Sermon: “Now What?” (Easter, 4/5/15)

April 5, 2015    (EASTER – B)                                                                       “Now What?”

Mark 16:1-8;  Acts 10:34-43

The stone is rolled away!  We got Jesus birthed, baptized, betrayed, crucified, and buried…and now the stone is rolled away!  Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!  Now what?

That’s the question today’s Gospel lesson poses.  Mary Magdalene, another Mary, and Salome bring spices to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.  They find the stone rolled away, Jesus’ body gone, and a young man, who tells them Jesus is risen. Terrified, the women flee and speak to no one.

That’s the original ending to Mark’s Gospel. A little unsatisfying as endings go… so unsatisfying that at least two alternate endings made it into the final version of the Bible.

Personally, I like the original ending.  Good stories don’t always tie things up neatly by the end, do they? Is anybody still thinking about that last episode of The Sopranos?  In fact, the best stories–like Jesus’ parables– often leave hearers with a question:  Who is my neighbor?  Who is the prodigal?  How does faith grow from a speck of mustard seed into a large tree?  What happened to Tony Soprano?

The question left at the end of Mark is, Now what?  Christ is risen! —Now what? The one who showed us God was killed, then raised from the dead—Now what? Love has triumphed over evil—Now what? Running away in terror–that’s one response.  In truth, it’s probably the first response most of us would have. But after that initial response– then what?

The thing about the “Now what?” question is it’s a moving target. If we ask it now, we’ll have one answer. If we ask it two years from now, we could have a very different answer.

Christ is risen! Now what? It’s a question the faithful have been answering since that first Easter morning.  Sometimes our responses have been less than stellar–the Inquisition, the Crusades, Slavery, oppression of women, so-called “religious liberty” laws.  But sometimes our responses have been very much in keeping with the Easter message of the power of love to triumph over (or heal or transform) evil–the work of martyrs and saints, the work of our own denomination in welcoming those who routinely have been rejected, the Civil Rights movement.

So, on this Easter Sunday morning in Marietta, GA, April 5, 2015, as we celebrate the risen Christ: Now what? How will we live the Easter message that love triumphs over evil?

The answer we devise to the “Now what?” question might be completely different from one we would devise later, but now is now, so let’s see what we come up with.

To help us figure it out, we might consider something the Apostle Paul said just a few years after Jesus’ death: “I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.”

Paul lived at a time when most followers of Jesus were Jewish. So, when Paul welcomed non-Jews into the faith, many Jewish followers of Jesus weren’t happy….because they understood Jesus’ message to be for the Jewish people. Paul saw Jesus’ message reaching beyond a single religion to anyone who felt led to follow it.

I wonder if, in 2015, we might piggyback on Paul’s answer to the “Now what?” question and take it a step further. Paul responded to the Easter message of love’s triumph over evil by extending that love to people outside the Jewish faith. I wonder if we, ala Paul, might live the good news of Easter by extending God’s love and care to those outside our Christian faith? Not to make them Christians; but to love them no matter what faith they practice.

A few weeks ago, some of our folks attended a workshop at Emerson UU called, “Healing the Muslim/Non-Muslim Divide.” The next day during 8:30 worship, Dan Binney offered a prayer for our Muslim neighbors. At the workshop, several Muslims related how afraid they often are. Like the rest of us, all they want is to live their lives, provide for their families, and practice their faith. But because of misconceptions and biased media accounts, they never know what people are thinking, or what harm might come to them simply because of their faith.

As Dan talked, I remembered Andrew Young’s words about growing up in New Orleans in the Jim Crow South. He said, “My mother taught us how to live in the segregated South… because one wrong action could get us killed.”  Until Dan’s words to us a couple weeks ago, I never realized just how frightening it can be to live as a Muslim in our society, even in 2015.

I know. It’s Easter—the most Christian day there is! But if Easter is about the triumph of love over evil, might that love reach also to people of other faiths? As faithful followers of Christ, might we live our Christian faith by reaching out to, loving, yes, harboring anyone in need of sanctuary? I’m talking about more than simply tolerating other faiths. I’m talking about real, live acting-them-into-well-being love for people who practice other faiths.

I want to share with you one of the best Easter stories I’ve ever heard…except for the original. J It comes from Pete Hamill’s novel, Snow in August.

Thirteen year old Michael lives in New York City in 1947. Just two years after World War II has ended, Michael is still adjusting to the loss of his dad in the war. One Saturday morning on his way to serve as altar boy at his church, Michael approaches the neighborhood synagogue. As he passes, a man leans out the door and motions to Michael. In halting English, the man says that, because it is Sabbath, he is not allowed to turn on the light. If Michael could get the light for him, he’d be so grateful.

That first encounter turns into a weekly ritual. Every Saturday morning, Michael stops by to flip on lights for Rabbi Hirsch. Soon they add weekday sessions, where Michael teaches the rabbi English and the rabbi teaches Michael Yiddish. They share stories. Michael tells the rabbi about losing his father in the war. Rabbi Hirsch tells Michael about losing his wife.

