First Lesson: Acts 10:34-43
Children’s story: Luke 24:13-35
Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016
We’ve talked about this before, I think: How much would it cost, do you suppose, to feed thirteen homeless, unemployed men for one day? If you figure four dollars for breakfast each day and five dollars for lunch and seven dollars for supper it adds up to about $16 per day, times thirteen is over $200 per day to feed thirteen unemployed, homeless men. And over a three year period of time that’s well over $200,000. To feed Jesus and his twelve male disciples for three years. Then add in money for new sandals to replace the ones they wore out walking all up and down the country side and money to give to all the people they met begging in the streets. And blankets when they slept out at night in open fields even in a warm climate. Now granted they often were invited into other peoples’ homes to eat and sometimes even to sleep. But we’re talking a hefty amount of money here - to support Jesus and his disciples as they walked all up and down the country side for three years. And who do you suppose paid for all those meals and all those sandals and all those blankets?
A group of women disciples. Perhaps at least twelve of them. We don’t know much about them, but when we piece together the pieces we discover that some of them were married to wealthy men and some of them must have been wealthy in their own right. They followed Jesus right along with the men, all the way from Galilee up in the north as he began his ministry - all the way to Jerusalem about seventy-five miles south. And along the way in all those places, they provided for his needs – out of love and gratitude.
They cared for him in his death as well. Several of them stood faithfully right in his line of vision below his cross for the hours that it took him to die, and watched him breathe his last breaths. They stood there with his mother Mary and his aunt, consoling them and comforting each other and supporting him and standing with him in his death as they had been in his life. They had served him faithfully in his life and they stood faithfully and loyally beside him in the last agony of his death. And when it was all over, and when he had breathed his last breath and said his last loving words to them, they watched while a friend, Joseph, took him gently off the cross. Joseph buried his body and the women marked in their minds where the grave was, intending to come back with sweet smelling spices the way we would bring flowers.
For three years they had offered him sandwiches and sandals and in his death they prepared to bring sweet smelling spices to show their love and gratitude. It was their last quiet, loving act for him.
We know a little bit about these women. Mary Magdalene was apparently their leader. She lived in the town of Magdala, right up there near the Sea of Galilee in the northern part of the country. You may have heard that Mary was a prostitute. That is a very nasty rumor that has been circulating in the Christian church ever since about the year 600, but there is not a bit of truth to it. She was not a prostitute. Mary had apparently been suffering from a very serious mental illness, and in the days long before there were medications to control it, she would have suffered deeply. But Jesus healed her. And ever thereafter she followed him gratefully and loyally and generously.
Jesus had also healed Joanna though we don’t know those details. We do know that Joanna was the wife of a man named Chuza. And Chuza was the financial manager for the Roman Governor Herod. You may remember him from last week – the man who executed Jesus’ cousin John.
So here we have Joanna, the wife of the manager of Governor Herod’s finances and she is supporting Jesus. And walking with him and caring for him, and making sure that he eats properly and has what he needs for his ministry. On the one hand, Joanna lived a very public and very privileged life as a member of Herod’s inner circle. And on the other hand, she supported Jesus as he walked and talked among the poorest of the poor. And she comes, also, on Easter Sunday morning with spices for Jesus’ grave.
So now. I am looking at the congregation I love. I am remembering to myself how many sandwiches and sandals you have brought for Jesus’ other children. Just since Christmas. We have brought Christmas boxes for children in places all over the world – ways we can show our support of Jesus’ other children whom we will never know. And TWICE the Christmas tree in our narthex was loaded down with warm sox and underwear and coats and scarves and mittens and pajamas for children and adults. And I mean loaded down. The big barrels of food in the Fellowship Hall are forever full and overflowing with boxes of cereals and canned food and mysteriously it all ends up at the North Kent Community Services for folks in our community. And believe me, it is well appreciated! We gave money for blankets and sheets at Mel Trotter Ministries and we brought our pennies for their work with homeless people in inner city Grand Rapids. Last week we bought cupcakes and brownies made by our Hunger Fast Kids and sent our love and our money for the care of children and adults in great need all over the world through World Vision. We’ve supported the Christmas Joy Offering which supplies help to retired pastors on limited incomes. May I tell you that I have known some of the pastors who have received that help, and I thank you, and so do they.
We have certainly provided sandwiches and sandals for the people whom Jesus loves. Just like those women did who loved Jesus dearly. And Jesus is so very pleased!
And today we are coming with our spices the way they did. We’re about to receive the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering – so that suffering people in other places may be well cared for. And in these days of Lent we’ve been sorting through our closets for good used clothing to give to men and women who are looking for work. Not to mention your regular, very generous contributions to the on-going ministry of this church through our regular offerings. We are bringing our spices for Jesus today.
But there’s something more. Our story for today tells us that Mary Magdalene and Joanna and another Mary and some other women came to Jesus’ grave and saw that his body was not there. An angel reminded them of the words he had spoken earlier – predicting that this very thing would happen. That he would undergo great suffering and that the elders and the priests and the chief priests would reject him and he would be given over into the hands of sinners and would be crucified. (We had that story last Sunday and on Maundy Thursday and on Good Friday.) BUT that he would be raised to life on the third day. (Luke 9:21 and 22) Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and Joanna and the other women with them remembered those words, and believed those words, and ran off to the place where the men were hiding to tell them that Jesus was alive.
