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Love Is The Last Thing Standing

 
 

Pastor James Clarke’s sermon for Easter Sunday, March 25, 2017.

Do we know how many times people in the gospels are terrified? We think that since it’s “good news” that it wouldn’t be that way. But that’s not how it works.

Peter, James, and John were frightened at the Transfiguration. The Disciples were panicked when Jesus calmed the sea and when he came to them walking on the sea (two stories). When Jesus told the Disciples what would have to happen to him, do you think they were delighted? They were shocked, and a bit worried. The shepherds where petrified, and the women were freaked out at Lazarus’ death and raising.

The gospel of Mark ends abruptly with: So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. They were afraid… the end.

Translation tempers and softens it some. “And they were afraid” sounds like it’s not much different from “And they were hungry”. They were scared out of their wits. Hysterical. Panic-stricken. And felt a little edgy too.

Consider a time when we’ve heard some bad news. The anxious response we feel is physical. We sweat, lose a sense of control, we shake and our stomach aches…. They were anxious!

In a biblical commentary, Pamela Cooper-White says that this is where Easter begins. The story isn’t rooted in good feelings… It is rooted in anxiety.

Last Sunday we did The Stations of the Cross and often people feel a little alarmed. It is Palm Sunday, after all. The pounding of the nails particularly can give people chills. But that’s part of why we do it, and why both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are so critical…. The chills. Easter is rooted in the chills. And the Resurrection is “good news” because it conquers fear and anxiety.

In Matthew’s story of the resurrection, two Marys go to the tomb and are surprised, shocked, scared to death when there was an earthquake and an angel rolls away the stone. He’s bright as the sun. The guards shook and then were petrified… literally.

Can we imagine the anxiety the women felt? Sweat and chills.

And the angel says:  Do not be afraid. Which sounds a little sterile like an announcement.

In the Message it says, you have nothing to fear…which is better. “YOU’RE ALL RIGHT!  EVERYTHING WILL BE ALL RIGHT!” Would be better still, I think.

Monastic, spiritual writer and guide Henri Nouwen says that one of the most basic spiritual questions we must ask ourselves is: “How can we live inside a world marked by fear, hatred, and violence and not be destroyed by it?” A timely question, don’t you think?

Nouwen does not have a positive view of the world we live in. In the macro-world there is injustice, poverty, ethnic strife. War in Syria. Famine in sub-Saharan Africa. Potential conflict with North Korea. Terrorism in Europe and elsewhere. Environmental degradation.

In the micro-world of our lives there is cynicism, gossip, competition, division in the House, bullying at school, mean emails, hardness of heart. Nouwen says we live in a House of Fear and we need to live in the House of Love. I have heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate but fear.

It isn’t that the world is divided between those who live in the House of Fear and those who live in the House of Love. We all go back and forth. But our journey to spiritual maturity is moving from fear to love.

Interestingly, he says it is easier for young people because they remain idealistic, more trusting, less jaded, or they just don’t get it! It’s more difficult when we are at mid-life and our hearts get hardened and we give in to anxiety and helplessness.

The way forward from fear to love is to grieve all that hasn’t happened in our lives. The dreams of youth that did not happen neither ruminate negatively on what might come. The way forward is much about letting go of all that is lost; of resentments; of longings unfulfilled.

An irony of the spiritual life is that it can’t be achieved. It isn’t something we make happen to us. It’s more a gift that we open ourselves too. It’s about letting go more than finding opening more than believing. Emptying more than filling up.

The Resurrection isn’t something we believe as much as something we let go into.

Some time ago I read a wonderful novel by Vinita Wright entitled Dwelling Places. It is the story of a family in the Midwest who have experienced great loss and are panicked about the future. Some years ago, they lost the family farm. Soon after that, the father – patriarch of the family – died. Then one son died of grief and alcoholism.

At the beginning of the book the remaining son, Mack, is just getting out of the hospital. He has spent two weeks there with depression. The whole family is unraveling. Mack’s wife is lonely and ends up in an affair. A son turns goth  –  maybe today it would be “edgy”.

A daughter goes to the Baptist Church to be saved and sets out to save her family (the family goes to the Methodist Church). Mack reluctantly goes to counseling with George, a former Presbyterian pastor, and Mack begins to share about his fear and grief that he has held on to so tightly. He tells George that he doesn’t have faith any longer.

George asks about when that feeling started. After the farm was lost and we didn’t know how we would remain of survive.   And when his father died… that was too high a price. Mack says that he is mightily disappointed in God for letting him lose everything.

Then to make things more complicated and scary, Mack starts hearing voices. He is afraid it is a sign of greater mental illness that he’s really gone round the bend and will be hospitalized again.

George asks about what the voices are saying. “Things are working out” “Love is the last thing standing”. George says, “I don’t know, Mack, but those don’t sound like such bad things to hear.” Do not be afraid

Then the Methodist pastor (a woman) creates a worship service for the while community in which many are experiencing loss and fear. Mack asks his family to go, even as they resist. In the service Mack, is surprised when the pastor asks people to share what they are feeling about their loss. He expected something more formal or banal and cliché. Listening to others he again felt his heart ease… and open… with love for everyone who was there.

Part of the reason our world is so messed up is that most people live in the House of Fear. We are motivated by fear; we make decisions, vote…. based on fear.

Relationships are built around competition and fear. It’s the way of business and commerce and that oozes into our hearts, soiling them.

Little time is given to learn each other’s stories. Those farm families were just short sighted and they made bad decisions. People are suspicious and cynical. Media is full of lies and alternate truths. We trust no one.

We are rude, we hate, we objectify other people, which is exceedingly selfish. We build walls and fire missiles in the macro world of international affairs and in our own micro of family and friends out of fear.

In the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are given a gift and a path to move from the House of Fear to the House of Love. There is no easy formula to it. Just believe for example.

It involves a turning – as a practice — letting go of fear. Trusting that things will be all right in spite of what we feel.

Because Jesus lives, we also shall live. And it takes a leap of faith. A spiritual “leap of faith” is not from unbelief to belief, it is from fear to love. Trusting that….. love is the last thing standing.

Amen.

 

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