Tuesday, April 25, 2017

April 23, 2017 The Other Lazarus

Several days ago an interesting link to a news article popped up on my phone.  The title of the article, The Dark Side of Being Rich, intrigued me.  My first reaction was to wonder, wait, what?  There’s a dark side to being rich?  (Since reading the article I have been unable to find the link again so I am unable to provide it for you, unfortunately.)  The author of the article listed several reasons as to why there is a dark side to being rich, and the most interesting to me was his contention that wealth – especially great wealth – tends to lead people into extreme self-interest, which leads them away from concern for those who struggle in life.

There is something about human nature, especially when combined with nearly unlimited resources, that tends to favor a path of self-interest.  With great resources I may be satisfied to simply indulge myself in my personal desires without regard to the needs and concerns of others.  The greater the resources, we can say, the greater the odds that we will travel the path of self-interest.  Some people, admittedly, might say this is nature’s way of programming us for survival.  After all, they might say, it has taken a certain level of self-interest over the millennia to ensure the survival of the human race.  The gospel message, however, tells us something very different.  The gospel message challenges us to understand that the health, and indeed the future, of the human race necessitates that we care for one another and not simply care for ourselves.  We are, in essence, our the keepers of our brothers and sisters.

This morning we are talking about The Other Lazarus.  We are very familiar with the character of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, whom Jesus resurrected from the dead, as told in John chapter 11.  In this morning’s Scripture passage, we find another character named Lazarus.  He is one of two characters in this parable Jesus tells, as found in Luke 16:19-31 –

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.
20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores
21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.  Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.
23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.
24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.
26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family,
28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

In this parable we are told of a rich man, a man rich enough to pursue what he wanted in life.  He lived a life of luxury and though it seemed he had everything, in the end he lost his soul, which is one of the great warnings of Jesus (What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  Matthew 16:26).

This is a very common theme in the teaching of Jesus – the danger of having so much but in the process losing one’s soul.  A common theme of the gospels could be called be careful what you wish for, because the things we so often desire – such as riches – are, in the eyes of Jesus, very dangerous.  I should note that the Bible does not say, as many people assume, that money is the root of all evil.  What the Bible says is this – the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (I Timothy 6:10).  The Bible does not condemn money and wealth as much as if offers warnings about its dangers.  Much of Luke’s gospel, in fact, centers on this warning – wealth can be very dangerous.  It’s not that Jesus is condemning of wealth in and of itself; but he recognizes the many dangers riches and wealth pose for us.  That is why, in chapter 12 of Luke Jesus tells us that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15) and that we should work toward treasure in heaven (Luke 12:34).

In verse 19 we are introduced to the rich man.  The rich man lived in luxury every day (verse 19).  He dresses, Jesus says, in very fine clothing and lived in luxury every day.  Architectural Digest would photograph this man’s home and GQ would put him on the cover.  This is the guy who would be the envy of everyone because he had it all. It wasn’t an occasional indulgence, but indulgence was the order of every day.

The second character introduced by Jesus is Lazarus, and there couldn’t be a greater difference between the lives of these two men.  While the rich man enjoys great wealth Lazarus leads a pitiful existence.  He is in such poor health someone has to carry him each day and lay him at the gate of the rich man, in hopes that he will receive at least some pittance of aid.  To add insult to injury, he is covered with sores and is so weak he could not keep away the dogs that came to lick his sores.  Not a pretty picture.  It is very easy to recoil and protest against the graphic nature of this description, but Jesus wants to lift the veil to disclose reality.  Resources, especially when they are vast, can remove and isolate us from what constitutes reality for so many.

While the financial distance between these two men was unimaginably wide, the physical distance was not.  Every day, as he walked through the gate of his home, the rich man would have to walk by Lazarus.  It wasn’t that the rich man had to venture out in the world to find poverty; poverty was literally on his doorstep.  We don’t have to travel far to find poverty either, as it is at our doorstep as well.  Kentucky has the 5th highest level of poverty among the fifty states.  A little more than 823,000 Kentuckians, or 19.4 percent of the state’s population, suffer through poverty (that compares to 15.9 percent nationally).  And this does not include the thousands more who are barely above the poverty line and live lives that are very precarious financially.
If we condense Kentucky’s population into our congregation this morning, forty out of every two hundred people (two hundred being our average worship attendance) live in poverty, so we could basically take most of one of our three sections of seats this morning and consider them as living below the poverty line.  That brings things home in a more realistic way, doesn’t it?

