Tuesday, April 5, 2016

We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit . . .

     Don’t you find it at least a bit ironic that we read about “doubting” Thomas on “Low” Sunday?  Does anybody else think we should really include Thomas’ story on Easter, when there are far more people who do not want to believe in attendance?  After my conversations last week, I really think we should reconsider our lectionary readings.  Some of you commented last Sunday or during the week on the time it took for me to make my way to the Parish Hall after the second service.  For those waiting on me, I apologized, but I was stopped by a number of visitors and/or infrequent attenders.
     For those not here last week, I compared life to the NCAA Tournament .  We face choices much like teams face competitors in a bracket.  How we choose impacts our lives.  God, of course, offers us that opportunity to share in the glory of a champion, well, THE Champion—Jesus Christ.  To be sure, the consequences of bad and sinful choices may still play out in our lives, but the guarantee is that we all make the winner’s celebration in the end, even if we are upset in the early rounds.  Don’t laugh.  It worked.  And that’s what happens sometimes when we trust that the Holy Spirit will show up and say what needs to be said.
     Clearly, way more was said than what came out of my mouth.  I had people stop me and talk with me about the importance of the historicity of the Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.  I had people stop and talk with me about how their situations were irredeemable.  I had people even stop me, thank me for inviting them to join us in this faith walk at Advent, and the proceed to explain to me how they were not saints like the people who attend here!  It’s ok to laugh.  I did.  I even pointed out that the chief hypocrite was the shepherd of this herd of cats, but they were having none of it.
     In truth I only had 8 or 9 such conversations after church last week.  But each of the conversations lumped easily into one of those three categories, if you will.  One thread, though, was common among them all.  When I asked why they had chosen to come to church at Church of the Advent to remember and celebrate this event of which they do not yet feel a part, the answers came back to you.  So and so is always talking about your sermons.  I wanted to see if you could make Easter real.  So and so isn’t like all those other Christians I read about.  She lives in the real world and faces real problems.  One was kind enough to share the problems of a parishioner.  But she never gives up.  She always faces whatever life chucks at her.  I want to know why?  I even got a couple well, I have to on Easter and Christmas.  If I don’t, there’s real hell to pay with my parents, Father. 
     Don’t waste your time trying to figure out which friend or family member stopped me and who said what.  Given the day, I doubt I would remember their faces, except the poor chap who thought you guys were saints and was shocked at my guffaw.  And some conversations started once I made it into the Parish Hall, so it is likely that I am conflating a dozen or more discussions.  But the conversations did make me realize something.  I need to remind you the truth of our reading from Acts this morning.  Turn there in your Order of Worship, if you want to follow along.  We will take for granted this morning that none of us present are doubting Thomases, at least in the way of Thomas the Apostle.
     Those of us who pay close attention to our readings might be surprised to learn that, although we are only in chapter 5 of the book of Acts, this is the third time the Apostles have been arrested and the second time they have been brought before the Sanhedrin, the court that found Jesus guilty and took Him to Pilate demanding His death.  Our reading today takes place after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so we jump ahead in the story about 8 or 9 weeks.  To catch you up, Jesus has appeared repeatedly, commissioned the disciples and Apostles, and ascended into heaven.  Peter and John have healed the man on the Temple steps in the Name of Jesus.  That event was, of course, theologically significant in the ANE.  God’s fortress was His Temple in His city.  If Jesus was not His Son, Peter and John would never have been able to heal in His Name on the threshold of Yahweh’s Temple.  It’s horrible logic, to be sure.  Many in Israel thought that God had to protect Jerusalem and His Temple before the armies showed up to take Israel into Exile.  They were wrong.  God had instructed them over the centuries that the Temple was for them, not Him.  So here is Peter and John healing a man right under the nose of God!
