We are now in the 5th Sunday of Easter as we head toward Pentecost.? Pentecost is the second Sunday of June, those full fifty days after Easter.? Our Pentecost Sunday celebrations are going to be festive this year with decorations, along with several guests.
On the United Church of Christ side of our denominational affiliations, we have a sister congregation on the north side of Indianapolis which is in a pastoral search for a new clergy.? Many churches will narrow their search down to three or four candidates and arrange for the pastoral search committee to go to a neutral location, somewhere other than the church that is searching, rather than the church of the pastoral candidate who is job hunting.? Because, let?s say a pastoral search committee showed up here to listen to me, twelve or fifteen of them, sat all together and huddled together afterwards and didn?t seem interested in the church, but only in the pastor.?? That could be awkward.
So, on Pentecost Sunday we will have such a group and a pastor from a church in Illinois which he has told that he is taking a Sunday?s vacation away and they will all meet here to get to know each other more completely.? We will play host to that process.? We will not identify which church is hunting, nor the church that the candidate is from.? The candidate will be writing the liturgy and preaching the sermon.? We were asked by our denomination folks in Indy to host this event because of our progressive liberal voice in the association of UCC churches that match this particular candidate and the church that is hunting.? And, incidentally, also in June, our friend from last year, The Rev. Christel Weber from Germany, will be staying with Lynn and me and preaching one Sunday during her three week doctoral studies program in preaching held in Chicago.
We are not alone.? We are part of a family of churches.? On the American Baptist side, incidentally, two of our couples in deep and wonderful love from First United?..Don and Joe Wooldridge and Donovan Walling and Sam Troxal, have been/will be legally married in Rochester, New York by our American Baptist partners there.? Joe and Don came back here, as will Sam and Donovan, for a religious marriage ceremony.
We are family, in active caring relationship with one another. It is not always easy, is it, to be in ongoing relationship at any level?individually, as couples, as a church family, as a group of church families, as political partners in parties of choice and with those who differ from us politically.? We see it on the world stage between major religious groups and obviously between nations.? We have a growing sense of the difficulty of us human beings within our own natural environment as we continue to discover that we cannot in an unabridged fashion overuse the earth and not expect our very survival to be in peril.
Churches and all faith groups play major roles in bringing a sense of order and meaningful solutions to the forefront in every major and minor conflict in our lives?individually, within groups, and worldwide.? Individual churches were slow, but have been gaining momentum in the last twenty years, to bring common sense, good science, renewed theological and biblical interpretation as churches like our own have stepped forward to be open welcoming and affirming of Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered and Queer folks.
It did not happen easily.? There was anger, hurt, disappointment, loss, gain and happiness.? Our faith community has changed in so many ways as we let go of past restrictions that no longer made sense and we moved affirmatively forward.? It happened in this same congregation in the 1950?s when this group became the first all-white church in town to intentionally integrate blacks and whites in one congregation.? Faith, centered fully in God?s love of us, should always be pulling us provocatively forward in our lives, lured beyond our pasts, our most sacred prejudices, into new dimensions and experimentation with what it means to be a woman or man of faith.
We are in this liturgical season called Easter where we focus on the stories that help define what it means for us to know the post-Easter Jesus of faith.? It is somewhat easy to live with the Historical Jesus.? We have a good idea of how he lived his life.? But, post-Easter is a challenge!? What does it mean to be in relationship with a God who is not satisfied to live in the past or even to join us in our present anxieties. God is faithful to always be pulling us toward what yet can be.? God is not the God of the dead.? God is the God of the living and has dreams for us beyond even our wildest imaginings.
One of my favorite post-Easter sentences in all the Gospels is found in Mark 16:6-8; it is the ending of the original Mark narrative. The disciples, folks like you and me, were locked away in fear for their lives.? Jesus had come to an end.? The final doorway that defined life, death, had happened to the one they had hope in, security in, a future in.? The doorway was closed.? The job had ended.? The deal was done.
