Idle Tales and Other Stories We Dare to Believe

Prepared for the Ecumenical University Chaplaincy’s Cathedral@6 (cathédrale18h de l’Aumônerie œcuménique universitaire) Sunday evening service on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, based on Luke 24:1-12.

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 9.55.43 AM

I have this bad habit of not believing people. I always think they’re bending the truth, making the story a little bigger than it is, or skirting around the timeline.

“Did you put the laundry away?”

“Yes.”

But all I hear is, “No I have not put away the laundry, but now you’ve reminded me of my intention to do it, so I’ll say yes, and then go and quietly put it away before you notice.”

Belief is about trust.

I am not inclined to trust that people are being truthful. I am not inclined to trust that people know right from wrong—especially if it has to do with how to wash the dishes. I am not inclined to trust that people know better than me.

**

The disciples, certainly don’t think much of the women in Luke, who bring a perplexing story back with them from their morning visit. They are dismissed…

“Women like to gossip.”

“Women like to stir up trouble.”

“Women are so gullible.”

Can you hear the angry muttering of the disciples? Crowded together in a house somewhere in Jerusalem, tired, worried and grieving.

Have you ever been in a house like that? Some people have brought over food—a lasagna. You’re in the living room, perched on couches and dining room chairs, feeling a bit numb. Grief washes over you in waves of sadness, anxiety and fury.

Because grief comes with a special kind of anger—it just sits below the surface, bubbling up with the slightest irritation.

And here these women come, talking about the Teacher. They were supposedt o be bringing spices to his tomb, they were supposed to go and care for his body—and then they come back with this crap? Shame on them!

**

Besides, if he wasn’t there, then what? If wasn’t really dead, which we all saw, then where is he?

Because he’s not here, with us.

He’s not… here.

**

Sometimes imagining the other possibilities, the impossibilities, is more painful….

But Peter—Peter who never wanted any of this to happen—he listens. He doesn’t believe the women at first, but… but there’s a chance.

Peter, who loved the Teacher so deeply, with the wild abandon of a toddler who would rushes forward so quickly he inevitably falls and stumbles. Peter who gets so much right and so much wrong in a single breathe.

Peter’s heart asks, What if?

And suddenly his sandals are slapping the packed dirt road, his cloak flapping madly behind him.

“What if” moments are terrifying, because while they go unanswered our deepest fears and greatest hopes hang in the balance.

What if… I don’t get accepted to the program?

What if… the cancer comes back?

What if… we can’t make this relationship work?

But, “What if” moments also offer us that tiny terrifying sliver of hope:

What if… the impossible could be true?

What if… there’s more than this?

What if… everything works out ok?

“What if” moments are terrifying—they are vulnerable acts where we silently mouth our deepest desires and squeeze our eyes shut tight, fingers crossed, barely able to breathe because as long as the question goes unanswered there’s that infinitesimal amount of hope.

**

Resurrection stories are not about proof, Luke shows us women who encounter two strangers when they find the world not as it should be—strangers who tell them the impossible has become reality.

And the women are “perplexed”, confused. Yet, they embrace that “What if?” and bring it back to the others. They open themselves up to the terrifying possibility of more.

There’s the risk in this story: the risk of sharing your hope, and of trusting it with another.

And, what happens when we dare to hope, even if it’s just that infinitesimal amount?

Well, this story is not tidy. Those who risk, who make themselves vulnerable, and they don’t get the kindest greeting. Even more frustrating is the fact that Jesus doesn’t show up and settle the issue for a little while yet.

But, it is the start of something, the beginning of the Easter season.

The belief that there is new life beyond death is the small shoot springing up from the desolation of the forest fire—it is small, fragile and painful.

As a church and as a community, we can choose to sit in the darkness of Good Friday, drinking sour wine, and beating our chests in grief, or we can dare to imagine an Easter morning filled with the hope and possibility of new life.

And that’s terrifying.

Believing the impossible could be true, that there could be more than this, that everything could work out ok, is terrifying.

Yet, every time we recite our baptismal vows and wet the head of an adult or child, we make a declaration of hope.

Every time we break bread at the Table, sharing the cup of remembrance together, we make a declaration of hope.

We say together, that despite the death and grief around us, we’re willing to let ourselves be vulnerable for the chance at something more.

Over Lent we’ve spent six weeks contemplating our human nature, our mortality, our creatureliness. And, now we step into Easter with the declaration that the Spirit transforms and uses us—springing new life within us as a response to the hard things in our world.

Good things come and go, tragedies strike, and we are reminded of our smallness and our humanity, but God offers us more. She calls us blessed and invites us to trust her, to risk ourselves and hope.

Hope that she will take what we find impossible and make it true.

Hope that she will offer us more than this, more than we can imagine.

Hope that she will work everything out in her way and time.

Stirred by this terrifying leap of trust we are invited, like the women and Peter, not to stay silent and patient, but to be stirred to action.

**

Have you felt hopeful this Lenten season? Have you watched the news and said, I feel really optimistic about where we’re headed?

Maybe not.

Yet, we are dared by a God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine, to face the new morning, hearts in our throats, with an infinitesimal amount of hope.

So what will you dare to hope for, this Easter?

A planet loved and cared for by humanity.

A city without poverty and addiction.

A news cycle without violence and massacre.

And, if you’re willing to risk that hope then who are you going to go and tell it to?

What road are you going to race down? 

