Sunday, April 28, 2013
Acts 11: 1-18, NT page 130 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners, and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit feel upon them, just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that God gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” Sermon Memphis has been in the news recently. Last Wednesday in the Daily Herald was an article about the park naming committee who is looking over citizen suggestions for new names for three Memphis City Parks that were (quote) “stripped of their Confederate identities.” These three parks that are currently without a name were previously known as Forrest Park, Confederate Park, and Jefferson Davis Park. Forrest Park so named because it contains the grave of Confederate cavalry officer Nathan Bedford Forrest. Reported among the six pages of new names suggested by Memphis citizens that the park naming committee is looking over were, “Better Future Park” and “Welcome Center Park,” as well as “Two Dead Flies Park,” which tells me that some people are taking this process lightly while many others are not. The Klan is rallying, as are the counter protestors, and the police are frequently in full rally gear, because so many in Memphis know that what is at stake here is not the name of a few parks but the future of a city. In the same way, we might read this passage from Acts and wonder why Peter seems to be in such trouble, having to explain himself to the circumcised believers who were criticizing him asking, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” “What’s the big deal – he just ate with them?” you might ask, but that’s like saying, “What’s the big deal, just name the park.” The identity of the Church is on the line here, particularly the authority of the leaders in Jerusalem was on the line, and in the preceding chapter of Acts Peter’s own identity seemed to be on the line as well. If the Church goes accepting Gentiles left and right without first calling them to live under the Jewish Law given by Moses that dictates diet and lifestyle – if they can just become Christians without giving up their Roman ways than the Church risks losing its Jewish Roots, and what’s worse, it seems as though this radical change has occurred without Peter asking anyone’s permission in Jerusalem. The men from Caesarea take Peter back to a home that any Jew would have called unclean – and Peter just goes without Jerusalem’s endorsement. As he debated with himself in Acts chapter 10, deciding whether or not to go to this gentile’s house, to eat food that he wasn’t used to eating as his vision suggested he should, he is referred to interchangeably as Simon, the name he was given at birth, and Peter, the name given to him by Christ. He is faced with an uncomfortable situation, and as he decides what to do he vacillates between the two names as though he were deciding who he would become – Simon the fisherman or Peter, the rock that Christ’s church was to be founded on. This is the decision that so many have to make – go away to college and risk losing the approval of family who never graduated high school. Some fall in love with another that their parents might never accept, and so a hard choice has to be made. Others leave the friends they grew up with to make a choice all their own and what they end up losing is the same thing that Peter risks losing here. What Peter was willing to do by going with the three men from Caesarea and not making a distinction between them and himself, went against everything that Peter had always believed about who is clean and who isn’t, who can be trusted and who can’t, who he should be seen with and who he shouldn’t be seen with. The apostles and believers in Judea have to call him on it – they thought he’d gone off the deep end, and surely they wondered: “What’s next Peter? If we don’t have to worry about the Law of Moses any more, if we can go eating whatever we want, can we also just do whatever we want? If you are eating with Romans today in their roman houses who knows what you’ll be doing tomorrow, maybe eating with dogs out of their dog bowls.” They wanted him to be preaching what they thought, what they had all been told, he should have been preaching. That the church up in Joppa needs to play by the rules decided here in Jerusalem, but the Holy Spirit was there causing Peter to question all that saying, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This is a hard lesson for the world today. So many earthly authorities will say that new people are fine, new ideas are fine, just so long as things don’t really change. Sure, give the new employees a vote, just so long as we still hold the reigns. Of course we should listen to the dissenting voices, but let’s just listen to them without taking seriously what they say. When word of these Gentile converts reaches Jerusalem, the problem is not that they converted; the problem is that they were allowed to convert by the authority of the Holy Spirit and not with the approval of the believers in Jerusalem. Suddenly the ones who had grown used to holding power aren’t in charge – and while by the end of our scripture lesson everybody is just fine, don’t be surprised if the process isn’t so easy anywhere else. Memphis struggles with naming three parks – some are saying you can’t re-write history, others say the time of racism must come to an end, and we’ll just have to wait and see if any park is left by the end of it. So often it’s a call to one or the other – Jefferson Davis Park or Better Future Park – but what happens to the Church is that the Gentile changes the Jew and the Jew changes the Gentile, and because neither wins out and neither loses and the Church grows and prospers. It could have been different – the Jews in Jerusalem could have tightened their grip on the power that they had and slowly strangled all that they had worked for. The Gentiles might have taken their Good News and forgotten where it came from, leaving Jerusalem in the dust and losing their roots in the process. In the same way, Jefferson Davis Park can go on being Jefferson Davis Park regardless of who it offends and Better Future Park can talk about some better future pretending that the past never happened. But here Scripture shows us another way with the acknowledgement that if there is to be a future it must be a future forged together, for Peter was better because, while he remembered where he came from his heart was open to where he might go. I pray that you will do the same – not forgetting who you are and who you were raised to be, but able to walk out into a new and uncertain future led by the Spirit. Honoring your past while realizing that mistakes need to be fixed and not ignored, not letting wrongs be wrongs forever but working to make them right. And for whatever great gifts your parents pasted down to you, so also they passed down traditions that must come to an end. For Peter it was the Law that divided Jew and Gentile, but whatever it is for you, do not be confined to the patterns of your birth, instead let the Spirit lead you to new life. Amen.