Sunday, April 5, 2015

Follow To The Answers

Your answer must be in the form of a question.

John 20:1-18

New International Version (NIV)

The Empty Tomb

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

 I have no answers at all for you today. 

You're probably thinking that's quite a statement to make. Especially on a day like today.
Why in the world did you get all dressed up and come out to do your C & E duty if I have nothing to tell you? Oh, I didn't say I didn't have anything to tell you. I said I didn't have any answers. And, now you're really confused. Your keeping your hand on your wallet or your purse 'cause this preacher guy has something up his sleeve and now you don't trust little ol me. 

No really. I have no answers for you at all today. Because none of this makes any sense. 

The entire calendar year I preach from this book. It is chucked full of words about how we are to live our lives. We hear from a guy named Jesus about our morals and our righteousness. (For you C & E people who might not be up with the lingo....that basically means "right living") Most of what we preach year round should make sense. We seem to get the idea that there is a "code of conduct" we follow as Christians. Jesus tells us to love other people. He shows us how to deny ourselves, follow God, give to the poor. All things that should make sense as we go through the course of our lives in the rest of the year.

Then we come to this week leading up to Easter and our nose gets wrinkled up a bit as we take in the account of Jesus' death and crucifixion. Scenes shift to Jesus sweating great drops of blood in the Garden. We see him led away by the religious leaders. He is beaten up and stood up before the people. He is made to carry a cross down the middle of the street, wearing a crown of thorns, bleeding profusely. He is laid upon that cross, nails driven through his hands and feet, raised in the air. Mocked. Spit at or upon. Cursed at. Spear thrust in his side. An earthquake shakes the place and a "Night of the Living Dead" moment takes place in the midst of a dark and stormy sky that causes the veil in the Holy of Holies to be torn right down the middle. 

After all the scripture we've read and heard this week one might say that none of this makes sense. And, I would tend to agree. The mind boggling events don't end here, however. Once things start quieting down and the stormy day passes, then comes the moment when Jesus' body is buried. A couple of men who were 'secretly' disciples of Jesus come and wrap his body up, cover it with spices and aloes, put it in a tomb that no one has ever found to this day, and two thousand years later we are still celebrating this guy named Jesus. This past week, I read the blog post of Dr David Watson, who is on staff at United Theological Seminary over in Dayton. I was impressed that a man of his education and stature would take an honest stance and admit that he doesn't understand the atonement. (For you C & E people, that's how Jesus covers and takes care of our sin. I'm trying to get you caught up here, since you're not with us very much.) He states that there are many issues and doctrines within Christianity that he could effectively and accurately explain. But, the atonement is not one of them. There are many different models of atonement that have been put forth. (How much of our sin is covered? How thoroughly does this answer our need as sinful human beings?) But, none of them seems to completely answer the "why" question. Why did Jesus have to go through this? Why did he have to die this way? Why is this moment so bloody and gory and utterly unexplainable?

Apparently, Dr Watson is not the only one who feels this way. He goes on to state that although many specific doctrines can be found and supported throughout the scriptures (The Trinity, Incarnation) there never has been an atonement model that fits and sticks. No such doctrine was ever accepted widely enough to be included in the discourse of scripture. However, that doesn't stop us from needing it. Just because the answers are not clear does not negate the need for an answer. Atonement, the covering of our sins, is not the only issue that seems to bewilder us on this holiday. This morning we remember some people who came to the tomb of Jesus the Christ, very early in the morning. What we see are people struggling to understand the events that transpired right before their eyes. They witnessed Jesus being taken away. They witnessed his being beaten and flogged. They witnessed him being hung on a crossed and mocked. They saw with their own eyes that he was placed in a tomb, the entranced sealed up. The end. Death is a certainty that does not escape any of us. And, with the rolling of a rock, the sealing of a casket, we feel death's cold snare. It's over. All that's left is to mourn. 

Is there some truth we learned in the rest of the year of covering the scriptures that can help us make sense of this moment. This moment is vastly different. We aren't being told to do something here so much as being encouraged to accept something. It's ok if you don't understand. Come any way. It's ok if you can't explain it. Come any way. It's ok if it lacks definition or color. Come any way. We aren't looking for carefully crafted sentences on this day or vast depiction. I could pull out Merriam-Webster and give you all kinds of description. Our Western culture with our Greek basis for understanding everything would love to go there and give us some grand empowerment by explaining all of this with a mountain of words. The moment is better handled by allowing a picture to be painted. It is in the picture that we see our true feelings. We see what he went through. And, just maybe...the answer unfolds before our eyes, not our dictionaries. 

First, Mary comes. Let us not do an injustice to this day by belittling the role of the women in Jesus' life and ministry. The females surrounding Jesus were a bedrock of support that kept the work of sharing the Kingdom of God going forward. How many houses did he stay at with the twelve? How many meals were prepared and nourishment given to a weary band of men seeking to share what God wanted to do in the midst of his people. These women made it happen. Now, the one who was closest to him comes to pay her respects. Things are not as they should be as she soon realizes upon reaching the tomb. The carefully prepared and closed up death bed has been opened. I can only imagine what she must feel. For any of us who have put a loved one into the ground, to then come along and find things tampered with, a body missing and garments just lying there. Who would do such a thing? Such moments of grief should not be dealt with alone. She doesn't wait for an explanation. The first thing she does is run and get someone who would care. Those who were also close to Jesus. 

