May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.
My sister-in-law Martha and her son, Sam, are in the middle of a six-month adventure to the country of Nicaragua. Yes, at the beginning of January she lined someone up to sub-let her house, she left her job, and enrolled Sam in a school in the town of Granada, Nicaragua. They flew out of the country on January 13 to have this experience alone – she and her son, whose eighth birthday happens to be today. I have to admit to you, I have mulled it over in my mind quite a bit since I heard about the plans last November. To me, there were so many things to be worried about, besides their own safety while living away from US soil: what if something serious were to happen to the house while they are gone that needs repair? What if the sub-letters either trash the place or do not pay their monthly rent? What if Sam doesn't do well in his new surroundings? What if he gets sick? How can they afford to do this financially? What if something happens to Sam's dad here in the US, who struggles with health issues, while they are gone? With all of these things to be concerned about, I just could not grasp my mind around the concept of even considering such a trip! When I was first told about her plans, I felt a little bit like the disciples who realize that Jesus really has returned from the dead: disbelieving and still wondering.
I remember back when someone in the family first asked me if I knew that Martha was planning to do this; I think I said something to the effect of, “I didn't know about this, but knowing Martha, it doesn't surprise me!” And if any of you know Martha, it shouldn't surprise you either. Now I have to share full disclosure here – I am not talking behind Martha's back. I have sent her a copy of my manuscript for today so that she knows I am using her and Sam as illustrations in my sermon! And trust me I am using them as positive illustrations! My earlier struggles with her six months away are based on the fact that I am a very different person than she is – and at a different place in life than she. For these reasons, I feel more tied down to things: like my job and my house and the roots that our family has set down are too deep to travel in the manner that they are doing. It would be too much of a risk for me, and I project that risk onto someone else. But as I said before, if you know Martha, then you should have known that something like this was a possibility for her. She is being true to her nature as someone who likes to explore, who has a deep hunger for experiencing many cultures, especially in Latin America; and she has a deep desire to expose her son to these things as well. She is being true to her nature.
In much the same way, the disciples should not have been surprised to see Jesus risen from the dead – to see his hands and feet with the markings of his suffering and death still plain to remind them of the sacrifice that he made for all of us; to touch him in the midst of their natural doubts and fears; to share a meal with him as he proves that he is really, truly bodily alive again! And to listen to him as he opened their minds to understanding all of the scriptures from the books of Moses, the writings of the Prophets, and even the Psalms that they sang at worship. This risen Jesus might have caught them by surprise at first, but if they thought about who Jesus was, then they quickly would have realized that this was what his life was all leading up to!
Think about Jesus' life; think about how he sought to bring peace to the anxious; consider how, during his life his presence transformed every gathering into something special and joyful. And remember how Jesus preached that the good news of God's love is for everyone in the world, not just the insiders or the privileged. Jesus is calling them to look at him with resurrection eyes, to not just see someone who is new and strange, but to see someone who is true to how he was before being raised from the dead. The promise of joy and glory that come with the resurrection of the dead, and the promise of hope that comes to the hopeless, shouldn't surprise any of his disciples or any of us. It is a case of Jesus being Jesus! And in this final victory, it is Jesus being Jesus to the nth degree!
So what does this mean for us today? We proclaim that Jesus Christ IS risen – not that he WAS risen, but that he rose and he is still risen! So since he remains alive and active, forgiving sins and providing new opportunities in life, how are we affected? First of all, it is important to remember that Jesus is the Lord of surprise! In his parables, his healings, his interactions with people, he continued to surprise them with new ways of looking at our lives and our relationships with God and each other. He told a story of a good Samaritan! He healed many people on the one day that people aren't supposed to work, that being the Sabbath. He allowed those who were unclean to touch him, knowing that they would become clean rather than he becoming defiled. In all that Jesus did, life and forgiveness and love won out.
I know that in our world today that doesn't always happen. Even though Jesus has defeated sin, death and the devil, there is still evil all around. In our Tuesday lesson study this week, we really got side-tracked on talking about tragic and sad events that have been reported in the news the last few weeks. We are at a point in our existence that we want some stability and security. But, being true to his nature, Jesus Christ promises to risk it all, even today, in order to bring joy, peace and life to this troubled world. So we do see people healed of disease and pains and brokenness. We are surprised to learn of the body of Christ on earth, the church, reaching out to bring hope and life to troubled people. We hold out hope that Jesus Christ will remain true to his nature, and will still share the life giving power from God even and especially in situations where we are disbelieving, bewildered, confused, or flat out disagree with the thought that there is any hope or life.
As I consider my earlier sharing it strikes me that I was asking those, “what if…” questions of Martha's situations expecting the negative. This is wrong, and I personally don't like when our own congregation asks those kinds of negative questions: “What if…. we don't meet our budget? …we lose more people? …we have a major repair needed in the church? …we have to close someday?” I want to encourage us in light of this passage to remember the nature of Jesus and ask more positive “what if” questions: “What if…. we expect to grow in numbers this year? ….we seriously pray for God's leading us? …we know that God wants us to take risks?”
Each of us know people who, when they do something we say, “knowing them, that doesn't surprise me!” I would imagine when each of us does something that we want to do, there are people who say the same about each of us! There may have even been a few that claimed that plans for my sabbatical were born from the ideas of my generation which they struggle to understand. Much like my own struggling to understand my sister-in-law's current “sabbatical” that she and her son are on. Much like we struggle to understand the presence of God's grace through Jesus Christ in this day and age. What I ask is that you don't give up the struggle! That is what Jesus is asking – don't give up the struggle to understand and to witness to the presence of the risen Lord in our midst. And to ask those positive, “what if…” questions about not only our church life, but about your own personal life. We know there will be surprises! We know that God will forgive people that we would never forgive, and use others who we have written off as dead to us! We know that God will lead us to places where we have never been, to experience joy in ways that we never have as a church and as individuals. Continue to struggle with what you witness happening in God's name, knowing that if you truly know God, you should expect it; it really shouldn't surprise you!
May we continue to look for and struggle with the risen presence of the Lord of life in our midst today, celebrating our differences, and witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ, which is for everybody! Amen.