     We can well imagine the conversations.  Some likely questioned their decision to have Jesus killed.  Names were powerful in the ANE.  To name something was to have power over it, to control it.  For Peter and John to be able to invoke Jesus’ name for healing was of incredible importance.  Maybe the rumors of the Resurrection were true?  Maybe the Temple priests were wrong and this ragtag bunch of disciples really understood God’s plan of salvation history?  The other questions would have likely dealt with the priests’ inability to heal the man in question.  Can you imagine how you all would respond to me if, day after day, week after week, you had to step over a beggar on your way into church.  I would likely tell you the poor soul had the right to seek alms from the faithful.  Then, sometime later, a couple of you heal that beggar in God’s Name.  How many would wonder why I had not tried to heal the beggar in God’s Name?  Worse.  What if I had tried and failed?  My guess is that more than a few of us would wonder whether we needed a new priest.  That is the situation created by Peter and John.  And the Sanhedrin is, understandably, none too pleased.
     The Sanhedrin had them dragged before them and strictly ordered them, as our translators put it this morning, not to teach and preach in this name.  The Apostles do not listen, as you can imagine, and are arrested again.  That time, though, God rescues them from the jail.  This time, though, God lets them face the accusers who just a few weeks ago put His Son to death.  How would you expect Peter and John to respond?  How would you respond?  Remember, during the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, just a few weeks ago, all the men deserted their Lord!  Poor Peter even denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus told him he would, before he leaves the scene weeping bitterly at his failure.  I could well imagine Peter trembling with fear.  No doubt many of us would, too.  But look at how the Apostles answer the Sanhedrin.  We must obey God rather than human authorityThe God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  Can you imagine?  What could cause Peter to go from denying Jesus in the face of that imposing servant girl to evangelizing the entirety of the Sanhedrin?  How do you explain it?  A plot to take over the Roman Empire and enjoy the “good life of power”?  Really, we think these guys are that smart and that forward thinking?  They get confused about yeast and feeding people and how greatness is assessed by God, when God is incarnate among them, but now they are able to grasp the intricacies of the Empire and plot its overthrow three centuries later?  Of course not!  They have seen the risen Jesus!  They have eaten with the risen Jesus!  They have had the Scriptures opened in their minds so that they understand the plan of salvation history and the central role that Jesus plays in that plan!  They have seen Jesus ascend to be with the Father again!  And they have witnessed and experienced the coming of the Comforter, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit!  Nothing is as it was that dark evening and darker Friday.  Everything has changed because Jesus has been raised from the dead!  They know that now.  They understand that nothing can take them from the Father’s hand.  They know there is no one to fear because they belong to God.
     We are witnesses to these things.  Just like those hauled before the Sanhedrin in our readings this morning, you and I are witnesses to these things.  Oh, I understand that, unless we are given mystical visions, most of us must depend on the faith blessed by our Lord during His confrontation with Thomas.  But we have seen and we have come to believe, have we not?  Maybe some of us have seen miracles in our own lives that rival the parting of the Red Sea or the raising of the dead.  Maybe some of us have experienced provision in the face of privation in such a way that we know, we absolutely know, that God gives us each day our daily bread.  Maybe some of us have experienced that Peace that passes all understanding in the midst of extreme danger, extreme hurt, or extreme loneliness.  Maybe some of us, like Mary last week, have heard His voice calling us.  Whatever the reasons, we have heard, we have seen, and we believe!  More importantly, we are witnesses to these things!
     The common thread running through my conversations with visitors last week, brothers and sisters, is that we are not doing a very good job of witnessing.  It is not only a problem that plagues us at Advent but also the wider Church.  You laughed a few moments ago because visitors thought you were saints.  If they knew us, if they truly knew us and who we are, they would understand that we are not saints of our own making, nor would they feel out of place coming before our Lord in this place to give Him thanks and praise.  We are real sinners who have been redeemed—you all especially because now you even come to church on Low Sunday!  We have all done bad things.  We have all done horrible things.  All of us still have secret sins we dare not share because we do try to keep up appearances.  Ironically, in pretending to be other than who we are, we give the impression that we are not like those in our families, in our places of employment, in our clubs and social gatherings, or those whom we encounter in our daily life and work.  There is, as the Collect notes today, a disconnect between what we profess by our faith and by how we interact with others in our lives.  We who have an intimate relationship with God, we who know He died even for our secret sins and washed us in His blood, fear that kind of intimacy with others.  We fear witnessing.
