Rev. Peter Faass
In his book Spirituals and the Blues, James Cone quotes an African-American spiritual titled “A Mother’s Pride.” One stanza reads:
Weep no more, Marta,
Weep no more, Mary,
Jesus rise from the dead,
The spiritual’s lyrics reference Jesus’ closest women friends, Mary and Martha, who would clearly have been distraught and weeping when Jesus died. The lyrics to the spiritual paraphrase the angels consoling good news proclaimed to other women followers of Jesus at the empty tomb that first Easter, “He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:5a)
They are words of comfort, compassion and hope to those who are profoundly bereaved by a loved one’s untimely death: “Weep no more, weep no more, the one whom you loved is alive. “
We might imagine Jesus singing those lyrics to Nain’s widow as he encounters her only son’s funeral procession. As the text tells us, “When [Jesus] saw [the widow], he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." In other words, Weep no more, dear widow, Weep no more . . . Your son will rise from the dead, Happy Morning!
Then “touch[ing] the bier . . . he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”
Textually, the healing of the widow’s son occurs immediately after the healing of the Roman Centurion’s sick slave in Luke’s Gospel (which we heard last week). The healing of the dead young man is an escalation of Jesus’ healing capabilities over the healing of the Centurion’s slave. This is not just a healing from an illness it is the resuscitation of a dead person.
In both instances, Jesus heals by simply speaking. Unlike the prophets before him who needed to physically heal an ill person, Jesus does not with the centurion’s slave or the widow’s son. Jesus has the power heal and resurrect, as the centurion states, by “only speaking the word.”
From these stories, we know Jesus’ words are powerful. The power evident in his healings continues to be present today. Jesus is omnipresent through the Holy Spirit and responsive to our needs. He is compassionate toward our sorrows, pains and losses, ready to heal and comfort as he tells us, “Weep no more.”
We live in a time of profound weeping, similar to the weeping heard after the slaughter of the innocents by Herod after the Magi refused to disclose the location of the infant Jesus. Enraged, Herod sends his soldiers to murder each male child in his realm under the age of two, to try and eradicate Jesus, a perceived threat to his throne.
After the innocents were slaughtered, “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18) These are the voices of the mothers of the brutally murdered.
Today, mothers weep and wail loud lamentations as their children are brutally murdered by our nation’s gun violence epidemic. Unlike the Holy Innocents, we know their names
The list goes on and on.
All of these dead are black people. While whites are impacted by gun violence, research by the Brookings Institute finds that 82% killed by guns in this nation are black. This gun violence has devastatingly impacted the African American community.
According to the Brookings report:
“Gun violence can have a series of serious snowball effects in education, health, incarceration, family instability, and social capital. To take one example, anxiety levels rise and cognitive functioning worsens among school children following a violent crime within half a mile of their home . . . Individuals who witness violence are also at increased risk for a variety of mental health issues, which can manifest as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, poor academic performance, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, delinquency, and violent behavior. And . . . these costs weigh largely on the shoulders of black Americans.
‘Gun violence is part of a vicious cycle of race and inequality in the U.S., reflecting existing social inequalities, and also making it even more challenging for young black people, especially young black men, to escape poverty and violence.”
These startling facts and figures are due in large part because much gun violence, especially against black Americans, is inextricably intertwined with the pernicious racism that infects this nation, especially in its white residents. Whether we actively support the NRA’s war on reasonable gun control, or we sit benignly watching the violence that engulfs this nation, we are complicit in gun violence. That is a reality, and one that those of us who are white must grapple with if we are ever to address the gun violence that infects our nation.
Today is Gun Violence Awareness Sunday. Clergy in many Christian churches are wearing orange stoles today to mark this theme. But it will take more than wearing orange to address this issue.
There is no easy road to address our racism and the gun violence that finds its genesis in it. It’s hard work. The road to healing will require patience, listening to very hard and painful truths, laying aside other interests to work for justice, and most of all, forgiveness.
I have recently read two profoundly moving and well-researched books on racism and gun violence in the United States. One is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and the other is Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Kelly Brown Douglas. I commend both books to you so that the hard work of healing can begin in you, and compel you to action, as I believe they have in me.
In Stand Your Ground, Kelly Brown Douglas writes that after the shooting of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, wrote a letter to Michael’s parents. In it she said: “We will bond (as parents of slain children) we will continue our fight for justice and make them remember our children in an appropriate light.”
