May 222017

Gospel    John 20:1-18

The risen Christ appears to Mary Magdalene.

 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him,” Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter, reached the tomb first, and stooping to look in, saw the linen cloths lying there, but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following after, and went into the tomb; Peter saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Saying this, she turned round arid saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing Jesus to be the gardener, she answered, “Sir, if you have carried Jesus away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and responded in Hebrew; “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to God; but go to my friends and say to them, I am ascending to God my Abba and your Abba, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that Jesus had said these things to her.

Sermon: Seeing Jesus

 There is little doubt in scripture that Mary Magdalene loved Jesus. While seldom mentioned in our male dominated scriptures, she was there, by his side, learning, and loving.  There is no proof, of course, that it was a physical love, but a deep, agape love was there, nevertheless.  Even on the cross, while all others deserted Jesus, Mary was there to the end.  What is even more important, it was also Mary who was first to the grave to attend to the body of her beloved Jesus.  So imagine her horror to find the tomb empty that morning which we now celebrate as Easter.

But it goes one stop farther.  It was also Mary who is the first to see, and speak to the risen Christ, in the garden.  Yet, even in her undying love, she did not recognize him.  Why?  It was not until he spoke her name were her eyes “opened” and she saw him with clarity.  It was the same with the two followers on the road to Emmaus later that day.  What was it about Jesus that they didn’t know him by sight?  What had changed?

Before the cross, Jesus was a man, human, vulnerable and mortal.  After the cross, Jesus was now surely divine.  Once again infused with the divinity of God, Jesus was no long just a man.  In the spirit, Jesus was all things, all genders and sexes.  Jesus was total.  Only when he spoke were others who knew him aware of his true presence.

Easter is the lesson of renewal and rebirth.  It has been even in pagan rites as it is in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  It also closely ties to the beginnings of Spring, when young animals are born, and the ground is ready to plant, and the days are warmer and the weather nicer.  Everything is fresh again.  It is in this mood that we also celebrate the bebirth of Jesus, but not just in his resurrection, but in his divinity, and in the final and greatest gift he brought for humanity.

Jesus brought us undying compassionate love.  He brought us a love that transcends death also, just as Jesus transcended death.  In that love he also gave us another gift, the understanding of his divine spirit within each and every one of us.  “I will be with you, even unto the ends of the world” he will later tell his followers.

 It is ironic that today, so many christians sit and wait for Jesus to return, to save us from our own stupidity and folly, to rescue us from the Armageddon we are so capable of inflicting upon ourselves.  Some even feel they must force Jesus to return by destroying everything themselves, either by deliberate means in nuclear holocaust, or by more passive means in destroying the planet ecologically. 

 Today, we seem equally poised to achieve either, or both at once when we look at the people who are in charge of key nations today.  And through it all, we wait for his return in brilliant glory, coming to our rescue riding a fiery chariot with a holy army of angels behind him, ready to destroy OUR enemies and restore peace.  Before that happens though, maybe we should reconsider just who is the enemy that might be destroyed.

Since it is we who are in fact destroying the Earth, God’s greatest gift to life, is it not reasonable to assume that humanity itself is the enemy, and not just those other people over there with whom we disagree or hate?  Who loves God more…the one who will do all they can to save the planet, or the one more willing to destroy it?

But that is not how it works.  Revelation has come and gone, long ago.  It was written for a time, long ago, as a warning to the early church against the persecutions by Rome. It was symbolic, not literal.  And Jesus never left us with the Ascension. There is also no “second coming” because Jesus is already here.  We can see him every day if we only look with our hearts, but like Mary in the garden or his followers on the road to Emmaus, we do not see. 

We are still blinded by our own egos, our own fears, our own selfishness, no less than the Temple Priests who questioned Jesus after he cured the blind man, restoring his sight.  We live in our own little worlds, shut off from the greater scope of humanity.  “It’s not my problem” we will tell ourselves.  “Somebody else can take care of it.”  “I’m too busy.”  And we move on, ignoring the plight of the “other” amongst us, and in doing so, ignoring Jesus.  What we do the least of God’s children, we do likewise to God.

 What we fail to see is Jesus.  He is there, in each and every one of us, every day.  He’s in the face and heart of the beggar on the freeway off ramp, or the waitress in the coffee shop, or the clerk at the market.  Jesus is in the face in the mirror in the morning.  That is where we find Jesus today, and everyday.  All we have to do is recognize him, and listen, and do what Jesus did.  In principle it is not that difficult, but in practice, it is very hard.  We are to love God with all our hearts, all our strength, all our mind and all our soul.  We are also to love the stranger as we would love ourselves.

