Thursday, April 30, 2015

Life on the Vine; John 15:1-8

Rev. George Miller
May 3, 2015
John 15:1-18

When you want to ease your brain and watch trash TV, there is perhaps nothing better than TLC, which ironically stands for the Learning Channel.

You can catch re-runs of “What Not To Wear,” “Say Yes to the Dress” and “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.”

There is also the show titled “Hoarders: Buried Alive” about people suffering from severe psychological wounds in which they just can’t throw things away.

This show is a hit, and I think I know why- because deep down we all have a bit of hoarder within us and anyone here, at any time, is probably a step away from having a house overfilled with stuff.

I know there’s an element of hoarding in me. That question of when to hold onto something and when to let it go.

Perfect example: birthday cards. When is it ok to trash them? Is there a set expectancy in which you are to display them or have them in your filing cabinet?

Does putting them in the trash a year later mean you don’t love and appreciate the person who gave the card? What about a month? What about a week? What about the next day?

What about shoe boxes and gift bags? What wonderful things they are that can be used to store things, mail things, to remember what you purchased or received.

How many empty shoe boxes and gift bags become too much? 10? 20? 100?

Perhaps this possibility of becoming a hoarder comes from having a transient nature. People come and go, places change, loved ones die.

But physical items? They remain.

I always wonder when is it the right time to throw certain things out. For example: flowers, like bouquets or altar arrangements.

When is dry too dry? When is faded color too faded? When is dead, dead?

This translates to my miniscule experience of gardening. My parents were gardeners. We always had a vegetable garden with peppers, tomatoes, string beans and corn.

My mother’s flower garden was the beauty of the neighborhood with marigolds, pansies and other perennials.

Me- well I don’t have that gift. It’s not that I have a green thumb or a brown thumb, but more like no thumb.

Every few years I’ll plant a few flowers, water them a few days, attempt to weed, and after a few weeks just let nature take its course.

It’s a shame because anyone who’s seen my lake house knows it is rich with land perfect for planting. Cacti, citrus, even a rose bush grows there.

I remember the first time I pruned the rose bush. A neighbor gave me her sheers and explained to me how I had to cut it back in order for it to live.

I hated to do that- felt like I was killing it, so I only cut back a small amount.

Incredible thing- the pruning did not kill the rose bush; instead a bud soon started to show.

Slowly, I took the chance and cut off some of the dead branches, then the leaves that were yellowed and eaten up by bugs.

Over the years I’ve watched that rose bush grow and produce pretty pink blooms.

This year I took a big step and pruned a lot of it, to the point I thought I was looking at nothing but a twig. This can’t be right- how can anything grow from a twig?

But then, this month I saw something I had not witnessed before- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 buds all growing, at the same time, in different locations of the rose bush.

The first 2 bloomed and I cut them off and put them in a little vase in the kitchen.

Then the other 3 bloomed and I cut those off and also put them in the kitchen.

That’s when I noticed the first bouquet had faded into pale pink and the petals were pitiful and falling. The new ones were a magnificent salmon and coral color.

It took a full day for me to feel it was ok to throw the 1st bouquet away; soon I will have to toss the second.

When does one prune? When does one clip and place into a vase? When does one completely throw away???

…today’s scripture must be a Green Thumbs dream. Completely based in the world of agriculture, it features an analogy based on viticulture- the art of growing grapes in order to make wine.

Wine making has been around for a long time. Noah planted a vineyard and then proceeded to get blazingly drunk.

Growing grapes is a noble profession, and the grapevine is the symbol of Israel, much like how the bald eagle represents America.

Grapevines were essential to the local economy, providing employment and revenue, much like orange groves here.

Wine used in celebration was seen as the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom, in which heaven appeared to be a possible reality, such as we experience at the wedding in Cana and during the Last Supper

Throughout the Old Testament, in Isaiah 5, Hosea 10 and Psalm 80, the grapevine is used to represent the people of God, those that were taken out of slavery and placed into the Promised Land where they grew and thrived.

So, it is no wonder that the Gospel of John has Jesus use this analogy of the grapevine, an analogy in which Jesus claims to be the vine and God is the vinegrower.

And anyone with a green thumb, or anyone who knows how to grow grapes knows that you need soil that is good, you need the right amount of watering, the right amount of light, and the right amount of pruning.

