Thursday, April 19, 2012

DON'T BE AMAZED: A GUEST SERMON

THE RESURRECTION: NOLI ME TANGERE
GIOTTO, 1304-06
The other morning I was lying in bed in the dark, early, checked my phone, and found a message from my brother Ross:

Top 'o the Morning Heather,

On Sunday, as Edilia [Ross's wife], Allen [Ross's son], and I headed toward Keene for lunch, we stopped on the way at the church in the tiny town of Dublin. I'm glad we did-- as the sermon was outstanding. Here is the sermon for the previous Sunday--Easter, to start your day.

Blessings of Peace and Joy,

RJ


The sermon was so great that as soon as I read it, I jumped up and emailed the good Rev. Michael Scott who graciously gave permission to run it on Shirt of Flame. So here it is.

“Don’t Be Amazed”
A Sermon by Rev. Michael Scott
The Dublin Community Church

April 8, 2012 Mark 16:1-8

“Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome . . . went to the tomb when the sun had risen . . . And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back . . . [and] they saw a young man...[who] said to them, ‘Do not be amazed . . . .’”

I like Franco Zeffirelli’s production, Jesus of Nazareth. Particularly his depiction of the resurrection story. He adds no angel choirs, no trumpets, no dazzling special effects. He simply offers the image that is foremost in our gospel reading this morning: a few women walking through a garden on a quiet morning to the sound of chirping birds, and finding nothing; finding an empty tomb.

We’ve been conditioned over the years, not only by Hollywood but by Renaissance art, to visualize the resurrection in great other worldly images: angel wings fluttering all about and a 120 piece orchestra accompanying the Mormon Tabernacle choir. Medieval paintings provide us with an angelic-looking Jesus floating up in the air with the clouds parting, soldiers falling to the ground in shock, and a blinding light emanating from the tomb. Our individual images of the first Easter are surely cluttered with people, noises, lights, angels, and most certainly wouldn’t be complete without trumpets.

We are unprepared for the stillness of the morning, the soft sound of footsteps on the garden path, the chirping of the birds, and the silence of the empty tomb. To imagine it all in that way makes it seem like ordinary experience – much less amazing. But why not? After all, that was the advice of the “young man” who greeted those women at the tomb on that quiet morning. He simply said, “Don’t be amazed.”

We have as hard a time hearing and heading that word as did those three women in the graveyard. We expect that if new life were to burst forth from our deadening experience, it would have to be something amazing! If something is truly going to happen to resurrect our hope and send our spirits soaring out of the darkness of our stone-covered cynicism, it would need to be earth-shaking, with trumpets and choirs, no less.

In our own experience, we look for the old and ugly, the pesky and pernicious, the deadly and destructive of our lives to be somehow blasted away by religious ritual or proper penance. And then, when we don’t hear the trumpets, when we look at our broken promises, our selfish tendencies, our superficial commitments, we find despair moving into our souls like a cloud, to darken the joy of hope for new life. Then, Easter seems unrelated to our experience; the resurrection becomes just another church story. Amazing things don’t seem to happen anymore – at least not to us. So, if unable to find satisfaction, we at least find a little distraction in the family dinners, the painted eggs, and the chocolate bunnies.

But my message this morning is: Don’t give up on Easter. Don’t leave it to the righteous believers and the exemplary holy ones. The distance from Jesus’ surprisingly empty crypt to your unremarkably full life is not as great as you might believe.

The resurrection, you see, is not amazing. It’s a prototypical experience. It’s the miraculous nature of things woven into the very fabric of life. People who have been dwelling among the breathless tombs of alcoholism have been raised from that creeping demise into sobriety. Every day, someone caught in the death grip of an abusive relationship finds help and rises up to new life. Even hour by hour, the power of resurrection breathes through your experience. When you find yourself facing the dead-end of the same argument with your spouse, the same challenging relationship with a parent, the same incorrigibility of a child, the same humiliating experience with a colleague that you’ve dealt with over and over, and you feel the hope for any better outcome draining out of your soul, sometimes all it takes is a touch, a look, a laugh, a brief conversation, to feel the breath of possibility coming back into your lungs. Resurrection is not amazing; it’s the way things are. That’s what the young man at the tomb said: “Don’t be amazed. Jesus is raised from the dead, and he is going on ahead to meet you – as he said he would.”

