“Not A Sentimental Shepherd” John 10:11-18

This is “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  Every year at this point in the Easter Season we have an opportunity to hear Jesus talk about his role as the shepherd.  We hear him tell us what he will do for us as the flock.  The problem, of course, is that many who hear this Gospel will have had very little experience in the world of agriculture.  We hear Jesus talk about sheep and the activity of the shepherd, and we tend to conjure up cute images of cuddly animals, or maybe the image of the “good shepherd”… that laughing Jesus with the little lamb in his arms, clean white robes flowing.

But I have spent a few too many days on the farm to have those things come to mind.  No one who has ever really worked with animals ever wears a white robe that stays white for very long.

Those who have worked with livestock of any kind know how tasking and frustrating animals can be!   We did not have sheep.  We had cows and hogs, and there was very little about working with them that was particularly romantic!

So, when I hear this gospel lesson, it is not cuddly animal images that come to mind.  It is the harsh reality of the day to day working with the livestock that I consider.  If you are going to work with livestock, the first great learning that takes place is the nature of the relationship.  You have to be there for and with them, in every aspect of life.

The sheep (like the cows or pigs) know the voice of the shepherd because the shepherd has been fussing regularly in their daily lives, and often very inconveniently!   The shepherd has been shearing them, vaccinating them, castrating them, feeding them, weaning them from their mothers, and (in modern context) shoving wormer pellets down their gullet for their own good!

The shepherd has been moving them from pen to pen, field to field to keep them safe and fed.  He or she has been scooping their poop and putting up with their incessant bleating, bellowing, and squealing their protest.

Oh, and if the livestock have gotten used to hearing the shepherd’s voice, it probably has included not hearing just “gentle” words!   The shepherd or rancher sometimes uses “colorful” language, peppered with urgings and exclamations!   Livestock do not intuitively just “know” what they are supposed to do.  They have to be trained, coaxed, and often forced into the place they need to be.

“Thy rod and thy stock prod, they spank and zap at me until I concede!”

We do have some pretty good biblical precedents for that kind of coaxing and pleading. More than once in the Old Testament and in the words of the prophets we hear God lamenting at how long he must suffer with his wayward people, his faithless Israel.

Jesus makes a side comment or two as well, wondering how long he must put up with this “perverse and faithless generation.”

I think it is important on this Sunday to counterpoint the romantic view of God as some kind of “sentimental shepherd” with the harsh reality of a God, who; (like a real shepherd, farmer or rancher,) is really in this with us for the long haul and in the day to day!  What is at stake in making that clear is the very matter of the incarnation and the investment that God has made in us!

We do not have a sentimental God.

We have a God who knows what it is to get down and to get dirty.   We have a God who fusses with creation with his bare hands, who shapes and forms us in Genesis.

We have a God who enters creation physically in his own Son, the incarnation, to live and walk and move along the dusty pathways with us, experiencing firsthand what it is to live and move in this world.

So, here is my first point.   Let’s acknowledge that if we want to compare ourselves to the flock or the herd that we have to acknowledge that we’re really pretty had to put up with most of the time!

That’s not meant in any derogatory way!   Please understand, I’m just being descriptive here.

Sheep don’t mean to be dense or wayward.

Cows don’t consciously choose to be contrary.

Pigs don’t search for ways to get out of their pen on purpose or just to tick off the farmer.  (Okay, well, maybe that is an exception if you’ve ever had to work with hogs, they are mightily intelligent!)

But mostly, in each and every case, the animals are just following their natural inclination, their own “self interest!”

They are looking for greener grass.

They are enticed by the prospect of better food, or what looks like a more comfortable location.

They are following their own lines of self-interest, which are not always what is best for them, or for the pasture, or for the countryside in the long run.

It is often the case that the farmer, rancher, shepherd has to work diligently to keep the herd or flock from doing damage to themselves and to the places they inhabit!

So, in the 23rd psalm you have the shepherd “preparing the table”…. digging out the noxious weeds before the sheep come into that area so they don’t eat something that will make them sick or worse.

In the Gospel, you have Jesus detailing that he is “willing to lay down his life for the sheep.”    He is willing to risk his own life and safety, do whatever it takes to protect them from outside dangers, or from themselves.  That includes putting a check on the natural inclinations of the flock.

That prompts one to ask this question then, “What are OUR natural inclinations that the good shepherd has to protect us from?”  We all, in other words, have to examine where our “self-interest” lies.