We often times pay lip service to the former as we sit in church on Sunday, and forget about the second once we leave the parking lot. Granted, it is hard to love the stranger. They are just that, strangers.  We don’t know what they might do to us, or where they have been, or what kind of person they are.  We are afraid, suspicious.  It is hard to love what you don’t know, understand, or are afraid of.

But Jesus didn’t mean to literally “love” the stranger as ourselves.  What Jesus commands of us is to respect the other, as we wish to be respected.  We are to honor them for who they are, and hope they do so in return.  When you do that, you are also respecting their right to their own personhood, without judgment or fear.  You set aside hate and you bridge the gap of ignorance by understanding.

This is Jesus at work within us.  When we See Jesus in ourselves, and in others, we wish them no harm.  We welcome them amongst us.  We share our stories, and we learn from each other.  When that happens, how can we have war?  How can we have hate?

Mary’s love for Jesus was total, and for that love, she was rewarded with that sight.  Jesus revealed himself to her and her heart was uplifted in joy and excitement.  Uncontained, she rushed immediately to the eleven remaining disciples and shared what she saw.  But even they could not dare to believe her.  Even after all Jesus had told them, they still could not believe without seeing.  We should also not condemn Thomas for his doubts.  He was not alone.  The others were afraid, and did not believe until they saw either.

 But they knew what he had taught them, and warned them of what would come.  Still, it was difficult to believe.  We are no different.  We are taught all this.  We read the stories, hear them preached, learn then in our youth.  But we forget.  Life gets in the way.  We set aside the truth and the depth of the meanings for our personal success in life, earning a living, saving for our earthly futures.  Over time, we seem to lose the presence of Christ in the world today.  We forget he still walks amongst us.  It is easy, I admit.  We all fail at times, no less than Peter’s denial before the Cock’s crow.

 But Jesus is here, now.  We walks with out legs and feet.  He sees with our eyes.  He speaks with our voices.  He helps with our hands.  He lives in our hearts.  All we have to do is live what we learned, and do what is right.

And our challenges are before us now, and they are many.  Many of God’s children suffer from the hate and ignorance of those who no longer see Jesus, any more than the Temple Priests could see.  They were more blind than the blind man.  The plight of the minorities amongst us is great today.  LGBT are in danger from a new uprising of fear and hate, often in the name of Christ, but is as false as those evil ones Paul warned us about.  People of color are in danger from bigotry.  Children are in danger from selfish indifference, as are the elderly.  Even women are at risk by a male centric mindset that still fears women and feel the need to dominate and control to ensure their own worth.  The immigrant is in danger from fear and hate, as are those of different faiths.

We are challenged this Easter, as we are at all times, but now, as we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, let us also resurrect ourselves, and our commitment to our faith as his followers.  As Jesus himself was an outcast, let us all stand as one united for the outcast in society, for the vulnerable, the weak, the marginalized.  After all, these are Jesus’ own people, are they not?  Didn’t he live among them, eat with them, share their toils, tend their ills, love them as his own?

It is through people that we will heal the sick, tend and shelter the poor, bring drink to the thirsty, feed the hungry and clothe the naked, for we are Christ reborn on earth, in the goodness of spirit, love of creation, and devotion to all life.  We are the teachers now, to instruct by deed those who follow us, and how to live in harmony and love with creation. Where goodness and compassion goes, so goes the Risen Christ.  Where love resides, there resides the Risen Christ.  Where you find inclusion, understanding, hospitality and grace, there resides the Risen Christ.  Let us all be as Mary Magdalene, and love with our hearts totally, and to love as  his disciples, even unto death.

Join me in that pledge, to walk with Jesus even now and to continue to do his good works for all those who are unable to do for themselves, or who are the victims of ignorance and hate.  This season of renewal and rebirth, let us all become reborn ourselves in God’s great, compassionate Love.  Amen.


May 222017

I am currently one of several Pastors serving our UCC church in Chatsworth, CA.  I am also still Clergy on Staff at MCCUCC in the Valley in North Hollywood, but as we are now in a transition with a new pastor, my activities will change.  What I hope to start doing though in future blogs is to post readings and sermons several times a month, including those I do for Chatsworth UCC.  This is to share with others since I won’t be on the Ustream broadcast for the foreseeable future.

Please bare with me while I get this in play.  In the mean time, God bless.