A snake on a wooden stick. Christ lifted on a tree. Matthew Shepard dead on a Wyoming fence. Yet, the human heart is resilient. Lift high the cross. Trust the promise of baptism: that out of death, God births life. Reverence the holy cross. As Luther urged, trace it on your body at day’s dawn and days’ end. Bow as it passes. Eat and drink its mystery each Lord’s Day. Let this sign of beauty be for you, the very heart of God.
Yes, you are free from the bondage of sin. You are no longer enslaved to the false gods of materialism and accumulation. And that has everything to do with the future of the earth and the growing list of endangered species. Because of divine forgiveness and mercy, you are set free. Set free to take risks for the sake of the gospel. Set free to take risks for the sake of our beloved earth. Set free to take risks for the sake of the most vulnerable among us. Like the Israelites, in baptism you walk through water, from bondage to freedom! Your call is to bring others with you.
There’s no softening it or explaining it away, discipleship, carrying our cross, will ask of us, a lot of us, and as earthen vessels filled with the breath of God it will bend us, crack us, spoil us, but God our potter is ever creating us anew until we fully live into the kinship we share as members of the family of God. It’s a kinship that extends beyond our homes to the farthest corners of our cosmos. Relationally reshaped, reformed, resurrected we are made one in Christ.
We come, because after Jesus’ death, as before it, there is this meal. A bargaining table for a contract negotiation can be a holy place when justice is served. What we Christians know about justice, about community, about how to value work and workers, we learned from the prophets of ancient Israel and the Rabbi from Nazareth. At the table, from the beginning, and now for folk like us – who did not know Jesus, who never heard him preach or see him heal, folk who still know of fear and hate and hurt – still are filled with a vision of the Kingdom of God, and with a power that changes lives and heals a world.
The healing of the woman in our gospel story today is certainly good, but Jesus does not heal this woman in order to restore her posture and realign her with a broken world that bent her in half in the first place, but rather, Jesus heals this woman to reveal the ways in which the inflexible, oppressive rules of this world must be bent so that all people can be set free. The healing and freedom that Jesus offers the crippled woman, even though he must bend the rules to do so, is an invitation for the rest of us as well to assume a flexible, open, graceful, Christ-like posture towards creation, our fellow siblings, and towards ourselves, all of which are being bent over by the demonic forces of this world.
This is our call story. That we have been freed from what burdens us, we are turned outward from our selves and our own failings and phobias and doubts to proclaim this healing, this transformation that we have experienced to the world. And in the face of whatever doubts or fears or disqualifications we or the world might throw out, God’s promise stands strong. God reaches out to us whenever, wherever we stand in those dark times, touches us, and promises to be with us. To give us the words. To never leave us.
Mary is the Mother of all the living. Yet through baptism God calls us to be mothers as well. Everybody gets to be Mary. We are all full of grace. All highly favored. All called to be God-bearers, bringing to birth justice and joy in the world. Whether we have been mothers or not, whatever our gender, whatever complicated relationship we have or had with our mother. And like Mary—at our falling asleep, at our death—God promises to bring us to the glory of our eternal home.
Mary, often called Theotokos – God-bearer, or Mother of God – birthed Jesus, yes, yet even more so, her yes to God was but the beginning of the birth pangs of God’s new creation. In Mary’s womb was, as the old Latin hymn puts it, “heaven and earth in little space. “ What wondrous births might be waiting to come to be through us if we, like Mary, are both humble and courageous enough to say yes to what God wants to do in our lives?
Here’s the ironic thing. Christianity is a materialistic religion. We value the stuff of creation, the stuff of bodies, the stuff of earth. And many of our possessions hold deep memories and connections. Yet, in our day and time, it can seemly nearly impossible to go against the grain and not define ourselves by what we have, what we make, what we do. Jesus warns about being rich in possessions but not rich toward God. Sounds spiritual, but what does “rich toward God” even mean? Maybe simply asking the question is a good start.
In today’s reading, Jesus sends seventy people out ahead of him on a mission. Similar to the previous commissioning of the twelve disciples, he gives them specific instructions, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. Greet no one on the road.” One translation says, Travel light. As modern-day disciples committed to God’s work in the word we begin to imagine what it looks like to travel light. What do we leave behind and what do we carry?
“Take a chill pill. Calm down. Relax.” Easier said than done. We seem hard-wired to freak out when anxiety or fear take over. It’s the “fight or flight” response, we’ve been told. Like animals reacting to threats to their safety, it’s natural for us to respond quickly, too. Calm is something we so fiercely desire, but often eludes us. Inner peace. The sense that everything is and will be okay. The assurance that God is with us. Elijah experiences this calm after the storm…the wild man in the gospel reading is restored to his right mind (what does that even mean?) What is this “holy chill?” And how might we be restored and made ready to on with our lives and our various callings?
Holy Trinity is a Pentecost community. Our differences make life interesting and reveal that God loves diversity and is the very source of infinite variety. The Holy Spirit is the energy that unites us and challenges us to not only bang our diversity drum and say what a great church we are because we try to welcome everyone. Rather, we are empowered to move beyond mere acceptance of others to transformation. As we listen and learn from those most different from us—racially, ethnically, religiously, economically, politically—we become more. We discover new ways of thinking, serving, loving. We become transformed by this Spirit of God, this Advocate, the One that abides in us forever.
Can you name your top five favorite Easter hymns or songs? Can you even name five? I bet if I asked you to do the same with Christmas carols, you’d come up a long list. How many Easter albums do you know by well-known recording artists? Yet it seems everyone makes a Christmas album. Doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or Jewish, agnostic or church-going. Barbara Streisand, Karen Carpenter, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble—they all sing of “Jesus, Lord at thy birth,” and “Son of God, love’s pure light.” And yet Easter is the principle Christian feast. It’s the real deal. It may surprise you to learn the two Easter songs featured in this sermon.
Christ speaks words of peace and words of beauty to us this day—even amid our insecurities, our doubts, our pride, our indifference. May Easter open your eyes. To see the earth coming alive. To see the amazing gifts in each new day. To see the risen Christ among us in bread and wine. To see the image of God in our siblings, especially those most different from us. And finally, to see what you too often miss: that you are beautiful!