“Easter Sunday” – an Easter Sunday message, Year B, April 1, 2018

“Easter Sunday”

Easter Sunday, Year B, April 1, 2018

Acts 10:34-43      Mark 16:1-8

First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho

Pastor Andy Kennaly

          The Gospel of Mark actually has three endings and we just read the original ending in which the women are told that the Jesus they are looking for in the tomb has been raised and will meet them all in Galilee.  The young man in a white robe commands them to go and tell the disciples and Peter, and yet the women go out and flee in terror and amazement and they say nothing to anyone!  They are afraid!  That’s the original ending of Mark’s Gospel!

After I read it, I sat down, and for a full minute refrained from preaching.  This awkward silence was a small attempt to introduce disorientation and dissatisfaction, to highlight Mark’s literary technique, mentioning the women are told to go and share, but instead they are caught in fear and say nothing.  The Gospel’s literary technique invites discomfort and an unsettling feeling that something isn’t right, something is missing  – you can’t end like that; something must change to fill in the gap.

That’s exactly what Mark is hoping; that the readers will be so disgusted that they will do just the opposite: they will go and proclaim that Christ is Risen!  They will face the fears and find ways to push through them.  Mark is putting hope in the readers that they will heed the message of the empty tomb.  But are we ready for that?  Are we worthy of that kind of hope placed on us?

Well folks, of the 91 Active Members on the church Roll, I have discovered that at least one lives their life Beyond Hope.  The other day I drove to visit this church member and out on the Hope Peninsula there is a sign that says you are entering “Beyond Hope, a Resort Community.”  I was also “Beyond Hope” at that point, but we had a great visit!

On the drive back to Sandpoint, I had the radio on, listening to a report that focused on the labor strikes of sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee back in the 1960’s.  They were interviewing these older men, along with current garbage workers who still struggle with racism, poverty, and the lack of social justice.

Hearing the stories of how these people were considered less than human because they spent their day jumping on and off the back of garbage trucks, lifting heavy loads of trash as they dump the containers, oftentimes having that garbage spill onto their clothing and make them smell filthy.  Riding on the bus back to their homes at the end of a long day, people would sit far away from them and stare in disgust.

As they worked, if it rained, they had no shelter, so when two workers tried to escape a southern downpour by ducking into the back of a truck, yet the compactor was activated at the wrong time, it killed them both.  People finally said, “Enough!”, not only to the unfair and unjust working conditions, but also to the stigma of being considered less than a man, less than human, and to the social condition that broke America’s promise that if you worked hard you would be successful, because they worked hard and yet still could only get so far, suffering poverty and rejection.

Because the city of Memphis denied their requests for change, people began to march, including many clergy, calling for dignity, respect, and fair treatment for all God’s children.  They took to the streets in an organized labor strike that was part of the larger Civil Rights Movement.  These are some of the marches the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. participated in.

One of the first marches was proceeding as planned until a group of young marchers peeled off the main group and started throwing bricks through storefront windows, and using sticks to smash things.  The police swarmed in, with tear gas and Billy clubs, hundreds of people arrested, and one 16 year old young man was killed.  The next day, armored tanks arrived with thousands of National Guard troops.  It was some time later that Dr. King returned to Memphis for another attempt at a peaceful protest, to show the power of non-violent resistance, and that is the visit in which he was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel.

Driving in from Beyond Hope back into Sandpoint, enjoying some of the most picturesque scenery in the world, I listened to these stories of men sharing their experiences of struggle, facing their fears, and coming together to bring about change.  It was a story based on actions from decades ago, in a whole different part of our country, yet closer than we may think.

As I came driving into Sandpoint’s city limits I had to stop at the first traffic light and as I listened to the last part of this report I noticed a large, white pick-up truck coming from the other direction.  It was jacked up with big tires and tinted windows; a pretty new, expensive looking, customized truck.  As they drove through town they had a full sized flag mounted in the bed of that truck, waving in the back.  It was a large flag of the Confederacy.

I was struck by the irony of that moment, and must confess that my initial, gut reaction involved anger, wanting to use hand gestures to express my disgust.  “Really?  A Confederate Flag?  Full size?  Are you serious?”     But I actually got scared from the thought of using hand gestures.  What if they remembered my truck and later on retaliated by breaking the windows or slashing my tires?  I wouldn’t want that, and my anger began mixing with fear.

My next response as I sat at that red light was to pull out my cell phone and take a picture to send my brother who lives back east.  He knows about that part of Idaho’s reputation.  I actually grabbed my phone and fumbled to get the camera open, but then the light changed, and the way the traffic flowed, I needed to put my cell phone down, so that didn’t work.  At the light, I turned onto that side road, the Confederate flag pick up truck headed out the highway, picking up speed, waving all the more.  Let that be a metaphor! “As I turned onto a side road to find my home, that pick-up truck and flag headed down the main road, gaining speed.”

In an online webinar this winter, James Finley talks about God’s love shown through the cross, and how even Jesus experiences feelings of being forsaken by God, and yet it is in this very poverty of spirit that faith displays its greatest strength, because in the cross there is nothing other than God’s love remaining.  He says, “The infinite poverty of God transforms the whole world endlessly to this day.  So what is the cross?  See, Jesus says, “Follow me.”  The cross is the crucifixion of our dreaded and cherished illusions that anything less or other than infinite love has the authority to name who we are.  That’s the cross.  And so we suffer as soon as we try and find a toe hold on something less than the infinity of that as the base of our operation.  And we do that over and over.  Life’s a learning curve.”

“The cross is the crucifixion of our dreaded and cherished illusions that anything less or other than infinite love has the authority to name who we are.”