Pruning that takes away the things that are dead, pruning that takes away the things that slow the rest of the plant down, pruning that prevents new, beautiful, sweet life from blooming and being productive.

According to today’s scripture, it is Jesus, as the true vine, that we all get to abide in; it is Jesus as the true vine that we get to bear much fruit.

This notion of abiding in Jesus makes me recall a fact about the wine industry. In the 19th Century, the European wine industry was almost wiped out.

Their grapes were being eradicated by a tiny louse called phylloxera. This louse had emigrated from America and proceeded to feast on the roots of the European grapevines, wiping out vineyards across the continent.

To this day there is no known remedy to protect the vines from phylloxera.

What saved them; what offered them healing? Grafting vines onto rootstocks of American species that were louse resistant.

This practice continues to today. The fruit bearing part of the plant is able to maintain its own distinct character, but its roots are of someplace else.

Perhaps we can say the same of Christians. That we each bear our own unique mark, personality traits, physical appearances and cultural uniqueness, but our foundation, our roots, comes not from this world, but from Jesus Christ.

Last week we celebrated the Greek word “sozo”, meaning how Jesus is able to save and Jesus is able to heal.

Using this vine imagery presented in John, we also say the same.

That we are each a branch; we each have the ability to produce much fruit. But that as branches, we are susceptible to the louses of our day and circumstance.

What are those louses? We can call them sins, we can call them mistakes, we can call them transgressions, historical particularities, and personality perpetrators.

We all have them. We always will. It’s the nature of being human; it’s the reality of being imperfect.

These louses, these things that nibble on us, that cause us to be unwell or to produce rotten fruit can be many things:

Anger, resentment, the shoulda-coulda-wouldas, the replaying of the past, the set-ups for future fails, the inability to see or speak the truth.

Many are the louses that can eat away, destroy, wipe out what is good in us and what is able to produce much fruit.

Are we helpless to these louses? Are we permanent victims to these things that eat away our branches and tear apart our leaves?


Because we are not separate. We are not alone. We are united; we are grafted onto Christ, the true vine.

And Jesus is resistant to all these things.

Emotions and actions like rage, resentment, regret have no power over the resurrected Lord. Christ is resistant to them; Christ is able to stand up to whatever these louses may attempt to do.

Also, here’s something else- thanks to the event of the Resurrection, Jesus is eternal. Jesus is ever present. Jesus is always there.

What this means is that Jesus is not limited to space, time, circumstance, person or situation.

Jesus is the vine that is always there; above you, below you, beside you, within you.

Which means regardless if you are in New York, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Grand Rapids or Florida, you abide in Jesus the true vine and Jesus abides in you.

Which means regardless if you live in the house you were born in, or a college dorm, or an army barracks, or your 1st apartment in which the shower doesn’t work, or your dream home or a retirement community, you abide in Jesus the true vine and Jesus abides in you.

Which means that regardless of your siblings, classmates, dating partners, military comrades, spouse, children or great-grand children, you abide in Jesus the true vine and Jesus abides in you.

When we realize this, when we embrace this, we become a little less restless. We become more restful; more content.

As such, we get to strike root, grow a bit more, and welcome the opportunities to be pruned: to let go, to get rid of, to gladly lose the leaves that have yellowed or the branches that’ve been damaged by the louses of life.

In doing so, we become vines that are happy to seek nourishment, to seek the rain, to seek out the sun, to be thankful for good soil.

In Christ, we abide; in Christ we find a home; in Christ we bear fruit.

Fruit that tastes sweet of justice, fruit that tastes sweet of peace, fruit that tastes sweet of joy.

Fruit that tastes sweet of love that’s not phony or enabling, fruit that tastes sweet of honest welcome, fruit that tastes sweet of forgiveness, grace and compassion.

In Christ, we are each a branch of a heavenly vine that encourages us to grow ripe, that empowers us to let go, that encourages us to deal with what is alive, and empowers us to thrive, thrive, thrive.

In the Resurrected Christ we experience “sozo”: we are saved and we are healed from the louses that try to destroy our fruit, that try to stop our bloom.

