Saturday, April 11, 2009

John 20:1-18 - Sermon - I Have Seen the Lord

John 20:1-18
I Have Seen the Lord

The Lord has Risen! (He has risen indeed!) The Lord has Risen! (He has risen indeed!) Finally after 40 days and 6 Sundays we have arrived. The bear cross is now covered in life and the time has come to celebrate. The Lord has Risen! (He has risen indeed!) THE LORD HAS RISEN! (He has risen indeed!) We worship an amazing God. Four short months ago we celebrated the fact that he came into this world as a baby. That baby grew up and ministered to the world for three short years. Then he was betrayed and killed by hanging on a cross until dead. But that did not stop the love of our God, because today, on the third day, he rose again. Death could not hold him back. Death could not detain him from his love for us. So he came back and now has opened up the presence of God for all. The Lord has risen. (He has risen indeed!)

I have often wondered why the author of John’s gospel chooses to tell us the resurrection story like this. Why through the eyes of Mary Magdalene? Why not through the eyes of a disciple or through his mother Mary? Why does the resurrected Jesus come to a woman in a man’s world? Why not show up on the steps of the palace? Or the temple? The God we worship, the risen Lord, doesn’t do things that way. Instead of coming in glory he came humbly in a stable. Instead of showing himself to the most important man of the area, he decided to go with a woman who had immense faith in him. Who went to the tomb that day to finish prepping his body. A woman who was turned away from society and whom Christ welcomed in. It is through the mouth of a faithful woman that made the disciples run to the tomb and then later professed the first account of the resurrected Christ by saying, I have seen the Lord!

Today is important. Today is HUGE in the life of our faith. Today is the holiest of holy days because today we profess what Mary saw. Today we profess to the world once more that the Lord has risen! (He has risen indeed!) We learn a lot about God from this passage today. Not only do we learn that he defeated death and that our sins are now erased, but we learn that our God wants a personal relationship with us.

I am a fan of theological thinking. I like to get into theological discussions and think about God. Wondering why this happened this way, or why that characteristic of God is more important than this one. I enjoy discussions about the nature of God and the social ramifications of being his follower. But when I do this I keep God at arms length. As humans we do this all the time. We intellectualize our relationship with God. We concentrate on doctrines such as the Trinity, the Eucharist, social holiness and the different graces. We keep our minds busy thinking about why God decided to work through his Son and the problems with the church now. We fill our brains with these ideas because it keeps them busy and once again keeps God at arms length.

What we learn in John’s story of the resurrection is that God cannot be held at arms length. God seeks out a personal relationship with all of us. The Gospel of John starts off with one of the most beautiful pieces of scripture, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” It is beautiful and majestic but also distant and heady. Yet, here in this story, it is raw, full of emotion, very tangible and extremely personal.

Mary is scared out of her mind. She had come to the gravesite early in the morning and found the stone had been moved. She runs to tell the disciples who come running. Then she weeps there in front of the tomb. Two angels ask her why she was weeping and she begs them to tell her where they took her Lord. You can feel the pain in her voice and sense the urgency. She turns around and comes face to face with Jesus. In her sorrow, in her pain, in her bewilderment she stands in front of the risen Christ. When reading this passage you can feel the cool air of the tomb on your skin. You can smell the dirt and feel the rough rocks. You can taste the salty tears of Mary and our guts clench when Jesus stands in front of her.

Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus though and asks the same question she asked the angels, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.” She turns around and then Jesus calls her name, Mary. In that instance Mary knows who he is. The Son who formed the world with his Father. The one who created all things. The one who gave up heaven to come to earth, to die a death that is unlike any we can imagine. The one who decided to take the sins of the world onto his soul in order for us to be with God again. Calls out her name. That intimate world that describes who we are. Those letters that make up our soul, God calls out. Mary in that moment turns around and knows exactly who he is and she then goes away proclaiming I have seen the Lord!

We all are like Mary. There is something burning inside of us that yearns to know that a cosmic God loves us. There is something carnal in our souls that begs God to know our name in order that we feel welcomed and loved. Jesus said, I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me and when he calls our names we turn around, rejoice and then proclaim that we have seen the Lord.

I know what some of you are thinking, that’s great Jim but I am a realist and I cannot believe in anything I cannot touch or feel. Well let me speak to that thought by telling you were I have seen and felt God. I felt God while sitting in my car in college on the side of a mountain. My senior year I was torn what to do, go to seminary or into the work world. Was I going to follow this call on my life to the next step or run a little longer? I sat there holding the steering wheel so tight my knuckles were white, praying and looking for guidance. In the quiet of my soul God spoke and called my name, and I knew what I had to do.

Years later I sat in my truck crying because I did not pass my probationer’s interviews. A committee of clergy and laity had told me I wasn’t ready for ministry because of who I was. In those prayers of pain I heard God call my name, and assurance was given to me keep going. Years later I stood in a hospital room looking at the chest of an eighteen year old girl rising and falling because of a ventilator. She was brain dead after a car accident and her friends surrounded her with tears and sorrow. Her mom looked at me, a 28 year old minister, and asked me to say a prayer. What could I say to make any of this better? What could I do to bring sense to this tragedy? God called my name that day and gave me the power to muster up some words of peace and comfort.

Each Sunday as I stand up here wondering if the words I have written convey anything of meaning and doing something I feared most, speaking in front of people, I can feel God calling my name, telling me to continue on. Over and over again in my life I have heard God call my name from the depths of my soul. The God who created the stars and the budding trees, does that for me. Me, James Carl Parsons. ME! And he does the same for you.

Mary’s story is so true. If you are looking, truly and honestly looking for the Risen Lord, he will call your name. We may not recognize him when we first see him but it will be unmistakable afterward. When we think about that it is truly amazing the amount of love God has for us. The New Testament is full of stories about this type of experience. Mary is the first but then there was the people on the road to Emmaus, the disciples fishing off the shore, Saul on the road to Damascus, and many more.

The one who died our death on Friday rose from the dead today and the first thing he wants to do is call your name. Listen…can you hear it? The God we love loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to save it. God loves you so deeply that he saves you, YOU, from death’s grips. That same God is calling your name and wants to hear you reply. When we hear out name, then we can turn around and tell our friends, our family and the world, I HAVE SEEN THE LORD! THE LORD HAS RISEN! HE HAS RISEN INDEED! THE LORD HAS RISEN! HE HAS RISEN INDEED! THE LORD HAS RISEN! HE HAS RISEN INDEED!

And all God’s people said…Amen.


CassCrush said...

Jim, I wish I could have been there for this one. I promise I did not read it until 11 AM and only because I was not at the service. And just so you know, many Sundays I leave noodling what you have said during the service.

Unknown said...

You can read them whenever ;) I hope you all had a great Easter and thanks for noodling my words...someday you will have to share what noodling is.