Remember His Words
April 21 Isaiah 65:17-25*Acts 10:34-43*Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24*John 20:1-18
For the past two years, I have driven a brother, a second-grader, and sister, a 1st-grader, to and from school on my bus. They are good kids, but always seem to be in trouble, both being blessed with an abundance of energy, but both have difficulties in being in larger groups. She is rather bossy, gets into fights, and doesn’t like to follow directions. He can be very moody, likes to scream and talk in funny voices, and does the best impersonation of a chicken that you will ever hear. I adore them both, and want to see them succeed, but am glad that I am just their bus driver and not their parents. They are from a combined family that has 4 kids in elementary school and one more that is a rapidly growing toddler.
The brother got onto my bus after school one day recently and asked me: “Bus Driver, why are there so many white people?” Even though I am not a teacher, I have been around long enough to know to be very cautious with such questions from a child who is African American, for not only is this a matter of identity that will have a serious impact for the rest of this young person’s life, but the occasion probably has arisen from a bad experience with another student. In addition, I know that I cannot really understand his experience, whatever it may be. So, I just gave my usual answer to tough questions, I said: “I don’t know.” He paused for a second, and then continued: “Yeah, but you’re white.” One might think such an obvious statement would make things easier, but it didn’t, and I still am not sure what was going on within him. He wasn’t upset, and I don’t know why he even asked me to begin with, or where I fit in to his experience, other than being a friend he seems to trust. I don’t know if he was saying I should know the answer because I am white, if he thinks I am OK even though I am white, or what. So I just said: “Yeah, I was born that way.” He then asked me: “Well, why don’t you dye yourself black?” He had me there. It is hard to admit the fact that your second-grader is smarter than you are! When I told this story to Kristen, at first she just kind of drew in a deep breath, sharing my concern for how serious such a question is. But after hearing the rest of the story, she just kind of laughed, and said: “If only it was that easy!”
Sometimes transforming ourselves is easy, sometimes its not. I want to be transformed, but only if it is on my terms, right? I don’t know about you, but I have a vision of who I could be at my very best, the person God made me to be, as far as I can tell, and I like to think that I am working towards becoming that person. I just wish it would go faster! I too wish I could just open a bottle like Alice and pour it over myself, instantly transforming into something better. When I consider the slow pace of personal growth and how many years I have left based on the life-expectancy of family members who have passed, I have had to finally face the possibility that I will leave this world without entirely becoming the person I want to be. What I struggle with the most are past hurts and failures. Even though such things may be fading from memory, I still respond in the same ways, and often block my best efforts at a subconscious level. Old defense mechanisms that in many ways I have outgrown still determine how I respond to things in ways that really don’t make sense anymore. However, I know that it is not all about me, thank God. I do not save myself, Jesus has done it for me, for all of us. He will lead me into the New Creation, he will make me the person I was created to be. If this life is not enough to get there, he will meet me in the next one and complete the good work he has started in me, in each of us. One day we will be with him, healed, renewed, whole and complete.
Reading the stories from the Bible are certainly a far cry from being there, the story of Easter morning especially. As vivid as the various accounts may be, it is hard to put ourselves into the story, so let’s remember our own stories. What brings us terror these days? What is the worst thing that could possibly happen to you, what would shatter you? The death of a child, a spouse, the loss of a job, a diagnosis of cancer? Most of you have already experienced such things, what got you through them? How many times have you relied on Jesus to get you through such things, through prayer and your church family and others? Will you rely on him one last time?
We all know that women were not as important as men in Biblical times, as far as that society went, but it always strikes me how women take center stage as this glorious day unfolds. The women arrive first, and we are told that they are terrified at what they see. They have already suffered greatly; can they take anymore? They probably think that the worst has already happen, and here is more devastation! It is dawn. We remember that they are coming out of the darkness, both the darkness of night and darkness of loss and shattered dreams. Fear grips them yet again. But they arrive to see the start of the transformation of all things. Perhaps they catch their breath. The stone is rolled away, the tomb is empty, the angels meet them, asking what they seek. When they tell them that Jesus is risen, they remember Jesus’ words and teachings, and they run back to tell the others. The men of course are dopes as always and slow to understand. Why, do you suppose, that is? Don’t answer that one! They too heard Jesus’ words. We have heard Jesus’ words. Do we believe? Or must we too see to believe: see the empty tomb, and the discarded burial clothes? What will make us believe, without seeing?
Only Peter, the one who denied Jesus three times, believes enough apparently to run and see for himself. Who do we identify with here? Can we believe because of Jesus’ words, or can we only believe what we have seen with our eyes? We cannot go and see the empty tomb: can we see what Jesus is doing in our world today? Can we believe the hope and love of God that he instills in our hearts?
Where is the bottle of dye or magic potion that will instantly transform us, but not just on the surface? When will we get it right? We ask what we would have done on Easter morning; would we have understood, or would we just think about ourselves, and stay hidden? Jesus died and rose again for all people, and for the restoration of all of Creation. What that will be we can only imagine, and our imaginations will certainly come up short of what God has in mind. The back of the bulletin mentions a statement from Thomas Merton, and the full quote says:
In order to become myself I must cease to be what I always thought I wanted to be, and in order to find myself I must go out of myself, and in order to live I have to die. The reason for this is that I was born in selfishness and therefore my natural efforts to make myself more real and more myself, make me less real and less myself, because they revolve around a lie.
People who know nothing of God and whose lives are centered on themselves, imagine that they can only find themselves by asserting their own desires and ambitions and appetites in a struggle with the rest of the world [and others]. They try to become real by imposing themselves on other people, by appropriating for themselves some share of the limited supply of created goods and thus emphasizing the difference between themselves and other [people] who have less than them, or nothing at all.
They can only conceive one way of becoming real: cutting themselves off from other people and building a barrier of contrast and distinction between themselves and other [people]...they do not know that reality is to be sought not in division but in unity, for we are “members of one another”
As individuals, we constantly strive for more, even of good things, but we are too selfish and short-sighted. Someday we may indeed be perfect, but for now, we can get a better glimpse of that as a people, not alone, for we can see good things in others and learn from each other. When one of us is not up to the job, someone else can step in. Where I am weak, you are strong. And together, we encourage each other to grow. Together, we can see the big picture.
Together, we remember Jesus’ words again this morning. Words of comfort and hope. Words of resurrection, renewal, transformation. Maybe today I can stop trying to make myself better, and just rest in God. Get out of the way and stop trying to be him. Stop trying to change myself and let him transform me. If I can stop talking, especially in my head, for my words are an idle tale. We must remember Jesus’ words, and listen for him speaking to us now. Remember the day that saw him rise, remember the promises he gave to his disciples, and to us. Even though I may have an image of who I am as my best self, even if I am inclined to be prideful and conceited in saying so, something tells me that I will be even better than I can imagine, when I am changed in the twinkling of an eye. Maybe I can achieve what I wish to be in this lifetime, mostly likely not, but I believe we will be even better beyond our wildest dreams when we go to be with Jesus: fully healed, whole and utterly blessed. We will be what God intended and be reunited with those who went before us. For now, we can’t really see just what that means, but we have faith in the one who makes it happen. When we are terrified, it can be hard to remember Jesus’ words, and stand firm. And so, we read again the Scriptures, and remember his words. We can make ourselves better, but only Jesus can transform us, as individuals, and as his people. His words then and now will make it so.