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Acts 9: 36-43, NT page 128 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner. Sermon In our second year of seminary my friend Fred and I, like all our classmates, were required to spend ten hours a week as chaplains-in-training at local hospitals. This was a difficult job because we didn’t know what we were doing, but still we were asked to knock on hospital doors, asking if the patients inside would like to talk or pray with a chaplain. Some didn’t have any interest, but many people did, and mostly those who did just wanted someone to sit and talk – it’s easy to forget that so many who stay at the hospital don’t have anyone to visit them. Others would ask us to pray, which we were more than happy to do having been trained in how to pray, but there was one occasion when my friend Fred truly had no idea what to do. My friend Fred was assigned to the Intensive Care Unit. He knocked on the door to a patient’s room, was invited in by the patient’s wife, and immediately noticed that the patient was dead, which presented a challenge for Fred – for as he made his way into the room the patient’s wife asked Fred to raise her husband from the dead. Let me remind you that Fred was in his second year of seminary and didn’t really know what he was doing. It seems to me that Peter finds himself in essentially the same position. He had seen Jesus raise people from the dead – he had even see Jesus raise himself from the dead – but seeing Jesus do something and doing it yourself, those are two very different things. And just as Fred walked into a room and was asked to do something he never imagined he would be asked to do, so Peter is brought to the bedside of Tabitha, though never does anyone tell him that he’s being brought there because Tabitha is dead. These widows know what they want from Peter however, and they do not anoint her body for burial with oils and spices, nor do they put on a shroud – instead they wash her and put her upstairs as though soon enough everything would be back to normal. Then Peter arrived, and when he arrived, “they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.” Then – only then - did Peter know what they expected of him. Not some measly prayer. Not some comforting words. Peter was being asked to raise this woman from the dead and I imagine that what they expected of Peter in this moment was far more than he expected of himself. He could not have been ready, but I don’t suppose we ever are. The baby is born and suddenly finding enough time to take a shower seems completely impossible. She won’t sleep, she won’t eat, and every time you put her down she cries. Were you ready for that? Certainly she expects you to be. Or maybe it’s that one day he was here and could help you – you had him to cut the grass, file your taxes, and make you feel secure. Only one day he’s here and the next day he’s gone and all of a sudden you are the one who has to take care of everything and you have to do it all by yourself. Were you ready for that? Certainly he hopes that you are. “Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed” – of course he did. He was being asked to do more than he thought he was capable of – but what else could he do – these women believed in him, they were counting on him, they had expectations of him, just like Jesus. Very early on, as we are introduced to Peter in the Gospels, he is given a new name and Christ tells him that he will be called “Peter,” which means rock, because he will be the rock that the Church is founded on. Later he was invited to walk on water out on the sea. Christ knew he could do it but Peter didn’t and because of Peter’s doubts he sinks right down. And then after he is crucified, Peter who swore that he would never deny Christ denies him three times, as though who Jesus thinks he is and who he actually is are two different people. Jesus however, never stops believing in him, just as he never stops believing in you. Today is Confirmation Sunday, and what will soon be asked of the five young men and women who will join the church is surely too much. Maybe that’s what you think; that surely it is too much to ask for you to take seriously your membership here at this church – you’re too young, you’re too busy, you’re not prepared. The world teaches us all that we can’t, so while Kindergarten classrooms are filled with children, every one of them aspires to be a doctor and at the same time, a professional baseball player, all of them considers himself a musician because he can play the tambourine, all of them an artist because she made a mosaic turtle out of dried beans, sooner or later though doubt creeps in, and by 9th grade you’re so convinced that you aren’t good enough you’ve forgotten who you are – so convinced that the classmates who criticize you have it right, and anyone who believes in you just must not know what he’s talking about. “I’m not good enough, surely,” we are all bold to say, but do not be so sure that who the world has told you you are, who you yourself thinks you are, is who you actually are. I was proud to receive a vase last week from Mrs. Wanda Turner – two beautiful flowers and a handwritten card with the words: “You are not who you think you are, but who Jesus thinks you are.” Does not Jesus know you better than you know yourself, and did not those women who called Peter to the bedside of Dorcas know what he was capable of better than Peter himself knew? Wesley Baxter, Ashtron Garman, Lexie Pulliam, Andrew Hanvy, Kara Potts - Today this church only asks of you what we already know you are capable of. We ask you to stand beside us in worship honoring God, to help us make decisions during congregational meetings, trusting you to govern this church as full voting members. And we ask you to use your voice, to challenge this church – calling any part of us that is dead back to life. Peter turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Now I’m not saying you have the power to raise the dead, but I’m not saying you don’t either. Speak, and by the power of your words who knows what will be possible? Amen.
