Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Not Alone


This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran churches. The gospel text is Mark 16:1-8.

The account of Jesusresurrection in Mark is unlike any of the other gospels. In other resurrection accounts, we have appearances of Jesus all over the placeeating with his disciples or revealing himself on the road to Emmaus. Isnt that how Easter is supposed to be with the risen Jesus and his disciples having joyful seaside meals, scenes of reconciliation and forgiveness, garden embraces of the risen Lord and the disciples shouting, He is risen!?

Mark does not offer us any such thing. It is the only resurrection story in the Bible where Jesus never actually makes an appearance. Marks story ends with frightened women fleeing from Jesusempty tomb in silence.

It would appear that the three women were complete failures, but they are not alone in that. In Marks strange conclusion, insiders become outsiders and outsiders do the work of insiders. Judas betrayed Jesus. Peter denied him. All had deserted him and fled. At the cross, it was a Roman centurion, not a disciple, who confessed that Jesus was the son of God.. (15:39). Because of the disciplesabsence, their places were taken by the women who saw the crucifixion from afar (15:40), observed the burial (15:47) and then anointed the body (16:1).

This is the gospel for failures like the disciples, like the women at the tomb and for failures like us.

If that was the end of the story, wed all be in big trouble. However, the message for Jesusfollowers was that Jesus was going ahead of them to Galilee and that they would see him there.

Everything Jesus told his disciples about his suffering, death and resurrection happenedjust as he had said. They found the colt for the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The disciples found the man carrying a jar of water that led them to the upper room for the last supper. In the upper room, Jesus speaks of one who will betray himand Judas does. At the Mt. of Olives, Jesus said his disciples would all become desertersand they did. Jesus told Peter that he would deny him before the cock crows twiceand he does.

This pattern of fulfillment of Jesuswords assures us that we can trust in these promises,“…after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee(Mark 14:28) and the angels word at the tomb, He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him(v. 7).

Why do you think Jesus wanted to meet his disciples in Galilee? Most of them were from there. Where would they go and what would they do as with Jesusdeath, the way of life they had lived for three years was finished. Those years had changed them and now it was over, so they went  home. What did they find at home? Jesus was already there, ahead of them. They saw the risen Christ back home in the ordinary stuff of life.

When Mark wrote his gospel, he knew that most of his readers already believed in the resurrection of Jesus. They did not need convincing. These followers of Jesus were living under the reign of Nero, one of the greatest persecutors of Christians who ever lived. Both Peter and Paul were executed under his reign and many of Marks readers were facing the same fate.These Christians needed the assurance that the risen Jesus was right there with them in the midst of their troubles. Jesuswords of promise for these early Christians is that through their sufferings, trials and death Jesus goes ahead of them to the resurrection..

Just as the early followers of Jesus found his promises to be true, those who suffer today can be encouraged. The families of the Kenyan college girls who lost their lives because of their witness to Jesus, can experience Gods comfort and presence in the midst of this horror. They do not walk through this life alone.

Most of us will not have to experience such trials, but that doesnt mean we dont need Gods presence in our lives. We too, do not walk through this life alone. Jesus has gone before us in all the events of our lives and meets us in all the hard places as well as the mundane and everyday places, if we just open our eyes to see him.

Its easy for us to see Jesus in a packed Easter Sunday worship service with joyful music. Where is Jesus though when we go home after our Easter celebration? At home, all kinds of chores may be awaiting us. Where is Jesus in the drudgery of the same old things of life? The risen Christ has gone ahead of us. We will see him there.

We cannot leave Jesus behind when we walk out these doors either. We cannot escape from him because He goes ahead of us.

The Gospel of Mark leaves us with an ending that makes us uncomfortable. It doesnt really seem like an ending.  This open-ended gospel threatens to end in failure. Marks open-ended finish of his gospel invites us into the story, to pick up where the women left off. The story of Christs followers, the gospel story is still unfolding and will continue to unfold until the end of the age, when Christ returns in power.

How will we respond to the empty tomb and the command to Go and tell?Will we let the whole world know that the risen Lord Jesus is alive and active in our lives as his church? Or, like the women at the tomb, will we run away in fear and amazement?

The empty tomb [gives us] a blank slate upon which to record the next chapter of the Good News for our generation, for our time and context (Sharron Blezard). Like Jesusfirst followers, we are imperfect and prone to failure and disillusionment. This may behowever, nothing can stop the gospel. We know the story got toldthat the women reclaimed their voices, that Peter and the other disciples told the story of Jesus, crucified and risen, so that all who believe in him receive forgiveness of sins. We would not be here this morning, if the news of Jesusresurrection went untold.

We too are called to go and tell the never-ending story of the Good News that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised and is going ahead to meet us, just as he promised.

[This Good News] is a story made known in bread in wine, in water and word, in the silent spaces and sin-darkened places. Not even our human fear and silence can stop it from breaking loose and pouring forth in love, grace, and mercy. The empty tomb is no empty promise. So even if we find ourselves struck dumb by fear, captivated and amazed by that which seems so unreal, and fleeing the scene, know that a new beginning surely dawns. The good news of Jesus Christ is for all people in every time and place. Take heart. You will find your voice to share this never-ending story of mercy, hope, and grace. (Sharron Blezard)

Amen!
 

Resources:
Sharron Blezard, stewardshipoflife.org
Frederick B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year B
David Lose, workingpreacher.org
Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/
Sundays and Seasons


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