     As you have all figured out, I had this idea for a sermon very early in the week.  When I am settled on a sermon by Monday or Tuesday I get nervous.  I still beg God for signs like burning bushes or partings of waters.  Those of you who follow me on Facebook know I hit upon that amazing sign last night.  If I was worried at all about the force of the call I was going to issue in His name on your lives today, He cast that aside.  Last night, while killing time during commercials, I came across one of the saddest commentaries of our time.  The article was about how those under 30 are using MDMA, I think it is called, Molly to create authentic relationships.  Let that sink in for just a second.  According the article, those who value the drug claim it fast forwards, at a ridiculous pace, intimacy and relationships.  But does it really fast forward intimacy?
     All those who visit at your invitation last week are seeking.  They may not know who or what they are seeking, but they are seeking.  Most see “something” in you and want that for themselves, and so they are intrigued.  Maybe they want your unwillingness to give into despair.  Each person is different.  The problem, of course, is that the intimacy that they crave cannot be rushed.  How do we come to trust in God?  How is it that we Low Sunday attenders come to trust in God the way we do?  Is it not, to a large degree, due to His patient re-socialization of each and everyone of us?  We all work differently; we all see the world differently.  Some of us are Type A; some of us are not.  Some of us are very artistic; others of us are incredibly “left-brained.”  Yet we all find ourselves drawn to the same Lord, sharing the same bread and wine, celebrating what He has done for each and every one of us!  Those lessons are not learned overnight.  Those lessons cannot be rushed.  It took Abraham what, twenty-five years to begin to understand the offer of God?  How long did it take David to inherit his crown?  When we first called upon the saving name of Jesus, we were far different than we are today—at least I hope we all are, just as each of those who came before us were different from the men and women they were when they first encountered God!  Hopefully, our encounters with God have shaped us, molded us, transformed us into living saints and witnesses to these things.  We should be as different in our eyes as Peter was in his own eyes this day two thousand years ago.  And we, we should not be surprised by such things.
     What happens when we are baptized?  We die to ourselves, right?  The word for witness in Greek is martyr.  Whatever it is that we sought before we found Jesus, we die to.  If money was our primary focus before we encountered Jesus, we die to money.  If random sexual encounters were our primary focus before we encountered Jesus, we die to those.  If our reputation was the most valuable ting in our lives before we met Jesus, we die to reputation.  Whatever we valued before we met Jesus, whatever had a hold on our lives, we die to it or them when we enter those waters of baptism.
     And what happens on the other side?  We are raised to new life in Christ!  As the BCP puts it, we share in His Resurrection.  I know.  You thought Confirmation class ended many years ago.  You had no idea it should impact your life going forward each and every day.  But daily we die to self so that we can live in Christ, right?  And how do we live for Christ?  What is our charge we give as a congregation to new believers?  We receive you into the household of God.  Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim His Resurrection, and share with us in His eternal priesthood.  Is Peter doing anything other than the oath we all take?  True, His sanctification may be faster or slower than yours or mine, but should we be at all surprised that we share in his vocation just as he shares in ours?  Do we not share the same Lord?  The same Baptism?  The same light from the Light, as that Paschal Candle reminds us?
