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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story

John 20:1-18

 

Friday night I did a portrayal of Mary, Jesus' mother and what it must have been like for her the day after her son's horribly cruel death.  I tried to portray her anguish, her temporary anger at God and her loss of faith, and then her semi resignation to the events that had happened.  Little did she know how God would answer her!  Mary, Peter, and the rest of the disciples were at a loss, each of them dealing in grief their own ways.  Jesus had told the disciples he would see them again, but they had only a small clue about what he meant.  And so we come to the rest of the story.

Let's hear the rest of the story.  (read John 20:1-18)

I was surprised yesterday while we were at my daughters.  Joe and Penny had just left to go to a movie, while I decided to work on this message.  I had just let the dogs out and of course our little dog, happy to be out and off a leash, wanted to romp about the yard.  My daughter had already warned us that that little one seemed to have found a way to get out of the fence and would come around to the front and taunt her with an attitude that said, "Ha!  Look where I am!"  So i walked out into the yard and noticed all the green sprouts coming up in their usual places.  It was a sure sign that spring had arrived.  I called the dogs to go back inside when I noticed the little dog stop to sniff something.  I went over to see what he was so interested in and there, in the middle of the yard, where it didn't belong, was a fully bloomed flower.  Tears filled my eyes as I thought about how impatiently I had waited for such a sight. 

The disciples, Mary, and others were waiting early in the morning.  Perhaps some of them were sleeping, finally succumbing to the exhaustion of grief.  But once they heard the astounding news of discovery, fully awake, they rushed to the tomb.  What greeted them was the possibility of new life.  For them the first sign of a new spring gave rise to hope.  A flower had blossomed in their hearts and minds.  And their lives would never be the same.

Every year we hear the same story.  Every year the tomb is empty.  Every year we sing the songs of joy.  Every year we lift our praises to God for what he has accomplished.  And then it is over.  Our flowers slowly disappear.  The cross is removed.  The beautiful banners taken down.  And Easter has passed.  Oh we are reminded for a few Sundays after that what happened that early morning.  But where then does Easter go?   Hopefully the event and its celebration has reached deep in our hearts and clings to our very sense of being.  But the Easter event is just the beginning of the story.

After our Maundy Thursday service I was reminded that an important event followed the Easter event.  Forty days later, Jesus' promise to his disciples was fulfilled.  When a group of believers was gathered together, the Spirit descended upon them, the Spirit that would guide Jesus' followers.  What we call the church was born.  And the rest of the story is still in the making.  And right now we are the participants, carrying out God's will toward the culmination of all things.  Here we are 2000 years later still telling the same story, still celebrating that momentous event.  Here we are right now continuing the rest of the story.  How often do we pray with Jesus in the garden, in our homes, in our workplaces, in our everyday living?  If God is to finish what He started, He needs our participation in the story

Every year we celebrate, but celebration is not enough.  Believing that Jesus died and was resurrected is not enough.  Believing that Jesus came to save us is not enough.  Saying Jesus is Lord is not enough.  Doing like we believe it is enough.  Jesus died not just so we can say great words of faith, although those are very important.  Jesus died so we can become the words and proclaim the faith through the totality of who we are.  That means Jesus must become so much a part of us that everything we do, say, feel, and think is tempered by that reality.  It means that we are in the process of changing in ways that more and more reflect the will and love of God just as Jesus did.  But how can we be like Jesus?  How can we be in close relationship with God?  Well, that’s the beauty of the Easter event.  God made that possible through the resurrection!  It isn’t that Jesus was resurrected for just Peter and Mary and all the others who had followed him.  It is because God made it possible for Jesus to live in each one of us as our guide, our teacher, our holy companion along the way.  When we believe in our whole being that Jesus is with us and in us, our lives are changed and directed toward God.  When we open our hearts to the reality of Jesus we are continually being changed, not just for our sakes but for the sake of the world. 

I have a friend who believes that for every action of ours there is a ripple effect in the universe.  He calls God the “Breath of Life”.  This “breath continually flows over and around us and when we act or talk or even breathe, we have changed the direction of the flow.  Sometimes we can change it for good and the ripple effect leaves a wholeness in its wake.  Sometimes we can change the flow for the not so good and the ripple effect leaves another hole in this good creation.  It’s an interesting idea, but maybe not so far from how God works.  When we have Jesus in our hearts, when we walk with him daily, we literally go with the flow of what my friend calls the Breath of Life.

I knew a woman in seminary who truly reflected God to those around her.  She had a simple wardrobe, only owning two dresses, a pair of sandals, and not many possessions.  She was odd, but when she spoke, God flowed from her words and expressions.  She gave me some very good advice.  "When you speak of God," she said, "speak the way you know God."  I have tried to follow that advice, not as well as she did, but adequately enough to let God through. 

How do we speak God to others?  Is the story alive enough in us that God comes through what we do and say?  I do "hear" God through many of you.  And it is my hope that every year we celebrate our stories of faith, that the ability to speak God grows and nurtures others.  These events we celebrate are living events, able to teach and guide us into great faith that recognizes the core of our being, to awaken within us our true nature, beloved sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.  That is, after all is said and done, who we truly are!

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