Threatened with Resurrection
A Sermon Preached to the Hudson River Presbytery
At the Larchmont Avenue Church
May 22, 2012
Rev. Julie Emery
Text: Luke 24: 1-11 and Romans 8:31-39
What then are we to say about these things?
If God is for us, then who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?
Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I have to confess, before God and these witnesses. I am a liar.
It’s true, and I should probably hang my head in shame. After all these years of feeling wonderfully and profoundly called to the ministry.
After years and money spent on that fancy MDiv at Princeton Theological Seminary. (No offense to you Union Grads.)
After all that – Pretty much every time I am asked the question, “What do you do for a living?”
I balk. I hesitate. I chew my lips, and more often than not… I lie. “Oh, I’m a writer,” I say, “I’m kind-of like a social worker… I’m in community organizing…”
I confess, I’ve been known to pretend I’m a barista at Starbucks… I mean, you can’t beat free health-care and free wi-fi!
Now, don’t get me wrong – as Paul would say, I am not ashamed of the gospel. I love my job. I am passionate about my ministry. I am overjoyed that I get to work with some of the most talented and energetic, dynamic people I’ve met in my life. (And Bill didn’t pay me to say that!)
It’s just that “out there..” (outside the walls of the church, out in the “real world”) – the language is different. “Out there,” what we do and why we do it take on a different and new meaning. Out there, I can often be confronted with the painful truth: that the church is, for most people, an antiquated institution.
You all know this to be true, if you are speaking to any non-church people or reading any of the same articles that I am: The many discussions of the multitude of “SBNR” folks – “Spiritual but not religious.”
Now, Whether you secretly believe you are one of them, roll your eyes at them or long to draw them into your church, you know that they are deeply suspicious of what we do here, in the church. And not only that, their numbers are growing much faster than ours.
We are in a new era, and the fact is, this new era isn’t so new. The church is dead, or at least has been diagnosed with end-stage terminal illness.
If you attended that conversation with Diana Butler Bass last year or have read her books, you have seen some of the grim statistics: that 20-33% of people in our country have never even stepped foot in a church – not for a wedding or a funeral or just to admire the gorgeous architecture of Saint John the Divine. 44% of people under the age of 30 don’t believe in God. That’s almost half.
The church as we know and proclaim it is dying. Perhaps it is time for us to admit it, to roll the stone over the tomb, and begin to diversify our resumes.
Around the country, ministers doing just that. They are having conversations about bi-vocational ministry, about a type of hospice work for churches, and they are wondering, “what we are going to do when there are no more churches to serve.” The church is dying folks, like it or not, the end is nigh.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The angels asked Mary that day, the shadowy tomb gaping open and empty before her. And I imagine she stood there, spices in hand, confused at what she was hearing.
Certainly she had not come seeking the living, but the dead. She was doing the thing she knew how to do; the thing that helped her enact her grief in an age-old, comforting way. She was there to perform ritual, to weep, to join in community with her sisters, to do the things they had always done, to the Glory of God and for the love of their beloved friend and teacher.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” She was asked, and in that instant and question– her world, and ours was forever changed.
It is not and will not be easy to let go of the Church as we know it. For many of us, this is the place where we have found our most holy and comforting home. It is the place where we have created and found our truest selves, it is the place where we have been challenged to live our best lives.
For some of us, it is the place where we have been loved into being from the very first breath we took; the place we have been taught these stories that bring meaning to our lives. For others, it is the place where we have been loved and found healing after a long road of rejection and pain. Letting go of this, it means letting go of more than our jobs or our homes, more than letting go of our church communities or historical buildings. It means letting go of our need to cling to what is stable and secure, and walking out on the unstable, frightening waters ahead.
Because, here is the real rub for each of us: You have to die to live the resurrection.
What we forget, even us clergy and church leaders, is that before the resurrection came suffering and death. And after the resurrection, after… Christ was so transformed that even his closest disciples could not recognize him.
Are we willing to be made unrecognizable?
Jurgan Moltmann once wrote, “It is impossible to talk convincingly about Christ’s resurrection without participating in the movement of the Spirit “who descends on all flesh” to quicken it. This movement of the Spirit is the divine “liberation movement,” for it is the process whereby the world is recreated.”
To be recreated, to be resurrected, is a frightening thing. It is a painful thing. It is death, and then life. It threatens our very existence with a new way of living and being in the world. And friends it is the world that God seeks to reconcile and transform, not just us church folks.
The most ironic part about knowing this – is that I am among the first to defend the traditional way of doing church. I mean, look where I get to preach!? Have you heard our organ? (That’s right – I love organ music.) I mean, really… I am an associate pastor – we are a rare and dying breed.
I have this luxury of behaving as if I am not threatened with Resurrection.
Diana Butler Bass writes in her latest book, “Exponential change creates exponential fear along with exponential hope. Massive transformation creates the double-edge cultural sword of decline and renewal. Exponential change ends those things that people once assumed and trusted to be true. At the same time, upheaval opens new pathways to the future. Change is about endings and beginnings, and the necessary interrelationship between the two.”
For some of us, perhaps we need to be in touch with our mortality a little bit more. For some, we need to sense the urgency that comes when you are only given a short time to live. We need to be shaken from the ways we fearfully cling to buildings and organs and endowments. We need to be threatened with resurrection so that we might let go, and live as though God’s love will carry us through all our fears into New Life.
For others of us, we are all too painfully aware of our demise. We are in the garden holding our spices and weeping, confused and wounded. We need to be reminded that New Life is already among us – even now. We need to be reminded that even our own death cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We need to be reminded there is hope in the new thing, the un-recognizable thing that is still Christ, the transformative thing that is already happening in our midst.
Look there – our brothers and sisters in Peru they are doing a new thing! Look there – a community of faith born out of the ashes of another! Look there – love crossing the divisions and chasms we have created to bring us together into something entirely new! Look there – it may be happening outside of your walls, outside of your vision, “Out There.”
And maybe this is what it means to live the resurrection life: to live as though we are faced with death, and yet believe in a life after that death.
Guatemalan poet and activist Julia Esquivel, who coined the phrase that became the title of today’s sermon, wrote, “I live each day to kill death; I die each day to beget life, and in this dying unto death, I die a thousand times and am reborn another thousand through that love…”
What might we do if we knew we could not die, not really?
How might we live as a church if we knew the point was not to survive, but to thrive in the Spirit of the living and renewing and resurrecting God?
What might we risk, who might we serve, how far would we go if we knew that at the end of it all we might look different but we would be consumed in the love of Christ?
Threatened with Resurrection, Threatened with New Life, Threatened with God’s all encompassing love?
Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.”
And us too…
In the name of the Creator and the Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.