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Tuesday, April 18, 2017
A Sermon for Easter Sunday
By Griff Martin
For the People of First Austin: a baptist community of faith
On April 16, 2017
Incarnate God, we ask that you once again take the Word and transform it into a living and breathing Resurrected reality we can all together experience. Be present here in this space and in these words God for if you are present here then nothing else will matter, but if you are not present here then nothing else will matter. In the name of the Creator, the Risen Christ and the Comforter.
He Is Risen! (He is Risen Indeed!)
When I get stuck during the sermon writing process I wander….. I begin walking down Brazos Street to 5th Street and then I walk to the Mexican American Art Gallery where I can wander in and out of the iconic, deeply religious art and then if nothing has come to me, I walk back up Congress Avenue stopping at the coffee shop that I prefer and then up to the Capital to see what is going on and then back down Congress Avenue.
Which is what I have done off and on all week…. Because it’s Easter and Easter is tricky. Especially when it’s your first Easter at a big steeple new church. Especially when you want to be impressive and witty and clever.
And I do. I want to point out something new to all of us this morning, so that you will leave here and think: “Our new pastor, he’s so brilliant and handsome and witty and clever, you know that (such and such) fact about the Resurrection account that Griff brought out, well I never knew that before and that opens it all up and explains it all.”
But here’s the truth: today is not a day about me pointing out a fact that no one has ever noticed before or us knowing something, today is about experiencing something. Today we seek the same experience of the disciples who after the women came back with the news of an empty tomb, they themselves go racing- a literal foot race- to the tombs to experience this truth…. Which begs the questions: why have we not run here this morning and why are none of us breathless?
Because this is a morning we should arrive panting, breathless having raced to get hear and to hear the truest words that we know as a faith community, the words that change everything…
He is Risen! (He is Risen, indeed!)
Because those words are why we are here today.
And that is what I was pacing about this week, trying to figure out how to preach those words to our community. And so I was on my walk and I was at the Capital. On this particular day there was a large political rally going on and this was one of those issues where there are very clearly two sides to the issue and people feel very strongly about their side. I walked up and observed the rally for a few minutes, saw a few friends who were participating and then turned to walk back towards Congress.
I was at the intersection where Congress dead ends into the Capital and no cars are allowed any further. And as usual there was a crowd of people waiting to cross the street and that is when the minivan pulled up and essentially parked in the crosswalk. This being the time and age it is, folks became visibly uncomfortable, shifted into the tension and a silence formed over the group. And that is when I saw it, the signs taped to the side of the door: “Repent and God will forgive you.” “Sin no more.” “Change your ways.” And then I started to cringe as I heard the praise and worship music playing in the van and then saw the bullhorn coming out and heard the words “God loves you.”
And almost instantly security was there to move the van along and this particular street corner minivan preachers saw security coming and before they got into any trouble they drove off, or they attempted to, but in their state- the high of judgmental bliss- they accidently drove onto the sidewalk and almost hit a few people (because nothing says Jesus loves you like a minivan almost running you over) and then they course corrected with a heavy thud back onto 11th Street, praise music still blaring and drove off while cheering for themselves.
The group of us standing there was still silent, trying to take it all in and then the woman next to me looked over at me and said (to me and everyone else listening): “And that is why I don’t go to church, it has nothing better to offer than that.”
And then we stood in silence as her 16 word sermon clouded and hovered over our silence…. “And that is why I don’t go to church, it has nothing better to offer than that.”
Do we? And if so, what is it? Because my hunch would tell me that particular woman has probably sat in an Easter service before, I could hear that in her voice, it was not that she has never tried church, she was done with church. My hunch is that she sat in a service and she was told all about the Easter event by a church where people were not breathless, by folks who knew the story but have never experienced it.
She has not experienced the whole story: It’s a truth that starts in the dark of morning. It starts in what has to be the most hopeless of places, the tomb where the one you love and the one you believed in has now been placed… it’s the place of broken dreams, crushed hopes, longings, failure… it’s the very place of death.
And yet… (pause)…. The great Words of Easter: And yet.
And yet it’s here that love is victorious, it’s here that the light gets in, it’s here that brokenness is restored to wholeness, it’s here where hope returns, it’s here that we encounter the Risen Lord!
It’s here we find the greatest truth… He Is Risen! (He is Risen Indeed!)
It’s here, that early morning when before sunrise, we find the invitation from the women who have bravely already journeyed to the tomb and what they see there sends them running back with this invitation: “Come and See”…. Which is our invitation, to change our vision, to run to see an empty tomb, to experience the resurrection, to find our truth that is greater than anything else we have to offer.
And maybe our problem is that we aren’t breathless… maybe we have forgotten to go running to the tomb and instead of seeing the resurrection, we have just heard about it and that is not the invitation….. it’s not come and hear, come and know. It’s come and see. The truth is that second hand resurrection accounts will never be enough.
And maybe Easter after Easter we have simply heard about the resurrection and have not experienced the resurrection.
Which is a real shame because it’s happening all around us if we would notice it. You see this is not a truth that is all the difficult to talk about, there are opportunities everywhere we look these days. It’s as if God took a play book from the Anne Lamott school of writing: “tell the truth that everyone already knows, the fundamental truth and keep telling it in new ways.”