Jesus, you see, was one of those remarkable oddities: he was a man of his word. And his words were always about new life and possibility. He spoke of new wine in new wineskins, and being born anew. He told parables about people finding something of great value, of growing into something grand, of turning for home and discovering joyous living. He said that the whole purpose of his ministry, of everything he was about, was that we might have life, and have it abundantly! And he was a man of his word. Scripture even portrays him as a man who could defeat death itself to keep his word. But don’t be amazed. That’s just the way things are. Jesus is gone from the tomb as naturally as a bird on the wing. He is not there as a matter of course. He is risen, as he said. No trumpets; no choirs. Life always comes out of death for the children of God because we are people of life, not death. It’s the way things are.

You may not see the skies open up, or hear fanfares, or the flutter of angel wings. But you are likely, on some quiet morning, to be walking through a garden (or sitting in your kitchen with your coffee cup), and quite unexpectedly stumble upon the empty tomb of that within you which you thought was hopelessly dead, and yet lives, abounding in hope! Even now, as you sit in this room there is some divine principle of quantum physics that’s working away in you to peel off the layers of cynicism that build up in the course of each day’s disappointments. Even now, there’s some incomprehensible army of natural properties hammering away at the shackles of defeatism that you take up every time someone you love lets you down. Even now, there is some ancient and unknowable impulse urging the song of life from deep within your throat, a song that something within you knows already, a song you are able to sing, even in the shadow of death.

Loren Eiseley knew about that. He saw it all right before his eyes one day. He had leaned up against a stump at the edge of a small glade and fallen asleep. He described the scene upon awakening:

“When I awoke, dimly aware of some commotion and outcry in the clearing, the light was slanting down through the pines in such a way that the glade was lit like some vast cathedral. I could see the dust motes of wood pollen in the long shaft of light, and there on the extended branch sat an enormous raven with a red and squirming nestling in his beak.

“The sound that awoke me was the outraged cries of the nestling’s parents, who flew helplessly in circles about the clearing. The sleek black monster was indifferent to them. He gulped, whetted his beak on the dead branch a moment and sat still. Up to that point the little tragedy had followed the usual pattern. But suddenly, out of all that area of woodland, a soft sound of complaint began to rise. Into the glade fluttered small birds of half a dozen varieties drawn by the anguished outcries of the tiny parents.

“No one dared to attack the raven. But they cried there in some instinctive common misery. The bereaved and the unbereaved. The glade filled with their soft rustling and their cries. They fluttered as though to point their wings at the murderer. There was a dim intangible ethic he had violated, that they knew. He was a bird of death.

“And he, the murderer, the black bird at the heart of life, sat on there, glistening in the common light, formidable, unmoving, unperturbed, untouchable.



“The sighing died. It was then that I saw the judgment. It was the judgment of life against death. I will never see it again so forcefully presented. I will never hear it again in notes so tragically prolonged. For in the midst of protest, they forgot the violence. There, in the clearing, the crystal note of a song sparrow lifted hesitantly in the hush. And finally, after painful fluttering, another took the song, and then another, the song passing from one bird to another, doubtfully at first, as though some evil thing were being slowly forgotten. Till suddenly they took heart and sang from many throats joyously together as birds are known to sing. They sang because life is sweet and sunlight beautiful. They sang under the brooding shadow of the raven. In simple truth they had forgotten the raven, for they were the singers of life, and not of death.”1


There is an irrepressible force in the universe. And it’s not amazing. It’s the message of the empty tomb, and it’s as common as the birds in the glade. It’s this: amidst the jungle of values in conflict, lives in torment, hopes and dreams in pieces, the un-amazing empty tomb is God’s tenacious declaration that, no matter what, love wins!

And that’s just the way it works. So don’t be amazed.

1 Loren Eiseley, The Star Thrower, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978, pp. 33-34


LOREN EISELEY
(1907-1977)
DUBLIN (NEW HAMPSHIRE) COMMUNITY CHURCH


Rev. Scott generally makes his sermons available in pdf form the Friday after the Sunday they're delivered--you can find them on the Dublin Community Church website: www.dublinchurch.org.

Thank you for this "word" from my beloved native state!

8 comments:

  1. Oh, Heather, this had me teary-eyed this morning- GOOD teary-eyed. For one, I will never forget the power of reading Loren Eiseley in high school. I don't remember which essay, just that I had never read anyone before who used words in the way he did- to describe things that were all around him, to draw me in to seeing with reflection.