One of the dangers of wealth, and the rich man in this parable is an example, is the insulation it provides from reality.  Even though the rich man was not a great physical distance from Lazarus, he was so insulated from physical need that he became self-absorbed and was, as my mom would say, unable see beyond the end of his own nose.  He was not only indifferent to the need of Lazarus; evidently, he was blind to the existence of Lazarus.  If this rich man noticed Lazarus at all, it was probably to complain about having to step over him or walk around him when he left his home.

But Jesus puts a face, and a name, on poverty.  Though the rich man is not named in the parable he is usually called Dives, which is Latin for rich.  In this parable the poor man has a name while the rich man goes unnamed.  Isn’t that interesting?  It is the poor who are the nameless and the faceless in society.  We know the names of the rich – Bill Gates, Warren Buffett – because you can be famous simply because you are rich.  Has anyone ever become famous because of their poverty?  No, because the poor are anonymous.  (There are people who happened to be both poor and famous – such as Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi, but they were known for their work with and for the poor, as well as their advocacy of non-violence.  They were poor, yes, but that is not the reason for which they were well known).  No one has ever gained fame because of poverty.  But here, in this parable, the poor man is the one given a name and the rich man is anonymous.  When you name the poor, they become real.  Jesus gave the poor man a name – Lazarus, which means God is my help.  Jesus gave Lazarus a name because the poor mattered to Jesus.

To make the poor person the hero in the parable would be a shock to those listening to Jesus, but it was an even greater shock that one as pitiful as Lazarus would be granted the seat of honor in eternity – verse 22 says he was seated at Abraham’s side.  And what a jolt for the rich man, as the tables for these two men are turned once they were in eternity. 

Jesus was always reversing the standards and ways of the world – the last will be first, and the first will be last (Matthew 20:16); the greatest among you will be your servant (Matthew 23:11); and for whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it (Matthew 16:25).  Here, in keeping with the way Jesus often presented an opposite way of thinking, it is the poor man who was deemed as righteous.  In the day of Jesus the rich were seen as righteous because they were rich.  If you were poor it was because God had chosen not to bless you, so if you were poor it was your fault.  It was a first-century version of today’s prosperity Gospel.  If you are wealthy, it is because God has blessed you.  If you are not wealthy, you must have done something wrong.  Who often gets blamed for poverty today?  The poor.  They are blamed for their condition because, as we often hear, they are lazy, they’re not interested in education, they manage their money badly, etc.  There are some cases where that may be true, but we can’t forget that there are powerful forces that structure society in ways that make it very difficult to escape poverty.  The poor may be poor not through any fault of their own but because of the economic injustice that is so prevalent in our world.  Blaming the poor for their plight is not only tragic; it is also one way to escape any sense of obligation to reach out to them and minister to them.  In our society, we often like to proclaim how we have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps.  But what if you don’t have any boots, let alone the bootstraps that go along with them?  It is a mostly mistaken assumption to believe that we get to where we are in life purely by our own hard work and initiative.  I did not.  I am blessed to have a wonderful support system that has helped me throughout my life.  I was born into a family that had the resources to provide me with not only my needs, but many extras as well and, very importantly, to see that I was able to get a quality education.  All along the way I had the benefit of mentors and benefactors who have helped me in so many ways.  There are rare individuals who accomplish a good deal in life solely on their on merits and efforts, but the truth is, most of us get to where we are because we are blessed with a great deal of help and are given a start in life far ahead of many people in our world.  So we must resist the temptation to place blame upon people for their difficulties in life and, at the same time, we must recognize and give thanks for the help that we have received.