The great power of Jesus’ words to heal are embedded in Sybrina’s letter. Hers is the call we remember on this gun violence awareness Sunday. All of us are called to fight together for the justice of all our children, the slain and the living.
Ultimately, it is the power of the ever-present, healing, life-giving word of Jesus that will sustain us in this call. His voice will heal the brokenness we all experience around the issues of racism and gun violence. One day, through the compassion and love of Jesus, our weeping will cease. We will all be raised from the destruction and death of gun violence, as we hear him say, “Happy Morning!”
Rev. Peter Faass
Last Sunday, the Daughters of the King hosted their annual book study and luncheon. We discussed our new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s recent book, “Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus.”
Curry opens his book citing the story in Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus performs his first miracle by healing a man with a withered hand. Jesus does this on the Sabbath, inciting the religious authority’s wrath (who see Jesus’ act as violation of the faith’s rules and regulations). Jesus’ popularity swells after this miracle, whose crowds alarm the authorities. Mark says, “When [Jesus’] family heard of it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind’” (Mark 3:21).
In offering compassion to someone in need – despite the law prohibiting him to do so because it was the Sabbath – Jesus earns the reputation as a crazy person. It is an early indicator of just what an unlikely Messiah Jesus would be.
Curry writes, “So, forgive me for saying it this way, but Jesus was, and is, crazy! And for those of us to follow him, those who would be his disciples, those who would live as and be the people of the Way, are called to be exactly that - crazy. If you asked me what the Church needs today, I would say this: we need some crazy Christians . . . crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God – like Jesus.”
In today’s story by Luke, the unlikely Messiah encounters an unlikely disciple in a Roman Centurion, who asks Jesus to heal his slave. We know the centurion is an unlikely disciple for a number of reasons:
Don’t forget the Jews, like all those conquered by Rome, suffered under the brutal yoke of Roman control. The Pax Romana was achieved by the Roman legions’ brute force, not through kindness and compassion. Those who lived under Rome’s rule universally despised Rome, so there was no love lost between the Jews and the Romans.
The centurion was different. The Gentile Roman world would have seen the centurion’s compassionate behaviors toward his slave and the conquered Jewish people as being crazy, just as the Jewish world saw Jesus as being crazy for how he embraced the world’s marginalized, unclean and disdained.
Jesus was an unlikely Messiah. Instead of being a zealous, politicized and military leader who relied on violence to achieve his goals, he taught the principles of justice, mercy and loving your neighbor as yourself. The centurion was an unlikely disciple because no one expected a Roman Gentile military leader to embrace and live that life of Jesus in their lives. They were both crazy!
Many people today view Christians through the same lens conquered peoples viewed Rome 2,000 years ago. Feared and disdained, we are seen as being a part of an institution that harms people.
Truthfully, there isn’t a shortage of “Christians” whose behaviors reinforce this belief. While many so-called Christians may preach a loving, all embracing Savior, they don’t seem to emulate one. People, including us at Christ Church, don’t experience that in the abstract either. Daily, hideous things are done and said in the name of Christianity.
Two weeks ago our administrator, Karen Rockwell, discovered two prayer petitions in our alms bowl with some less-than-Christian words written on them. One said, “Stop letting fags attend church. Haters of Christ.” And the second read, “It’s wicked what you do! You don’t know the God of the Bible and if you don’t repent your church will be burning in hell.”
You might imagine my shock when I read those petitions. It felt like a personal attack on me and this parish. My shock soon turned into sadness, then my sadness turned into compassion. It would be easy for me to write off such people as cranks, ignorant or misguided. The truth is, people who are filled with such virulent hatred need love, because Jesus spread out his loving arms on the cross to heal them no less than he did for you and me.
People who hold these beliefs and believe they are actually of God desperately need the unlikely Messiah in their lives. They need to hear the message of the crazy Jesus. And who will they hear it from, if not us? We need to hear Bishop Curry’s call and become crazy Christians.
We need to proclaim Jesus’ crazy message to those people who believe that we adhere to such a virulent expression of Christianity like those who wrote those petitions as well. They too need to hear from crazy Christians.