Monday, April 15, 2013
Acts 9: 1-20 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” Sermon Children go through phases, and my nephew Sam Pace who was baptized this morning is in an early phase of life where nearly everything is done for him: where he is fed, his diapers are changed, he’s rocked to sleep, and there is almost nothing that he does on his own. But other phases are coming. Sam’s cousins, my two daughters, are both in a different phase – a phase where many things are still done for them, but where, thanks be to God, each are interested in doing things, “All by myself.” We’ll get in the car, and will sit there in the busy parking lot, cars waiting to take our spot, but I can’t back up for Lily wants to buckle her car seat all by herself. Cecelia doesn’t want any help at the dinner table, though she requires help changing her outfit after its been covered in ketchup or butter or whatever, which she put there all by herself. I think Lyn and Ami may envy the stage that my children are in, my wife and I sometimes envy the stage that Sam is in, but soon enough they will all change again – though many people in our world never get beyond wanting to do everything all by themselves. Our society seems to think that is how it ought to be, promoting the idea of the self-made individual. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps, she built up that business on her own, and no matter how lost he is he will not be asking for directions, for to ask for help is a sign of weakness and I want to do it my way. Sam may want to be like that. I find myself wanting to be like that – maybe you want to be like that too, and certainly the Apostle Paul, who in our lesson for this morning goes by “Saul,” the name he went by before God changed it, possessed some of this self-determination, this personal strength and confidence to do things on his own without asking for assistance. He was powerful enough to bind any who belonged to the Way, he was pure and disciplined enough to inspire respect among the religious hierarchy, he had access to the High Priest and who knows who else. He didn’t take orders, he gave them, and certainly on his way to Damascus he would not be asking for directions. But something happened on the way there, and it’s something that happens to everyone though it may not be quite so obvious when it happens to you. His human development seemed to move in reverse. He moved, not from the “all by myself stage” to an even greater stage of independence, but moved back to the stage of complete dependence. He could no longer find his way to Damascus, but had to be led there by the hand like a small child crossing the street. For three days he was without sight, and he neither ate nor drank, as though he were not even able to feed himself. And what’s worse is that having begun this trip “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” due to his complete helplessness he finds himself at the mercy of one of these so called disciples. The Lord told this disciple, Ananias, that “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name,” and indeed the Lord did. Suffering for a man who was raised to be strong, independent, self-sufficient, is nothing if not such an existence - life at the mercy of another is not life at all. Or certainly that’s what the world has told us. So many choose hunger before handouts, go broke keeping up with everyone else, certainly some would prefer death to asking for help sure that success is won by those who can do it all by themselves. But as far as the Gospel goes – when you find the end of independence you have discovered the beginning of faith, which makes the truth of the Gospel seem like foolishness to the world. I say that, confident that there were those who would have let him die a slow, painful death there on the side of the road to Damascus, and there were surely those who believed God would make him blind to do just such a thing. But the evil Paul had done all by himself would not define him. I imagine that he could feel the end creeping in as the world became dark and he grasped the meaning of helplessness. But what Paul could not do on his own hardly makes up the story we tell today, just as what you cannot do for yourself does not form the essence of yours. Baptizing babies makes little sense in a world where individuals are judged by what they have done, but this is not so with you. You have been marked by a power greater than yourself. You are defined, not by accomplishment or failure, not by wealth or poverty, not by piety or tragedy. You are God’s own – and when you come to the end of what you can do for yourself you stand on the horizon of what God will do through you. Faith is the difference between being lost on the Damascus Road and getting back on the street called Straight. It’s the difference between blindness and seeing yourself as God sees you. It’s the difference between helplessness and holiness. It’s the difference between who the world will tell my nephew he is and who you will tell him he is. It’s the difference between knowing that what you can do to earn your salvation will never be enough and knowing that what Christ has done for your salvation is more than enough. Christ has done for Paul what Paul could not do for himself. And he has done for you what you cannot do for yourself. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
