It’s odd — an Easter Sunday in which my mind wasn’t totally on what was going on at the corner of Moss Rd. & Hwy 49.
Was I layin’ down on the job as they say? Nope. I was a bit distracted because our church gave birth to a second campus on Sunday, and I was eager to hear how things were going on Zoar Road.
Turns out things went very, very well.
Moss wasn’t so bad, either, with record crowds, good enthusiasm, and a sermon that landed on this bottom line:
Your avoiding will always lose to God’s invading.
I also had a few impromptu early remarks — spurred on by what I heard as I was being prayed over before the service started — that one of the ways we avoid resurrection’s implications is by making Easter about bunnies and candy. I said, “Easter’s not cuddly. Easter is an earthquake.” People resonated with that.
Isn’t it true that there are some things that, given the choice, we’d just as soon avoid? Root canals. Kidney stones. PBS or NPR Pledge Drives, even if they DO give a tote bag. In laws. You know what it is for me? Walk up to someone’s house to invite them to church – which I do a lot – and I hear this (Daniel – dog collar from August). I immediately think Cujo (AV) is behind the door and I am scared of Lassie! Dogs: something I’d just as soon avoid.
And it’s amazing the lengths we go to in order to avoid the things we’d just as soon avoid. Like that preacher you may have of out in the country who woke up to the improbable sight of a dead donkey in his front yard. Can we all agree that disposing of donkey carcasses is high on the list of things you’d just as soon avoid? Anyway, the preacher called the sanitation dept, the health dept, the social services dept and no one would help him. Desperate, he called the mayor’s office & asked what could be done. The mayor was himself having a bad day and asked, “Why bother me? You’re the preacher? It’s your job to bury the dead.” And the pastor . . . quick on his feet . . . answered, “Yes it is. But I thought I should at least notify the next of kin.”
Yep, we go to all kinds of lengths to avoid all kinds of things. And sometimes we take that notion into areas of our lives that in the long run we probably SHOULDN’T avoid. Relationships, family, marriage, faith. A lot of times we even do it with the very people we should be closest to; those others would assume we would have deepest connection with. I realized in thinking about this talk that the energy many families should pour into relationships get avoided by talking instead about what is ultimately trivial: sports, technology, politics. Relationships between spouses andparens/kids and even siblings that need intimacy and depth & yet any potential messiness gets avoided by that which is ultimately insignificant.
It’s why a lot of you who WERE married before and AREN’T married now look back and think, “yeah, that’s what happened. We avoided, we held secrets, we live parallel lives, and one day it all blew up.” You thought if you didn’t feel you wouldn’t hurt. You were wrong, weren’t you? There are few things more dangerous, relationally, than avoiding.
And I’d wager the same is true of thing of the spirit, the life with God. We keep a safe distance from them. Even on Easter. And you know the main strategy we use; the very thing some of you are using right now? The thing we do to protect ourselves from really thinking of their implications because we KNOW if we were to really consider things like resurrection, it would rock us out of our routine, catapault us out of our comfort? The easiest way to avoid dealing with something is to dismiss it before you even consider it! Since life is random, keep a distance – even a mocking distance – from anything that feels like love or sentiment or . . . faith or danger.
Which has everything to do with Easter. Luke’s telling of Easter. Look at 24:1:
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.
You know what kind of history and meaning are packed into that one little verse? THREE fascinating things: 1) In ancient times, crucified people did NOT get a proper burial. They were LEFT ON THE CROSS FOR DAYS, where the animals would pick them apart. Then just when there wasn’t much left but some skin and a few bones, govt workers would come, pick the remains off the cross, drop it in a bag, and take the bag to the city dump (in Jerusalem, called “hell”!) And you complain if the internet is too slow AT YOUR JOB?! That was a job to avoid, people! The only reason Jesus was buried is that a rich man, J of A, intervened & gave him a funeral and a tomb. 2) Do you know why the women had spices? They were going to re-embalm him! Joseph got it started & now three days later, they’re coming to complete the job. And 3) Why are these women doing it? (We’ll get their names later.) Because the men ARE BUSY AVOIDING! They didn’t go to his funeral and so they damn sure aren’t going to his embalming! Ever since Jesus’ trial and Peter’s denial they’d been keeping their distance. Mark actually tells us that “all abandoned him.” When Jesus needed support he got sucker punched.
So the women go un-chaperoned on this morbid mission of re-embalming, and then this in 24:2-3:
2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
Found / did not find. Then look at 24:4-5a:
4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground,
READ. That “gleam like lightning” for sure makes us think of the first jaw dropper, when Jesus turned inside out! And I love the response of the women to these Mr. Gleams in 24:5: terrified. Listen: EVERYTIME in Scripture angels or messengers appear people respond in terror. They are not cuddly! (And dead people don’t turn into living angels, but that’s another sermon!)
And then the great line from these guys in 24:5b – 6a:
but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen!
It’s the whole Gospel in Q & A: Why are you poking around death when you’re looking for life? He is not here; he is risen. You haven’t found him but you’ll be found by him! Then a combination rebuke/reminder in 24:6-8:
Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.
And then . . . the story gets really good. (Ironic, I know, that I’m up here saying the resurrection, that once-in-a-universe event, isn’t the best part of the story, but hey.) Look at 24:9a: R
9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.
Note “came back.” What? Remember? The rest were professional avoiders! So the ladies have entered adventure and now returning to routine. Then Luke gives us their names in 24:10:
It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.
And then, here’s the best thing ever for those of us who keep safe distance in 24:11:
11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
Nonsense. Idle tales. Literally this word leiron (rhymes with LeBron), which is where we get delirious AND which was a vulgarity in ancient times. Nowhere else in Scripture & yet Luke uses it to describe Jesus’ FRIENDS reaction to the news of resurrection. You know what it’s most like? BULL! (You thought I was going for more, didn’t you? On Easter! Nope!) What did I say is the easiest way to AVOID? To dismiss!