Both groups need to know that the truth of the Gospel is that God calls us to love our LGBT neighbor, our Muslim neighbor, our immigrant neighbor, our Asian neighbor, our non-believer neighbor, our “whomever-we-think-is-different-and-‘less-than-us’” neighbor. By word and deed, our crazy Jesus calls us to follow the new commandment to love one another just as he loved us. For much of the world, that’s just plan crazy! However, in order to show the world how to become the human family of God, we need to present to a world that defines us by those who wrote those hateful petitions, some crazy and unlikely disciples. In order to heal the world, we need to witness to those who wrote those hateful petitions that the god they believe in is not the God of Jesus.
Both groups will think we’re crazy, but that’s okay.
Only in our craziness will we begin to authentically follow Jesus and change the world from the nightmare it often is, to the dream God intends. Ultimately, that’s what Jesus calls us to do: to follow him.
So . . . call me crazy. How about you?
Rev. Peter Faass
On the first Easter morning, a number of Jesus’ devoted female followers went to his tomb to properly prepare his body for burial. When they arrived, they were perplexed when they found it empty. Two men in dazzling clothes (whom we assume are angels) appeared and said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen.”
The women rushed back to Jerusalem and told the apostles this astonishing news. According to Luke, when they relayed the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the apostles, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
Imagine the apostles sitting around the living room watching the basketball finals on a widescreen TV. The women rush in, breathless, and relay the events of the empty tomb and the angels. The apostles, barely paying attention, say, “Yeah, yeah, right. Say, while you’re up, would you mind grabbing another cold one from the fridge for me?”
An idle tale. The tomb is empty but the apostles do not believe the women’s report. How then would they believe the resurrection?
How many people throughout the centuries have considered the story Jesus’ resurrection an “idle tale?” How many of us do? How can we ever receive the gift of new life God offers us if we see the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection as:
If we’re too wise, too rational, too scientific, too savvy, too sophisticated and too enlightened to believe in the resurrection as anything more than an idle tale, how are we can going to truly live the new life that God gave us in that first Easter?
United Church of Christ minister and theologian Walter Bruggemann writes, “The force of the Easter drama cannot be accommodated to Enlightenment rationality. No use in even trying to make such an accommodation.”
He’s right, of course. It’s pointless to try and explain the empty tomb rationally as proof of the resurrection. It’s not persuasive evidence. After all, Jesus’ companions didn’t believe the empty tomb was evidence of his rising all that persuasive either, and they – unlike us - were not victims of the Enlightenment.
If we focus on the empty tomb, we’re focusing on the wrong place for evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. The two angels, perplexed on the women’s focus on the tomb, infer this when they tell the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?... He is not here, but has risen.”
The tomb is a place for the dead, not the living. To dwell there is to become dead yourself, or at least one of the living dead – a zombie – but nonetheless dead to receiving the gift of real life, which is the Resurrection’s ultimate gift. To believe in the resurrection, you need to get out of the tomb. The empty tomb alone never leads to Easter faith.
If the empty tomb doesn’t lead us to believe, what exactly does lead to Easter faith? Scripture is clear: Easter faith comes through personal encounters with the Risen Jesus.
“The Road to Emmaus” follows today’s encounter between the women and the angels. In this story about the first Easter, two of Jesus’ disciples talked about recent events as they walked toward the village of Emmaus. Jesus approached them and asked what they were discussing. Unable to recognize him, the disciples told Jesus about the events that recently occurred in Jerusalem.
As they walked, Jesus interpreted all the events of his passion, death and resurrection. When the group arrived at a village, the disciples invited Jesus to eat supper with them. As Jesus blessed the bread, the disciples suddenly recognized their rabbi:
“They said to each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?'” (Luke 24:32) They were so excited that they leaped from the table and ran back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples about their encounter with the Risen Savior. This personal encounter with Jesus convinces the disciples he is alive.
All four Gospels report personal encounters that provide evidence of the resurrection:
The resurrection is made real when we meet people who embody the loving ways of Jesus. It occurs when we are those people who embody his ways. When we preach good news to the poor, welcome the outcast, offer kindness to the lonely, embrace the marginalized and forgive the penitent, we proclaim, “He is risen!”
By raising Jesus from the dead, God is responding to his son’s hideous death and the powers that caused it. God’s vindication of Jesus is the resurrection. God validates Jesus’ preaching the fundamental qualities of His reign to all those outside the margins of society. By raising Jesus, God denies the power of those behaviors, attitudes and beliefs in the world that create broken people… that divide and separate us… that establish one group of people as being better than another. God’s response of resurrection to those who killed Jesus for proclaiming the message of God’s reign is no less profound for us today.
