Sermon preached Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014
Texts: Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18
The Delfonics, “Didn’t (I Blow Your Mind This Time) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7R60QoJKokQ
It’s Easter and this may be a little unexpected, but didn’t I blow your mind this time? Besides what music would God like better than soul music?! Before I get in real trouble, let me say that I find soul in all kinds of music.
This Lent we explored shades of God, dimensions of God in order to better understand how God might be at work in our lives and in order to better understand the kind of people we should be. To understand God better is to understand the direction for our lives in relationship to God. If we are made, as we are, in the image of God, let us become the image both of ourselves and of God. (St. Maximus the Confessor, The Philokalia, II, 171).
This Easter Sunday morning I want to offer one more image of God, and of how God might work in our lives. God is a mind blower. “Didn’t I blow your mind this time,” could be the voice of God. Blowing your mind - something is mind-blowing if it excites or surprises or makes an extremely strong impression. God is a God who blows our minds.
And God is never more mind-blowing than at Easter. Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, and she saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. This mind-blowing morning is just beginning. She is startled, and runs to get Peter and another disciple, who return with Mary to the tomb. Sure enough, empty. The two men leave – “for as yet they did not understand.” Mary remains, weeping. She peers into the tomb, and this time it is not empty. She sees two angels. Mind blowing, and they speak to her. “Why are you weeping?” She turns and there is a figure standing there. She thinks it is the gardener. But then she hears the voice, “Mary.” Mind blowing. She responds, “Teacher.” God is never more mind-blowing than at Easter.
But here is good news. God has not stopped being mind-blowing. If we think of Easter, if we think of resurrection, only in the past tense, we leave this story in a cave with a heavy stone rolled in front. God’s Spirit still can blow our minds. God seeks to open up our lives to God, to others, to the world, to ourselves.
One of the qualities that should characterize us as God’s Spirit people, as God’s Jesus people, as God’s Easter people is the quality of openness – “wider horizons, a larger heart, minds set free, room to move around” to quote Patrick Henry ( The Ironic Christian’s Companion, 8). God’s Easter people are open to the world in all its wonder, splendor, beauty, amazingness, destructiveness, hurt, pain, and sorrow.
In her book Help, Thanks, Wow which some of us read this Lent, the writer Anne Lamott writes: The third great prayer, Wow, is often offered with a gasp, a sharp intake of breath, when we can’t think of another way to capture the sight of shocking beauty or destruction…. “Wow” means we are not dulled to wonder. We click into being fully present when we’re stunned into that gasp, by the sight of a birth, or images of the World Trade Center towers falling, or the experience of being in a fjord, at dawn, for the first time. (71)
God is a mind-blowing God, never more so than at Easter, and an appropriate response is the openness of Wow. It is the large-hearted openness Elizabeth Lesser writes about. The opposite of happiness is a closed heart. Happiness is a heart so soft and so expansive that it can hold all of the emotions in a cradle of openness…. An open heart feels everything – including anger, grief, and pain – and absorbs it into a bigger and wiser experience of reality…. I have come to believe that the opposite of happiness is a fearful, closed heart. Happiness is ours when we go through our anger, fear, and pain, all the way to our sadness, and then slowly let sadness develop into tenderness. (The New American Spirituality, 180)
God is a mind-blowing, heart-opening, soul-stretching God, never more so than at Easter, and an appropriate response is openness. Embrace your life in all its mystery, wonder, splendor, beauty, amazingness, destructiveness, hurt, pain, and sorrow. Embrace the world in all its wonder, splendor, beauty, amazingness, destructiveness, hurt, pain, and sorrow. In the words of the poet Wendell Berry, “practice resurrection” (‘Manifesto: Mad Farmer Liberation Front”)
Let’s be honest. This openness and embracing, this way of practicing resurrection is not easy. Oh we like the beauty, wonder and splendor parts of the world, but it is difficult to be open to the other stuff. How open do we want to be to a world where the average age of a young woman when she is first trafficked for sex is 13 -14? How open do we want to be to a world where some 73 year-old man gets so blinded by the hate he has been nurturing for so long he goes on a shooting spree against Jews, and kills three people, none of whom are even Jewish – he is that blinded by hate. In another of her books, Anne Lamott writes, “Darkness is our context, and Easter’s context: without it you probably couldn’t see the light” (Plan B, 275). By being open to this world, by embracing this world, I don’t mean accepting the ugliness and brutality, I mean embracing it enough to ask hard questions about the lives of teenage girls who end up trafficked and then trying to do something about what we learn. By being open to this world, by embracing this world, I don’t mean accepting the hatred and destructiveness, I mean using the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, to use language from our baptism liturgy. Being open and embracing this world means engaging it for positive change, and it means being willing to accompany the hurting when change isn’t possible.
