I HAVE SEEN THE LORD!

Preacher — Micah Bales

Scripture Readings – Isaiah 25:6-9, Acts 10:34-43, and John 20:1-18

He is risen! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. (Can I get an amen?)

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And how did this world repay him? How did we respond to the love and prophetic challenge of Emanuel, God-with-us? This dark and fallen world put Jesus to death by hanging him on a tree. Blinded by fear and violence, they crucified the Lord of glory.

The forces of death, chaos, and confusion thought that they had won. The evil spirits were laughing in delight. They had defeated truth and love once again. The rulers of this world were breathing a sigh of relief; they were finally rid of this trouble-maker, Jesus. Like so many prophets before and since, Jesus paid for his faithfulness with his life.

But we are here this morning, because we know that this was not the end of the story. Can I get an amen? I want to hear you this morning. This is our victory celebration!

The cross was not an end, but a beginning. Not a wall, but a window. Not defeat, but triumph. The kind of death that leads to new life, like a seed that falls on the ground and dies, so that it may grow into something new, and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, a hundred fold!

On the third day after Golgotha, God raised Jesus from the dead! Early that first Easter morning, Jesus appeared to Mary, the first apostle.

Mary had come to anoint Jesus’ body for burial – there hadn’t been time on Friday. She came to give Jesus’ the loving care that no one else had the courage to give. She came to care for the body of Christ.

But the body wasn’t there. The tomb was empty. Not knowing what to do, Mary ran and found Peter and another disciple. She told them what she had seen: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

The men went off running to the tomb. The leaned down inside and saw that the body was missing. And then they returned to their homes.

But Mary wasn’t ready to return home just yet. Mary was in shock. Where was the body of her lord, her teacher, her friend? She lingered outside the tomb and wept.

Through her eyes, blurry with tears, Mary Magdalene saw what the men disciples did not. As she waited, present with her grief, she witnessed the angels of God sitting in the tomb. And then, something even more amazing. Mary was waiting for Jesus, and he also was waiting for her. Just outside the tomb. In the garden. Calling her by name.

Have you heard him call you by name?

This is how Mary became the original apostle. Apostle to the apostles, to the ones who we now call the Twelve. Mary proclaimed the word of God, the light of the resurrection, to men who didn’t understand yet, didn’t believe yet, but would soon be transformed into leaders that Jesus would use to gather his church and proclaim his gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

Jesus didn’t appear to all the people, but he chose some to be eye-witnesses to the resurrection. Mary was first. Then Peter, then to the Twelve, and to others who especially needed his presence. Remember our brother Stephen, the first Christian martyr; he saw a vision of the Lord Jesus as he was being stoned to death for his faith. Brother Paul the apostle, who had been a notorious persecutor of the church; his life was transformed when met Jesus on the road to Damascus. To this very day, Jesus continues to appear to those who need him. Along with Mary, we can also say, “We have seen the Lord!”

John writes in his first epistle:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

For those of us who have seen, or heard, or tasted, smelled, touched with our hands the presence of Jesus – for those of us who have become his friends through the power of the resurrection – he has commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that Jesus is ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him. Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins in his name. The kingdom of God is within us and among us. Hallelujah!

Have you heard the voice of Jesus in your life? Have you seen with your eyes and touched with your hands? Have you experienced in your own body this Word of life, the resurrected Jesus?

Eleven Easters ago, I was in my first year of seminary at Earlham School of Religion and Bethany Theological Seminary out in Richmond, Indiana. When I had arrived the previous fall, I didn’t consider myself a Christian. I knew I liked Jesus a lot, but I wasn’t sure that I was ready to identify myself with the Christian tradition.

But by the time Easter rolled around, I had gotten to the place where I felt like I could take that step. I had begun calling myself a Christian. I got to that place after reading Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:3, where he says that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. I thought a lot about those words, “Jesus is Lord.” What did it mean to me, for Jesus to be Lord in my life?