     I know it is frightening.  I know it is scary.  Some of us have carved out different lives.  Some of us are normal Christians when we show up for worship at Advent and super workers or super dads or super moms or super friends or super bridge players or whatever else we think we are when we show up in those places.  Were we to “get real” in these places where we work and play, people might begin to think we are Jesus freaks, holy rollers, or worse.  But Peter reminds us of a teaching in our baptism this morning that we are not alone in our witnessing.  The Holy Spirit witnesses with us.  It is an amazing claim, but ponder its truth.  Once again, what happens right before the congregational exhortation?  The celebrant marks the head of the baptized with the chrism proclaiming the words you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own for ever.  These are not just words.  They are a Sacrament, an outward sign of the inward and spiritual grace that we proclaim is within us!  We who have been baptized into His death and His Resurrection are promised by none other than Him that we will receive the Holy Spirit!  We don’t have to worry about the testimony too much, because the Holy Spirit will help us say or do those things necessary to glorify God.  You know this.  You really know this.  And so do those who came because you invited them.  Already within you they see something, they hear something they want for themselves.  They want to know that it, whatever it is, is available to them, that their emptiness can be filled by that which fills you.
     We are witnesses to these things.  Peeking ahead, brothers and sisters, I am a bit worried that you are going to get sick and tired of hearing that exhortation during the rest of the Easter Season.  Hopefully, God will give me ways to repeat it without boring you, but I think it bears repeating.  You and I are hear because someone or someones witnessed to us.  We would do well to remember the faith that is within us and witness to those not yet members, that they, like us, might know He is Lord and share in His eternal glory.  Talk about the ultimate pay it forward!
     One last note, though.  Because you worship here this today that comes so long after Peter’s speech before the Sanhedrin, you might assume all went well.  You might very well expect that the Sanhedrin converted en masse and the Church began to flourish.  To be sure, the Church continued to grow.  We are proof enough of that truth.  But after the warning of a rabbi named Gamaliel, the Sanhedrin has the Apostles flogged.   You heard correctly.  The Apostles are beaten for their faithfulness.  Yet such is the power of God in Christ that even those things meant for evil can be redeemed by Him.  That is the reminder of last week.  We can do everything perfectly, the way God drew it up on the chalkboard for us, and still there is no guarantee that humanity will listen.  We may be mocked, we may be ostracized, we may ridiculed, and in some places, as C and T certainly understand, we may even be killed.  But in the end, He has promised that He shares in our sorrows and our pains even as He offers us a share in His eternal glory.  In the end, whatever is taken from us, we will count as rubbish, unworthy of remembrance, for He will redeem all of us and all our sufferings for His sake, that the world might know He is the Lord and we are His servants!



Wednesday, March 30, 2016

On life's forks and tournament brackets . . .

     Why do we gather here this morning?  My guess, if I went around the room asking, I would get answers that fall somewhere along the lines of “Because we Christians are supposed to” to “I come because _______ makes me” and maybe in some places in between.  For us in the Church, we gather today to remember this amazing and wonderful act of God.  I know, for those of you who have been watching the shows on the cable channels about the “real Jesus,” we Christians seem not to know why we gather.  Maybe it is good that I address the reason first.
     We gather today because we remind ourselves that God has acted in history, that He continues to act in history and our lives, and that He will act in the future.  The world, of course, testifies that there is no God and He certainly did not nor does not act.  If there is a God, He just sits out there and watches.  He cannot reach into this world without upsetting the delicate balance He created.  The existence of evil is proof enough for some of this lie.  Various reasons are given for the Resurrection being a myth in these discussions.  My personal favorite is the one where the fishermen plotted to steal His body and hide it from the Romans because they wanted the power and prestige of Rome.  Never mind the fact that the “power and prestige of Rome” was three centuries and several persecutions off.  None of the earliest “plotter” got to enjoy their fruit of their labors, if such was their goal.  Talk about a leap of faith!  Some of us Christians contribute to that false myth.  I watched a show this week explaining that the Resurrection was not real, that the disciples had been suffering from a mass hallucination or psychosis.  The dead simply do not get up and live again.  I see the nods.  Some of you could not sleep either, eh?
     We gather today to remind ourselves, however, that God acts in history and in our lives.  The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus is simply the culminating event in salvation history.  If God can raise the dead, He can do anything and everything He promises.  Often, we need to be reminded of His power and His determination to redeem everything in the lives of all His people.  That is why we gather.  We gather to remind ourselves that we have a Savior and that our Savior can redeem all things in our lives, even death!
