The Story of Life

This sermon was preached on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016 at Ashland Presbyterian Church, Hunt Valley, Maryland. 

John 20:1-18

We gather here this morning to tell the story of Jesus. The story of God’s resurrection.  

The authors of the gospel of John understand the power of story, and the absolute necessity of it. They understand that we cannot know God without stories; that we cannot know ourselves without them either.  

We are a people who love story.  

We speak of getting lost in a story, but part of what draws us to a story is the promise of finding: finding a different world, finding another time, finding ourselves.  

There is something in us that hungers for a story, an empty space that is shaped precisely to its contours. We reach for the threads that a story offers, we enter the rooms it opens to us, we inhabit the skin of another and somehow, in the hands of a good story, we are returned to ourselves.  

And we are perhaps holding the threads of our own stories a bit differently, or entering a new space within ourselves, or finding ourselves able to inhabit our own skin more completely. 

Elie Wiesel says that God created us because God loves stories. (Inspired and quotes from Jan Richardson, Where the Story Begins)

The beginning of the Gospel of John begins with one of the great opening lines of all time.  

In the beginning. 

It’s right up there with… Once upon a time, and in a galaxy far, far away. 

We all know that in order to write a great story, you need to have a great story. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

In him was life, and that life was the light of all the people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

The opening of John tells us who we are and where we exist in the story. We are the people, we are God’s story in motion. And where does the power of a story lie? What is it about this story that so compels us?

We are God’s people- alive, through Christ.  

Being the Son of God, “in him was life; and the life was the light of all the people” (1:4).   

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (14:6).   

 His whole purpose for coming to earth “that we might have life, and have it more abundantly” (10:10).    

And this is not a condemning life, but a gift. For God so loved the world that he gave is son so we may have eternal life. (John 3:16)  

He tells Martha in comforting her after Lazarus dies, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) 

 And of course the Easter story begins just as poetically as any other, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb…”

We see a woman, exhausted from the week’s events. She’s tired and frail, unable to sleep she gathers her supplies quietly, and makes her way from the place where she was staying to the private garden, the property of the wealthy patron who allowed 

Jesus’ body to be laid at the last minute.  

She has come to anoint the body, come to pay her respects; she has come to mourn the loss of the life of her dearest friend.  

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, he wasn’t supposed to die. Death wasn’t part of 

the deal, life was. He no longer exists in bodily form; all that’s left of him now is story. 

But that story doesn’t end the way Mary thinks it does. 

Death does not have the last word. As readers and studiers of story we are clued in to the fact that she is in a special place, a garden.  

The garden in which Mary stands mimics the one from another story, the story of creation. When God created a lush garden called Eden and we first learned of Godability to bring forth life.  

The garden is different now – not as pure – tainted with death and overgrown plants, touched by human hands. But that cannot stop God. 

In 1 Corinthians Paul tells the readers that resurrection is like a seed that must die to bring forth life. Jesus tells us that whoever wants to keep their life will lose it.  This is the moment of resurrection. The moment we realize that it is within the darkest, bleakest moments of life that we are at our most vulnerable. 

And like every good story, we have learned that the sweetest joy and the purest love comes from vulnerability. 

Mary is raw, the disciples are exposed. They are living in darkness and scarcity, facing a new reality that they never anticipated, and it came in the most cruel and violent ways.  

But it is within of that moment they find life. Real life. The life that Jesus spoke of, a live of abundant grace, and life of love and mercy, a renewed spirit.  

And they learn this lesson in a garden, the setting of our story. Because, we’re not the only thing God because God loves a good story.  

The garden reminds us that life is renewing, that we must become vulnerable, exposed to death, before we can resurrect into the next thing.  

The garden has a story in and of itself- it teaches us that life will find a way, no matter what.  

We plant a tree and suffocate it with cement.  

  
At it’s most vulnerable it not only survives it adapts to it’s environment. 

a seed scattered to the wind lands in mortar. 

  
We create suburban sprawl and waste fully abandon it, but life finds a way. 

  

Death will not have the last word, but it will have it’s day, for Jesus, it was 3 of them in fact. But on the third he was raised to new life.  

 Out of the depth of vulnerability — resurrection.  

So the story continues, and Mary mistakes Jesus as a gardener (poetic isn’t it?) Upon discovering who he is, he tells her not to cling to who he was. He’s different now, transformed by hardship, pain, and a journey.  

 

It’s a story unlike any other, the greatest story of all time the ending yet to be written, a story of relationship between God and creation that continues even to this day. 

May it live on through you and through me. And all God’s people said…Amen. 

True Colors

Sometimes when my kids are really tired I can sneak in a song that I like to sing while putting them to bed.  We do the basics, the nursery rhymes and whatnot, but sometimes I will throw in a little something for myself.  One of my go-to songs is Cindi Lauper’s “True Colors” (yes, I know Rod Stewart sang it also, but I choose to ignore his version). 

Over this Lenten season I gave up color in my wardrobe and wore all black, and yes, on Easter morning when I stopped the practice I felt like this…

ImageYes, it felt like I was seeing color for the first time.  I was at least seeing myself in color for the first time. Those six weeks felt very long, and I was fine, absolutely no complaints the first three weeks, and then I admit it was tough.  

But in the last 4 or so days here’s what I have learned/discovered.

1) hair dryers make a lot of noise. Seriously, I kind of liked getting up and out of the shower and what my hair did, it did. Now I dry my bangs and the top/front of my hair- no I do not dry the bottom or the back (seriously, who has time for that?).  And the hair dryer is REALLY loud! So loud I think I might cut all my hair off…

2) I don’t actually like make-up. I wear makeup on Sundays and it never quite looks right.  Maybe I don’t know how to properly put it on or something, but the line between plain Jane and Vegas showgirl is finer than people realize, at least it is for me. The exception to this is tinted moisturizer, I like the redness out of my skin.

3) I like my jewelry. I really do. I particularly missed my wedding ring (I wore a simple band). But I really missed my earrings, however every time I look at myself I feel like ALL I can see is the jewelery.

4) My clothes are pretty plain. Ask me to give up patterns for Lent and it would not have been a chore. Seriously, I have greys and browns and creams, all solids.  But that is actually kind of okay. 

So what did I learn? Well I’m still learning. 

This was an experiment in creativity, where would my creative outlet go to if I didn’t have it through clothing, etc. But as usual, it was about so much more, it was really a quest in self-worth.  It was a time of self discovery and I admit, I miss it a little.  I liked the simplicity.

1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV) says “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

This is a constant struggle in our culture, in my life of career and self importance, and ego. (BTW- don’t read too much farther in this passage, it leads to arguable places, but this part is good). I am enough as I have learned through this process, but living into that will be a lifelong journey.  But my worth will not come from clothes, hair, jewelery, or make-up. Ever.