By Easter that year, I knew that Jesus was my Lord. He was my friend, my teacher, my guide, and my example. He was master and commander of my life; where he led, I wanted to follow. I didn’t know what I believed about all the deep theological questions that great thinkers have been debating for the past two thousand years, but I knew that I wanted to follow Jesus wherever he would lead, to surrender my life to him. That was good enough for me.

That Easter, my first Easter as a Christian, I attended Sunday morning worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting. It was a really strange experience. It’s an atmosphere of celebration. Everyone is saying, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” And here I am, the new Christian in his first year of seminary, and I have no idea what they’re talking about.

Of course, I knew the story of the resurrection. I was actively studying the New Testament at that time; I knew what the texts said. But reading stories is one thing. These people were talking like these things actually happened. I had been reading the resurrection story as metaphor, but these people seemed to be taking it literally!

I didn’t want to seem too sacrilegious, so I asked my questions quietly. But I did ask. “Do you really believe this? You think that Jesus really, literally, physically rose from the dead? What’s your basis for that? And if you don’t think that, isn’t it a little weird to go running around proclaiming “he is risen!”?

I can’t remember exactly what kind of answers I got in response to my questions. On the one hand, I suspect that the people I was asking wrestled with the same kind of doubts as me. When you really examine some of the stuff that we believe as Christians, it’s a little ridiculous. Bodily resurrection? Ascension into heaven? We’d never take these kinds of claims literally if any other religion made them.

And yet… And yet. Despite the doubt, in spite of the preposterous nature of the Christian faith, I didn’t walk away from that worship service disillusioned. I was intrigued. I still didn’t know if I could believe this whole story. I didn’t know if I could really accept the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. But some part of me wanted to. Even if my rational mind couldn’t readily accept it, my heart wanted to believe.

Why? What would make me want to believe in this kind of fairy tale?

Joy. In these fully-grown men and women celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, I sensed the joy of children. If you ask a young child why they love their parents, they’re not going to give you some kind of coherent philosophical answer. At best, you’re going to get something along the lines of, “because they’re my mommy and my daddy!” The love of children for parents is rooted in the established reality joy and trust.

The resurrection is like that. It’s not a set of facts to be known, but a relationship to experience. This is what Mary discovered in the pre-dawn light that first Easter morning. She was distraught; her love for Jesus was so strong, and she thought she had lost him forever. She was so upset, and the reality of the situation was so unexpected, that she didn’t even recognize Jesus when he was standing in front of her.

Then he said her name. “Mary.”

Then she knew who she was talking to. Jesus. Friend. Lord. Brother. Teacher. Her heart was filled with astonishment and joy to overflowing. “Rabbouni!” She couldn’t believe what was happening, but her heart and her spirit told her that it was the most real thing she would ever experience. Jesus is here. “I have seen the Lord.”

Like Mary, we don’t have a relationship with Jesus because we believe in the resurrection. We believe in the resurrection because of our lived experience of Jesus. The resurrection is not just a story that we tell one another once a year. It is a lived daily reality. Jesus shows up. Even when we don’t recognize him. He calls us by name.

We don’t all have to have spectacular visions of Jesus to know him. Through Jesus, all things on heaven and earth were created, and we can experience him in all things. He’s with us when the trees sway and the leaves move in the wind – because Jesus is like that. We experience the resurrection when the truth is spoken and love is shared – because Jesus is like that. We know that Jesus is alive and well and active in the world when we see people caring for one another, sacrificing for each other, even when they’ve got nothing to gain – because Jesus is like that.

We have seen the Lord. Can you say it with me? We have seen the Lord. Hallelujah.

I know that some of us probably feel just like I did eleven years ago. Let’s be honest: This whole resurrection story sounds totally insane. It defies everything we know about the way the universe works. Dead men don’t come back to life after three days. Angels don’t show up in tombs. People executed by the state don’t get the last word.

But what if our conception of how the world works is the problem? What if the resurrection – our faith that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead – reveals the way God’s universe really operates? We worship a God of impossible things, and we live in a mystery.