John 20: 24-31, NT page 115 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. Sermon My 3rd grade teacher wanted her class to understand the ongoing national presidential election, so one at a time we all went into a section of the library curtained off as a voting booth to choose between the two presidential candidates. Neither name meant too much to me, but one thing I did know even as a third grader – that growing up in Georgia it would be better for my reputation not to have anyone calling me a democrat. A few years later I was over at a friend’s house, and, for whatever reason, I was worried about being called picky. My friend’s mother asked me if I’d like a tomato sandwich for lunch – I told her that I would love one. Then she asked me if I had ever had a tomato sandwich before, and I had not, but because I didn’t want to be called picky, I told her I was sure I’d love it, though I didn’t. There are many other occasions where I have been less than honest to avoid being called something that I didn’t want to be called. I’ve kept my mouth shut during innumerable political conversations, walked away during immigration debates, pretended that I had voted when I had not, and stared intently at my plate during a dinner party hoping not to be asked directly any number of questions for fear that what happened to Thomas would happen to me. He has been known as Doubting Thomas for generations, while Peter, who denies Christ three times is never called Denying Peter, mirroring the habits of our society – where, perhaps ironically, we punish those who speak out rather than those who hide what they are really thinking and feeling. It’s not supposed to be that way. In fact we’ve been told that it isn’t. Our teachers tell us that there aren’t any dumb questions – but speak out in class and expose our confusion – who would do that? In class it feels more comfortable to hide ignorance or deny it. Mr. Rogers claims that he likes you just the way you are, but if I were you, I wouldn’t go assuming that everybody will. Often it is better to keep your more controversial opinions to yourself. And open up about your doubts - I wouldn't go doing that just anywhere. A friend once told me a story about his experience joining the Roman Catholic Church. He was engaged to a beautiful Roman Catholic woman, and part of the deal was that he would have to give up being Presbyterian so they could have a proper Roman Catholic wedding. Classes were required, so that this friend of mine might learn what to believe about heaven, creation, angels, Mary, various saints, and certainly the Pope. One day he raised his hand during class and asked, “Just how much of this stuff do I really have to believe?” “Well, all of it,” his teacher replied. Doubt isn’t welcomed everywhere, you see. Surely the disciples weren’t accepting and affirming of Thomas when he opened his big mouth and confessed to them his doubt. More likely they just wanted him to believe, and if he couldn’t believe, maybe he would at least keep his doubts to himself, especially when Jesus was around. That sounds like what would have happened in my family. My grandmother was a nurse, so she saw what could happen to people who rode skate boards or went white water rafting. Both of these things we were allowed to do – we just weren’t allowed to talk about it or do it when my grandmother was around. It’s interesting then to see what happens when Jesus comes and speaks with Thomas. Jesus knows the truth about him somehow, and while I can imagine that Thomas would be rejected for his inability to trust his friends or that he would be lectured for his skepticism – for not just believing something he might never be able to know for sure – instead Christ enters the room and says to him, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas then speaks what is known as the strongest statement of faith recorded in the Gospels: “My Lord and my God.” There is an important lesson here for me and for any of you who keep silent for fear of being labeled or criticized – when Thomas is honest about what stands in the way of his faithfulness – when he is honest about his doubt, Christ gives him exactly what he needs to believe. We are often so different – choosing instead to hide or deny – to pretend that we do believe when we don’t, to understand when we still have questions, to act like we are just fine when we aren’t. We hide from Christ as the disciples were hiding. For the disciples who were present to see Christ the first time he came in our first scripture lesson, though the door was locked and the disciples were hiding behind it, Christ walked right in to get to them. But we are so bold to believe that our door is too thick, that our doubts too deep, that our questions too profound. What Thomas does that seems nearly impossible, is that he gives words to that thing that like a locked door seems to stand in the way of his faith. That makes him different from the one who stays out of church, but can’t tell you why, as though this one’s reluctance were too great a thing for Christ to handle. That makes him different from the one who is angry with God but doesn’t want to be, so rather than give voice to the unfairness of his brother’s early death or his wife’s debilitating cancer and God’s inability to do anything about it, this one ignores the anger as though God were too fragile to take it. And certainly that makes Thomas different from the one who questions in her heart but puts on a face of determined faithfulness; the one who is physically present in the sanctuary but whose soul longs with deep, unanswered questions, the one who goes through the motions while Christ stands before you saying, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. I can take it.” Too often Christians are guilty of ignoring the realities of life – glossing over the big questions, silencing the doubters rather than hearing what they have to say – but remember that it is the church who calls him Doubting Thomas – not Christ. And in Thomas you can see that true faith comes through giving voice to your doubts, allowing God to hear your questions, see your fear or your anger – giving God the chance to know you for who you are and not who you pretend to be. Thomas speaks – and when he does he names the thing that stands in the way of his faith – and when you have do – do not be surprised that like him you will see and believe. Amen.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
