The blessings of Easter Sunday 2015...

NOTE:  Here are my thoughts and reflections from this morning's worship on Easter Sunday 2015. It was a sweet culmination to a full and beautiful Holy Week.  Now it is chill time for a few days - and then onward towards our sabbatical reflections cuz according to our countdown clock it is only 25 days, 610 hours and 36,649 minutes! (And check out these great pix by Gillian Jones in the Berkshire Eagle @ http://photos.berkshireeagle.com/2015/04/05/photos-easter-sunday-services-at-first-church-of-christ/#1)
Христос воскрес - Khristos voskres
I am so glad you have chosen to be a part of today’s Feast of the Resurrection. It is the heart and high point of our life together.  It is the essence of the Christian way in the world – an authentic celebration of spirit and flesh – that tells the whole world God’s YES is greater than all our NOs! Easter Sunday proclaims that the world can do whatever it wants – it can kill Jesus, it can ignore the truth, it can wound the innocent and pay homage to hatred instead of hope - and God is still going to raise Christ from the dead. 
And more than that, God is not going to run away from our brokenness and pain but plants Christ smack dab in the middle of our reality again and again and again.  That’s why Jesus isn’t in the tomb when the women arrive to take care of what they thought was in order. St. Mark’s gospel makes clear that Jesus has moved on beyond death because he’s got more love to share with the world.  One of my mentors in faith, the late Clarence Jordan, who was the founder of Koinonia Farms and the inspiration for Habitat for Humanity, used to talk about Easter like this:

The resurrection of Jesus was simply God’s unwillingness to take our NO for the final answer. God raised Jesus, you see, not as an invitation to us to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that now everything real is holy because God has established permanent, eternal residence on earth. The resurrection, you see, places Jesus firmly on THIS side of the grave – here and now – in the midst of life. He is not standing on the shore of eternity beckoning us to join him there.  He is standing right beside us now – in our pain and fear, in our joys and in our sorrows – strengthening us for this life… That is why we must say that on the morning of the resurrection, God put life in the present tense, not in the future. God gave us not a promise, but a presence: not so much the assurance that we shall live someday but that Christ is risen today!

So if Easter means anything it is that what God showed the world in Jesus is what God intends for you and me, too!  As they used to say, the proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is NOT the empty tomb, but the full hearts of transformed disciples – not the rolled away stone, but a carried away church – committed to sharing with the world all the love that Jesus made flesh on earth before the Cross.  But here’s the rub:

·     No matter how hard you try, you can’t THINK your way into the blessings of Easter. We’re talking about the presence of God’s grace in our lives – a living encounter with the Risen Lord – so let’s be clear:  Resurrection living is not the result of what you think.

·     Easter is neither an intellectual construct nor a philosophical principle you can grasp with your rational mind. It is an intimate encounter with the living Lord – the mystical presence of Christ within and among us. And truth be told, this creeps some people out – especially folk like you and me – middle class citizens with a measure of higher education. 

Our whole world and economy is built upon the premise that knowledge is power. “Cogito ergo sum” – I think therefore I am – as Rene Descartes said in 1637 giving shape and form to the Enlightenment.  Actually he said, “Je pense, donc je suis” because he was a Frenchman – which literally means “I am thinking, therefore I exist” – but you get my point. Our world, our lives and our families are built upon the foundation of higher education.

How many times have you heard it said:  Education is the ticket out of poverty?  In the brave, new world of the 21st century those with advanced degrees fare far better than those with less formal education.  One study in 2013 documented that adults with a traditional bachelor’s degree earn $22,000 more each year than those with just a high school diploma. On average college grads earn 63% more in hourly wages than their high school peers and are twice as likely not to face unemployment.  And let’s not even talk about those with advanced degrees.
Objectively speaking, the evidence is clear:  the better our education, the higher our standard of living.  “Cogito ergo sum” – I think therefore I am – I think there-fore I earn more – therefore I matter more – therefore I have more influence in a bottom line world of winners and losers.  We are saturated in these truths and they make a real difference, right?  But here’s the sacred irony: God’s ways are not our ways.

