Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sermon, Easter, Mark 16:1-8

"So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."

Fear can have a powerful and debilitating affect on our lives. Fear can control everything from experiences to how much we give to the church. We refuse to try new endeavors because we fear failing; or maybe we fear succeeding. We don't evangelize because we fear what others might think of us. We limit our giving because we fear not having enough for ourselves. And we limit our participation because we fear how it might change us. Fear is our constant companion on our journey through life; and fear will not only keep us from branching out, but it will hide from us the wonderful rewards of succeeding.

Today more than in a very long time, people seem to have a reason to be afraid. The economy is in the dumper; retirement investments have been wiped out; people are losing jobs left and right; and the government bailout seems to be a less than ideal solution. In today's world, fear is all around us.

How should we react to this heightened sense of fear in our society? How can we, as Christians, live and proclaim a theology of trust and abundance in a world that lacks trust and advocates scarcity?

First, we need to trust that God has not, and will not, abandon us. Trust is a vital component of the Christian faith. I preached on this a few weeks ago; it's one thing to believe God exists; it's quite another to trust him. Will we trust God to fulfill the promise that leads to our freedom? Will we trust our family of fellow Christians to not abandon us?

If anything, the current financial crisis should give us pause; it should force us to reflect on our own lifestyle and spending habits. Where can we count our blessings? How can we simplify our lives? Should we reevaluate how much we pledge to the church? And why should we keep pledging?

We can look at the world around us in fear and draw inward, closing ourselves off to the opportunities presented, and creating for ourselves a mentality of scarcity. Or we can look at the situation as an invitation to abundance. We can see an invitation to live within our means and create, or reorganize, a budget that honors God first. We can count our blessings that even in these lean times we still have food to eat, homes to shelter us, clothes to wear, and friends to enjoy. We can choose to accept the challenge of a life-changing event in the trust and hope of God's promise for a new life and live accordingly; or we can greet this new situation with terror and run away in fear.

Either way, it won't be easy. It won't be easy to live in fear. It won't be easy to horde what wealth we have left, stashing it away so it won't vanish overnight. And it won't be easy for us to continue our griping and longing for the way things used to be.

Neither will it be easy for us to maintain our composure and long-term outlook. It won't be easy to tighten our belts and reevaluate our spending habits. And it won't be easy to develop a theology of abundance in the face of our current situation.

If we are driven by fear, we can choose to fear how things are, or we can choose to fear how things will be. And this is what makes us exactly like the women in today's Gospel.

The women had been with Jesus almost as long as the men had been. The women had provided for Jesus when he was in Galilee. The women had not deserted, denied or betrayed Jesus. The women had followed Jesus through his Passion. The women had the backbone to go to his tomb in order to anoint their King.

And despite all that, in the end, the women fail just like the other disciples.

"Go and tell the disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee . . . and they went out and fled . . . and they said nothing to anybody."

The women were seized with fear. They were afraid of how things were. They were afraid of those people who may have stolen his body. They were afraid of being associated with an impostor. They were afraid of the authorities who might blame them for the disappearing body.

And they were afraid of how things might be. They were afraid of what this resurrection would mean for them. They were afraid that by following him they would die like him. They were afraid of how their lives might change if they put his words and example into practice.

Today, right now, we are like Mary, Mary and Salome. They were confronted with the resurrection, with a new way of living based on the words and example of Christ. We too are being confronted with a life changing event -- or events. The first is the economic collapse and how that affects us. The second is the realization that Christ is alive and asks us to follow him.

We can choose to look at the current crisis and the resurrection with fear and scarcity, run away in terror and tell no one. But that option fails on more than a few fronts. The first is that it is based in fear and scarcity. It was fear that led Judas to betray him. It was fear that led Peter to deny him. It was fear that led the disciples to desert him. It was fear that kept the women silent. It is fear that drives us to see only what we don't have. And it is fear that keeps us silent about the resurrection.

A second point of failure is a lack of trust. We fail to see that everything we have comes from God and we don't trust him to not abandon us; after all, two nights ago, we abandoned him. We don't trust that Jesus will lead us through this valley of the shadow of death into new life. And that lack of trust leads us to not give of ourselves like we should. We don't become excited when shouting, "Alleluia!" We limit our giving because we don't trust that there will be enough for us. We limit our participation because we are fearful of real change. We would rather live in fear than step out in trust because at least in fear, we know what we are dealing with.

But at some point we need to be willing to take a risk; whether that risk is talking to someone for the first time, being willing to share our Christian story, or in taking this financial opportunity to live in abundance when the rest of the world is telling us how scared we should be.

The women were told to tell the others that Jesus had been raised and that he would meet them in Galilee. Why Galilee? Because Galilee was home base. Because Galilee was where Jesus lived. He goes to Galilee because Jesus isn't found in a tomb, but in the normal, everyday activity of our normal, everyday lives. Jesus meets us where we are every day. And that can be very frightening.

We are like the women of today's Gospel. Jesus is not here, he has been raised. We can run away in fear of what is, continuing to live in scarcity and seeing only what we don't have; or we can run away in fear of what might be, hoping not to encounter the risen Christ in our everyday lives and refusing to live in God's abundance.

Christ is alive, and he is asking us to follow him through death into a new and abundant life. It's a scary thought. We can leave this service today in terror and say nothing to anyone; or we can choose to share the good news and make a real effort to build up Christ's church and reflect God's kingdom here on earth.

I think the reason Mark's gospel ends where it does is because we are the women. We have seen the empty tomb. We have been told that Jesus has been raised. It is now up to us to finish the story. How will this gospel end in your life? Who will you tell? And most importantly, what are you afraid of?


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