Like most of the herd, I’m prone to looking at what others are doing, getting, what they have, and making sure that I slide over to that side of the feed trough to get mine too.

I confess, that left to my own self-interest, I would probably see to my own needs first, and then just give whatever what was “left over” to the church, charity, and my neighbor.

But I follow the “good shepherd”, who lays down his life for his sheep. There is a stern determination in the voice of Jesus as he talks about that.  It penetrates to the level of life and death.

We do not have a “sentimental God.”  We have a God who gets down and dirty and walks the dusty road with us, and then invites us to “follow.”    Jesus has considered the cost of being the shepherd.   So to follow, we must also consider the cost of being the sheep.  What is it that God requires of us?   What does following Jesus mean for our daily life?

It means that you do have to order your life around the following of Jesus, and not have it simply come as an afterthought, or when it is convenient.

We are a flock that is pretty hard to put up with at times, prone to go our own way. But God has sent his son to show us a better way, a way that leads you into greener pastures, beside still waters, that is soul restoring… but to find that way you have to be willing to listen and to be led!

This gets to my second point.  There is this promise in scripture that Jesus will always recognize us.   “I know my own….”   But it’s important that we catch the whole phrase.   “And my own know me.”

We have a God who gets down and dirty and walks the dusty road with us, but the truth of the matter is that even if Jesus recognizes you, you may not recognize the shepherd’s voice if you haven’t been letting him fuss with your daily life!

This is where the matter of shepherd and sheep becomes also a stewardship matter, where you consider what the whole of your life says about your following of the shepherd.

“Is this what God really wants me to do?”   “Is what I and doing now really important?  What I’m spending my resources on right now?”  “Am I being faithful with the gifts and blessings given to me?  Or could I do so much more?”

Those are hard questions, but ones that are worth asking, and you’ll only do that if you’re challenged by this matter of following the Good Shepherd.

I am fascinated with voice recognition software in computers today.  I can train my phone to recognize my voice and do things because it “knows me.”  But do you know what it takes to make that work?

The first step is for you to speak phrases to it clearly, so that the computer inside recognizes your inflection, your way of speaking, your “voice.”   Once the computer learns what it is that you sound like, what it is that you want, it can perform the tasks that you ask of it.

I think that faith is also something that requires some “voice recognition.”   We have to be willing to spend some time talking to Jesus about the day to day stuff, and listening for him to respond.

Once we tune our ears to hear the shepherd’s voice, we know what it is that we need to do, but to get there we too have to engage in the give and take of conversation.

Beloved, this is Good Shepherd Sunday, and today the Shepherd calls to you.  He has great and gracious promises, words of encouragement, and he has words of correction to keep us from wandering off on our own.   It is a good day to tune up the ears, and to tune in the heart, that we may find our way as our Savior leads us in the joy, and the messiness, of daily life.

Luke 24:36b-48 “Snapshots”

House Pictures 022We feel most keenly connected to the disciples in the first few weeks after Easter because the gospel lessons all revolve around the same questions that we still raise 2000 years later.

How can this be?  What are we to make of a resurrected Lord?  What does Jesus resurrected mean for you, for me, and for this world.

We get these “snapshots” of the resurrection from the gospel writers after Easter.

In Mark we have Women who run from the tomb in fear and trembling, not saying anything to anyone because fear had overtaken them.

John tells us the story of Thomas, who insists on seeing the evidence that the others had seen, “unless I see the mark of the nails…”

Luke gives us two men walking to Emmaus, who travel beside Jesus but who do not recognize him until he breaks the bread in their midst.

Matthew gives us earthquakes and broken seals, and guards struck down as Jesus dramatically exits the tomb, and a Jesus who commissions his disciples to go and baptize.

These are just snapshots, pictures filled with sometimes obscure details in search of understanding and explanation.

Today we have Jesus popping up again in the disciple’s midst to confer upon them peace, but instead of conferring peace he once again startles and terrifies them.   It is almost as if Jesus is unaware of the kind of effect his popping in will have on them.

“Why are you frightened and why do doubts arise?”   He asks.

Jesus asks them if they have anything to eat, and they give him a piece of broiled fish which he then eats in their presence.

It’s a curious snapshot.

I think we often look at that action of Jesus eating fish as trying to prove to them that he is corporeal.  Ghosts don’t eat after all, so let me have some fish I’ll show you.

But this is also four days after the events of the last supper, trial and crucifixion, so just when did Jesus last eat?  He broke bread at Emmaus but vanished in the midst of doing that.   Could it be that he’s simply hungry?