In the Resurrected Christ, we have been grafted on the healthiest of vines. In Christ we have found our roots grounded in the best possible soil.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sozo: to be healed/to be saved. Sermon for April 26, 2015; Acts 4:5-12

Rev. George Miller
April 26, 2015
Acts 4:5-12

It’s been an interesting 24 hours for Peter and John. Yesterday they were hanging with their homeboys Andrew, James and Matthias. They were praising God, breaking bread, and having the goodwill of the people.

As faithful Jews they went to the temple for afternoon prayers and encountered a man down on his luck. They empowered him in the name of Christ to get up and to move forward.

Together, they went with him inside the temple to worship. They were greeted with utter astonishment.

“Why do you stare at John and I as if we healed this man?” asks Peter.

Then, not exhibiting the most pleasing public manner or gentleness of words, Pete says “God glorified Jesus- you know- the one you rejected and had crucified.”

“Ya’ll killed Jesus, the Author of Life, but God raised him from the dead. And by the name of Jesus this man was given wholeness and healing.”

Not really sure if we should be proud of Peter or a little worried about his career.

But he keeps speaking. “I know you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. Repent so God can forgive you. If not, and you refuse to listen, you’ll be rooted out like a weed.”

As Peter is saying these things, the captain of the temple, the priests, and the Sadducees gather around him and they are not too pleased. In fact they are annoyed.

So they have Peter and John arrested and kept in jail for the night.

They next day, when morning has broken, they bring the two before the “who’s who” of Jewish law- the rulers, the elders, the scribes, the high priest and those from the high priestly family.

Now keep in mind- this is Peter we’re talking about. Peter, who on the night Jesus was betrayed, denied knowing him not once, not twice, but three times.

Peter is now standing before the Jewish Supreme Court- the most powerful people in the land who could stop his career and end his life like “that!”.

They ask their “why?”, they ask their “how?” and they ask their “who gave you the right?”

And Peter, the one who once lied to a servant girl about knowing Jesus, continues to find his voice and states exactly why, how and who.

Peter gets to what he thinks the real issue is- “You’re upset that we did something ya’ll couldn’t do. You’re angry that instead of enabling that man, we empowered him.”

“Well,” Peter says, putting any sense of gentleness aside, “If you’re upset that a good deed was done, we’ll tell you why, how and who- it was in the name of Jesus.”

“The one you killed, the one God raised. Jesus, the stone you rejected; Jesus who is the most important stone of all.”

Now that he’s on a roll, Peter throws in this point for good measure: “There is salvation in no one else and there is no other name by which we must be saved than Jesus.”

Now, keep in mind Peter is standing before the most powerful religious leaders of his day. He is standing before the priest, the moderator, the council, and the ones whose family started the temple, about 71 people total, and he’s saying “None of you can do what Jesus does.”

Holy schmoley, this guy has some big matzos!

Now, let’s pause here for some education and reflection. First, let’s briefly explore verse 12 and the word “saved.”

In Greek, the word is “sozo.” I like that word; I’m surprised no one has named their child that- sozo.

Sozo actually has two meanings. It can mean “to save”, but it can also mean “to heal”.

Now, let’s do some reflection. Peter states that the lame man was healed by the name of Jesus of Nazareth whom they crucified.

We as Christians living in Florida in 2015 cannot comprehend what Peter has actually just implied. We are unable to hear this statement for what it actually is.

Jesus had been crucified. Crucified: a form of corporal punishment that was used by the government for criminals.

The fact that Jesus was crucified meant he was seen as a threat, as an enemy of the state, and that the best way to silence him was to shame him, to humiliate him, to desecrate his body.

To say that healing came in the name of a criminal is outlandish. To say that healing can only come in the name of a criminal is out and out blasphemy.

Peter is utterly insulting the court, the religious leaders, the house of worship.

What he is basically saying is akin to saying that in no other name but Osama Bin Laden there is healing; in no other name than the Oklahoma Bomber is salvation.

Peter’s words, his intent is to create something so visceral, so in-your-face that it stirs things up and people’s world is turned upside down.

But note something else- although it was Peter and John who stopped to talk with the lame man, although it was Peter and John who looked at the man, who lifted him up with a helping hand, who empowered him to get up and walk, they do not take credit for it.

They give all credit, all the glory, all the honor to Jesus Christ.

They do not shine the light on themselves or claim they are the ones who offered salvation and healing.