The bravest disciples, the ones who perhaps loved Jesus the most, Mary Magdalene, another Mary, and Salome went to the tomb early in the morning, where they heard these words, ?Don?t be alarmed.?? Jesus in this morning?s text from John?s gospel says, ?Don?t let your hearts be troubled.?? And, of course, who wouldn?t be anxious when the stone that covers a grave is rolled away, when our eyes and hearts, which have been sealed closed for so much of our lives, are let loose and we stand in front of the great unknown, where everything that we had previously thought unmovable has now been set adrift into a world that we could not even imagine even a moment before.
Mark?s Gospel closes with the following two verses, ?You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. ?He has risen.? He is not here?, go, tell his disciples and Peter.? He is going ahead of you into Galilee?.?? This is our earliest Gospel resurrection narrative and many things are noteworthy.
First, the resurrection in Mark?s story telling is very undefined, as in not at all.? Many of the stories about Jesus appearing and talking and walking and eating fish and passing through walls are later narrative creations?later by as many as two or three decades later.? We have preserved in Mark?s Gospel the simple exciting discovery that death has not held Jesus and a new future is breaking open to be lived.
Second, we discover that the resurrection was not first experienced by the early group in Jerusalem but the homecoming and sending out happened back home again in Galilee where they were all from.? We don?t know much about what happened in Galilee because when the story got written down years later there were political reasons to describe it as happening in Jerusalem?but it really happened not in some capital city like Washington, D. C. or New York or London.? It happened in a tiny place like Capurnium or Bedford or Bloomfield or Martinsville.? God breaks free most easily in places that most people have given up on.
The fun part of those two verses for me, however, is Mark?s phrase, ?Jesus is going ahead of you?.?? In John?s Gospel reading this morning, we have something of the same idea, ?I am going to prepare a place for you?, and you know the way to where I am going.?? If this was a test question directly from Jesus, which it was, do we know the answer?? Aren?t we sort of glad that it was Thomas and Phillip who dared say, ?No we don?t know how to get to where, er, we don?t even know where you are going.?
In the Greek manuscripts the words in these phrases can be interpreted, translated either into concrete places like rooms and mansions, or they can as easily talk about Jesus showing the way to have an ongoing, permanent, intimate, deepening relationship with God.? One of the problems with translations is that once they become popularized they often become literalized.
I favor that Jesus was going ahead of them, as usual, but even unto death to discover that life beyond life, life beyond the grave, is a reality and an even deeper move into intimacy with all that is divine.? When Jesus says that he and God are one, I don?t think he is saying, ?I am God.?? He is suggesting that all of creation, you and me and the birds of the air and the rocks of the ground are part of a oneness , a unity with God that, when known, enables us to know that we are valued by God, strengthens us to serve in the ways of God to such an extent that we can, must, love even our enemies, even our earth, even, perhaps especially so, the Taliban and Al Qaeda, as well as the homeless who need a hand up and Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, and Ann Coulter, who need help stepping down to loving realities rather than arrogant, pompous, and destructive prejudices that further divide our world.
I think we do know the way of Jesus, to where he has gone and is still calling us to go.? This week we learned that the entering class at Harvard this fall will be 40% non-white, in a country that now has a black President.? None of this was possible when I was born, and was only barely imagined when Martin Luther King Jr. led the Selma to Montgomery march.? Yet without his dream, his walk and hopes for garbage collectors, this would not be.? Greater works, Jesus said, greater works have been and will be done by those who step out and speak up, praying not only with words but with daring deeds, dedication and devotion, praying not just for their immediate need, but for a new future.
Jesus was not suggesting that believing in him is the only way.? He was suggesting that loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbors as ourselves, that placing ourselves in deep relationship with the divine and everyone else, will produce miracles we can scarcely imagine still.
Be in love with God.? Follow the way of Jesus.? Do not let your hearts be troubled.? Jesus has gone ahead of us and we do know the way to the place where God is.?? The way is one of being deep in relationship with all of creation?and really, don?t we know what God requires?? To love justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.
Our time is now to do even greater things than have ever come before us.?? The future as defined by our loving relationship with God is ours, as partners with God, to create.? Let?s go build a better world.