Not only is he not a ghost, he bears the scars of the things that happened to him life, and still has the needs and necessities of life, even in a resurrection body.   He still gets hungry, and needs to eat, and can savor the flavors and scents and pleasures of food.

When you go through the snapshots, the photo album at home, what those pictures are meant to do is to trigger your memory, are they not?

Stories will flow out of them.

Stories that give meaning, or that call to mind the past, or that tap into the hopes for what you were thinking back then when that picture was taken, what that part of your life meant to you.

You couldn’t recall it now, after all that has happened to you, if you didn’t have that picture.

So also I think these post-resurrection “snapshots” are meant to make the disciples and us as readers; recollect and remember the stories of Jesus during the time of his ministry.

For instance, you really can’t watch Jesus eat a piece of broiled fish without bringing to mind how you first met him, in that story of him walking along the Galilean shoreline.  How he called Peter, James and John to follow him, and how a fateful choice was made to lay down the nets and to go with him, learning from him.

You can’t watch him eat a piece of broiled fish without bringing to mind the Wedding Banquet at Cana, where in the midst of the eating and drinking the wine ran out and the need had to be addressed, and so Jesus gave the order for those jars to be filled and the water turned into wine.

You can’t watch Jesus eat a piece of broiled fish without bringing to mind his habit of eating with all kinds of people.   He would eat with sinners and tax collectors.  He would eat in the houses of Pharisees, some of whom invited him, and some like Zacchaeus whom he invited himself into.   He ate with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and reclined at table with the disciples, and had people come in and anoint his feet while he ate.

A written snapshot of him eating a piece of broiled fish brings all this to mind.

Maybe Jesus is just hungry.

Or, maybe the eating of the piece of fish is for our benefit as it brings to mind all those times and events when breaking bread and eating were the hallmarks and the promise of where we would find him popping up still in our midst.

Is this what he means when he says, “you are witnesses of these things” as much as anything else?

It’s just piece of broiled fish, but it conjures up all kinds of memories and images and scripture passages and teachings.

Two thousand years later we are still going through the snapshots aren’t we?  We are still looking at these stories trying to figure them out, and figure out what they mean for us.

And like all exercises of going through the photo albums, sometimes you stare blankly at a picture, not able to call to mind anything at all.

“Where was this taken?”

“What were we doing?”

“Who is that in the picture next to you?”

Other times we will stumble back upon to that very same picture again but this time because of where life has taken us, or circumstances; things are right to trigger the memory, and what was once a puzzle to us is suddenly very clear and filled with meaning.

“That’s your uncle Henry, and I remember…..

“I can still hear his voice….

“He used to….”

“He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”  Luke says of Jesus in this snapshot today, and I kind of think that this is the way it works.

We read these stories of Jesus, and sometimes we connect the dots.

Or, we look at the scripture passage that once didn’t do much for us, but now that we look at it again, from this angle, this perspective in life, it is opened up for us, and we see Jesus there, popping up in our midst as it were, alive again.

We hear what he has to say… to us!

We see what his actions mean… for us!

We understand what following him now will mean… for us!

That’s what snapshots do.   They give us access to those no longer with us in the flesh, and they make those whom we cannot see any more suddenly very much alive again.

Two thousand  years later we are still going over the snapshots, to see what we can recognized, and to see in them what those first disciples saw who passed them down to us.  Assurance of a Risen Lord and Savior who was concerned with the things of this world, and who didn’t mind popping in to confer peace, and who though startling and disturbing at times, was still true to his essential nature, friend who ate with those who would have him.

It is just a piece of broiled fish, a snapshot of a risen Lord and Savior, who has something to say to you.