They give it all: good health and good news to the name of Jesus.

Not Peter and John, not Mary Magdalene or Mary the Mother of James, not Caiaphas or Alexander, not Pilate or Caesar.

But Jesus- the criminal who was crucified, the one who God raised.

Sozo- healing, salvation, comes from God; sozo comes from the name and knowledge of Jesus…

…it seems like 2,000 years later we have still to fully recognize this. 2,000 years later we have yet to fully place our faith in the name.

Instead we place our faith in others. We meet someone who we think has the answers or is worthy of being put on a pedestal, only to discover they are just as human and confused as we are.

We place our faith in personalities like Oprah or televangelists and motivational speakers without realizing all they really want is to sell a book and make a buck.

We place our faith in leaders like Rubio or Clinton, O’Malley or Paul, but though they say they care about we the people, not a one of them can truly offer the healing we need.

We place our faith in fads and objects like stones and statues, a bigger building or the latest electronics, but they come and go, to be replaced by the newest thing or destroyed by the ravages of time.

We place our faith in so many areas, hoping for, and expecting that healing to come about. What Peter claims today is that healing comes one way- that is Jesus.

Jesus- the one who exhibited God’s love for all when he was willing to engage a woman at a well, a sick child with her mother, and the lowly servant of high powered soldier.

Jesus- the one who exhibited the wisdom of God when he captured people’s attention with his parables and stories of reconciliation.

Jesus- the one who demonstrated God’s concern for our bodies when he fed the masses and took care of the sick.

Jesus- the one who exhibited God’s welcome to everyone when he taught about a kingdom that was like a tree in which all birds may find rest and sing their song.

Peter rankled more than a few feathers with his speech today. He forced the people to look upon a truth that were still unable and unwilling to look upon.

But we of today have the knowledge of 2,000 years. Knowledge that says we can continue our journey, we can continue our wrestling matches of faith.

We can continue to look for answers, to be inspired, to feel motivated, but we are not to confuse the messengers with the message.

We are not to confuse a building or an idol for the invisible reality of God.

We are not to confuse a mortal man or mortal woman for the eternal reality of God experienced through Christ.

To know, that for us, it is in the name of Jesus that we experience healing, in the name of Jesus we experience the gifts of a new life, and in the name of Jesus we find our footing.

In the name of Jesus we are all empowered to get up and walk the rest of the way.

In Jesus Christ the love of God is made known. In Jesus Christ we have found the most wonderful, important stone.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Enable or empower? Sermon for April 19, 2015; Acts 3:1-10

Rev. George Miller
Acts 3:1-10
April 19, 2015

Last week I was in St. Louis, walking along city streets lined with dandelions, tulips and other signs of spring.

At Eden Seminary I caught up with classmates and professors and listened to presentations on food, farming and why that matters to the church.

Best yet was spending time with my brother Tim and my niece Rylee. We shared meals, walked to the Arch, went to the farmer’s market and even attended a wrestling match.

One of those days a man came up and asked for money. I gave him some and Rylee asked me why; what if he was lying and just trying to scam me out of my cash?

So I told her this story: years ago, when I lived in NY, a friend was preparing to become a priest. He was advised to carry a roll of quarters with him everywhere he went. If someone asked for money, he was to stop and give them a quarter.

If the person said “God bless you,” it was an angel who’d come down to test him. If the person said nothing, he was still blessed, because he was able to give.

I liked that idea, so I began to carry loose change with me whenever I went to the city, gladly giving money to anyone who asked. Here’s what I discovered:

In the past when people asked for money, I’d put all my energy into ignoring them, or being angry at them, or feeling ashamed that I did not stop to help.

But now, if someone asked, I could say “Yes,” and go on with the rest of the day.

In other words, the guilt of any possible shame, anger, or discomfort was gone.

Of course, we have to wonder- does a quarter make a difference; does it really help? Sure, if the person receiving it uses it to buy food.

Does the money hurt? Sure- if they use it for drugs or alcohol.

Does resenting, ignoring or being angry at the person hurt me? Yes.

Does giving the quarter or a dollar hurt me? No.

Jesus talks about how giving can create heavenly treasures that cannot be stolen (Luke 12:33). But anyone who gives, any church that reaches out to others has to wonder- when is helping another actually hurting them; when is such an action enabling them?

