Intro: The stone is rolled away, indeed. Thank you Summit singers!
Let us pray: Almighty and loving God, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts always be instruments of your love. Amen.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
This ends our scripture reading from the Gospel of John, chapter 20, verses 11-18.
So… the tomb is empty. But what does that mean? We know the story: Jesus is risen from the dead. Love wins! Repeat after me: Christ is Risen! (Christ is Risen!) Christ is Risen, Indeed! (Christ is risen, indeed!) Indeed!
Ok, but so what? What does that mean for us today? A Jewish prophet was turned over by religious authorities and executed by the state 2000 years ago, and was raised by God. What does this death-conquering, life-restoring God do in my life today? What else is possible for this God?
Our theme throughout Lent has been, “Nevertheless, She Persisted: A Lenten Journey to the Resurrection Through the Hearts and Voices of Women.” (Why have a one-word theme when you can have a 16-word theme?) Well, we’ve reached our destination and we are hearing this most wonderful “Good News” through the hearts and voices of women! In all four gospel stories, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, women are the first to learn of the resurrection. Jesus reveals himself first to women after the resurrection. Jesus sends women to tell his disciples he is risen. The essential message of Christianity is delivered first through women.
We women can be persistent – people of all genders can be, of course. Especially when in resistance mode. Persistent resistance. During Lent, we’ve kept in mind the idea that people persist, despite reasons they might not feel they can, but nevertheless, do – kind of like Senator Elizabeth Warren being censured in the senate, remember? She was warned, but nevertheless, she persisted?
Well, our scripture tells us that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, but nevertheless, he rises, and persistently calls us to new life! Despite experiencing little deaths, some that might even feel as painful as crucifixion, nevertheless we rise! Each act of love is a little resurrection.
With the power of this loving God, today, we can rise, with him, to new life. Do you want to rise to new life? Do you want to do that????!!! Me, too! :)
Last year at this time, I was about to experience a couple of little deaths, and then, I experienced resurrection.
If you had told me last year at this time, that the next Easter, I would be giving my first Easter sermon ever – never even wrote a practice one in my homiletics class in seminary – my first Easter sermon, on my first Easter in my first church, I wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t plan to be back in the local church any time soon. I had been an associate pastor at a Columbus church, working with youth and families, but I left, honestly, in large part because I refused to be appointed “in the closet.” And living life in the closet, whether it’s about your sexuality, or something you’ve done that your ashamed of, or a mistake you’ve made, is straight-up tomb living. And God won’t have it! I am not called to tomb living, and I know you’re not, either. So, I left the local church and spent six years in the non-profit world.
But, I always worked a lot in the faith community, I even worked with Summit, helping put a Freedom School here, and raising money for it. I found that most of the organizers and non-profit leaders I met were not part of a faith community. Some were LGBTQ people who had left the church years ago because they didn’t feel welcome. Some just weren’t raised in church and never saw much use for it. For some, church had become irrelevant -- deemed watered-down and boring. People have been leaving in droves. We church people ring our hands over it all the time!
Well, I’ll tell you what. I found that the non-church-going people -- the progressive, open-minded, justice-oriented folks I met who were not in church, certainly looked a lot like people here at Summit, and in general were a lot more loving and Jesus-like than what you find in many churches or hear about mainstream Christian culture – judgmental and hypocritical. If I’d known you were like this, I might have come sooner, but then I wouldn’t be the pastor here now, so it all worked out.
You know what? I really didn’t want to go to church either. After all, official church doctrine deemed me “incompatible with Christian teaching.” That hurts. I know it’s not true. But still, do you really want to stay in a club that doesn’t want you as a member? I think that’s the reverse of a Groucho Marx quip….
So, I was content not serving the church directly, I was doing meaningful work, and living life out loud -- I was happy.
But then, about a year ago, my entire life changed in the span of one month. I lost my appointment and a formal complaint was filed against me for coming out as a lesbian.
I thought, well, I am gay, and out, and I do reproductive rights work. I might as well give up here. It was getting exhausting to be a progressive battling well-funded, highly-strategized conservative anti-LGBTQ and anti-reproductive rights forces both inside and out of the UMC. But I did not want to leave the church that I loved so dearly. The church of my family. The church where I belonged and spent eight hard years getting ordained. I had earned my place, just by being a child of God. I also felt the church needed this woman’s heart and my voice.
Have you ever felt like nothing is going your way and you might as well hang it up? It can be a lonely place. It can feel like being in a cold tomb. I was experiencing little deaths, losses, endings.
But then, I experienced resurrection and new life. The bishop dismissed the complaint against me (it was a technicality, but I’ll take it) AND, he called with an appointment. So, I went from a lost appointment and complaint pending, to new appointment and complaint dismissed. I felt I came out of the tomb and turned my face toward the sun, and was warmed.
And know who helped provide that warmth? That resurrection? You. YOU took me. Summit accepted me, an out gay clergyperson who did reproductive rights work, and had never led a church before. I’ve come to learn that you are a radically welcoming congregation. Not only accepted me, but welcomed me with open arms. What I’ve found is that here, you can be yourself. You can come as you are and you’ll be loved. And I experienced resurrection and new life, here, at Summit. Not very many churches that would let me be who I am, fully. But you do. And I say that because all are welcome here. That’s why you say, “No, seriously, this is church.” You mean it.