“Missed Opportunities” John 20:19-31

I won’t call him a doubter this year. I won’t even try to understand his motivations, or why he wasn’t with the rest of the disciples or speculate on what he might have been doing while they cowered behind locked doors.
No, this year Thomas gets a break, because if you think about it, all he is really asking for is what everyone else in the room already had, which was an opportunity to experience the Risen Christ.
It’s not the case that Thomas is filled with a variety of vague doubts about Jesus. He isn’t expressing any disbelief in Jesus’ teachings. He simply hasn’t experienced what everyone else has. It is that experience of Jesus making his way into the midst of the disciples despite locked doors that allows the rest of those disciples to declare their very personal proclamation, “We have seen the Lord!”
It’s not that Thomas doesn’t want to join them in their excitement. There is probably nothing that would have made Thomas more happy than to join with his friends in their enthusiasm, but he just can’t.  He just has’t had their experience.
That is what prompts his statements. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
I think we hear Thomas’ words with a kind of defiant tone. “Unless I see…” Almost a demand of sorts.
But, what if the tone is not stubborn defiance, but rather more one of an acknowledgement of a missed opportunity.
“Listen, I really want to believe like you guys do, but I just haven’t had the same experience that you’ve had.”
Thomas was not there when Jesus breathed the Spirit out upon the others. He has not had their experience, so how is he supposed to have their ability to grasp what has happened?
This year I’m willing to cut Thomas a break, and this is why. He makes me think about this matter of experience when it comes to faith. All the “missed opportunities” out there that I sometimes get frustrated about, and I’ll bet you do too!
When I think about it, I realized that much of the reason I am where I am in my faith life is because of my experiences.
I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s when church attendance was enjoying its al- time high in the United States because of social pressures and post WWII optimism. Sure, there were some difficult days and the country was shifting, but by and large my experience of the church was positive.
There were excellent youth events that hooked me in to faith.
I had supportive parents, and an extended family that conveyed to me a sense of church as being extended family and something worthy of one’s support.
In my rural community, it was the “glue” that held things together in terms of that community. It’s where you went on Sunday because there weren’t a lot of other options, and where you had your social connections, and where you checked up on one another.
You sometimes hear us pitch and moan about one thing or the other in the church these days; a lower attendance, not as many kids, no big youth group like we “used to have.”
Not as much money to do things we “used to do.”
Pretty soon we haul out the “why I remember when…” phrase and hearken back to the good old days, usually wondering how to get them back again, and more often than not our desires will go to the model of our own experiences.
We should have a youth group like we used to.
We should have a couples club, or women’s circles, or church picnics, or …
We go looking to try to recapture an experience that was without a doubt powerful and meaningful, and that really did form us in so many ways into the person of faith we are today.
But underneath all of that hankering for the experience of how it “used to be” is also this subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, air of judgment about today.
“If only people were more like we were…..”
And that’s when the plight of poor old Thomas comes more clearly into focus. He feels that expectation, does he not? Everyone else in the room got to see Jesus, and I didn’t, and so I REALLY NEED this before I can believe like them.
Thomas has made his assessment. The only way I am ever going to believe like you guys do is if I can have the same kind of experience that you had!
So, “unless I see the mark of the nails…..” he says.
But think for a moment the burden that places on Thomas. Is there really no other way to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit than to have Jesus come back and do the same thing all over again?  I keep waiting for one of those huddled disciples to get up and say, “Wait a minute, Thomas. Didn’t Jesus just say, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you!   Didn’t Jesus just give us the Holy Spirit to pass on to others and tell us what to do?  Come here Thomas, let us breathe on you, and let us lay our hands on you, (just the way he showed us) and let us pray with you, giving you peace, and giving you the gift of forgiveness, and then let’s blow this pop stand together and get on with that redeeming work of doing that to the whole waiting world! What are we waiting for?”
But sadly, no one makes that connection.
So, Thomas has to wait a full week.

And, a week later here they all are, right back exactly where they were a week ago, only this time Thomas is there. Jesus does appear again.