Opportunity to help Lazarus came every day to the rich man but he was indifferent to it. Lazarus is need personified but his need was ignored by the rich man.  It’s not that the rich man was cruel to Lazarus.  He did not curse him as he stepped around him at the gate of his home or treat him in an ill manner.  The tragedy of the rich man was that he simply didn’t notice Lazarus.  Lazarus was not part of the rich man’s landscape and it seemed perfectly acceptable that while he wined and dined and lived in luxury that Lazarus should live in such poverty and misery.  Interestingly, someone shared with me a great observation about this parable after the early service.  Even in eternity, they observed, the rich man could only see Lazarus as one who ought to be serving him. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’  25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’”

Notice in verses 24 and 27 the rich man was requesting that Lazarus be put to work to help him.  That’s a fascinating insight, I think, and I appreciated hearing it.

Early in my ministry here, I told a story about an experience I had while in seminary.  I’m going to repeat the story, but with a portion that I had not shared the first time I told the story.  But first, I want to quote some song lyrics.  The band in which I play, Hush Harbor, has a new singer, Aaron Crane.  Aaron is the worship leader at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville and is not only a great singer, but a very fine songwriter as well.  Aaron has written a song title People Like That, which speaks to not only this parable, but also an experience I had related to the story which I am about to tell (you can hear Aaron’s song here – https://youtu.be/6zDMq5q4yMM).  The lyrics are as follows –

Verse 1
Wind torn shoes and a t-shirt twice his size
He saw quiet desperation pouring from that child’s eyes
Mom and Dad had his hand and a shopping cart they called home
Then the light turned green and then he just drove on

Chorus 1
He said, I got a think about myself,
There’s no time for no one else
Oh, people like that.  Yeah, people like that.
No matter what I do or what I say. 
It won’t make a difference any way.
Oh, people like that. Yeah, people like that.

Just one more thing, I’m not to blame
Oh, for people like that, people like that.
Yeah, people like that, people like that.

Verse 2
There’s times in my life, I was once there too
Been all of them even walked in their shoes
The privileged and rich the cast in the ditch
Aren’t really that far apart.  
Without love and kindness in their heart.

Chorus 2
We gotta open our eyes and open our ears,
To the pain and the suffering and all the tears from people like that.  
Yeah, people like that.
Cause what we do and what we say, can make a difference why I’m here today, for people like that. 
Oh people like that.

We all want to feel love not just despair and shame
It starts with me and you too, let’s be the change
Oh cause we all gotta a name
We’re all, people like that.   People like that.   
Ooh, people like that.   People like that. 
Oh, people like that.   Yeah, people like that. 
Ooh, people like that.   Yeah, people like that. 
Getta a little love and hope and faith, people like that.

When I was in seminary I had a class that was about experiencing the realities of life and ministry.  One of three very interesting and required projects was something called The Plunge.  We were asked to refrain from shaving and bathing for most of a week, to put on old clothes, and then were left in downtown Louisville for a weekend with nothing but one piece of identification and one dollar.  Do you know where you go to eat when you have one dollar?  White Castle.  At that time, which was 1983, you could get a meal for a dollar.  But a dollar’s worth of food from White Castle won’t get you through an entire weekend.  Not only were meals a concern, but finding a place to sleep was very much a concern as well.  I slept on a pile of plywood in the foundation of the Galt House East, which was under construction at the time.  I thought it was nice to tell the rest of the class that I stayed at the Galt House.

On Saturday I was really hungry, and I met two young men about my age who had been living on the streets for quite a while.  They told me they would take me to a mission that served good food, and I was very appreciative of their help.  I have to say, being a somewhat picky eater, that the meal I received was one of the best meals I have ever been given.  When you’re hungry, you find that you get far less picky about what you will eat.  Those two young men were really helpful to me, and I was grateful for their help and for the assistance that I received from that mission.

The next week, as I was driving through downtown Louisville making a delivery for work, I looked out the window and saw one of those two young men walking down the street.  This was someone who took me in and helped me when I was vulnerable, and I felt a sudden stab of compassion and, a measure of guilt, as I was able to go back to my life.  I stopped at a traffic light and wondered what I should do, and just like the character in Aaron’s song, when the light turned green, I went on my way.  After all these years – 34 years – I still feel guilty and wonder what happened to those two young men, and I wonder what I could have done to help them.