This world says, “money makes the world go round” – but the resurrected Jesus says, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Our culture says, “might makes right,” but Jesus says, “blessed are the peacemakers.” The world never tires of telling us that we need to be afraid, be prepared, be on guard, or we’ll get left behind. But the God of Jesus is the loving creator who has his eye on the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. In the face of fear, he has commanded us not to worry. In a world where nothing seems secure, Jesus teaches us to live in trust.

Maybe the resurrection of Jesus isn’t crazy after all. Maybe it’s of one piece with everything that God is teaching us in Jesus.

The power of the resurrection is here this morning. Don’t just believe it. Live it.

We welcome you, Lord Jesus. We welcome you, Holy Spirit. We welcome you, God and Father of all. We see you.

We have seen the Lord.

Let me hear the church say, “amen!” Hallelujah!

THE ALLEGED WISDOM OF THE CROSS

Nathan Hosler — Preacher

Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2: 13-22

The 10 commandments—seems straight forward enough—a list of things to do or not do. Written in stone. Delivered by a notable God/Moses team.

Psalm 19 seems less straight forward, but still comprehendible.

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. –“firmament?” a little less clear not a word I use most days…but in general I’d give that a pretty high rating on clarity. Even if the particular message proclaimed by the heavens may get occasionally muddled, say, through shifting clouds—oh! Now I see a T-rex… Still the basic notion that God—who is a creating and sustaining God—can be seen in our surroundings makes sense. Seeing the sun rise provokes a sense of awe, pulling up to the 5a bus stop from Dulles airport and seeing Jenn waiting after a long and harrowing journey, feeling a tiny human move in the belly for the first time. In these, it is not a stretch to imagine that we see hints of God’s presence in the world.

A good God meets us in beauty and joy. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’s first miracle is to sustain the joy of a wedding party in Cana of Galilee. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov describes, the young man Alyosha, as he prayers in despair at the death of his mentor Father Zosima, drifting in and out of sleep hearing the Gospel account of Jesus’ miracle of turning the water to wine at a wedding feast, responds, “Ah, that miracle! Ah, that sweet miracle! It was not men’s grief but their joy that Christ visited, He worked His first miracle to help men’s gladness…’He who loves men loves their gladness, too.’…He was always repeating that, it was one of his leading ideas….’There’s no living without joy,” (Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 338). The heavens and all of creation are telling of the glory of God.

Immediately after the continuation of the joy in Cana, Jesus acts for justice. Jesus cleans out the Temple. He drives out those misusing the worship space—this seems straight forward. Jesus obviously didn’t like what was happening and did something definitive. Action oriented, decisive ethical judgements on injustice, clearly communicated. Paired with the first miracle of Cana and at the beginning of the Gospel of John this sets the stage for Jesus’ ministry. In the other three Gospels it is culmination and a building of tension before the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. [It is also thought to be a symbolic act of destruction. (W.R. Herzog II, “Temple Cleansing,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 820).

The cross, however, the cross… The cross, which also would seem to be the message, Paul seems to assert that the cross is only be comprehensible if one is already being saved. The enlightenment of the cross only makes sense once you’ve reached understanding which shows that the cross is not foolishness but the power and wisdom of God. In Corinth, the orators, the masters of rhetoric were stars.

[One commentator writes, “The world of Paul’s day was deeply enamored with public oratory by virtuoso rhetors known as sophists. Because Christianity placed such emphasis on public preaching, its preachers would inevitably be judged by sophisticated audiences according to the cannons of rhetoric.” This performance was one both of word-skill as well as presentation. (B.W. Winter, “Rhetoric,” Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, 820-821). Those who spoke eloquently gathered followers through the logic and beauty of their words (Hays, First Corinthians). Paul, though likely having some such training and demonstrating this skill in his writing—Paul preached without fuss. Paul preaches the foolishness of the humiliating cross.