What is Easter?  A day for chocolate and eggs and lilies?  Aphrodite is the name of an ancient Greek fertility god, which is where we get our word, “Aphrodisiac.”  Worshiping this god in ancient temples adorned with statues is the root of Easter eggs and spring fertility celebrations.  But since it’s not spring time all over the world, Easter must be something more than fertility.  What is Easter?  The Bible will tell us, yet every one of the Gospels has a different version of the Resurrection story. Who went to the tomb, how many, what happened when they got there, was it was light out or still dark, is there one person dressed in white or two, how did people response, who came back to look again, was Jesus himself present, or did he wait until later on to appear; all these details are different depending on which version you read.  Even Mark has three versions in one book, an original ending as we read today, and two other attempts which introduce doctrinal twists from people not settled on that first ending.  One common thread between all these versions of the Easter event is how they all, in their own way, point toward God’s infinite love as the only source of our true identity.  Amazing love, confronting our fears, leading us by faith, all reminding us that God’s infinite love changes everything, including our own hearts and minds, our own understandings, our illusions.  The Gospels call us to snap out of our typical patterns and assumptions, so we can live lives of awareness and anticipation, even as the Spirit leads us through that mix of fear and amazement through the many ways God continues to be revealed through the Living Christ.

Like Mark is hoping, may we go and proclaim that Christ is Risen!  May we face our fears and find ways to push through them.  May we claim the very hope that is put on us as people called to transform Good News from something we read about into who we are as we live lives called by God to embody hope, love, and peace.  This involves honest struggle, but because Christ is Risen, God is glorified, now, even as forever.  Amen!

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“Incarnation” a Message for Christmas Eve 2017

“Incarnation”

Christmas Eve 5:30 PM, Year B, December 24, 2017

Isaiah 9:2-7          Psalm 96    Titus 2:11-14       Luke 2:1-20

First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho

Pastor Andy Kennaly

          The Gospel of Mark begins in chapter one with the Baptism of Jesus.  Mark’s Gospel doesn’t even mention the birth of Jesus in any form of the Christmas story.  John’s Gospel is similar, but it begins with the prologue, a sort of cosmic sounding poetry talking about creation coming to being through Christ, the Word of God, then we read about Jesus being Baptized, but again no birth narrative.  Matthew’s Gospel starts with a genealogy, then talks about Joseph on the verge of dismissing Mary, but an angel comes in a dream and tells him not to do this, but to name the child, Jesus, which he did.  Then it picks up in chapter two with the wise visitors from the east, their conversation with King Herod, another angel or two, this time with warnings, and the family flees to Egypt while the other families in Bethlehem don’t fare so well.     Luke’s Gospel is the most descriptive for what we might call a “classic Christmas story.”  The mention of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the angel, Gabriel greeting young Mary, and the birth stories of both the young Prophet, John, and the Lord, Jesus.  There are shepherds, angel armies, the manger, and then before you know it Jesus is eight days old getting presented in the Temple in Jerusalem and as chapter two finishes Jesus is twelve years old and continues to grow in wisdom and stature.  That’s about it.  No mention of wise men, no genealogy, no mention of Herod’s tirades.

For the early church the birth of Jesus was really no big deal.  Easter was the big deal, the resurrection and celebrating the Lord’s Day was the focus of worship.  It took about 1,000 years for Christmas to get noticed in Western Christianity.  Francis of Assisi through a small movement on the edge of the Roman Catholic Church was one of the first to put direct emphasis on why the birth of Jesus is so important for the world.  St. Francis, the one who made the first creche scenes or manger scenes, recognized that the church up to that point had focused mainly on a condemning God judging the world and sinners offered salvation through the cross.  But Francis had experienced war, and had been a tortured prisoner of war.  For him, a church also engaging in the Crusades and other wars, just didn’t match up with his transformative experience of God as love, and God’s saving presence as act of love, especially reaching out to the poor and the marginalized.  No wonder it’s in Luke, because that is who Luke’s Gospel tries to include through the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry.

For St. Francis in the twelfth century, something was missing in the larger theology or teachings of Christianity.  The birth of the Prince of Peace, the Incarnation of God, Christ becoming flesh in creation, helps fill this void, and Francis declared a revolutionary message: that the birth of God in the flesh in Jesus is the point at which we as humans realize that God is on our side.  Salvation comes in the birth of Jesus just as much as we claim it comes through his death.  Christ in the flesh helps us declare that it’s good to be human, and we are blessed to experience life.  If human form is worthy of God’s Presence, then we are honored as those created in God’s image.  But this spiritual development took over 1,100 years, and actually it is still taking place as Christianity continues to Reform, Awaken, and Emerge.

God is so patient, and if anything echoes through the ages, it is the message of what a difference it makes when the Presence of the living God is recognized.  God is there all along, but to face God, to turn to God and awaken to this Presence; this is transformative.  For St. Francis it took a war and deep suffering to get his attention.  For Joseph, angels came in dreams.

What is it for you?  What is your spiritual discipline that helps enlighten your life?  How are you being called by God to make room for the birth of Christ?  What is God’s love doing in your heart?

Christmas is a special time of year.  Love and community, peace and joy, giving and receiving of gifts; all this tells us that something is happening that is worth paying attention to.  The stirring of our heart, the quieting of our mind, the yearning of our soul; these are part of the human experience as spiritual beings.  The light of God shines in all things, and all things are in God, and at Christmas we are reminded of daily miracles that so often get overlooked or ignored.

As we gather around word and song, and as the candles lights are passed, may the blessing of Christmas fill your heart.  The Incarnation of Christ, the unity of God’s holiness on earth, the gift of Jesus who shows us the way to live into this unity without fear; this is what we celebrate every time we say, Merry Christmas!  Merry Christmas to you, and may God be glorified, now and forever.  Amen.