+  The prophet Isaiah tells us in chapter 55: my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

+  In the fifteenth chapter of John’s gospel Jesus says:  If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. But you do not belong to the world, I have chosen you out of the world… so be in the world but not of the world.

+  And St. Paul cuts to the chase in Romans 12: by the mercies of God, I appeal to you sisters and brothers to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

God’s ways, beloved, are not our ways – so Easter asks us to put aside all our education, striving and thinking and just let Jesus come to us with love. And that makes some of us – most of us – crazy.  I know – been there, done that – it breaks your mind. I once had a spiritual advisor tell me during an exasperating season of despair, “Lumsden, you are too damn smart for your own good. You actually believe that you can think your way into God’s grace.”

And he was right – I did believe that – it didn’t work, of course – I couldn’t think my way into a living encounter with God’s grace in the resurrection. But for the longest time I kept on trying.  That is the working definition of insanity, you know? Doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Fr. Richard Rohr put it like this:

If anything is universally true it is that most of us are so self-absorbed and addicted to our habitual patterns of thinking and understanding the world that unless we interrupt these thoughts with a healthy dose of alternative consciousness, we will always see the world in black and white terms. We will always think we have to earn God’s grace. Or think the right way before we can know God’s love. What’s more, we will always act like we’ve got it together because when you look at our lives – and our homes and our cars and our advanced degrees – things look good. We got there by thinking and hard work. So at some fundamental level we actually believe that we are morally superior to the rest of the slobs all around us.

·     Do you know what the theologians and spiritual masters call this? Original sin.  We truly think that our ways are better than God’s ways – that our ways will work even when they keep failing – that our insanity is better than God’s grace.

·     Our world teaches that “the one with the most willpower wins” – and it works – out there – but it doesn’t work in here.  In here, intimacy with the Lord is not found by addition, but by a process of subtraction.  In our hearts, we have to let go of stinkin’ thinkin’ so that there is space for grace.

And the best thing we can do to get ready for God’s love in our hearts is to find time every day – certainly at the least every week – to stop thinking. When we interrupt our addiction to insanity, we make space for grace.  And do you know what they call that time when we stop thinking in contemplative quiet?  P..pp…pppp...prayer!?! You know that word?

You can say it – prayer – or you can call it meditation, walking in the woods, art, dance, playing music or quiet time have all realized that without such an interruption we continue to believe that we can think our way out of our anger, fear and shame, when we can’t. Because we’re too damn smart for our own good, we have to interrupt our thinking to create space for grace.  Otherwise, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. If you always think what you’ve always thought, nothing changes.  And the longer we stay locked in our heads, the less capable we are of sharing healing, hope, forgiveness and peace with others because we haven’t experienced it first from the inside out.

That’s what the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning discovered: Jesus had departed the old ways so that he could share more love.  He didn’t care what the women thought or believed about the resurrection: he had more important things to do. So when Mary and Magdalene and Salome showed up thinking they were going to do what they had always done – anoint a dead body with spices – God confronted them with the enormity of grace and they fled in awe and amazement.

But let’s be clear: it was their experience that unlocked their hearts for a new way of living. They weren’t able to think in the old ways any more – they had just encountered a love greater than all their thoughts combined – and that love changes everything.  The more they trusted that love, the more space their hearts had for grace.

Awe and amazement seized the women at the tomb the Bible says – in time it transformed them, too – by love. They fled their old ways – gave up their old habits – let God’s grace transform them so that they no longer conformed to the ways of the world.  God wants to come to you with this love – God aches to come to you with this grace – so ask yourself: can I make a little space – a little quiet – a small interruption in my thinking to receive this gift?  If so, then what was true on the first Easter can be yours forever.  And that, dear people of God, is the good news for those who have ears to hear.  

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