Sunday, March 27, 2016

Discover Life, Again: Stories

Discover Life, Again.  Easter Sunday; Rev. C. Craig Topple
Commerce Presbyterian Church, GA

How many of you went to churches as children which required memory verses?
Can some of you remember these verses? “Jesus Wept,” a popular choice for many of us, outside Lazarus’ tomb.
I remember one I memorized, but I was in college when I took it on. Some of you may know, before attending the North Avenue Trade School, I matriculated at a liberal arts Christian school, similar to Berry College, only far away in the cold north outside of Chicago--Rome, GA has much more hospitable climes.
I lived in a ‘men’s” dorm called Trabor. Third floor. It was a thing to make t-shirts, long sleeved of course. And being good Christian young men, we dutifully inscribed a bible verse on our t-shirts. Sophomore year, the chosen verse: “For they did not believe the women, for their words seemed to them an idle tale (NIV).“
An easy verse to memorize. An idle tale told by women not making any sense.  Boys will be boys.  

When the women returned from the empty tomb suggesting Jesus had somehow been raised from the dead: well, how else can you interpret the story of resurrection, and defeating death?
Certainly an idle tale.
An idle tale we continue to tell, year after year across the centuries. Think about how many preachers are standing up this morning to preach this idle tale this morning.
How many listeners are dressing up, with hats and gloves, easter shoes and dresses, suits and boutonni√®res even!  gathering for nothing more than to hear an idle tale they’ve heard told before, time and again.

(Portions of what follows is adapted from a sermon by Rev. Dr. Nancy Taylor: A Divine Comedy)
Still, there is something about stories of resilience; stories of the underdogs overcoming all the odds which speak to us in profound and lasting ways. In my house, we read and watch a lot of stories filled with idle tales like these. Last night it was the story of olympic champion gymnast Gabby Douglas who overcame all kinds of odds, starting at birth, when she was placed immediately in Natal Intensive-Care Unit.
   This Jesus story ranks among one of the best.  In the midst of a powerful destructive Roman empire, and an oppressive corrupt religious institution arises a poor peasant with an attitude.
This peasant from Palestine refused to pledge allegiance to the Empire, refused to regard Caesar as a god. He refused to adhere to codes and practices of exclusion and marginalization. He forms a movement to take ‘em on. Pretty awesome! But really, the Jesus movement wasn't mighty, it was tiny. It was not an insurrection, an uprising, insurgency nor a rebellion. It was nothing like that. Jesus and his tiny band of fishermen followers were not armed terrorists plotting a takeover. In fact they carried no weapons to speak of. They planned no kidnappings, no taking of hostages, no coup d’etat. If they even had a manifesto, this is what it was:
love one another. love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. Act with compassion toward others. If someone does you wrong, err are the side of mercy and forgiveness.
Do not judge. Do not worry.
More than seeking the values of the kingdom of the world, instead to seek first a kingdom of justice and righteousness.  This Palestinian peasant taught a better way to be in the world; perhaps reminding people who we are truly created to be. But, only a few followers rallied behind him, most wouldn’t go along with this message.  
If our election cycle in this country demonstrates nothing else, it shows that a majority are only willing to follow the most aggressive and domineering of candidates…
Someone with a platform of love and humility, mercy and forgiveness is not electable…But they are certainly executable . Jesus was executed.  
From the perspective of the Roman Empire, executing a rabble rouser was inconsequential, matter of fact, and routine for them. His message had no power to overthrow. His teachings of a better way than death and destruction; his striving to show a better way of living than through systems of oppression greed and violence; these would be easily forgotten.
Until, until, of all things, an idle tale was told by women. Women, of all people; but, who would believe the women? These women didn’t even see him.  
File:Jesus's Tomb
Instead, they saw two terrifying men in dazzling clothes.
Other resolutions: 320 × 238
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? “Remember, remember what he said!”
The women remembered. Then the men remembered. An idle tale is just that until we remember: This is our story. This is our song.  And we remember.
Remembering is hard to do.  Now that I’m 40--the demyelination process in my brain has begun, meaning, it’s hard for me to remember like I once was able to.  
Even younger ones struggle with memory.
Zia doesn’t remember much from her earliest years…
She doesn’t remember, when she was a baby she would wake up with a smile on her face every morning...well not quite every morning, Trasie corrected me. But, most every morning Zia would wake up with a smile! Cute, but it kind of makes some of us nauseous.  
What was it about a new day that was worth a fresh smile?
A new day for discovery and fun! Solid foods! Avocado!
A new day for excitement and joy - sliding down a slide! Whoo!   
A stick!