There are few ways in which the church can be as powerfully like Jesus as when they love and care for the poor.  What is God saying to us about the poverty in our world?  Do we hear God telling us that life is not about amassing for ourselves while others are suffering in poverty?  This is more than a parable; it is a warning, and one I hope that we heed.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

April 16, 2017 Easter Sunday: The Power of Resurrection

I love Easter.  I don’t love Easter simply because all of the candy, which keeps appearing at my office door in a plot, I suspect, to put me in a sugar coma.  I don’t love Easter simply because of all the nice outfits, although I must say that from where I stand you all look very nice.  I don’t love Easter simply because of the great music, but I have to say, it’s great music, as we all knew it would be.  I don’t love Easter simply because the church is full, although I enjoy looking out and seeing such a great crowd, and I appreciate each and every one of you being here.  I love and appreciate all those elements of Easter, but what I love about Easter, certainly, is what it represents, one of which is that Easter represents the fact that we are bound to something so much greater than ourselves.  All around the world this weekend, believers gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, and we are part of that large fellowship of hundreds and hundreds of millions of people.  And for some of those people, it is difficult and dangerous.  In Egypt, members of the Coptic Christian churches will gather with the fear that they may face another deadly attack.  Throughout the Middle East, Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus while they worry about attacks and persecution, but still they gather, in spite of the danger.  In China, millions and millions will gather in house churches, breaking the law as they do, and will risk persecution not only for attending Easter worship, but also for daring to defy the government’s decree that churches must be officially sanctioned and approved before they are considered legal.  In some parts of the world some people will most likely lose their lives for the act of worshiping and proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. 

That’s an incredibly powerful message, isn’t it?  It is a message that has captivated the hearts and lives of so many millions of people throughout history and to today. The message of the resurrection of Jesus is so powerful that it moves millions and millions of people to not only risk their lives but, if necessary, give their lives.  What a powerful message to inspire that level of faith!  The resurrection is the heart of our faith, so hear the story of the resurrection from Luke’s gospel –

Luke 24:1-12

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.
In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:
‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’”
Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.
10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.
11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

I have no idea what it was like on that first Easter morning as the women made their way to the tomb where Jesus had been buried.  Perhaps it was one of those early spring mornings when you feel the new life surging in our veins and it’s a glorious feeling.  I like to think that it was.  You know the kind of morning of which I speak.  You rise early and step outside as the birds are singing and the sun is rising.  There are the smells of trees and flowers in bloom and of the freshness of the earth.  Except for one detail, it could have been a perfect morning.  It was a rather large detail, as the women were going to complete the gruesome task they had not been able to finish, which was to prepare the body of Jesus for burial.

Consider with me several themes from the resurrection story this morning –

1.  Look for life where life is found, and experience the power of resurrection.

I am not much of a yard person.  In fact, I am one of the worst yard persons in the history of yards.  Before we moved, we lived between two retired guys who mowed every other day.  I finally told them both, can you give me a break?  I mow our yard and do some work in the yard, but you will never find me working meticulously outside in the yard, nurturing a good stand of grass.  If you are that kind of person, God bless you.  Really, God bless you.  My great fear is that upon being welcomed into eternity one day God is going to say come on in!  Now, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that we have a mansion for you!  The bad news is that it needs some yard work.  But on the bright side, you’ve got a lot of time to work on it.

But somehow, in spite of my sad attempts to keep a lawn, it grows, and grows, and grows, because you cannot stop life.  Life blooms and blossoms all around us, and the resurrection is certainly prove that in the hands of God you cannot stop life, even when death itself has stood in the way.

Why do you look for the living among the dead, the women are asked in verse 5.  There is no death here, they are saying, to which the women could have easily replied, oh yes there is!  This is a cemetery.  No one comes here to experience life!  But life had come to that cemetery on the first Easter morning!  Life is bursting forth all around us!  God is a God of life!  Easter is the celebration of that life and the celebration of new life!

But as life bursts forth around us, we must remember there are places that are not conducive to life and that do not nurture life.  We live in a time when there is, all around us, the tragedy of addiction.  There is no life in addiction.  Addiction robs us of life.  All around us there are many who are in the grip of fear and anxiety and fear and anxiety do not bring life but rather they rob us of life.
Look for life where life is found, in God, and experience the power of resurrection.

