Rise Up!

a sermon for Easter Day

 

Jesus rose from the dead today, but it’s our Resurrection Day. So what’s holding us back?

Note: With the pressures of Holy Week and preparation for my sabbatical, I freely admit that this sermon is not my original work.  As I note in my introduction, most of this sermon comes from one given by Bishop Andy Doyle, of Texas.  His original is here.   John Dominic Crossan’s new book can be found here.  And Ray Wylie Hubbard’s song can be heard here.  

 

 

 

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge three people who greatly influenced what I’m about to say. The first is John Dominic Crossan, a theologian and author whom I was fortunate to have lunch with at the Awakening Soul Conference. We somehow got to talking about my Syrian heritage and he had just come from a trip to the middle east.  He told me about how the Eastern Church differs from the West in their view of the Resurrection. The second is Bishop Andy Doyle of the Diocese of Texas, whom I met a couple of years ago. He gave a sermon at Texas A&M a few years ago in which he asks the question “what’s holding us back?” Much of this sermon comes from him.  And finally, there is Ray Wylie Hubbard.  He is a singer-songwriter and wrote a song called “Whoop and Hollar” and I’m going to try to sing it for you:

When I rise up out of the river knowin’ my sin’s been washed away
I’m gonna whoop, I’m gonna hollar
When I rise up out of my grave and I see my savior’s face
I’m gonna whoop, I’m gonna hollar
When I rise up in God’s empyrean heaven flappin’ my angel wings
I’m gonna whoop, I’m gonna hollar

I’m gonna whoop, I’m gonna hollar
I’m gonna whoop, I’m gonna hollar
I’m gonna rise up, whoopin’ and hollarin’
Rise up, whoopin’ and hollarin’
Rise up, whoopin’ and hollarin’
Rise up, rise up

Today is the day we all rise up.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus did a whole lot of risin’ up. When Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was sick, Jesus told her to “rise up” and she was healed. And when a man who couldn’t walk was carried on a stretcher by his friends, and there were so many people around that they had to pass him down through a hole in the roof, Jesus said, “rise up;” and the man folded his mat and walked. And when Jarius, a leader of the synagogue, came to Jesus and told him that his daughter had been stricken and was close to death, Jesus went to his house and said, “Little girl, rise up!” And she did. And when his best friend, Lazarus, died and had laid in the tomb for four days, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And he rose and walked out of the tomb.

Rise up, whoopin’ and hollarin’

Of course, Jesus told his disciples that he also was going to rise up. He said that he was “going to undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” And so when we come to today’s Gospel, we really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Jesus had been in the risin’ business all along.

Rise up, whoopin’ and hollarin’

In today’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene gets to the tomb and she is told: “He is not here. He has been raised.” And if Ray Wylie Hubbard had been with her, she might have started whoopin’ and hollarin’ herself. Because she knew that the Resurrection Day is not only about Jesus rising up. Today, we have been raised with Jesus.

That’s right. It’s already a done deal. By Jesus’ resurrection, we have already been raised. His resurrection raised us all, ALL – those who came before us, and those who have yet to be born. Today, all humanity has been raised from the grave.

You don’t need to take my word for it. Jesus promised it when he said, “I am resurrection and life. Whoever believes in me will live.” And Paul proclaimed it when he said, “God, who is rich in mercy, out of great love…made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved and raised up with him.”

We are already raised. There’s nothing left for us to do because Jesus has done it all for us.

But the interesting thing about the Resurrection is that the story doesn’t end there. Jesus doesn’t stop on Resurrection Day. He continues past the grave, continues past his resurrection and he goes back to work, back to Galilee. As Bishop Doyle points out, Galilee is the place of life and ministry. Galilee is the place of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, finding homes for the homeless. Galilee is the place of mission and ministry and life. Galilee is where we live. And Galilee is where Jesus tells his disciples to meet him.

If the Gospels are about anything, they are about following Jesus. And part of following him is rising up and getting out of our own graves and following him back to Galilee. The question is, what’s holding us back? What keeps us in our graves? What keeps us from whoopin’ and hollarin’ about our own very real resurrection?

If you’re like me, it’s probably because you’re living your life on autopilot, playing the same tape over and over in your head. It’s a tape of my own creating. We think, “maybe I’m not smart enough. Or maybe, I’m too young or too old. Or maybe I’m the wrong color, or the wrong gender, or I love the wrong people and nobody wants me to do this. Or maybe it’s too risky to do this and I don’t want to fail.

Maybe you stay in the grave because you don’t think Jesus is talking to you.

But, Jesus is talking to you. Jesus is inviting you to rise up. Jesus is saying, “I know you have doubts and fears, I know you’re unsure if you’re worthy, or capable, or good enough, or smart enough – I know you might be afraid. But I am inviting you to rise up out of your grave. Rise up! Come out of your grave, because I need you.”

Jesus didn’t stop after the Resurrection, because there was more work to do. He paid for all our sins, he was victorious even over Death, he rose up out of the grave, and still he went back to work. Back to Galilee.

And he’s calling us to be there right alongside of him.

Jesus needs you to rise up, get out of your grave, and to share his words of life and hope and joy with a cynical and broken world. He needs you to give voice to his Gospel…to be merciful to those who don’t deserve mercy, to have compassion for those who are meek. To forgive those people in your life that you believe are unforgivable – maybe even including yourself.