John and Peter come running. A footrace ensues to the tomb of their friend. John arrives first, but is cautious to enter. Peter doesn't seem to hesitate at all. He rolls right into the tomb in loud and proud Peter fashion. What they see defies all they know or understand about death. Jesus is gone. The tomb is empty. And, there is no explanation as to what happened. He's just gone. John is the one, for himself, to state that "He saw and believed". But, with this catch - they still did not understand from the scriptures that Jesus was to rise from the dead. Hmm. Maybe you don't have to be able to explain or understand everything in order to believe. Maybe one doesn't have to write a book on the moment or be able to carefully define all the parameters of what happened on this day in order to accept what has transpired. Just see it. And, believe it. 

Why did Jesus have to through all of this? Because he said so.
Oh, I hated that answer as a kid. And, every time I give it to my own kids I still feel the sting of my younger self enduring the pointedness of the answer. Why can't I go over there, Dad? Because I said so. Why can't I have that to eat? Because I said so. Why can't I take the car this weekend? Because I said so. Grrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!! There always was a hurtful edge to that response. I wanted a grander expository about why I should do this or that, about the problems and pitfalls of taking this or that road. I never liked having to hear those words. Because I said so. 

For all the joy my boy shows for getting up early in the morning he loses points with lack of direction. He enjoys getting up early. Doesn't always enjoy being told what to do once he's up. (Sometimes, cranky pants should have stayed in bed longer.) Getting dressed is one of those things. He'd stay in his PJs all day is we let him. Yes, some of you are thinking, "What's wrong with that?" Like any good parent, we have to teach our children that they have to face to world and get on with the day. People have to go to work, make a living. Get up. Get dressed. Eat breakfast. Life isn't about watching cartoons all day. Enjoy it while you can. I did. Life can't be like that forever. Why? I have no idea other than the 4 words I would be told over and over again. Because I said so. 

Those words can bring a callous edge to our hearts when we are going through the pain and suffering of having lost someone near and dear to us, however. Have you ever lost someone you love? Mary could really use a hug in this moment. Peter and John ran to the tomb, saw what they needed to see, and seem to leave rather abruptly. They are dealing with their own heartache. Mary is also dealing with her own. She is left there, by herself. I hesitate to put myself in her shoes and feel the pain. No answers have been given. Just emptiness. An empty tomb and an empty soul. The only question that really matters is - where is he? The answer is closer than she thinks. 

How much pain and suffering have you endured in your life? How much sorrow? Do you long for answers? Do you long for explanation? Here's a point a point to ponder. Have you asked any questions? Instead of demanding and asserting that you need something, have you asked for anything? Mary is brought to a face to face encounter with the very person she is looking for. Maybe she can't see it because of the tears. Maybe she can't see it because he has hidden himself. She sees angels. Matthew's account says an angel came down and rolled the stone away and then sat on it. John's account says Mary sees two of them, sitting at the foot and at the head of where Jesus' body would have been. The discourse is similar. "Why are you afraid?" and "Why are you crying?"

Questions. Not statements. 
You might think that's wrong. We ask the questions. God gives the answers.
Maybe that's how it should be. But, in our grief, the roles get reversed. We get ourselves all worked up and into a demanding point of view. We forget how to ask. We start to dictate. So, God has to bring us back to a place where we remember our roles. He starts with the questions. We reply with what we know. Which isn't much. "Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" 

Are you looking for anybody? It's not enough to just want an answer. You need to have the person in front of you who has the answers you seek. I don't have any answers today. But, I know who to point you towards. He has the answers. You can stop in front of him. You can bring your tears.Your hurts. Your sorrow. You can say whatever you want in front of him. Let it all out. Larry Norman, the famous Christian songwriter of the 60's & 70's would tell of the times he would go sing in a bar and end of having conversations with people about Jesus. Leading somebody to Christ, he would encourage them to pray, right from the heart. People would let out whatever was on their mind. Maybe a few curse words would slip. Maybe the pain of several years of discouragement would surface. The truth is what will set us free. The truth is standing right in front of us. He calls us out by name. He knows us. He is the truth. The Way. The Life. 

He is the Answer. The answer we have been longing for.
These men and women knew it. They witnessed it. They saw it with their own eyes. 

1 John 1

New International Version (NIV)

The Incarnation of the Word of Life

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. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our[a] joy complete.

Why does any of this make sense? Because God said so. 
In order to find the answers we seek we need to be ok with God being in control.
Life might be crazy. Life might not make any sense some times.  
I'd rather face it knowing God was holding my hand. To hear the still small voice. 
The answer we seek is usually not the answer we find. Jesus is the answer. 
Follow to the empty tomb and find your answer. 

Your answer must be in the form of a question.

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