2.  Remember what God has done and what he has said, and experience the power of resurrection.

I find it amusing that many of you have the mistaken idea that I have a good memory.  No doubt, about twenty of you will test my memory as soon as the service is over by giving me something to remember.  I think people believe I have a good memory because I do not often refer to the manuscript of my message.  I can assure you, however, that I do not have a good memory.  Ask my family if you don’t believe me.  When I’m speaking, you have no reference point to know if I’m actually sticking to my manuscript or not.  I could be totally winging it for all you know.

To help me remember, every Monday morning, one of my first tasks is to print out this list of reminders to help me keep up with what I need to do, where I need to be, etc.  You can see where I add to it and on the back of some of the pages I write ideas for my message and other thoughts that I hope will be helpful.  Without this, I’m kind of lost.  Actually, I would really be lost.

Listen to what the men say to the women in verses 6 – 8 – He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:  ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’”  Then they remembered his words.

Memory experts tell us that we need to process a piece of information in several ways if we hope to retain it.  Obviously, the disciples had a difficult time retaining what Jesus told them beforehand about his resurrection.  On numerous occasions, Jesus told his disciples exactly what was going to happen.  Exactly!  And, once again, they are reminded in this passage – remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee.  Interestingly, that is not phrased as a question.  Look at the text; it doesn’t end with a question mark.  It is a statement of command – remember!  You have to begin taking to heart the things God has been saying.  Remember that he is working on your behalf.  Remember that he loves you.  Remember that he is with you.  Remember that he is not going to leave you.  Remember!  Remember!  Remember!

At the resurrection, everything lined up and made sense.  The followers of Jesus could look back and see how everything fell into place. They could see how the entire life of Jesus, and especially his final days, when it was a challenge to walk like him.  Looking back at the final days, they could see how the Triumphal Entry was a challenge to remember that to walk like Jesus means we forsake pride and embrace humility, looking back at the final days, they could see that the Last Supper was a challenge to embrace the great command of love and a life of service, looking back at the final days, they could see that the Garden of Gethsemane was a challenge to walk in the paths of Jesus even when the walk is difficult and challenging and to seek the will of God rather than our own will and, finally, looking back at the final days, they could see that the crucifixion was a challenge to embrace forgiveness, as Jesus did as he hung dying on the cross.

And then there is the resurrection, which challenges us to never forget that life has conquered death.  Since last Easter, some of you have experienced the sting of death.  You have lost people near and dear to you, and that loss stings a great deal.  In the power of resurrection, God certainly wants us to remember this – Death has been swallowed up in victory. 55 Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  (I Corinthians 15:54-55).  The resurrection of Jesus is not the only resurrection, it becomes our resurrection as well.

3.  When nothing seems to make sense – including faith – receive the power of resurrection.

I do not hold to the idea that everything in life either must make sense or will ever make sense.  I still have questions that I hope to have answered some day – and while I doubt they will be answered in this life, I’m okay with that; honestly, there’s a lot of questions I no longer stress over.  Some things just don’t make sense because we simply won’t understand everything.

Verse 11 says that the disciples did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.  That’s probably an apt description for how some people look at faith; it doesn’t make any sense to them.  To some people, faith is nonsense.  As we gather this morning, there are the skeptics of the world who will shake their heads and think us foolish because we follow after and believe what they claim does not make any sense.

But just because we don’t have every question answered, and just because all things do not make sense in no way diminishes the reality and the truth of those things.  Faith doesn’t always make sense to us.  Faith doesn’t answer every question.  But I don’t find that in any way diminishes faith, the reality of faith, or the truth of faith.  The disciples could not believe the news of the resurrection because they did not believe such an event was possible.  We really don’t see as objectively as we believe that we do.  We generally see what we believe rather than seeing what is reality.  It is not necessary that every question be answered and every doubt erased and everything line up perfectly in order for something to be true.

I used to exercise in a graveyard.  I did so for a couple of reasons; one, because it was not far from where we lived and the paved road that wound through the cemetery grounds made it very convenient.  But the bigger reason might have been that walking through a cemetery gave me a greater motivation to work out, as I wanted to put off as long as possible my entry into that place.