     A couple weeks ago, I found an incredible offer.  A local bar on Harpeth Avenue was offering half price beers for the next year, if one could correctly guess the Final Four.  Better still, the establishment in question was giving us a mulligan.  We got to pick five teams.  Well, I am an Episcopal priest.  I do like a good beer every now and again.  They serve microbrews on tap, and I saw an easy on the wallet way to enjoy them during the rest of 2016 and the beginning of 2017.  I see some of you are doing some quick calculations in your head and wishing you had heard about this offer before March Madness started.  That’s ok, your wives are doing the same calculations in their heads, too!  Yes, I played, and I played to win.  My big question was Kansas versus Villanova in my bracket.  I was not really sure who would win that matchup.  I figured Carolina would beat either Indiana or Kentucky.  I was confident Oklahoma would take down Oregon.  I had no doubts Michigan State owned Virginia.  Quit laughing.  This was two weeks ago.  How many of you had MTSU beating the Spartans?  Sure, we all pick a #12 seed to beat a #5—everyone does that, but something like only 8 people correctly picked MTSU to beat Michigan State.  And we all know Gonzaga is nigh near impossible to beat when they are a double-digit seed.  Seriously, always take God and the double digit seed when you have a chance, right?  Quit laughing, you know it’s true!  As you can all see, assuming Carolina wins this evening, I got three of four right.  I was this close to getting half price beers for the next year. 
     In many ways, life is like a tournament bracket.  Hold on.  Give me a moment.  If I spoke with 13-14 year-old you, would you have predicted your life?  Maybe some of us would have nailed everything in life, but I doubt it.  At that young age there is so much that must happen.  How many of us swore we would never get married, move out into the suburbs, change a diaper, drive the minivan, or be happy at the combined thought like that famous commercial?  How many of us ended up in the career path wanted at that age?  I daresay there would have been a lot more astronauts and professional athletes than there are.  How many of us work at the company we thought we would?  How many of us married the person we crushed on then?  And we have not even begun to think of the chaotic events we call life.  Some of us have been impacted by death or disease.  Some of us have had companies shut down beneath us, forcing us to follow professional detours or alternate routes.  Anyone dealt with natural disasters like floods or fires or tornados or some such natural violence?  Did you really have more than a few minutes warning?
     Those of you who attend infrequently or who are, perhaps, visiting, might wonder at the claim.  It is understandable.  More importantly, your doubts and confusion place you in great company.  Turn in your orders of worship to John’s account this morning.  I know most of think that John is the theologizer.  John is the Apostle who looked at the big picture.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke concentrated on the details, but John gave the meaning to the details.  In some ways, the gross oversimplification is understandable.  But, just because John theologizes does not mean he abandons all details.  Similarly, Matthew, Mark, and Luke certainly capture a number of the big statements regarding the Messiah Jesus.  But John captures some details to remind us that the Resurrection was a real, historical, transformative event and to remind you and me that we are not alone in how we come to our faith in Jesus and in God promises.
     Mary Magdalene and another lady or two are headed to the tomb before dawn.  It might seem an inconsequential detail to you and me, but to those living at the time of John’s ministry, such a claim is outlandish.  Sorry, ladies, but women in the ANE had very few rights, as you and I understand them.  Jewish ladies, in particular, though they were treated well by comparison to other groups in the ANE, were unable to study under a rabbi or to provide testimony in a court of law.  Right off the bat, in this chapter, John breaks both those understandings.  The women are the first to come to the tomb and see Jesus is not there.  Mary calls Jesus “Teacher” when she finally recognizes that the gardener is THE Gardener.  If John was propagandizing, this is a crazy way to start the story, by ANE standards.  Woman are the first to witness the Resurrection?  Judges would have tossed that case in a heartbeat.  Yet John tosses in that other little detail, “while it was still dark.”  Some of us are of an age when gender roles were significantly more defined.  Some of us may have been raised in a household where the woman got up to get lunches made, clothes ironed and laid out, and breakfast made.