Jesus invites you to rise up and build homes for the homeless; to care enough to see that all the hungry people are fed. Jesus invites you to care so much about the other guy that you forget about yourself, forget about the things holding you back in the grave. Jesus invites you to be his voice, and speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. To proclaim the Gospel that God loves the whole world in everything you say, and more importantly, everything you do.

Jesus rose from the grave today, but it’s our Resurrection Day. There is nothing that keeps us in our graves, because Jesus has set all that aside. His victory is complete – Love has conquered Death. His forgiveness is assured – there is nothing to hold us back.

Rise up! Let me hear you whoop!
Let me hear you hollar!

Alleluia! He is risen!
The Lord has risen indeed. Alleluia!

 

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The Demons Within Us

a sermon for the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany
(Year A)

 

Through Christ, God stands against all the evil forces that seek to destroy us. God stands against the demons that rob us of our identity and our humanity to separate us from God and each other.  And just as importantly, God stands against our own efforts to demonize each other.

 

 

 

Demons. Of all the stories we have about Jesus, the ones about demons (or unclean spirits) are probably the hardest for us to relate to. When I think of demons I think of Linda Blair’s head spinning around in The Exorcist. Or maybe Jack Nicholson saying, “here’s Johnny!” in The Shining. Hollywood’s depictions of demons are something dark, supernatural, something spooky.

Today’s Gospel reading takes place at the very start of Jesus’ earthly ministry. First he was baptized by John. Then he’s immediately driven out into the wilderness for 40 days and tempted by Satan. Then, as we heard last week, he meets up with his disciples. And now they go to the big city of Capernaum, and begins teaching in a synagogue. And no sooner does he do this than an unclean spirit, who has taken possession of a man, cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? You have come to destroy us! I know who you are: the Holy One of God!”

Jesus immediately recognizes the man is possessed by a demon, an evil force so oppressive that his life has been robbed of all joy, meaning and purpose. This unclean spirit holds this man captive – he’s no longer free to participate in the life of his family, his synagogue or his community. So Jesus confronts the demon; he calls it out and sets the man free.

Most of us – as modern, enlightened people – don’t have much experience with demons but we understand their effects. Because a demon is nothing more than that which consumes every aspect of our lives so completely that we lose sight of our God-given purpose for living. Maybe our demon is alcohol or drugs; maybe it’s pornography or lust; maybe it’s gambling or working too much or spending too much money. Maybe it’s envy or jealousy, anger or profanity, or even the demon of loneliness. The point is that anytime our lives are consumed so completely that we forget that we are children of God called to lives of abundance, we have succumbed to our demons. The damage caused by these demons is undeniable – broken lives, lost jobs, pain and alienation – both for those directly affected and for their families.

But if Jesus Christ means anything, he shows us that God stands against all the evil forces that seek to destroy us. God stands against the demons that rob us of our identity and our humanity to separate us from God and each other. Christ Jesus came into the world to restore us to the abundant life God wants for us – a life full of freedom, a life full of joy, a life full of meaning and purpose and love.

God is opposed to anything that robs us of abundant lives with God and with each other.

And just as importantly, God stands against our own efforts to demonize each other.

We are living in demonic time. By that, I do not mean that the world is filled with evil spirits. But it is filled with evil language and bad intent. We live in a time when it has become common for us to demonize one another.

How often have you heard someone demonize another person because of their political beliefs, or the color of their skin, or the place they were born, or their religion? How often have we been the victim of that demonization? How often have we participated in it?

If Jesus calls out the demons of addiction, abuse, and apathy, then surely he must also stand against the times when we demonize our fellow human beings. Because Christ came into the world to save all sinners, not just the ones who look or think like us. Christ came to save us all – both from the evil that surrounds us and the evil that lies deep with us. Christ came into the world to shine a light into our hearts, so that we might reflect his light to all the rest of the world.

The challenge we face is identifying the demons in our lives. What are the unclean spirits that prevent you from living an abundant life of freedom, joy, meaning, purpose and love? And in what ways are we demonizing other people, robbing them of those same freedoms? How does our own language and behavior dehumanize those around us? Who have I labeled “unclean” simply because they are different from me?

In every service of Holy Baptism, we make three renunciations:

Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?  I renounce them.

Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?  I renounce them.

Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
I renounce them.

My friends, we have been marked with the sign of the cross of Christ forever. We have been called into covenantal relationship with God and each other and all of God’s beloved to live among God’s faithful people, and to share in God’s healing of the demonized people of the world, by following the example of Jesus, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.

God came into the world through the person of Jesus Christ to confront our demons: the demons of violence and oppression; the demons of harassment and abuse; the demons of addiction and loneliness; the demons of racism and supremacy. Jesus came into the world, so that the entire world might live in the abundance of life, love and joy that God intends for us all.

Thanks be to God.

 

The Final Exam

a sermon for the Christ the King Sunday
(Proper 29A)

 

Imagine the most important final exam any of us will ever take. There’s only one question and its completely open book. And Jesus even gives us the question before hand: how did we treat him? The only catch is that nobody knows what he looks like.

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