The sermon begins around 34 minutes in. The offertory, “Wade in the Waters,” led by Mother Willie Mae Wright, begins at 1:05.
I am preaching about resurrection this morning–the central tenant of Christian faith. Jesus was crucified dead and buried and then…raised. I want to challenge you and us to claim the resurrection as a contemporary verb – a present action of reality rather than some historic event claimed or denied, or a mere theological proposition to be entombed in the mind rather than an act that changes everything and that frees the heart to live bravely, and freely and dangerously!
We are in the third week of Black History month and so I want to start by recalling for you a specific point and time of our national history that is often forgotten, overlooked.
When I was just shy of eleven years old, in May of 1968, there was a shanty town of tents and cardboard and corrugated shelters constructed on the Washington DC mall – right by all the Smithsonian Institute museums.
This shanty town was part of the Poor People’s campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his associate, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, had planned. The Poor People’s campaign was a physical manifestation (an embodiment) of a large dream to unite the civil rights movement, broadening the vision of race with economic justice; joining impoverished blacks with poor whites, to bring rural and urban together to demand equity; to refocus the nation’s priorities away from the Vietnam War and the billions of dollars spent and lives lost.
Dr. King had been assassinated just the month before but Rev. Abernathy felt compelled to turn grief into power, and mourning into constructive engagement.
My church, the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. was a sponsoring congregation. (I am telling you that church changed my life, set me on the path – churches can do that!)
From the segregated neighborhood in Arlington named after the “Gone with the Wind” plantation, “Tara,” driving down Lee Highway, crossing Jefferson Davis Highway and passing Stonewall Jackson Jr. High, into the district of Columbia … I don’t know why my parents were led to that church – except by the Resurrection power of Holy Spirit and the preaching which called us to be uncomfortable with “the world as it is” and moved by the hope “of the world as it should be.”
As a sponsoring congregation we made meals and drove people to meetings, and picked folks up from the Greyhound station and dropped them off at the Mall.
It was a wet, rainy May that year and this shanty town was awash in mud.
You know what they called that shanty town floating on the mud of the Washington Mall?
“Resurrection City.” Can you imagine? “Resurrection City!”
But resurrection is always associated with the mud and blood and beer (thanks Johnny Cash “Boy named Sue”); resurrection is always connected to the cross of shame, always bound to the boulder that blocked the garden tomb of our crucified Lord; always a sign of life from death; a threat to the status quo.
You can only have resurrection when you’re dead.
You can only be open to the power of God when you are this close to giving up, you have hit rock bottom, it is the deepest part of the night, and you are struggling to hang there – when the depression is deep, and the sadness hangs heavy, and you’re wrestling with “What’s it all about?”
Hillary Clinton wrote, “It is often when the night looks darkest, it is often before the fever breaks that one senses the gathering momentum for change when one feels the resurrection of hope in the midst of despair and apathy.”
To Saint Paul the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the only thing that mattered. He didn’t seem to care about the virgin birth, he didn’t really even care about the miracles. To Paul, it began and ended with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. To Paul, resurrection was not some metaphor about “in the bulb there is a flower,” it was not some philosophical or theological speculation; it was not just some good idea.
He preached and wrote quite clearly that without the resurrection, we should just close up shop – because we’d have no reason for gathering. The United Way supports good causes; Starbucks, the gym and the corner bar are great places to gather for community; your favorite newspaper on the back porch on a summer morning, or a walk in the woods is great for personal peace and contemplation.
But Paul said that if resurrection isn’t central then we are fools. It is the central good news that we share.
I wonder if we have temerity anymore to proclaim and live as if resurrection is our identity. Everything we do , we do by witnessing to the risen Christ, to life beyond death. It is the stake we must put in the ground.
It is quite something what Christians claim to be true:
- that God – the “whatever” (I don’t want to waste time defining the indefinable, the incomprehensible) – that God became a human in Jesus.
- That God lived and walked among us in history.
- That God died on a cross.
- That God in Jesus rose again.
Nothing separates us anymore from God in Jesus – not life nor death, as Paul wrote.We proclaim and live – because word and deed should not be separated – that God conquered the boundary of death – so that you could be free to live.
We don’t have to fear death so we can get on with living. We can get on with participating in the building of the beloved Community which is the Kingdom of God – the resurrection of hope and action.
Now the powers of this world do not like resurrection. The Romans and the religious leaders wanted Jesus to stay in the tomb.
The powers of this world are death dealers. The powers and principalities want you to believe that your worth is in the color of your skin, the wealth that you make, and the credentials that you carry. They want you to keep thinking that “life sucks and then you die.”
The powers of the world don’t like it when we give sanctuary to an undocumented person.
The powers think it’s weird to have Co-Pastors.
The powers don’t like it when students from Parkland speak out against gun violence.
The powers don’t like change. They like to keep their source of income.
The powers want you to be scared to go to East Cleveland.
The powers don’t want you to question!
But the resurrection changes everything! The resurrection challenges every status quo – even well-meaning ones.
The two central doctrines of the church are incarnation and resurrection and both have to do with the body . God is concerned with, invested in bodily things and so we too are concerned about flesh and blood and bodies. The church is the body of Christ and you and I individually members of the body.
So we care about bodies: black bodies, white bodies, brown bodies, all bodies… we celebrate bodies and baptize baby bodies and we bury bodies.
My mom, who is 90, lives in a retirement community. She is so funny. She often complains, “There are too many old people here!” She wrote me this in an email: “My Sunday worship was different…
A group of residents were to perform liturgical dance but it turned into a line dance to “For All the Saints.” (I guess they were just holding each other up!) Old people are old people and there’s no getting around it.”
God loves bodies young and old.
Here is the thing: if you are leaning in to the resurrection, and practicing resurrection and open to resurrection in your own life, I promise that God’s resurrection will embody you, us! Don’t worry about: “How did it happen?” or “Did it really happen?” Move from your mind to the core of your longing and be set free.
Don’t intellectualize resurrection. Instead receive it as you receive a glorious Bach cantata, or a beautiful sunny summer day, or the look of your lover’s eyes, or the coo of that new baby, or when you take that risk, or you stand up after hitting rock bottom.
So, what does this resurrection promise have to do with Jesus’ words in Luke? Well, that stumped me for a moment…
Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.
Bless are the hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are those who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, rejoice because you will leap.
And of course: woe to the rich and the full and the laughing now.
1) Resurrection calls you to place your body in proximity to bodies that are poor, hungry, and sad – because, remember the resurrection is about the body and where we are taking care of bodies we will bump into the kingdom!
2) Resurrection will always disrupt the comfortable!
3) And I got this from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this passage in The Message:
“You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding.
You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry. Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal.
You’re blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes in the morning.
Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that the person is uncomfortable….”
Let the resurrection find you when you feel lost and ravenously hungry and the tears are flowing freely. Yes, let the resurrection find you and give you life and hope and strength and peace beyond knowing, let your temerity and your discomfort about the resurrection – disrupt everything.
Let the resurrection find you in the mud of the Washington Mall.
Let the resurrection find you. Practice it, embody it, live and die for it. Make the resurrection your message!
Practice the resurrection so passionately that Jesus may not need to come back – because we, the body of Christ, are doing what we are supposed to do and be who we are supposed to be!