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you…” Jesus had indeed said a week ago, but evidently no one understood what he was talking about, and so Jesus has to go over the same ground again because someone wasn’t there? So here we go Thomas, “put your finger here, and see my side….”
But I ask you, just how is the Kingdom supposed to advance, when everyone has to have the exact same experience before the message can go any further?
Jesus seems to ask the same question. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe!” he says.
So you see, I’m cutting Thomas some slack this year, because really all he wants is what all the other ones got, that experience of the Risen Lord conferring peace and purpose to him.  It just never occurs to anyone gathered there that they already had the power and the ability to give Thomas what he felt he lacked, and what he really needed.  They had to power to circle around him and say, “Peace be with you, as the Father has sent Jesus, so the Father has sent us, receive now the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Those disciples behind the locked door, they had the power to give Thomas what he needed, his “missed opportunity.”
Those disciples behind the locked door also missed their opportunity to launch into the work of the Kingdom, because they too were waiting for Jesus to do it, to give everyone the same experience.
But, everyone needing the same experience isn’t very practical, is it?
And yet, that often becomes the default for the church, and so we become better at trying to replicate yesterday than dreaming forward into tomorrow.
Or worse yet, we demand a series of “experiences” before we turn people loose to do ministry, and we watch otherwise enthusiastic people wither on the vine because of the bureaucracy put in place that oppresses and hinders the Spirit.
Or, worst of all, we become so fixated on making sure everyone has the same experience that we miss opportunities of God doing new things in our midst, simply because it does not look at all like the old thing.
God is wont to do that, you know, new things that we don’t always understand right away. God did that in Jesus to begin with!
What if those disciples instead of accepting Thomas’ demand for the same experience had cut him some slack?  You don’t need to see Jesus like we did, here let us deliver what we have received from him to you. Receive the Holy Spirit!
In the end, Thomas never does put his finger in the holes or the hand in the side. Seeing, as it turns out, is not believing.
It is rather the experience of a Lord who comes to meet him that ends up being important, and that’s something that those disciples behind the locked door could have given Thomas at any time. They could have done that by throwing the bolt open and saying “you don’t have to have the same experience we had, you just have to believe that this kind of thing can happen.”
The Risen Lord can come through locked doors.
The Risen Lord can meet you out there, where you were a week ago, doing whatever it was you were doing.
Oh, the Risen Lord will backtrack if he must, you are so precious to him that if you really need to have the experience we had before you can move on, evidently he will provide it.
But now the Risen Lord is more likely to be met if we get out of here and go about the business of going out into the world.  That’s where Jesus has sent us, where the Spirit drives us.
I’m cutting Thomas some slack, but I’m not cutting much slack for myself, or for any of you.  We have all been sent.
We have been sent, so enough of me sitting behind my desk and waiting for people to come in, enough with waiting for people to show up on their own on Sunday morning and then wringing hands if they aren’t here, or trying to recapture the past.
The past is gone.
Jesus is in the business of sending his disciple out into the world that they might speak of him there.
More than that, Jesus taught with and eye to the promise that it would be in the world that you would see God at work if you had the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
If you want to see the Risen Lord, look for what God may be up to in the most unlikely of places, for that is where you will more likely find him than in the dusty events of the past.
You, who were baptized and sent, come along and join me. Let’s get to it!
You want to see the Risen Lord? Get out of here, and go into the world. That’s where he promised to meet you.

“What Does It Mean?” John 20:1-18

“What does it mean?”  That’s the question that kept popping up in my mind as I read the Resurrection account from John’s Gospel this year.   I swear, the resurrection stories of Jesus get weirder looking to me every year that I do this Pastor thing.

You’d think that one would get tired of them, or have them all figured out, or at least have mined them for all that can be found in them after 30 years, but no, they just keep opening up new questions.

Mary makes her way to the tomb while it is still dark.  Just what does that mean?   What prompts a person to make their way to a graveyard in the darkness?  Was she hoping to go there unnoticed?   Are there shades of the Nicodemus story in this event, making your way to Jesus under cover of night?

In Matthew, Mark and Luke the women come early in the morning hoping to finish the embalming process that was cut short by the preparation for Passover.  But that’s not John’s timeframe or description.  The body was reclaimed by Joseph of Arimethea before the festival begins, and no less than Nicodemus the Pharisee himself comes to help him, and he brings 100 lbs of spices to wrap with the body.

Mary has nothing in her hands at the tomb this day.  What does it mean that she comes to the tomb in the lingering darkness with empty hands?   Just what is she looking for?

Mary sees that the stone has been moved, and this is her “What does it mean?” moment.  She doesn’t even look inside at this point, but runs to get Peter and John to tell them that something is amiss.

They both come running, but each are then confronted with their own “What does it mean?” moment.

John just peeks, and sees the linen cloth folded up.

Peter is bold enough to enter the tomb itself, and sees the napkin that covered Jesus’ face folded up and set aside separately.

John follows Peter into the tomb, to have a closer look, and we are told that they both believed!

But, we’re not sure just what it is that they believed at this moment.   The comment about believing is followed up with “for as yet they did not understand the scriptures, and that he must rise from the dead.”

What does it mean that the body is gone, and cloth folded neatly?  Did they believe, with Mary, that the body had simply been taken?   They both return home, nothing more to see here I guess, leaving poor Mary there weeping by herself.

Now she dares to peek inside the tomb, and when she does, she does not see what Peter and John saw.   No, it is not an empty tomb with folded clothes.   It is an occupied tomb with angels in white sitting where the body had been laid.   What does it mean that she sees what the men cannot?

I could go on parsing out the story and find a few more, of these “What does it mean?” moments, but by now you have the picture.