1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

The 10 commandments cut into stone. Creation pointing towards God. Jesus acting against injustice—seemingly pretty straight forward. The cross—less straight forward. May even be intentionally counter how we expect this to go. God is powerful. We expect God to act powerful—God-like even. Much philosophical reflection on the nature of God through the centuries has focused one the stark difference between finite humans and a powerful, the infinite, the other other—God. In the cross our expectations are turned upside-down.

In the cross our expectations are turned upside-down.

However, at this point, since the cross has now been now used for hundreds of years as a symbol and ornament it may feel clear. Because of this commonality, even when used well it likely has lost its shock. Not only has it likely lost some of the surprise through proliferation, but it has often been used in blatantly bland ways but also in blatantly offensive and abusive ways—with marauding Crusaders or in the burning cross of the Klan, for example. (For bland and offensive at once there is the use the crusader as a mascot for Christian schools)

If the wisdom of the cross is less clear, how do we get clarity? By staring at it intently awaiting enlightenment? By figuring it out? By describing it eloquently?

Black Liberation theologian James Cone notes that for Jews of the time crucifixion held a place of particular horror, he writes, “Thus, St. Paul said that the ‘word of the cross is foolishness’ to the intellect and a stumbling block to established religion. The cross is a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be the first and the first the last…That God could ‘make a way out of no way’ in Jesus’ cross was truly absurd to the intellect, yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk. Enslaved blacks who first heard the gospel message seized on the power of the cross.” (Cone, 2).

Cone writes, “The cross and the lynching tree are separated by nearly 2,000 years. One is the universal symbol of Christian faith; the other is the quintessential symbol of black oppression in America. Though both are symbols of death, one represents a message of hope and salvation, while the other signifies the negation of the message by white supremacy. Despite the obvious similarities between Jesus’ death on a cross and the death of thousands of black men and women strung up to die on a lamppost or a tree, relatively few people, apart from black poets, novelists, and other reality-seeing artists, have explored the symbolic connections.” (Cone, Cross and the Lynching Tree, xiii).

That one community was seized by the cross as an understandable and strikingly similar lived experience, does not necessarily make that understanding either correct or relevant for other groups with a different set of experiences. However, given the way in which this passage overturns the assumptions of the “wise” and the “religious” folks who lack identification in the cross, we, if we are in that group, should be alarmed. Growing up in Sunday School or the Church might not get you there. A seminary degree might not get you there. Flannel graph might not get you there. 1:19-21 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.”

It sounds like we may not get it—we may not get the wisdom of God. For the wisdom and power of God are shown in the cross. Without the cross we lack all that we need. Returning to Cone, for those of us who allegedly can detach from the suffering of the cross we ought to be alarmed that we may miss God. We are at risk.

The wisdom of the suffering of and power of the cross becomes clearer in taking up the cross and following Christ. Taking of the cross and beginning to learn from and even join those who suffer. Cone continues, asking why white theologians have almost wholly missed the connections between the cross and the lynching tree. More specifically he focuses on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, perhaps the most influential theologian and ethicist of the 20th century, who focused on the cross, wrote about race, and lived in close proximity to large African American communities—pastoring in Detroit during the Great Migration and working next to Harlem, a center of black cultural life. Cone asserts that though Niebuhr wrote about racial injustice he never fully felt it (41). He showed little interest in actually getting to know black folks. He writes, “It has always been difficult for white people to empathize with the experience of black people. But it has never been impossible.”(Cone, 41). This beginning to understand, is not simply understanding a social analysis of an “issue” but digs deeper into even understanding God. Understanding the very nature of the way that God has worked and how we participate is at stake.

The Jews, having lived under the oppression of both military occupation and forced exile understandably expected and hoped for the Messiah to come with political force and set up a righteous kingdom where they were in power. The Greeks wanted elegant and beautiful rhetoric to convince them. However, as Cone writes, the cross inverts the expectations and values. The cross is not only not this but would seem to be the opposite—foolish and weak.

“but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Jesus invited his disciples to “take up their cross” and follow him, Christ calls us to be present with him in being with those who suffer.

God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (v.25).