Worship Reflection Sunday, April 9, 2023

“Stay Woke in an Eastered World”

The resurrection does not make sense. It does not fit into our experience of what’s real. It’s not rational, it is not reasonable, it is not routine. But maybe that is just the point. Maybe the point of Easter is to remind me that my definition of what’s rational and real is, well, maybe not as solid as I think it is.

Listen to the story again. “After the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake.” Not tremors like we get in this area from fracking, but a great earthquake. The earthquake in Turkey that occurred in February of this year was 7 plus on the Richter scale. It resulted in the deaths of over 50,000 people. We were living in the San Francisco Bay Area when the 1989 earthquake. That earthquake was a 6 plus on the Richter scale. It lasted all of 15 seconds. But in those 15 seconds the Nimitz freeway crumbled, the Embarcadero freeway fell, the upper deck of the Bay Bridge collapsed, buildings swayed and parents worried about the safety of their children and it all happened in 15 seconds. The world is not as solid as we would like to think. Things can change in the twinkling of an eye. Matthew says it was a great earthquake. “And the angel of the Lord descended and rolled the stone away, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.” These were soldiers. Presumably men who had fought in wars. Men not easily frightened, battle-hardened men who became like dead men.

“Do not be afraid.” That’s the word of the angel. “Don’t be afraid. I know you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen. Come see the place where he lay. Then go and tell the disciples he has risen from the dead.” How could they not know fear?

How do we “stay woke in an Eastered World?” I stole the title of this sermon. The phrase “Stay woke,” became part of our culture after the police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, caused the death of Michael Brown. People in the Black community said, “Stay woke.” Stay aware. There’s more to this story. I took the phrase “Eastered World” from Walter Brueggemann because it seemed to fit what I want to say. The soldiers could fall down like dead men, but the Mary’s had to stay woke in an Eastered world, and so do we. Matthew says that the women ran from the empty tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell the others about the good news. It is a scary, joyful thing to think about living in an Eastered world.

Continuing with Matthew’s account, we learn that members of the ruling class paid the soldiers to start telling rumors. They instructed the soldiers, “Tell the people his disciples came and stole the body while you were sleeping.” They paid the soldiers well to tell the big lie. In verse 15 we read that they took the money and did as they were directed and their story spread among the Jews to this day.” That’s an interesting phrase, “to this day.”

The gospel of Matthew was probably written thirty or thirty-five years after the crucifixion. No one knows for certain who wrote it. My own guess is that it was written by a student or students who were graduates of Matthew’s academy. Given the prominent role of women, I wonder if a woman had a hand in writing it. Women were the first preachers of the Easter story. They brought the story to others.

Warren Carter, a New Testament scholar, thinks the gospel was written by people living on the margins of the Roman empire fighting to tell their story in defiance of the imperialistic practices of Rome. They were fighting against the Jewish elite who were members of the political class and allies of Rome. Carter says that the writers of Matthew wanted to overthrow the status quo and create a different society grounded in different values and shaped by a different vision. That’s what it means to live in an Eastered world. It is a frightening and joyful challenge to leave the past, the familiar, the buttoned-down world behind. All that is presaged by an earthquake and an angel who rolled away the stone. The reason for the stone was to keep Jesus and everything Jesus represented in its place–buried, hidden away. The 13th chapter of Hebrews says he was buried outside the camp, outside the city walls. The 13th verse says “Let us go to him outside the camp. . . we seek a city which is to come.”

The issues of Matthew’s time are not really foreign to us, though the words have changed, but the realities are still real. We talk of developed and underdeveloped nations as if this is an accurate description of the real world. The Feeding America website reports that there are today 34 million people in the United States who are food insecure, of this number 9 million are children. Three hundred to four hundred people go to the Lord’s Diner every night. We are glad to volunteer there, but does it have to be this way? The lead sentence in a recent BBC report read, “Gun violence is a fixture in American life.” According to the story we have had more than 130 mass shootings already in 2023. Famously, or infamously, the Tennessee legislature chose to expel two Black representatives of the people rather than talk about gun violence and the murder of 3 three children and 3 adults in a Christian school in Nashville.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. I’m just saying that we have to stay woke if we are going to live in an Eastered world. The witness of the gospel is clear. It is indisputable. God did not create us so that we can kill each other. God did not create us to suffer. God created so that we might have life and have it abundantly. That’s the Easter message.

And Matthew says that Jesus is going ahead of us. He is in Galilee. He is at work all over the world. If we are going to catch up to him, we have to leave the old logic behind. We have to leave the status quo and forge a new path. That’s whatit means to live in an Eastered world.

James Baldwin wrote somewhere that the role of the artist is to illuminate the darkness, blaze roads through the vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.” That’s what it means to live in an Eastered world. It means being an artist blazing roads through the vast forest, so we don’t lose sight of our purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.

I have told Maribeth, I love the faces of Jesus she has created–contemporary icons. It seems to me that one of those faces of Jesus is the face of an androgynous Christ, or perhaps a trans-Jesus. In this time when state legislators in Kansas, and in other states where legislators are passing laws to criminalize people who dare to challenge their idea of biological identity, it is a scary, yet joyful deed to cross cultural, political, and social divides to make the world  more human dwelling place.

It is a joyful thing to celebrate putting the “Love Wins” barn quilt on the outside wall of the church to let everyone passing by and people beyond our neighborhood know that hate has no home here. That stone has been rolled away. We have a blessing box to go with it for everyone who is hungry. Which brings me to the last thing that I want to share with you today. I had a vision this week that I need to share with you. An idea that came to me this week. I have no idea if you have any interest. I do not know what would be involved or if it is even possible. But as I wrestled with the reading for this Easter morning, it seemed to me that Jesus is going before us, inviting us to take the next step on our journey. We have launched Camp Sunflower which is breaking new ground every year and my prayer is that we will stay invested in and involved in this camp and some of us will serve on the board along with Dave and Cheryl, who have been giving leadership to the camp for six years. We have blessed and are blessed by our new barn quilt, boldly proclaiming “Love Wins.” We have the faces of Jesus to give us encouragement and inspire us and remind us that the purpose of all of our doing is to make the world a more human dwelling place. Like the women on that first Easter morning, I say with fear and joy, perhaps our next step is to start talks with the Kanza to see about giving the land north of this building back to the Kanza. In our witness to social justice, in the spirit of the barn quilt proclaiming that Love Wins, is it time to become part of the LandBack movement and give this land back to the Kanza people? Staying Woke in an Eastered world, I think we have to entertain the possibility.