When you walk through a cemetery you notice that they can be busy places.  A lot of people come and visit cemeteries.  I would often see people sitting and talking to their departed friend or loved one.  Often, it was obvious they were crying, still feeling the sting of loss.  At such moments, the power and reality of resurrection became very real to me.  I would often think, I don’t want that small plot of ground to be the very end.  I believe there is more.

The resurrection proves that there is.  Believe in the power of resurrection!  Hope in the power of resurrection!  Receive the power of resurrection!

April 16, 2017 Easter Sunrise: From Tragedy to Triumph!

Emilie Gossiaux, has been called the Helen Keller of the art world.  In 2007, she was accepted into Manhattan’s Cooper Union School of Art, where she hoped to further her dream of becoming an artist.  But on October 8, 2010, Emilie was struck by a semi-truck as she bicycled to an art studio where she had an internship. Emilie, then 21, suffered traumatic brain injury, a stroke, and fractures to her head, pelvis, and leg.  The accident also left her blinded.

On her second day in the hospital, a nurse told Emilie’s parents that she would not recover and asked if they wanted to donate her organs. Later that night, Emilie began to move her arm.  They decided not to donate her organs.  Then the doctors said that Emilie wasn’t a candidate for rehab.  They told her parents they should find a nursing home for her.  Her boyfriend would not accept the prognosis and began researching communication methods until he found the print-on-palm technique, which is similar to the way in which Annie Sullivan communicated with Helen Keller.  He drew the letters I l-o-v-e y-o-u with his finger on Emilie’s palm, and she responded immediately.  She persevered through a difficult rehabilitation and in the spring of 2013, Emilie returned to Cooper Union to finish her undergraduate degree. Even more impressive, she won an Award of Excellence from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts a few months later. It was for her sculpture Bird Sitting, which she created two years after the accident that blinded her.  Her sculpture was included in an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution in 2013.

I would like to think that, under similar circumstances, I would have the kind of drive and determination that Emilie demonstrated, but I’m not so sure.  But we love those kinds of stories, don’t we?    We love to hear the stories where people move from tragedy to triumph.  It’s almost as though it is printed onto our DNA to be moved by stories where someone conquers insurmountable odds.
This morning, on Easter Sunday, we celebrate the greatest story of triumph over tragedy – the resurrection of Jesus.  Our text is the resurrection story from Mark 16:1-14 –

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.
Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb
and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.
But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.
10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.
11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.
13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.
14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

1.  With God, It’s Never Over.

Mark begins the resurrection story by telling us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome came to the tomb with spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  There was absolutely no expectation of a resurrection.  They fully expected to find the dead, lifeless body of Jesus.

Listen again to verse 1 – When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.  When the Sabbath was over.
Think about that word over for a moment.  If ever there was a word that was descriptive of the attitude and state of mind of the disciples at that moment in time, it was the word over.  All the hopes they had for the ministry of Jesus – over.  All the excitement about his miracles – over.  The large crowds hanging on his every word as he taught – over.  The crucifixion had brought all of that and more to an abrupt and terrible end.

As you read through the resurrection story, the sense of resignation and defeat is palpable.  It’s over.  Just as Jesus said “it is finished,” it seems finished.  You can almost sense the slow-moving foot dragging as they walk to the tomb.  We know that feeling, don’t we?  There is a stretching out of the final act because we don’t want our time with that person to come completely to an end.  We want to hold on a little bit longer, so we take our time, not hurrying, putting off those final moments that tell us it really is finally, completely, the end.

Well, guess what.  They got more time, didn’t they!  It wasn’t over, no matter how much it seemed as though things really were over!

Think back over the months, since last Easter.  A lot has happened, hasn’t it?  How many good things have happened?  Quite a few, I hope.  How many tough things have happened?  Probably quite a few of those as well.  How many times did you think it was over?  How many times did it seem as though things were so tough that there didn’t seem any way forward?  When you suffered the loss of someone near and dear to you, and you thought that was the end.

Remember this, always – it might seem like the end, but it’s never the end, not with God.  Who has the final word?  God does!  It might seem there is no hope, but there is always hope with God.  It might seem there is no way forward, but there is always a way forward with God.

Who has the final say?  God does!  Do you think you face an insurmountable problem and there seems no way around it?  God has a way!  Does it seem like the end when we have lost someone we love?  It’s not the end!  What do we celebrate today?  The resurrection!  And does the resurrection apply only to Jesus?  No – it is a promise for us all!