But the men found it hard to believe and thought the women were talking nonsense. Of course they found it hard to believe. They may very well have thought it was nonsense. Because who would believe, after all, that life could be stronger than death. And that love could be stronger than hate. Or that goodness could be stronger than evil. They had too much evidence to the contrary to believe such nonsense. They had seen what happened to a good man. They had seen with their own eyes for three years what Jesus had done. How he had cured people of their illnesses and fed those who were hungry and engaged prostitutes in conversations and paid loving attention to beggars in the streets. He had worn out himself being loving and good. They had witnessed what their elders and priests had done to him. And they had watched how the elders and the priests and the Roman soldiers – a whole mob of them - come into that peaceful garden where he was praying. And hauled him away in chains. And the bitter end of all that was that he was in his grave, dead. Put there by hateful men who had the upper hand, again and again. So of course they didn’t believe that Jesus was alive.
So, my beloved. We have just spent another week of our lives hearing yet again about terrorist attacks - this time in Belgium. But there have been too many to keep track of recently all over the world, and too many killings in our own country to count. And there is too much hateful talk and far too much bullying, and far too much anger and far too many people doing far too much evil. We see it every single day if we dare. . And it does seem that evil is stronger than goodness. And it certainly does seem that hate is stronger than love. And that darkness is stronger than light. And the only ones who seem to have having any victory are those who are dark and evil and full of hate. It certainly does seem that way.
Now you know by now that I am not going to give you some simple answer for very hard questions.
But will you see this? Will you see the empty grave of Easter? Will you see the proof in front of your very eyes that in the power of God, life IS stronger than death. Will you stand there with the Marys and Joanna and the other women and hear what the angels said to them. Will you look into that empty grave and see with your own eyes that death is not the winner? Will you run to the grave with Peter, and will stand there with him, seeing for himself that Jesus was not there. And will you ponder that with Peter?
And if you don’t believe it with the women and with Peter then will you believe it when Archbishop Desmond Tutu sings it? The man who has experienced about as much evil and hatred as anybody else on earth? We’re going to sing his song in a moment.
And maybe you will need to watch for it. Watch for the goodness and the love and life and light to shine through the evil and the hate and death and the darkness all around us. And celebrate every time you see it. And maybe you’ll be a part of making sure that it happens – that the goodness and the love and the life and the light DO triumph over the evil in some of the places where we live. And where our generous gifts extend. You are so very good at that. And maybe you’ll begin to celebrate some very small victories. Or some very big ones.
First Lesson: Luke 22:47-62
Second Lesson Luke 23:1-6, 13-25
Children: Luke 19:28-38
So are you getting the picture here? We have three groups of people in our stories for today.
One group had followed Jesus up and down the countryside for three whole years, listening to every word he had to say and watching all the truly amazing things he had done. They had seen him heal people who were very sick and disabled and they had watched how he had even brought people back to life again who had died. They had participated while he fed thousands of people with a few scraps of bread and fish. They had heard him speak passionately about the Kingdom of God and what it was like. They had had long conversations with him over those three years. They had slept in open fields at night with him and accepted hospitality from strangers. They had given up literally everything to follow him.
We would have thought that they would have loved and supported Jesus, and in fact one of them even proclaimed that he would die for him.
That’s one group of people. People like Judas and Peter whom we have read about this morning. His twelve male disciples.
Then we have another group of people. They were the religious leaders – the elders and the priests and the chief priests. They were the guys who read the scriptures every day and who knew God well, and loved God devotedly and knew all of the laws of God very well, and kept them faithfully. It was their job to answer any questions about God and faith and religion that anybody had. These are the guys who are the experts on God. These are the guys who talked with Jesus in the temple for three days when he was twelve years old and who were amazed at his deep religious knowledge. Maybe they were there that day at the Jordan River when Jesus was baptized and maybe they heard that voice from heaven saying “this is my beloved Son.” Or if they hadn’t seen it in person, they had certainly heard all about it. We would surely think that they would honor and respect and support the very son of God. Who talked all the time about the kingdom of God and went around doing amazing things in God’s name.
That’s the second group of folks in our stories for today – the elders and priests and chief priests.
And then we have the Roman governor and Roman judge. It was their job to keep the peace in the country they were occupying. It was their job to make sure that there were no threats to the Roman government. It was their job to squash any kind of uprising and to keep people in their places, by intimidation if that worked, and by other methods when that wouldn’t work. They were the ones who had soldiers stationed all over the country, and who were charging high taxes on the most basic things that everybody needed to survive and were forcing people into bankruptcy and foreclosure and poverty. Those guys. Those Romans. Everybody knew very well that they had no love in their hearts for these Jewish peasants whom they were controlling. They didn’t even pretend to care about them. Those very poor Jewish peasants. Herod was the man who had brutally executed Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist – on a silly whim at a party - as you may recall. He was probably drunk. And Pilate was the Roman official who was responsible for making sure that people paid their taxes and when they didn’t he tried and judged and sentenced them.