And the truth of the resurrection is all around us.
It’s happening in the bougainvillea plants that are coming back to life with huge almost comical hot pink blooms this season, it’s the roses bushes bursting forth with truth, it’s the bulbs we planted last winter now shooting green sprouts, it’s the Texas red yucca with their red stalks almost looking extra-terrestrial extending high above the ground with such obvious- even show offish- resurrection boldness, it’s every tree replacing it’s leaves with new growth. It’s very season of spring and how out of the dirt things we thought were once dead have now come alive.
It’s the musician who stands at the corner of 4th and Congress and plays the saxophone each day even if no one stops to listen, who plays a melody for all to hear as they rush by him without noticing…
It’s the woman with cancer who shows up here each week to stand and to worship God. It’s the man with depression who is here week after week because he knows that depression is not the end of his story. It’s every teenager who is facing all the horrible questions of life and identity and esteem and here because they know the answer lies way beyond them. It’s the children who are here because there is something in this story that is truer than any other story they are being taught. It’s those in grief who come here because here there is a word of hope.
It’s prisoners at the Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad, California that are taking a class on murals and are creating incredible works of art from behind bars as part of their rehabilitation. They are being taught to use the pain of their lives, both the pain they have felt and the pain they have caused, and to create something beautiful from it, something that will speak to the world.
It’s the widow who recently walked down the center aisle of this church after burying their beloved and who at the end turned and looked at me, right in the eyes, and said, “I am going to be okay.”
It’s the churches in Egypt where last week priest resided over services wearing blood stained stoles after their churches were targeted and bombed and who this morning are proclaiming resurrection in the face of very real danger.
It’s every time that we sit on a pew with folks who vote the opposite way we do but we decide in that moment to worship together, it’s every time someone who was once excluded (for being queer, transgender, liberal, conservative- the list goes on and one) person is embraced and included, it’s when the racism and prejudice inside all of us finally comes to the light and we say no more and deal with it, it’s every time a homeless neighbor finds their way out, it’s when we battle our own addictions and face the ugly in our own hearts, it’s being honest about our own wounds.
It’s the stories of the light getting through that we have heard all of Lent: grief over losing a father, a politician finding his calling for justice in a battle with cancer, a grieving widow finding her next step, a dog that teaches us about letting go of perfection and control, it’s beating an addiction that is robbing us of life.
Resurrection is every time we find the grace to forgive or we are given the grace of being forgiven, it’s every time we allow transformation to occur, it’s those moments where resistance becomes revival, it’s when there is life where there should be death, hope where there should be none, laughter where there should be tears, love where there should be hate, belief where there should be unbelief, and beauty where there should be ash. It is those places where love is victorious. It’s the places where the impossible becomes a house of possibility.
And church we have the vocabulary for these moments, we have the words:
He is Risen! (He is Risen, indeed!)
These are resurrection stories and in the Kingdom of God resurrection is everywhere.
So to the woman at the crosswalk, I apologize because we do have something better to say…. We have just failed in saying it. We have failed to be a community that invites you not to know the Resurrection, but to experience it. We have failed to tell the story of a Jesus who came and embodied every truth that matters- that love is the greater good, that it’s worth taking huge risks for people, that stories and questions are the only ways to communicate, that the only way to live is giving all, that truth must be spoken to power, even though doing so would get him killed. We have failed to be breathless about our God, who will always find a way to birth hope, will bring light to the darkness, will create a way when there is no way, will refuse to let death be the final answer, who will always find a way for love to burst forth, who wanted to know what it meant to be human and in doing so was willing to give everything for us.
But you can’t name it until you experience it, and you can’t be breathless until you go running to find it, to see it for yourself, to be part of the story. And church we have nothing to offer the world until we ourselves become a community of resurrection, until these are the stories of our being, these are the stories we live, … to remember that resurrection is not only a past tense verb (it did happen) but that it's still happening, all around us and within us.
A few weeks ago the New York Times featured an article that was a conversation between the famous composer Esa Pekka Salonen and the cellist YoYo Ma. The conversation was about a concert that Salonen had composed with YoYo Ma in mind, every movement was built with his in mind and this debuted recently in Chicago. The entire concert is essentially the cello doing battle with the entire symphony.
At one point near the end, YoYo has to play a b-flat that is essentially off the charts… describing it he says: “Your wrote me a note that is basically at the very limits. That is the outer limit. It’s not unlike the boy who flew too close to the sun. Is it burning you? Do you break free?.... We talked about wanting to hear a sound that is inside us and can’t get out.”
And that note is Resurrection. And this morning it has burst forth.
He is Risen. (He is Risen, indeed!)
Later on in that conversation Salonen the composer talks about one of his hopes for this particular work: (in his words) to “creates a space where an experience can happen….. hoping it would become an environment.”
Perhaps it finally can. Maybe today the Resurrection can be more than something we just know or a story you hear second hand, maybe it can be something we together experience, a present reality, and in doing so- in that experience may we create a new environment, a new reality, a new Kingdom.
May we come and see.
May we come and see so that we can go and tell.
May we continually be breathless because of this experience.
Resurrection. Love wins. The impossible becomes a house of possibility. No way becomes a way.
He is Risen. (He is Risen, indeed!)
Amen and Amen.
*photo taken by Bob Avant