Enabling is a word that anyone involved with ministry, social services or addiction recovery is familiar with.

Enabling is a process in which someone thinks they are helping another, but they’re actually keeping them stuck in an unhealthy cycle.

An enabler is someone who bases their sense of self-worth on being able to assist others, to help them manage their lives.

Trouble is this: if a person’s self-worth is tied to helping powerless people, one must always surround themselves with powerless folk or keep those around them powerless.

An enabler may do certain things: lie to cover another’s mistakes, make excuses for their behavior, and blame others.

Enablers may throw money at the problem. They’ll pay the person’s rent, pay their bills, pay their fines, pick up their tab.

I’m sure all of us have done this at one time, and there is a difference between providing temporary assistance and of perpetually enabling.

So, was I being a virtuous giver in St. Louis or was I an enabler who was making things worse?

That’s the challenge when we are a person of faith and when we are a Christian organization striving to do ministry and mission.

How do we reconcile these things?

We can look at the roots of our faith. Before the Resurrection, before the Cross, before the birth of Jesus, there was the story of the Exodus- of God delivering the people from bondage, giving them freedom and entering with them into a convental relationship.

Enabling does not create freedom- it actually creates bondage.

But the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ does the opposite- it frees one from bondage, it says there is life beyond the cross, and it states there is wholeness and healing for all.

That’s what we experience in today’s reading- freedom, healing and community.

So let’s revisit this story. The disciples have experienced the Resurrected Christ which empowers them to regroup and come up with a new game plan.

When the time is right, the Holy Spirit falls upon them and they welcome their first converts- people who are called to repent, be baptized, have their sins forgiven.

What follows is a time of teaching and fellowship, breaking bread and praying together. This leads them to being glad, having generous hearts and praising God.

Now that their ministry is in place, the stage is set for their first act of mission.

Because they are faithful Jews, Peter and John go to the temple for afternoon prayers; a time when the faith community gathers to worship and to offer their sacrifices.

There they meet a man who is lame. He is asking for money.

But there is something deeper going on here. The man is by the gate. He is outside the temple, meaning he is not inside. He is not a part of the worshipping community.

There’s reason for that- the law stated that people with certain imperfections could not enter the temple or make sacrifices to the Lord.

Those blind, or with blemishes, those with broken bones or itching skin could not enter in. Nor could those who are lame.

Harsh sounding rules that caused separation; rules that said not all people are welcome here.

Peter and John know these rules, but they also know the life Jesus led and the ministry he taught them- a ministry in which meals were shared, a ministry in which people were welcome and healing was offered.

So when the man asks for money, things go differently than expected. Sure, they could have flipped him a few coins, but that would not have truly helped, only enabled.

Instead, Peter makes a connection to the man; he looks intently at him. Not just a side glance, or a quick once over, but one of those deep “I really see you” stares that comes when we mindfully see a person and not a statistic.

Peter looks at the man and with total belief and conviction, Peter says “I don’t have money to give you; but I’ll give you what I do have- in the name of Jesus Christ rise up and walk.”

What a bold thing to do; what a confession of faith that the ministry of Jesus continues even after his death.

In an act of compassionate solidarity, Peter offers his arm and the man is elevated up.

A miracle, but the story does not end there.

The story isn’t just about how the man is empowered to rise above his situation, it’s about how he now gets to leave behind the gate and enter into the temple rejoicing.

In other words, through Christ he becomes part of the community. He gets to participate in worship, he gets to leap and to praise and he gets to be seen by others.

For years, the man had been an outsider, but now, in the name of Jesus, he is an insider- he belongs, he is empowered by the Gospel that says “You are able to rise above”; Good News that says “In Christ you are free.”

Here we experience a story about God’s Kingdom and its ever expanding reality.

Here we see how through the continued presence of the crucified Christ, boundaries are being redrawn to include more and more people into the covenantal community.

Here we witness how the Gospel has the ability to restore broken bodies; how the Gospel has the ability to restore broken spirits; how the Gospel even has the ability to restore broken relationships.

How the Gospel of Jesus Christ is one in which freedom, and not bondage, is the key. In which wholeness and healing are vital.

