh and blood. You make believe that by
 swallowing them you are swallowing his life into your life and 
that there is nothing in earth or heaven more important for 
you to do than this.
 It is a game you play because he said to play it. ” Do this 
in remembrance of me.” Do this. Play that it makes a difference. Play that it makes sense. 
If it seems a childish thing to do, do it in remembrance that 
you are a child.” Continue reading “Make Believe”