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.
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.
We all struggle with shame wrongfully imposed on us by others...for who we are, what we look
like, who we love, our work, our lifestyle. We pick at the specks in each others eyes while the
logs of racism, wealth inequality, environmental degradation, and xenophobia remain firmly
lodged in place. Yet...our infinitely compassionate God hears our cries, receives our
brokenness, and provides us with something greater than we ever could have imagined.
Maybe we’re the ones in the ditch ourselves, paralyzed by anxiety about the future, or broken by abuse and unhealthy relationships, or beaten up by disease and illness. God comes to us in our ditches of despair, stoops to our side to tend to our wounds and wash us with the baptismal waters of grace. God feeds us with a meal that brings healing; and entrusts us to each other’s care. “Who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asks. Anyone. Everyone. For all bear the fresh face of God who is Good.
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?
When we live outwardly in response to the truth that we have already been set free by Christ’s death and resurrection, we can welcome the stranger without fear, we can celebrate the diversity of love that our LGBTQ siblings express, we can live more gracefully upon this earth without the fear of scarcity convincing us to hoard our resources, and most of all, in the face of death, because of Christ we can still sing our song. That is the true freedom of a Christian.
You’re part of the movement now. The mantle is passed to you. So pray, march, sing. Swing low, sweet chariot. Swing low and pick up all who struggle to be loved and accepted. Swing low and pick up all hated by their families. Swing low and pick up immigrant children separated from their parents. Swing low and pick up those homeless or hopeless. And swing low and pick up even those gripped by fear and hate.
“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?
So what are God’s pronouns? Our God who is and was is and is to come is all of them, AND more than we can even imagine: He who creates and orders life, she who nourishes and sustains, and they who flows and moves through us and all of creation to proclaim the good news of salvation for all. We are a people of endless potential, who serve a triune God of endless potential.
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!
Today you may be here filled with fear and doubt and that is ok. Jesus is not waiting for us to get our house in order and open the door. Jesus is breaking the houses we lock ourselves up in offers to us peace and breathes on us the liberating Holy Spirit that frees us. And if that image is too abstract for you and you need something more real to touch and to taste, come to the table, and like Thomas, experience Jesus’ real presence with you. Through that real experience of resurrection, the Spirit is at work, giving us ordinary, fearful, doubting people extraordinary boldness to declare, “My Lord and my God.”