What it takes, in this story, is the ability to see- to really see another and to engage them with a word that promotes unity.

What it takes is not a quick fix or enabling to keep one down on the ground; but faith in another, faith in God and the striving to work together to raise another up.

What it takes is the ability to speak and to trust the Good News, to trust the promise that Jesus is still amongst us, and to trust that in the name of Jesus there is the ability to heal, to restore and to empower.

As we begin to wrap up today’s message, I think about our “Mission Theme Song” that we’ve been singing for almost 2 years now.

Inspired by Tracy Miller, composed by Sue Shellhammer, this song is so important.

Not only does it state who we are and what we do, it raises this reality: it states “Our challenge is at hand.”

Challenge is such a strong word. Challenge means something is not easy; it means things are not a quick fix.

Challenges are things you can try to ignore; challenges are things you can run from.

But if you’re strong, if you have faith, a challenge is something you are willing to face.

And if you are really, really smart, you do not face that challenge alone, but with another, together.

If you’re a Christian, you also face that challenge with God, made known through Jesus Christ, filled with the Spirit.

A man lame from birth at the gate of the temple is certainly a challenge. But Peter and John did not ignore it, nor did they run away, nor did they enable him.

With their faith in Christ, they looked at the challenge straight in the eye, they acknowledged his personhood, and witnessing to God’s light, they said “In the name of Jesus, rise up and move forward.”

Offering a hand of Christian compassion, they walked beside him and entered into the temple together, restoring the man back to his rightful place of community.

Creating space for wonder and amazement, leaping and praising, unity and healing.

In the name of Christ, we do not have to enable, but we can empower.

In the name of Christ, we don’t have to be blind to another’s plight but we can see one another with a compassionate eye.

In the name of Christ, we can each be a part of heaven’s community, right here, right now, on earth.

In the name of Christ, we are each empowered to enter, rejoice and come in.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Message; Psalm 118; April 5, 2015

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 118:13-29
Easter Sunday; April 5, 2015

What we just heard is a song of victory, a psalm of praise for what God has done. The people have cried out “Hosanna!- Lord save us” and God has done just that.

The Lord has proven to the people and to their leader that God is indeed able to create, to save and to bless.

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,” the psalmist sings, “For God’s constant love goes on forever.”

If that is not an Easter message, I don’t know what is. But let’s be honest. This has not been the best of weeks.

Just as Psalm 118 addresses issues of dark places, distress, and the buzzing of bees, so must we.

There has been sadness for the last few days.

In Indonesia thousands of fishermen were discovered, found in brutal conditions, as slaves inside cages, with teeth kicked out.

In Kenya, 147 people were gunned down by militants who purposely attacked Christians during a time of prayer.

Indiana experienced the after affects of a religious freedom law that set the stage for discrimination reminiscent of the 50’s & 60’s.

On the 47th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King’s death, two prison guards in Florida with ties to the KKK were caught conspiring to kill a black ex-inmate.

Here, at Emmanuel UCC we are left wheeling from the news of John Wright’s unexpected death.

Some of these events feel like a tope (speed bump), other feel like the sting of buzzing bees, others are certainly dark and unholy.

Today is supposed to be a time of joy, celebration and Good News. A time of pretty outfits, fancy hats, hard boiled eggs dipped in pastel colors and baskets of candy.

But the fact that we are instead dealing with buzzing bees and topes seems about right, because the truth is this- in every account of the resurrection, there is always an element of darkness and uncertainty.

In Mark’s account of the Resurrection, the women flee from the empty tomb in terror, amazed and very much afraid.

In Matthew the guards at the tomb shake with fear and fall like dead men.

In Luke, a couple walk in solitude, their eyes blinded to the truth. The disciples experience the risen Christ and are startled, terrified and filled with doubt.

In John, Mary weeps in the garden and Thomas discovers that though Jesus has been raised, he still bears the marks of the nails and wounds from the spear.

None of the Resurrection stories are void of sadness and dread, of doubt and fear.

Just as we cannot ignore the events of this week, we cannot forget that the events of Good Friday took place, and we cannot escape the shadow of the cross…

…Last Sunday we had a special guest join us and talk about that day in which Jesus rode into town and the people greeted him with palm branches and songs of Hosanna.

One thing he forgot to share with us is how the people viewed Jesus.