2.  When God Has A Plan, God Makes A Way.

Listen to verses three and four – and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to worry.  I know that probably comes as a shock to some of you, but it’s true.  But I suspect some of you are that way as well.  I worry about whether or not I have enough things to worry about.  And I suspect some of you are that way as well.  I worry so much about so many things that I’m thinking about starting a series of conferences about how to worry more effectively.  Maybe I’ll write a few books, start a web site, and do a series of YouTube videos training people how to be better at worrying.  I think there’s a lot of opportunity there, don’t you?  But remember – I have already copyrighted this idea, so don’t make me worry about anyone attempting to steal it away from me! 

On the way to the tomb they asked one another who was going to roll away the stone?  Now, right there is where I would count myself out.  Sounds to me like a good reason not to go.  Who wants to wander into a tomb?  Not me. 

But they are worried about how they will get access to the body of Jesus because they want to complete the task of preparing it for burial.  It was, to them, the final, loving act they could perform for someone they loved so much.  And they worried they couldn’t do it, and if they could not do what they were going to the tomb to do, that was a really big deal.  It really was something to worry about.  There were all kinds of social and religious considerations at work, and we can have a good deal of sympathy for them.  In fact, it makes me worry just reading about it, and I know how the story turns out!

We worry so much and about so many things!  Why do we fret and worry so?  If the resurrection proves anything, it certainly proves that if God has a plan, God will make a way.  This is demonstrated time and time again throughout the Scriptures.  Think about Abraham and the plan God had for him.  But to Abraham, there were many time he not only failed to see God’s plan, he failed to believe God had a plan, because he continually took matters into his own hands.  And we can have some sympathy for Abraham as well, because we can’t always see God’s plan, can we?  But remember this – God’s plan is not incumbent upon our either seeing or understanding that plan.  Abraham could not always see God’s plan, but God had a plan nonetheless.  And we could scan the pages of the Bible and find this to be true time and time again.

3.  The tragedy of the past can be overcome by the triumph of the present and the promise of the future.

Two of the characters who are mentioned by name in this passage are Mary Magdalene and Peter.  In verse 9 Mark adds this interesting bit of commentary about Mary Magdalene – Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.  That’s Mark’s way of saying, this is a person who had some issues.  Now, I should hasten to add that Mary Magdalene has been greatly maligned over the course of history.  She is often portrayed as having been a prostitute, but did you know there is not one bit of evidence to give credence to that claim?  Not one bit of Biblical or historical evidence exists to support that claim.  I believe it entered into history as a way to justify the subjugation of women, which, unfortunately, continues in parts of the church and in larger society as a whole until this day.  It’s also a sad commentary on the way we just cannot seem to resist labeling, judging, and stereotyping people. 

And Peter; well, we all know about Peter and his denials.  But he did better, although he continued to have his struggles.  Paul, for instance, had to call him out publically on at least one occasion because of Peter’s reluctance in accepting outsiders into the church (Galatians 2:11-12 –  11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group).

I don’t want to be critical, because I don’t want anyone looking too closely at my life; there you will find a lot to criticize; there are a lot of faults.  The truth is, we all have a past.  We all have failures.  And we’re all complicit in the problems of the day.  I’m often amused by those who think that, because they aren’t a part of the things they oppose that they are somehow exempt from the ills and the evils of the world.  We’re all complicit.  And I don’t say that to make you feel bad, but as a reminder that we all stand in need of God’s grace.  Every one of us.

You know what’s great about God?  The way he doesn’t hold our past against us.  Isn’t that good news?  It’s not just good news; it’s great news!  That is the good news not just of Easter but the good news for every day!  Every day!

For years, I have spent a lot of time in hospitals.  I am grateful for what modern medicine is able to do very us; very grateful.  And I am grateful to see the healing that takes place in hospitals.  We are so fortunate because of the care that is available to us.  I’ve seen a lot of people go into hospitals, and quite a few of them come home, but not all of them.  Medicine can take us so far, but only so far.  Medicine can heal us for a time, but not forever.  The good news this Easter is that there is resurrection.  Christ has been risen from the dead and one day, so shall we!