**

May we dare to risk this Easter season, dare to see God’s new life taking root within us. Amen.

Advertisements

Stories of hope and expectancy

Prepared for Wesley United Church’s Sunday Service of Oct. 28, 2018 (Year B, Proper 23, Mark 10:46-52).

Imagine a man, sitting on the side of a busy dirt road, people coming and going. Then, a large crowd begins to pass by. Can he hear the crowd talking? Or, does someone lean down and whisper in his ear, It’s him, the teacher they’ve been talking about!

When he learns it’s Jesus, Bartimaeus cries out demanding to be heard: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”[i]

The crowd grumbles: Don’t bother the Teacher… You’re not worth his time… Be quiet, you’re making a fool of yourself.

But, Jesus stands still.

Like the Woman with the Issue of Blood, the one who reached out to grab his cloak,[ii]Jesus stops for the people no one else wants to see.

Stopping for Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, our story today reminds us that Jesus stops for the people no one else wants to hear.

Who are the people in our community we don’t want to see?

Who are the people in our community we don’t want to hear?

***

“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

How we long to hear these words. To be picked out of the crowd, to be seen, and asked: “What do you want me to do for you?”

“My teacher, let me see again.”

The past three Sundays we’ve heard stories of men asking Jesus for something: The rich young man wanted eternal life.[iii]James and John wanted glory.[iv]Bartimaeus wanted mercy.

Who made the wiser request?

***

A theme in Mark’s Gospels is the connection between faith and healing.

The man with leprosy is healed when he comes and begs Jesus, saying “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”[v]

The paralytic man is healed when his friends go out on a limb and lower him through the roof to reach Jesus in the crowded house.[vi]

Jesus heals the woman who reaches for his cloak, knowing he has what she needs.[vii]

And here, he heals Bartimaeus who refuses to let him pass by, knowing that this Jesus is capable of giving him the mercy he is so desperate for.

These healings take two: both Jesus who meets the seeker intimately, and the one who believes enough to come seeking in the first place.

***

The problem with these stories is that is so easy to think that this is about how “hard” we believe

Have you heard someone say before: You just didn’t pray enough? You just didn’t have enough faith?

Or, have you stop believing altogether that the Living God moves in our world? That God desires to transform us?

Jesus says, “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”[viii]But, when we hear those words we may begin to ask ourselves…

Why didn’t it turn out the way I wanted? Why haven’t I received what I asked for?

But, Jesus isn’t pointing us to a “vending machine God” we can demand miracles from…

Jesus makes a direct connection between our belief or trust, that God can change things and real change in our lives. These are stories about hope and expectancy.

These people who received healing came to Jesus with the hope that he could offer them something no one else could. And it is hope that makes space in our lives for transformation.

When we come to God expectant that she lives and moves in our world, we open ourselves up to her wonderful mysterious ways. When we are open, transformation becomes possible.

But, that means letting go of our preconceptions of what transformation looks like.

***

I’m reminded of the children’s story “The Velveteen Rabbit”. The stuffed toy wants so desperately to become a real rabbit and is frustrated when it seems impossible. But, through the love of the boy who owns and cherishes him, the velveteen rabbit becomes real to the child. That’s what leads to the rabbit’s transformation: both love, and an acceptance that what we desire most doesn’t always take the form we expect.

And I wonder, do youcome to Christ believing that transformation is possible?

***

One of the greatest lies the world tells us is that we’re stuck, that nothing can change. When we’re paralyzed by hopelessness that can feel so true; it can feel like every effort to do and be different is totally useless. We’re swimming against the current.

The world starts to fill our heads with a chorus of: Don’t even bother trying… You’re not worth it… Be quiet.

If that’s the place you’re in today, then I’m sorry. That is a hard to place to be in. It’s an even harder place to escape from.

But, we believe in a God that sets captives free, gives sight to the blind, and justice to the oppressed.[ix]We believe in a merciful God, whose stories of goodness were captured by our ancestors in the faith, to remind us when we begin to forget—to forget that something else is possible for us.

We need those reminders, just as Bartimaeus needed someone to tell him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

Throwing off his cloak and stepping forward, Bartimaeus reached out, in vulnerability and courage, for what he wanted. But, he didn’t stop there.

After Jesus heals him and releases him to go back to his community, back to the life he must have been dreaming of—Bartimaeus refuses. Instead, he does what the rich young man could not, and he gives up everything he has (though it is so little) to follow Jesus.

Our transformation will come in unexpected ways, riding the coattails of hope, but it is not without consequences. When God moves in our lives, we can’t expect to go back to the ways things were before, with small alterations. Transformational change is an irreversible life-altering thing, that tells us we must live differently now.

Do you have a memory of learning something or experiencing something that led you to say, I’m not the same now.

*****

Friends, the Living God offers mercy and transformation to all of us, but it is rarely how we’ll expect it to be. With courage and hopefulness, we can invite her to stir us, to stir our lives with newness. She offers only good gifts to her children.[x]

But, I caution you: As Bartimaeus shows us, we cannot expect to live as we did afterwards.

Amen.


[i]All quotes from Mark 10:46-52 are from the NRSV, denoted by use of “”.

[ii]Mark 5:25-34

[iii]Mark 10:17-31

[iv]Mark 10:34-45

[v]Mark 1:40-45, NRSV

[vi]Mark 2:1-12

[vii]Mark 5:25-34

[viii]Mark 11:24

[ix]Luke 4:18

[x]Luke 11:13