During the 1-3 years of his ministry, as Jesus challenged the political and religious hypocrites of his day, as he ate with outcasts and offered healing to all, people began to formulate who they thought Jesus was.

Some said he was the embodiment of God’s wisdom; others said Jesus was a reflection of God’s love.

Some said he was the Messiah, a leader who had come to free the people from the choke hold of Rome and to deliver them from all the debts and the evils of their day.

All these things made Jesus very, very dangerous.

So dangerous that the religious leaders were threatened by him. So dangerous the Roman kingdom was scared of him. So dangerous that the people became disappointed in him.

Threatened, scared and disappointed, they felt the only response was to kill Jesus. To take him, his message, and all he stood for, and to cast him away.

But exile would not silence what they feared. Arrest wouldn’t stop what he had begun. They felt the only way to stop his presence in the world was to kill Jesus.

Not just kill him, but to use Rome’s ultimate symbol of shame and scorn- the cross, their weapon of mass destruction.

What better way to silence the wisdom of God, to extinguish the light of God’s love, to humiliate the people’s Leader.

So they placed Jesus upon a cross for him to die, so all can see just where his teachings, healings, and outspoken radicalness had led him.

After Jesus said “Forgive them father for they know not what they do,” after he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” his dead body was wrapped in linen and placed in a tomb.

That should have been it. That Friday should have been the end of the story.

Jesus had been surrounded, the bees not only buzzed, but they stung him bad, and into darkness Jesus was placed.

It should have meant that God’s wisdom was no more; should have meant no one was left to reflect the love of God; no more Messiah to lead the people into a better, brighter future…

…but here is what we learn today- Jesus and all that he represented could not stay defeated.

Because, as Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on Sunday expecting to experience Jesus as dead- he was not there.

Instead something took place that was so majestic, so mysterious, so earth moving that Mary is told “Jesus is not here.”

We call it the Resurrection.

An event in which the God who creates, saves, and blesses stepped into human history and raised Jesus above and far beyond the grips of darkness.

Today we do not simply celebrate that Jesus rose from the oblivion of nothingness, but that it was God who raised him.

Today is the day we celebrate that even with buzzing bees, blazing fires and distress, God has the ability to exalt and to give victory.

Today we say that just like Mary, we go to the tomb to experience Jesus, and discover that he is not there.

Instead, he is in the garden, among the living plants where he speaks gently and tenderly, calling each of us by our name.

We don’t experience Jesus at the tomb but at the table in which everyone is invited to gather and eat, in which there is food for all.

We experience Jesus where people gather to work together, side by side, for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

We experience Jesus in places where we are scared and are in need of reassurance.

We experience Jesus when we are on a journey, trying to make sense of it all.

We even experience Jesus when we are full of doubt in need of blessed assurance.

Jesus is there and a multitude of other places.

The dark forces of the world tried their best, the buzzing bees gave it their most venomous sting, but Jesus is not confined to the dark stank of nothingness; Jesus exists in the living moments of life.

What does this mean?

It doesn’t mean we ignore the evil acts in Indonesia or Indiana, it does not mean we ignore the screams of Christians in Kenya or the sadness over recent church events.

What it does mean is that we allow the news of the Resurrection to give us hope.

It means that songs like Psalm 118 and stories of the empty tomb give us something to hold onto; they point us towards the promise of change and the belief that no matter what, things can get better.

The pull of Psalm 118 and the power of the Resurrection is the realization that in Jesus Christ the betrayal of Thursday does not have the final say.

The crucifixion of Friday does not have the final say. The assumed silence of Saturday does not have the final say. The tomb we come to on Sunday does not have the final say.

Because Jesus is not there, which means betrayal, persecution and confusion do not have ultimate power.

Because of this we can celebrate. Because of this we can praise God with glad songs of victory and psalms of happiness.

Because of this we are reminded that world leaders and corrupt politicians will all eventually die, crooked cops and corrupt business folk will die too, unjust lawyers and treacherous traitors the same.

They all will die, and become no more.

But God- God never dies. God can never be defeated or silenced or snuffed out.

Our God who creates, who saves, who blesses is steadfast and evermore, no matter what the current situation may be like, no matter what others may say.

Jesus Christ, is amongst the living and our God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Amen and amen.