Why would someone want to live this way? Why be open? Why embrace our lives and the world? In a word, “trust.” If an appropriate response to the mind-blowing God of Easter is to let the winds of God’s Spirit blow open our lives, enlarge our hearts, expand our minds, stretch our souls, such openness is based in trust, another appropriate response to the God of the risen Jesus. Trust. Trust that the God who raised Jesus, whose love was not nailed permanently to a cross or sealed forever in a tomb, trust that this God still can blow our minds. Trust that this God still acts in the world. Trust your life with this God who, in the beautiful words of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, “dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love” (Process and Reality, older edition, 520). Trust that “your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Trust that openness and love are the way of true life.
What might this life of openness and trust in this God who continues operate in the world in mind-blowing ways look like? Here are some stories.
This past week I attended a workshop and lecture presented by Rachel Lloyd. Rachel Lloyd is from England and ended up in the commercial sex industry in Germany. She escaped “the life” as she calls it and is now working to help sexually-exploited children. In her memoir, Lloyd writes about leaving the life. The thought that may I have a greater purpose leads me to a small nondenominational American church the following Sunday, and that sets me on a path that will result in my walking away from the life two months later and never going back. This inexplicable belief in God’s love for me at a critical moment sustains me over the next few months, and ultimately over the next decade. (171) Of her church she writes that is was a place “where I’ve experienced the kind of peace and overwhelming love that I’ve never felt anywhere else and where I’ve begun to believe that perhaps God really does love me” (225). Openness to life, to God, to self, trusting the mind-blowing God of Easter gives us strength to make difficult changes. Openness to all of life as a church puts us in places where we can offer God’s love to those who need it in the midst of their deepest pains and struggles. We trust that God can use us to touch the world with a love that works tenderly, slowly, often quietly, sometimes dramatically.
In Help, Thanks, Wow Anne Lamott writes “that life is usually Chutes and Ladders, with no guaranteed gains” (97). That may not strike us as a very hopeful vision. Where is the mind-blowing God of Easter? Yet Lamott also writes: I pray not to be such a whiny, self-obsessed baby, and give thanks that I am not quite as bad as I used to be (talk about miracles). Then something comes up, and I overreact and blame and sulk, and it feels like I haven’t made any progress at all. But it turns out I’m less of a brat that before, and I hit the reset button much sooner, shake if off and get my sense of humor back. That we and those we love have lightened up over the years is one of the most astonishing sights we will ever witness. (95-96). I guess it is not all just Chutes and Ladders. Openness and trust in the mind-blowing, heart enlarging, soul stretching God offers some hope of progress, God working with the tender elements of the world which slowly and in quietness operate by love. Sometimes we see the gardener before we finally hear the voice of Jesus, but we can learn to hear the voice of Jesus more often.
Kent Nerburn, a writer and artist from Bemidji tells a story of time spent in Germany. It was a lonely time. One day he decides to take the train to a nearby town to see an American movie, to hear his own language. Arriving several hours before the movie, he sits on a street bench and watches as the town begins to close down for the evening. Still waiting for his movie, he notices a man walking toward him. He was obviously drunk. And he was sobbing. (Lord, Make Me An Instrument, 40) The man approaches Nerburn, and they greet one another as best they can – The German’s English adequate, but not well-used, and Nerburn’s German barely passable. The man is grief-stricken, sobbing and through it all manages to tell his story. He was a judge, well respected in the community. That morning, a young girl had run in front of his car as he was driving to work. There had been no time to stop. He had struck her, killing her instantly. He had been wandering the streets, drinking, ever since. (41) The man kept reliving the moment and thinking about his life. “I am a judge, how could I have done this? I keep seeing her in front of me, why could I not stop? Nerburn: I tried to speak some words that would matter, but he stopped me. “Don’t talk,” he said. “I don’t need words. I just need to be near somebody. (42) Nerburn stayed with the man long into the night, and reflected later on his experience. If we are able to stay with someone at their time of darkness and doubt and simply bear witness, we are performing a holy act, and the wounded heart will know. By the mute testimony of our presence, we are saying, “You are a child of God, and you matter.” And that is sometimes enough to make a wounded heart turn back, if only for a moment, and feel the presence of the light. (43-44) The mind-blowing, heart-enlarging, soul-stretching God, the God of Easter, invites us to be open to people who are in pain, anguish, angst and to trust that our presence in love makes a difference. When we are present in love, somehow God is present in love. We hope someone was present to the family of the young girl as well.
Toward the end of Friday evening’s worship service, these words were spoken: On a silent Saturday we wonder, would the words ever be heard again – “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Or would the words remain sealed away forever?
Today we know. Today we celebrate. The God of Jesus Christ is not silent or entombed but still acts in mind-blowing, heart-enlarging, soul-stretching ways. Practice resurrection. Embrace the world. Embrace your life. Open up, trusting that God might just blow your mind this time, and again and again and again. Amen.