    But something else resonated even more profoundly. Now, when I walk in the door and call out,"Hi Hon, I'm home!", my "Hon" calls back, "Great! I'll be right out" or I answer the phone to hear my husband say, "I just wanted you to know that my tricky meeting went fine today" and we chat for another minute or so... the miracle that HE CAN HEAR arrives now, daily, in simple, ordinary, homely words. "Don't be amazed- we are just having a talk." The gift of hearing since Peter's cochlear implant is so extraordinary because easy conversation was never there, and now it just is- just is part of our daily life. Makes my heart sing to see the stress replaced with ease on his face when he answers a stranger at the store, or willingly talks to a passing neighbor. Each week since mid-February when his implant was "activated", music has sounded better and better, so that he is able to enjoy listening to his favorite Elvis recordings that haven't sounded like much of anything for over 40 years. Yes, ordinary days. "Don't be amazed".

    THANK YOU and continued blessings of the Easter season!

    PS. I had a 1965 red Karmann Ghia back in the day. Oh, did I LOVE that little baby car! What a thrill to have so much fun getting around, even if it was too impractical to keep it running for very long. Let us know what you end up with...

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  2. Loved Rev Scott's piece. Another home run for SOF.

    Still on pins and needles about that car. How long are you going to keep us in suspense?

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  3. Had to chirp in on this keeper of a sermon. Beautiful! Uplifting! Loved the story of the birds.

    Thanks heather.

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  4. Lovely, lovely.

    A slight tangent (as is my wont), but I can't help being reminded of this:


    Self-Pity

    I never saw a wild thing
    sorry for itself.
    A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
    without ever having felt sorry for itself.

    - D.H. Lawrence

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  5. Oh the car, the car...it was a whole car week...almost got the Miata, almost got the Miata, test-drove the Miata, wangled a partial loan for the Miata, got insurance quotes for the Miata, had the Miata AAA-approved-guy inspected...and then it turned out the car wasn't smogged and the "dealer" (who had shown many other signs of recalcitrance over the previous three days) weirdly dragged his feet. The upshot being I took my trusty Celica down to Jimmy yesterday and have a new oil seal, oil pump, and timing belt and my current plan is to drive that baby till she falls apart!

    Good Lord.

    Thanks, all: so beautiful, Mary Beth, that your husband can now hear so easily and clearly.

    And so happy I got to share this killer sermon!...

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  6. Big sigh of relief here. Could have seen you in the Miata -- saw a little black one in traffic the other day and thought of you -- but driving what you've got till it drops is solid grown up thinking IMHO. It has worked for me, sort of.

    Now I can get on with the rest of my life.

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  7. Thank you for sharing this, Heather (I feel it's weird all I can think of - maybe I'm too shocked, amazed, heh - is "Thank you"; but, like Eckhart, I guess that is enough.)

    It was a beautiful reminder, after a couple weeks of escalating disappointment, that grief is natural . . . and then songs of life.

    It kind of reminds me of Chesterton's "A Second Childhood" though I'm not sure it's on the same track:

    "When all my days are ending
    And I have no song to sing,
    I think that I shall not be too old
    To stare at everything;
    As I stared once at a nursery door
    Or a tall tree and a swing.

    Wherein God’s ponderous mercy hangs
    On all my sins and me,
    Because He does not take away
    The terror from the tree
    And stones still shine along the road
    That are and cannot be.

    Men grow too old for love, my love,
    Men grow too old for wine,
    But I shall not grow too old to see
    Unearthly daylight shine,
    Changing my chamber’s dust to snow
    Till I doubt if it be mine.

    Behold, the crowning mercies melt,
    The first surprises stay;
    And in my dross is dropped a gift
    For which I dare not pray:
    That a man grow used to grief and joy
    But not to night and day.

    Men grow too old for love, my love,
    Men grow too old for lies;
    But I shall not grow too old to see
    Enormous night arise,
    A cloud that is larger than the world
    And a monster made of eyes.

    Nor am I worthy to unloose
    The latchet of my shoe;
    Or shake the dust from off my feet
    Or the staff that bears me through
    On ground that is too good to last,
    Too solid to be true."

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  8. Greg, a belated but hearty thanks for the oh-so-apropos Chesterton poem. And I sympathize with your two weeks of "escalating disappointment." Sometimes it seems like two--or three or four--decades...which is why I so loved this piece. The resurrection is not some triumphant, fist-pumping triumph. It's that we get out of bed one more day, brush our teeth, get dressed...bless you!

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