Friday, April 09, 2010

Easter Day, Year C

From our Middle and Upper School Easter celebrations...

Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:16, 22-25; Acts 10:34-43; Luke 23:1-12

A good friend of mine is the priest at an Episcopal Church in Vicksburg.  She was out of town last weekend, so I filled in for her on Easter.  There were only a handful of people at the early service, mostly older except for one young boy, perhaps six or seven.

I thanked the congregation for allowing me to worship with them, and one of the women thanked me for my sermon.  Others nodded their heads and smiled.  Then I heard that little six-year-old voice pipe up, "Well, it was kind of long."

In some ways, sermons aren't much different than papers or essays that you write in school.  They have to be a certain length, apparently.  They're always on an assigned topic, which for sermons is whatever the scriptures are that day.  And they're graded - maybe not with a letter or a number grade, but people generally do make comments.  Nice sermon.  Good job.  It was kind of long.

One way sermons are different than school papers, though, is that for most preachers you can strip away the scriptures and quotations and stories and illustrations from all the sermons they've ever written and find that just one or two themes runs through all of them.  I remember noticing years ago that my husband's sermons, no matter the church season or special occasion, were always a variation on the theme "God is love."  Early in my own priesthood, many of my sermons used language from the Episcopal service of Holy Baptism, especially the words "I will, with God's help," which we say when we promise to live a faithful life.  This year, especially at the Lower School but also up here on the North Campus, the theme of my sermons has been, "God goes everywhere we go."

It's good, I think, to believe in something so much that it becomes a part of everything you say and do.  God is love.  I will, with God's help.  God goes with us everywhere we go.  But I think it's also important to be willing to listen for something new, something fresh, something unexpected every once in a while, especially when it comes to talking about God.

Still, the very first Easter sermon every preached - and what could have newer, fresher, and more unexpected than resurrection - the very first Easter sermon ever preached didn't go over so well.  Jesus is not dead; he is risen, proclaimed the women who had been at early dawn to the tomb, echoing the words of angels, describing all that they had seen and heard.  But the disciples thought it was an idle tale, the gospel of Luke tells us.  The Greek words are actually closer to something like "crazy talk."  The disciples thought it was crazy talk, and they did not believe them.

To be fair, the women hadn't actually seen Jesus.  Peter didn't see him, either, when he ran back to the tomb to see if the crazy talk was true.  This was the same story we heard in church on Sunday, on Easter Day, the day when Christians believe Jesus rose from death to bring new life to the world...but Jesus isn't in the story.  No one sees him.

Which is exactly why this is the perfect story for us, some 2000 years later.  Unless God has something really new and fresh and unexpected planned for us, we're not likely to see the risen Jesus standing right in front of us, either.  The disciples eventually did see him, and those stories will be told in the church in the coming days and weeks; but we probably won't see him, not like they did.

Still... Don't Christians see Jesus in the bread and wine of the holy eucharist we will soon share?  Don't we see him in the outstretched hands of people in need and in the hands of those who provide for them?  Don't we see him in acts of kindness that expect no reward?  Don't we see him in the faces of family, friends, and even strangers?  Many of us do, and that, in part, is why we believe.  We believe Jesus lives because we see him in the lives of others, in the love of others, in the goodness and kindness and selflessness of others.  People's lives speak.  They preach.

So what is your sermon?  In your life, in your living, in your faith tradition, how do you preach?  Every community of faith is built of layer upon layer of lives that spoke something about God's love, and some who heard the words thought it was crazy talk but others believed, so they told the story...and some of the folks who heard them tell it thought it was crazy talk but others believed...and so on and so on down through the ages until someone who did not think it was crazy talk, someone who believed, told us.  Now it is our turn.  How will your life speak?

Legend has it that, not so very long ago, another Episcopal priest stepped into the pulpit on Easter morning, looked out at the congregation, and preached one of the most powerful Easter sermons ever heard, although it was only five words long.  "It's true," the priest said.  "It's all true.  Amen."  That little boy from Vicksburg should have been there!  The sermon was over, but the preaching had only just begun.  Because as Christians, believing that Jesus has truly risen and that he truly lives in and through us means that our lives speak all the time of God's love, of God's help, of God going with us everywhere we go.  Whatever our faith, as Saints (St. Andrew's Saints, I mean) all of our lives speak.  When you make room at the table for another friend, when you help someone up when they've fallen on the field, when you commit yourself to a project or a play or a team, when you give up your time to serve others, when you live by the Honor Code even when it's hard, your lives speak.

Perhaps I've gone on too long again.  The topic is God's love, God's help, God going with us everywhere we go.  The length is your life.  What is your sermon?  Amen.

Artwork: Text of this sermon rendered at; "Resurrection Light," by Ruth Tietjen Councell; "At That Moment," by Delda Skinner.

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