So we would think that the Roman Governor Herod and the Roman Judge Pilate would have been happy to try Jesus and find him guilty and sentence him. It was their job. It was what they did every day. And Herod had well proved himself as somebody who could kill folks without a good reason.
That’s the third group of people: The Roman Governor and Roman Judge.
But here’s what happened. One of Jesus’ disciples (who should have loved and supported him) went behind his back and contacted the elders and the priests and told them where to find him and even led them to him. And got well paid for betraying him. That was Judas. Another one of his disciples sat around a fire in a group of people and denied three times that he had even known Jesus. That was Peter. And Jesus looked at him with very sad eyes and Peter went away and cried bitterly.
And these elders and priests (who should have honored and respected and supported Jesus) They pounced on him while he was in prayer and dragged him away in the middle of the night to another priest. They beat him and blindfolded him and mocked him. In the morning they brought him to an entire assembly of elders and priests and high priests and questioned him and dragged him on to the Judge, Pilate. Who was in charge of making sure that people paid their taxes and submitted to the authority of the Romans. These elders and priests and high priests told Pilate that Jesus was telling people not to pay their taxes (which of course wasn’t true) and setting himself up as king to overthrow the Roman government.
So we would have expected that Pilate would jump right on that, and ask a few questions, maybe, and find him guilty immediately, and happily sentence him to a terrible punishment. Which those Romans were very good at doing.
BUT. Pilate asks a few questions and then throws his hands up in the air and says he can’t find anything wrong with Jesus. And to get them all out of his hair, he sends them all off to Governor Herod who happened to be in Jerusalem at the moment. Herod, who has no love for any Jews, you recall and who has already executed Jesus’ cousin John. So the elders and the priests brought Jesus to Herod. They repeated their accusations: that Jesus was telling people not to pay their taxes and was trying to set himself up as a king to overthrow the Roman government. Maybe Herod had even heard what had happened a few days earlier. How a noisy band of children and homeless people and beggars and women and sick people and formerly sick people had borrowed a donkey. They had waved their tree branches and sang to him. They had put him on that donkey and had cheered him into the capital city of Jerusalem on the day of his coronation. Maybe Herod had even heard about that.
Herod questioned Jesus a bit, mocked him a bit, and put a stupid purple robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. Who once again protested that he couldn’t find anything wrong in Jesus, and set about to release him.
But the Jewish elders and the priests (who should have respected and honored and supported of Jesus) refused to hear it. The whole mob of them insisted, again and again, in very loud voices, that Jesus should be crucified. Which finally, and under great protest, Pilate did.
So you are getting the picture here? Judas and Peter, who should have been loving Jesus and protecting him and cherishing him have actually turned on him, and denied that they ever knew him.
The elders and the priests who should have been encouraging Jesus and supporting him and learning from him have turned him in to the governor and the judge and are insisting that he be executed.
And the people who should have been on the lookout for tax evaders and people planning to overthrow the government and who should have sentenced him – if the charges against him had been true - they are actually curious about Jesus and want to talk to him and learn from him and don’t see any reason to punish him for anything.
We are tempted to be critical of Judas and Peter. We remember Judas to this day as the man who betrayed Jesus and we don’t remember much of anything else about him. We remember how Peter denied three times that he ever knew Jesus. And we are often critical of those religious leaders who refused to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, and refused to hear him and learn from him.
But here’s the truth, my beloved. We are like those disciples and those priests. Most of us have spent a good deal of time in this church or some other church. We have heard about God from the time we were children. We have heard Bible stories about Jesus for most of our lives. We know all about God. And we have promised to be followers of Jesus.
We are pretty good people. We get along well with our friends and are kind and respectful to them. These days we in this church are searching our closets for good used clothing to give to others who are looking for work. And pretty soon we are going to be receiving the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering and I am very sure that once again you will be very generous. And Jesus looks at us with love and gratitude in his eyes.
AND we are part of a society where the rich are getting richer and richer and the poor are getting poorer and poorer and Jesus would be appalled. But most of us say nothing and do nothing. And Jesus looks at us with very sad eyes, just the way he looked at Peter. Who denied him.
AND women and boys and girls are being very silently sold into sex slavery all around us (at least in Grand Rapids) and Jesus would be appalled. But most of us say nothing and do nothing. And Jesus looks at us with very sad eyes, the way he looked at Peter, who denied him.
AND we are nice enough most of the time to people we know. BUT when we see people who are different from us or speak a different language or who obviously have great needs, most of us say nothing and do nothing, and Jesus would be appalled. He looks at us with very sad eyes, the way he looked at Peter who denied him.
And you can add in your own examples here.
So you see, my beloved. We are not all that different from those elders and priests who demanded Jesus’ death.
And in this week when we will remembering his last days and hours, we place ourselves in their company. Sadly. Sorrowfully. With deep regret. We go out and cry bitterly like Peter. And we ask forgiveness. For abandoning God’s other children. And for failing to protect them and for failing to be followers of Jesus in the ways he would have honored.
Let’s have a time of silence to reflect.