Now: men in the ancient world regarded women as constitutionally unreliable; their testimony was by definition was not reliable. But I think something much more is going on, and the vulgarity shows it. The 11 and the others had adopted an air of skepticism, detachment (because if you don’t feel you won’t hurt!), and avoidance and so they respond to the universe changing news with mocking, derision, and profanity! They stiff arm the truth in the mistaken belief that avoiding will protect their emotions when the truth is that all it does is wall you off from love.
Oh, this avoiding is so dangerous. Because here’s something else I know: a good # of you here do believe that Jesus rose from the dead – you’re not scoffing at THAT – but you’re actually in a more dangerous place. You’re stiff-arming its implications. You’re not sure what all the fuss is about. You’re like the person who told me years ago, “I guess I still believe he rose from the dead but I’m not sure what difference it makes.” Do you realize the absurdity of that? If he DID rise . . . and if you BELIEVE he rose . . . then everything else he said was true. People who rise from the dead can’t be wrong. They can’t lie. They can’t deceive. Because it’s only been one, it’s not scalable & repeatable (yet), if Jesus can do that, he can do anything. He is still doing anything. The whole life pattern of distance, detachment, irony, calling stuff BS is dangerous to your relationships and deadly to your faith.
And so I want you to know that the four women in 24:10, they got it. They got what the guys missed. They knew and lived an discovered that since nothing is more dangerous than keeping your distance, you’re never safer than when you’re risking for God and with God. Because they knew something profound that Easter shouts out to you and to me: Your avoiding will always lose to God’s invading.
We, today, at Good Shepherd, are living in the middle of that truth. Zoar. Three years ago, the Methodists said to me, “Zoar UMC can’t make, would you like to take it at Good Shepherd?” Me? “No. No. Hell no! I’m keeping my distance! Let me do what I know how to do here. Same old, same old” But thank God I was surrounded by Board and staff who were willing to go in to the tomb, poke around, see some gleaming men, and say to me, “Come into an adventure instead of keeping your distance and watching from the sides.” And here we are! Your avoiding will always lose to God’s invading.
A few weeks ago, during a series on prayer, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer at Good Shepherd. Nothing unusual in that. Except I told ppl who knew the words to look around the room as they did it. Weird! Awkward! Until it became glorious. Here’s what someone wrote me about that:
Hi Talbot! Had to share this cool follow up story to Sunday’s service. When we said the Lord’s Prayer out loud and you asked us to make eye contact with our neighbors, a couple of times I met eyes with the same guy (who I didn’t know) and we shared (awkward) smiles. Well fast forward to today and I bump into a Dad picking up his child in my daughter’s preschool class. I recognized him but wasn’t sure how then thought, I think that’s the guy from Sunday’s service?! I didn’t want to seem rude by asking this stranger where he goes to church but I did anyway and sure enough…it was him! We exchanged laughs about the “awkward” eye contact but agreed it was a really awesome moment connecting a large congregation of semi-strangers in such a powerful way. Brightened my day to have that connection made from just a few seconds of intentional eye contact and a shared prayer
Your avoiding will always lose to God’s invading.
That kind of thing only happens as you allow resurrection to propel you into your danger zone; out of the familiar and into the fabulous; out of the redundant and into the abundant. Because the shocking truth is this: resurrection that day so long is FACT; Jesus is the only one who said he was God and then proved it by rising from the dead, and when you stop stiff arming that truth, you realize resurrection still happens. The power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in you! Not in you if you’re skeptical, scoffing, ironic, tai chi-ing your emotions. In you as you risk, as you stop keeping a distance from your mate, stop deflecting the emotions of your kids, start entering into faith practices that used to terrify you.
Because look at Peter. Peter the coward. Peter the chicken. Peter who denies. Peter the guy, which in this story usually means the one hiding. Look at 24:12: READ. Ah, he gets it! What the girls got! He ran. He was never safer than when he was running towards a tomb! That’s when God had him where he wanted him! He allowed himself to be invaded and the rest is not history, the rest is eternity.
Oh, if you’re curious, like Peter, and want to know more . . . run. Ask, seek, knock. God will honor that.
Or if you’ve believed in resurrection forever, but just kept its implications at a distance, start catching up with Peter. Join a LifeGroup. Get on aServeTeam. Help thisZoar crew make Sunday #2 as incredible as Sunday #1.
And if you don’t think you can be of much use in this big thing called the Kingdom, remember who God chooses to be the first preachers. The women. Entrusts those that culture did not trust with the biggest headline of all time. Imagine what he can do with you. Your avoiding will always lose to God’s invading.
I know someone who stopped keeping his distance and started acting more like a girl. Listen to his story now:
Growing up we went to church most of the time, but I it was never something I enjoyed doing. It was highly structured and kinda boring. Through the years, we went less and less, finally just on Christmas and Easter, but other than that we stopped going.
As I got older and had a family of my own, I told myself we were too busy with kids sports tournaments on weekends & I figured “believing was good enough.” I never gave my children an opportunity to be involved in a church and that is still one of my biggest disappointments as a parent.
Well, my world was ROCKED a year ago. I found myself not know how to handle it. I found myself praying for help, strength & protection for my family . . . but I knew I needed something more in light of all I was asking. So I found myself needing a living relationship with Jesus as a result, in this church. In the past church was just something you had to do on Sunday, but today it is truly the best part of my week. I am still reconnecting with Jesus and it is so special I don’t want to take it for granted again. I realized that even though I was too busy for him, he still invaded me in my darkest time. I know, now, that he likes having me publicly on his team.