The Resurrection story is steeped in all of these “What does it mean” layers for the characters involved.  The more you look, the more you find; and the more you find, the more you wonder.

And not the least of which is the layer of wondering that includes us, as we look at this story again and again, trying to figure out just what the Resurrection of Jesus has to do with us.

This is perhaps the big, “What does it mean?”

I suspect that like the Resurrection account itself, the answer to that question will have layers to it, depending on the character reading it or hearing it.

This story may, for instance, mean something quite different this year if you have lost a loved one, or if death has come particularly close to you.

We think we know what that will feel like, look like, how we will react — but until it comes close you really don’t know.

When death comes near, you go searching.

You go searching for meaning.

You go searching for that loved one in memory, and in events, and in the clothes they used to wear and the places they used to go, the places you used to see them.

You go to the grave, because that is the one place left to mark some presence, if no more than writing on a stone with all of its finality.

And you weep.

We bring ourselves to this story, do we not?  Each time we hear it our life circumstances are just a little different.

For some of us it’s just another run to the tomb to have a look around.   Mom and dad drag us here, or grandma expects it, and so we come to church, duck in, see the clothes folded up where they always are, over the bread and wine, and think little or nothing of it.

Nothing has changed since last year.

It’s the same story, the same songs, the same egg bake downstairs, “Egg Foo Yuck” as my dad used to call it.

Ah, and there it is, right there in the middle of this story, this spark of memory, me bringing back a piece of the one no longer here, and I wonder what that means, that I still remember that comment of my father’s all these many years later.

Is that a resurrection?  Is that a bringing back to life for just a moment a piece of my life that gave meaning?

Is that like Peter and John this day, looking, trying to figure out some meaning in the events of stone rolled back, triggering some memory, what did he say?  Was there something about the scriptures, that he will rise again?

We bring ourselves to this story, where we are in life.  We weep with Mary, or we are perplexed like John and Peter.

Some see in lilies and linen, in banners and bravado, a vision as it were of the Angels.

“Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed!”

Easter carries for some deep meaning, in the thrill of the hymn or the gathering of the family or the power of the story.

For others, it is a lonely walk in the darkness, not quite sure what to make of the story, what a stone rolled away means?

You bring yourself to this story today, where you have been, what you have seen, where you are in life.

Whether you are tired from one too many chants at the Easter Vigil…

Or, well rested because for a change you didn’t have to work overtime…

Or, anxious because you left the ham in the oven and now you can’t remember if you turned the oven on or not,

Or, pensive because the preacher is droning on and the hymns are all too slow, or too fast, or not the ones you hoped would be sung, and you’re still mad about what so and so who is sitting right over there, did to you five years ago…

You bring yourself to this story, wherever you are, like Mary brings herself to the tomb in darkness.

You are looking for some meaning today, even if you don’t know exactly what kind of meaning you are after.

Maybe you expect me to make it all clear for you this year.   To preach the sermon that makes sense of the resurrection and hits the nail on the head and makes it all clear once and for all.  Finally, I understand, I get it, thanks Pastor.

I’m terribly sorry to disappoint you on that front, for this Pastor doesn’t have it figured it out either, and furthermore isn’t so sure that in the search for meaning any kind of resolution of your questions would really do.

No, when it comes to figuring out meaning, we are all pretty much on our own here as we intersect with this story.  It will be different for us each and every time!

Something new will pop out when we least expect it and hit us.

Something we thought we could depend upon will fall flat.

Something that we thought made sense at one particular juncture in our life will suddenly look, feel, and seem very different now that I bring my new reality to it.

We all come to this story with empty hands, just like Mary.

We all come looking for some meaning.

We all see something just a little bit different from each other, and yet, somehow we all experience something here.

This is resurrection, and that is its very nature.   It is experiential!

You can’t explain it.

You can’t describe it, really.

You know it when it hits you.

It comes when the name is called, or the memory is vivid, or the scripture clicks, or the vision is seen.

Resurrection!

Hope is restored, purpose is found, joy is felt, life is renewed, faith is upheld, trust is confirmed.

All of these things are resurrections, and while we look for them, long for them, they aren’t the kind of things that you can think yourself into.   They are the things that happen when your life intersects with a story that makes it simply take place.

You bring yourself to this story today, and what it does to you I cannot say.  The search for meaning is your own.

All I can say is that if you make your way here today, to hear this story, you must have also be hearing the voice of Jesus calling your name.  When you hear that, resurrection tends to have its way with you.  You tell me what it means to hear Jesus call your name today.