Folks in the neighborhood aren’t always kind to the rabbi or the synagogue’s dwindling membership. Post-war anti-Semitism runs high. Like African Americans in the Jim Crow South, or Jews in pre-war Germany, or, perhaps, Muslims in our own neighborhoods, Michael’s friend Rabbi Hirsch lives in fear.

That fear was evident in the cry Michael heard as he walked to Easter mass. “How could they do this? Who could do this?” Michael rounded the corner and saw Rabbi Hirsch, his face gray with anger and grief, violently scrubbing at one of a dozen ugly red swastikas that had been painted on the synagogue’s front walls and doors.

Taking in the scene, Michael said, “Wait here,” and ran “all the way to his church, where he caught Fr. Heaney as 9:00 mass was ending. After relating what had happened, Michael said, “We’ve got to help him!” “Why should we get involved, kid?” the priest asked. “Because Rabbi Hirsch is a good guy!” Skeptical, the priest asked, “How do you know?”

“Michael exploded. ‘How do I know? I’m the Shabbos goy at the synagogue! I help him turn on the lights every Saturday morning. I’m teaching him English. He’s teaching me Yiddish. And his wife is dead and he’s alone and he doesn’t need some Nazi painting his synagogue! My father died fighting the Nazis. You saw all kinds of guys die in the war…”

“Fr. Heaney’s eyes opened wider and he stepped back a foot, as if the words had pierced a part of him that had been numb for a long time. He reached for his coat. “Come on,” he said.

“He walked out into the church, pointed at a few men and gestured for them to follow him. He grabbed one of the altar boys from the previous mass, a tall Italian kid named Albert… Mr. Gallagher, who owned the hardware store across the street, arrived late and was searching for a seat when Fr. Heaney took him by the elbow and guided him back outside.

“At the foot of the church steps, Fr. Heaney started giving orders like the military man he’d once been. He slipped two dollars to Albert, the altar boy, and sent him to buy some coffee and buns at the bakery. He convinced Mr. Gallagher to open the hardware store and hand out rags and scrubbers and solvents. On the corner near the schoolyard, he saw Charlie Senator, who had left his leg at Anzio, limping toward the church. He whispered a few words to him, and Senator gave him a small salute and fell in line.

“Then all of them were marching down the avenue, carrying mops and rags, pails and solvents. People in Easter finery looked at them in surprise. A few more men joined the march, with Fr. Heaney and Michael out front as the platoon turned into Kelly Street.

“When they reached the synagogue, Rabbi Hirsch was still poking with his mop at the first swastika. ‘Rabbi, I’m Joe Heaney,’ the priest said. ‘I was a chaplain in the 103rd Airborne. Most of these men fought their way into Germany two years ago, and one of them lost a leg in Italy. They are not going to let this kind of thing happen in their parish.” “Please,” Rabbi Hirsch said, “I can do it myself.” “No, you can’t,” Fr. Heaney said.

“They went to work. Mr. Ponte, the stonemason, fingered the texture of the bricks, while Mr. Gallagher examined the paint… Together, he and Mr. Ponte mixed the solvents in a steel pail. Others peeled off their Easter jackets, removed their ties, rolled up their sleeves, and grabbed rags and mops. Albert, the altar boy, arrived with buns and coffee, then grabbed a cloth. Michael hung his jacket and tie on the fence and joined in the scrubbing.” The men and boys worked together in silence until the job was done.

“Rabbi Hirsch walked back and forth, examining the walls.” “The men had finished cleaning their hands and pulling on their jackets and neckties. Most were sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes and wolfing down the buns from the bakery. They looked awkward now, saying little, staring at the wall or the sidewalk or the sky… The synagogue was as strange a place to them as it had been to Michael on that first morning. He saw Rabbi Hirsch flex his fingers as if to shake hands, but his hands were covered with paint.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” the rabbi said hoarsely. “I wish to the synagogue you all could come, to have a big seder together, but food we don’t have here, just tea, and matzoh, and…” “It’s all right, Rabbi,” Fr. Heaney said. “Some other time.” The rabbi bowed in a stiff, dignified way.

“‘I’ll see you, Rabbi,” Mr. Gallagher said, and grabbed the pail, emptying the solvents into the gutter, nodding to the others to retrieve the mops. ‘Let’s move out,’ he said.”

“Charlie Senator glanced at his watch and then at Fr. Heaney. “Well,” he said, “I better go do my Easter duty.” Fr. Heaney replied: “You just did.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad to see all you this morning…but when I think of the original Easter story and the Easter story we’ve just heard—stories about resurrection, about love’s triumph over evil, about love’s power to heal and transform evil— I find myself asking, How might we live the Easter message, even on Easter Sunday?

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Now what?

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen

Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2015

Acts 10:34-43

Gentiles Hear the Good News

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

Mark 16:1-8

The Resurrection of Jesus

16When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.*

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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