Let’s consider this concept in current events. The resurrection is the ultimate power that leads us to reject those hateful behaviors and beliefs embodied in the vitriolic political climate we are experiencing in government and the presidential campaign.
Ask yourself this:
How are we going to encounter the risen Christ if we:
How will we proclaim the risen Christ and the salvation he brings the world, when we live in such fear, bigotry and hatred? How will we proclaim the risen Christ if we don’t live with compassion, dignity and love?
Some people may think that kindness, compassion, respect for others, dignity and love are – like the empty tomb – not very convincing evidence of the risen Christ. I would argue the exact opposite. Look at the decline in civil discourse in our society. Look at the deplorable tenor in politics! Read the anonymous comments to articles posted on Cleveland.com. You only have to look at Syria, Brussels, Istanbul, Ferguson, the Ivory Coast, Hough and North Carolina. To say that there is a dearth – if not downright absence – of kindness, compassion, respect for others, dignity and love is to engage in gross understatement. These foundational qualities of God’s reign that Jesus proclaims are so disparaged by so many people, that when we do encounter them, it is nothing less than miraculous! Like the biblical encounters with Jesus, when we encounter these qualities, they are proof positive that Christ is risen.
Welcoming the stranger, loving the outcast, healing the broken and loving the unlovable all attest to the truth that God’s power for life is on the loose among us. They are proof that Jesus lives. When we encounter them in others and embody them ourselves, they get us out of the empty tombs, those places of death, and they give us life. Life like we never imagined. Life that is eternal.
Luke 24:1 - 12
Dr. Carol S. Franklin
Dr. Carol Franklin is a retired higher education professional and is a member of Christ Church.
Tonight, we gather to hear the story God’s people as we stand in the shadow of the tomb. In the beginning was God, the father and mother of us all, the wisdom-giver and God the Son and Savior. On this night, the story of God’s people comes full circle as God’s divine power turns the world upside down. After the fear, disbelief and confusion over the crucifixion, the Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of James (“the Marys”), discover an empty tomb at dawn the next morning. We, like the Marys, find an impossible, improbable and joyful truth – there is life in the face of death. Tonight, we join them to proclaim that the story did not end at the tomb. For as this night dawns into a new day, we proclaim:
“He is risen! Alleluia! He is risen!”
Is the proclamation that “Out of death there is life” simply a glorious end, or is it just the beginning of a new journey for God’s people?
I believe there is much more to the story and the journey beyond the empty tomb. As I look around, it seems as if the world is stuck in that tomb, buried in the darkness by fear and hopelessness. And the question is why… why do we continue to look for the Son of God in that tomb, among the dead?
Too frequently, we fear what we cannot see, touch, taste or understand. We believe we have been forgotten, marginalized and ignored while others have been lifted up. We see this fear manifested among our sisters and brothers whose religious traditions spring from the same root. We see it in the fear of “the other,” of those whom we believe live differently, love differently and are just not like us. Out of that fear, some set fires seeking to destroy our dwelling places and our peace of mind, while others talk of monitoring neighborhoods, building walls and closing doors.
We get stuck in belief that there is only so much space, time or resources to share. Focused on our own self-interests and needs, we are threatened rather than lifted up by Christ’s message of love. So we wait in darkness, longing for the light, afraid that love is not broad enough or deep enough to shelter us all. We have either forgotten or are just too afraid to believe that God has enough love, compassion and grace to encompass and save us all. Tonight, we learn something new, that we do not need to be afraid – because Jesus, the light of God, goes before us.
Tonight, we know that death is not the end. Christ’s resurrection has shattered the darkness and opens the way to new life. The belief that he lives uplifts me even in these challenging and anxious times. Although I don’t know what comes next, I do know that God is among us. How many of us have stories about those times, and how God’s love and grace put us back together again?
The miracle of this night comes in the midst of a family crisis; when we are lost in our own need; or feel we just cannot go on in that moment. In these moments, God sees us and fully knows us. He knows our gifts, failures and sins. He also knows our life’s promise. God knows and loves us still, carrying us into that new day. On this night, we learn that God will give all and will