John 20: 11-18, NT page 114-115 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (Which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. Sermon Some amazing things have happened in Columbia Tennessee in the last week. Trees were blooming as though it were spring while snow was falling as though it were winter. But what got more attention than the weather was the long awaited grand opening of Puckett’s restaurant downtown. I think everyone in Columbia must have known about the grand-opening. The count-down has been going on for months. It’s been all over the newspaper, and last Wednesday morning there was even a news crew from WKRN channel 2 in Nashville filming as the first official meal was served at 6:00 AM. This restaurant opening has been highly anticipated. We now have a great new restaurant with plenty of space for big events and live music, and because of its location it already has and is sure to continue attracting new businesses and new customers to our historic downtown. But some people say we may be expecting too much of Puckett’s. The excitement has been so all encompassing that it’s been all I wanted to talk about for the last couple of weeks. I asked a friend if he’d like to go, and I told him how excited I was. But he looked at me real concerned, knowing that I’m easily excitable, and that on Wednesday I ate breakfast there twice. “Now what exactly are you expecting to happen at Puckett’s Joe? The blind to regain their sight? Lepers to be healed? Captives set free, debts forgiven? So what if they use gravy for their eggs benedict, it’s only a restaurant.” Maybe he thinks I’ve been hoping for too much – but maybe we haven’t hoped for enough. Mary stood outside the tomb weeping: “They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have laid him.” Her hope, her greatest hope, was to find his dead body – to hope for more would have been to hope for too much. But who stood before her other than Christ himself, and she did not see him for her grandest hope was so much less than seeing him alive and standing there in front of her. Sometimes it’s wise not to hope for too much – after all, hope is a fragile thing it seems. Here it is, Easter Sunday – and aren’t we bold enough just to hope for getting the kids out of the house with their Easter outfits on. Then maybe we aspire for a nice lunch after. Or, we may be so bold to hope for taking a picture all together in front of a blooming tree – but for those of us with young children, surely to hope for a picture like that with both kids looking at the camera at the same time aspires for far too much. Mary, just in hoping to find his body may have felt as though even that were too much. You don’t just go up to grave robbers and ask them to please return what they’ve taken. Once a corpse is gone it’s gone for good. But she hopes maybe the gardener just moved it. Even in this small hope, still she hoped for a miracle – only the miracle that she hoped for blinded her to what was right before her eyes – a miracle bigger than anything she dared imagine. There is a story I heard once that I’ll try to paraphrase, about a chief who looked out on the sea one morning and he saw something he had never seen before, something he didn’t even have the words to describe. So he called to his people and they went with him out to the beach, only they didn’t notice anything exceptional, and slowly left the beach and went back to whatever they had been doing before. The chief was confused, so he sat there on the beach, rubbed his eyes, assured himself that what he could see was still out there, and tried to think of a way to help his people see what he could see. By this time waves were coming in to shore, waves bigger than normal created by whatever it was that was out there, so he called to his daughter, and showed her the waves and she saw the waves and noticed that they must be created by something out at sea. Then her father, the chief called her by name and she looked up and out on the ocean and she could see the ships, who by this time were close enough to shore that she could see that they were filled with Europeans coming ashore, believing that they had discovered a new world. He called her by name and Mary looked up, and then she saw something beyond her imagination, beyond her greatest hope. Can you see him now? Can you believe it? Or have your hopes been too small to recognize what God has done? So often that’s how it is with us – the most we dare hope for is a good deal on a pretty Easter dress and maybe a picture in it before it’s dirty – but do not let this small hope blind you to what this day really means. We hope for a honey baked ham – maybe a nice nap and a peaceful afternoon. Maybe we hope for a winning bracket for the basketball tournament, a few extra bucks with our tax returns, and the chance to bring grades up before the school year is over. Or maybe we hope for a new job, a life free from addiction, a day when chemo therapy will be no longer needed. Have you hoped for too much? Or have you not hoped for enough? Christ stands before you because death is gone – love prevails – he is risen. Amen.