Ruby did the same thing.  I’m sure lots of babies do it. It’s almost like we’re programmed to do so as babies.  A new day! Yay!

Until they get older and wiser and realize life is a little more difficult than they were anticipating.
the struggle is a little more than they want to deal with on a daily basis. the day may not greet them in the same way they greet it.

And one day, the smile which once greeted the day becomes flat. One day Wrinkles emerge, One day, hair turns grey.  
  • Day in and day out in a thankless job; or we can’t find a job.
- we seek medical assistance and the hospital is more concerned about paperwork and insurance cards than our well-being;
- our bodies fail and frustrate, and as we age society seems to slowly shove us off the road;
- someone close to us betrays us.
- we look back on our lives and wonder what happened to the time[2]  
And beyond our own problems, look at the world!  
  • Washington politics, corporate greed, water in Flint.
  • Unemployment in some countries above 40%;  
  • Suicide bombers in belgium; drone strikes in Pakistan.
  • 100 species on earth go extinct every year.[3]
-16,000 children die from hunger-related causes, Every day. …
The powers of darkness and death and destruction are alive and well.  
What has an idle tale told by women of a Palestinian peasant have to do with anything?
After he was executed The powerful destructive Roman empire, and the threatened oppressive religious authorities simply thought Jesus and his movement would go away.
Little did they know, an idle tale would be told and remembered.
Apparently, some women in this congregation are telling plenty of nonsensical idle tales month after month.  At the Single and Single again luncheon, some of the dear women sitting among you stand courageously before others and share stories of resilience, life and faith:
My husband left me.
I had to escape an abusive situation
I felt like there was nothing I could do to help my child
I wondered if anyone would be able to love me.
But, somehow, my faith, I remembered, I was able to overcome get to a better place  
Suddenly Light somehow shines through darkness!
Suddenly hope and promise stand a chance against fear and despair!
All of a sudden, In death came life; the worst thing became the best thing; what was to be an end became a beginning. In discovering nothing, they discovered everything.
This nonsensical idle tale of Jesus overcoming death is a story for you and me to remember. It is a story that says in the face of destructive powers, there’s actually another ending possible to this story, one that might just surprise you.

I’m reminded me of another recently viewed children’s story, A little princess: The  severe headmistress, Miss Minchin, attempts to stifle Sara's creativity and sense of self-worth.
At one point she warns her: “It’s a cruel nasty world out there, do you understand.”
To which little Sara responds politely, yet defiantely, “Yes, Ma’am, But I don’t believe in it.”

You can leave here today, enjoy a nice lunch, and the rest of your day; The alarm will sound tomorrow morning.   Will it be back to the same ol’ routine, or will the power of this idle tale help you to remember, another story is being lived out in this world. It was told by women who one morning couldn’t find their friend in the tomb where they laid him.
So, they told everyone!  Jesus rose, and he lives. He lives in you when you:
love one another.
love enemies
Show compassion.
If someone does you wrong, er are the side of mercy and forgiveness.
Do not judge.
Do not worry.
Discover life, again!

Winston Churchill said: "Never give up, never give up, never, never, never give up."

Jesus said, I am the Resurrection and the Life; even though you experience death, you will live!
Every morning can be Easter morning; a day to wake up ..smiling. Rejoicing. Celebrating. Why not? Tell jokes: Laugh. Hug. Encourage. appreciate the life you have while you have it. And Let’s watch the world be transformed before our very eyes.

Let’s pray: Gracious and loving God, we thank you for another glorious Easter morning. We arrive here from many varied places, some of us from a place of rejoicing, many of us from a place of difficulty, and we’re doing all we can to hold it together. Wherever we are this morning, I ask that you reveal yourself to us once again. In baptism. In communion. In a hug; in a smile: Call our name, so that we may rediscover the joy of life in you, again.

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