In my first sermon here, on October 2, it was World Communion Sunday. I was preaching about feeling welcome – about feeling like we all have a place at the table.
I told a story from our congregation’s history that you might not have known then, and I’ll tell it again: In the late-’70s when this congregation was first being formed out of three Methodist institutions in the neighborhood, for six months a transgender woman came to worship every Sunday. They celebrated Communion, every Sunday then. Before she came forward to receive the bread and cup, she put on her white gloves. The pastor did not know why she did this until he was leaving and he asked her about it -- she told him that she wore those gloves because she didn’t feel worthy of receiving the elements of Communion. But she felt welcome in this congregation. You are a church that is welcoming. Radically welcoming.
This church is a home and a refuge for many who wouldn’t otherwise be in church, including me. Thank you.
Often, I think of all the people who are grieving – and everyone is grieving something -- and I think about how they could find love, hope, and healing in our community – or in a truly welcoming community like ours here. And the world needs Christianity like this.
The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church have been and can be used to guide us about military action, healthcare, care for the earth, LGBTQ civil rights, women’s bodily autonomy, education, poverty, hunger, and more. We have the blueprint. This kind of church – this church – is worth fighting for. We have a rich history, and we do not check our brains at the door – we have open hearts, open minds, and open doors – this morning, even literally!
We are a hospital for the sick. We walk in here broken, and we bind one another up. That is church. And we welcome the community in to do very good work, like the farm workers working for fair food policies, and college students who make food and feed folks on the street, and Susan Smith’s Crazy Faith Ministries operates from here and partners with us, and the laughter and tears that happen in the trusting community that makes up the ironically named “Fight Club” Bible Study, and folks playing instruments together and singing….and welcoming ministries you just don’t find in other churches.
We’re seeking community and we’re seeking communion, and I still think church is a great place to do that. And even in a culture where the church of Jesus Christ is known for doing harm, I still think Jesus is the one who reveals the kind of salvific, saving, love God desires for us.
THE DEAD church might not be relevant, but the ALIVE church sure is! THIS church sure is. And we need to be relevant, for our children’s sake, particularly our children who otherwise might hear negative messages about themselves and those they love.
Lisa and Justin Kelley, who are joining our church next month, tell me they were “actively seeking a church for their kids that would never put stumbling blocks in their spiritual path.” Lisa said she wanted to find a church that “provides stepping stones” so her children “know God's true love,” and that they found that with Summit! Praise this risen God who gives birth to new life.
We love and serve a God who hung a beautiful pink full moon in the sky this week, and a God who put a spot in us that weeps when we see a person yanked from an airplane seat and dragged by his arms down the aisle and out the door. A God who cries with us when continue to wage war, and when we drop the ‘Mother of All Bombs,’ and when we are afraid of what tomorrow will bring, because this God has the power to raise love from a place of hate. A God who resurrects us from all of the little deaths we experience. We worship a God that helps us feel our humanity because he came to earth and lived, human among us, and experienced a most humiliating death, and nevertheless rises.
This is the God who sent a man who lived a life that modeled a love so radical – so forgiving, so inclusive, hard love! The kind of love that makes you want to forgive someone not just once, not even seven times, but 7 x 77 times, Jesus taught his disciples! A God that teaches us to stop and bind up the bleeding man on the road. The priest and the Levite walked on by, but the Good
Samaritan stopped and loved in a way that cost him time and money and set him off his course – no small thing in the ancient world.
At the end of our passage, Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” --------- Well, let me tell you that I have seen God in each one of you since I arrived here – on good days and bad. And I know that ‘resurrection living’ is when we look for – and see -- the God within and among us, in the faces of our siblings in faith. And each day is a new opportunity to experience one another and God.
At noon on Good Friday I stood here and read the story of Jesus’s arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death. And I read the timeless words of Pontius Pilate -- who asked the religious leaders who brought Jesus to be persecuted by the Roman authorities -- “What is truth?” In an era of a troubling rise of “fake news,” that question is even the more poignant, despite relentless obfuscation of the truth, and lies that would make Pinocchio blush, and nevertheless, we rise.
And even though the United Methodist Judicial Council, our Supreme Court, is gathering this week to deliberate over the worthiness of the ministries of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, and intersex clergy persons, including our dearly beloved, married lesbian bishop, Karen Oliveto, nevertheless, we rise!
And even as a married gay clergyman, right here in our conference, faces an impending trial because he married his same-sex partner, nevertheless, we rise!
And we take comfort and we trust, knowing that God is always on the side of those who suffer. God turns tears of pain into joy, as with Mary in our gospel lesson today. And God is always on the side of those who are oppressed, marginalized, or powerless. We serve a God who loves unconditionally – a God of hope and new life. And resurrection breaks death’s hold.
What is truth? Whatever it is, it cannot be restrained in a tomb. Even as each one of us faces the little deaths in life, and at some point the big one, and we all do, we persist in love with confidence, toward the resurrection. In a Good Friday world, it looks like death has had the final say. But we… are Easter people, and we rise.
And now, you are invited to a time of prayerful reflection. There are flowers in baskets at the foot of the cross -- select a flower and place it on the cross as you consider a personal prayer for forgiveness, new life, healing, love, life and light. May you feel the love of God this day and always. Please, come to the cross.