     One of my greatest memories as a child is the visits to my grandmother’s.  She very seldom ever had to come in and wake me.  Usually, it was the wonderful wafting odor of bacon that brought me out of my sleep.  As wonderful as a warm bed was, the thought of bacon, eggs, and toast still make my mouth water.  My grandmother was always the first up.  She had to get everything ready for the day.  Whether it was just my grandfather or she had some family in the house, she was up first brewing the coffee, starting breakfast, packing lunches, and doing all that other stuff the matriarch did in those days.  I see the nods.  Some of you may have done that yourself for a time.  Today’s world might find it sexist that a woman was up first to get the household going, but the world of 2000 years ago would have understood it as normal.  Jesus’ death likely hung like a pall over the women that Sabbath, and they wanted to get His body spiced and moved from the preparation table into His shelf.  It makes sense they were up and about early.  That John highlights the fact that it was women, when women were deemed too hysterical for testifying, makes it appear as if it really took place in this world.
    What happens next?  Mary returns and tells the disciples the body is missing.  In the beginning of the account, she cares only to find out where the body of our Lord is so that she can minister to it.  Naturally, Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved go running to see for themselves.  What happens?
     The younger guy, John, gets there first.  He bends down and looks into the tombs, sees the strips of linen lying there, but does not go in.  If John was writing propaganda and seeking to raise his own influence with this Christian group, it is a weird way to do it.  Why not have himself understanding Jesus’ teachings that He must die and be raised after three days?  Why not be brave where Peter was a coward?  Why not enter before Peter, rather than after?  Because that is how life works!  This is not a propaganda piece.  This is not fiction.  This is an account of how the disciples first encountered the greatest act in salvation history!
     Lastly, of course, Peter gets there.  Poor Peter.  Not only does he not understand, but he gets there after the young guy.  Unlike John, though, Peter enters.  He sees the head-wrapping all rolled up.  Were somebody to have stolen the body, why roll up the head-wrapping.  If the body was moved, and someone was willing to risk defilement, the linens and wrapping should be trailed, as if a body was carried out of the tomb.  But these are lying where the Body was, and the wrapping is purposefully rolled up.  Peter leaves, and then John enters the Tomb.  John, we are told, puts the pieces together and believes, but Mary and Peter do not yet.
     Mary, of course, stays by the tomb weeping.  The two angels appear and challenge her, then Jesus appears to her.  At first, she presumes He is the gardener and asks where her Master’s body is.  Once Jesus speaks, Mary hears His voice and knows Him, a confirmation of John’s recount of the Good Shepherd earlier.  The angels’ presence, supernaturally, testifies to the fact that what has occurred here is of divine origin.  It is then that she claims Him as Teacher and clings to Him.
     John’s account of the Resurrection encounters is quite detailed.  Our selection today, though, focuses on the response of three.  My guess is that you who are visitors, and you who are infrequent attenders, and you who are faithful attenders are drawn to John’s account.  My guess is, if we went around the room, we are all on the same path as Mary, Peter, or John in our faith walk with God.  Look again at their response and compare them with your own standing.
     Some of us come to faith by hearing, like Mary.  Perhaps there are signs of God’s power in our lives all around us, but we are too blind to see them.  We are overcome by the problem and find ourselves oblivious to the Lord’s response and actions in our lives.  Maybe it was the story of our parents, maybe it was the story of our grandparents, maybe it was the story of a spouse or a child, maybe it was the story of a small group or coworker, but in some way we were drawn into this walk, this search, of the Lord who was always seeking us.  Perhaps some of us are still looking.  Some of us, no doubt, have heard His voice as clearly as Mary did 2000 years ago.  But Mary’s struggle with the Resurrection ought to comfort us.  Hearing the stories of the marvelous deeds He has done can be the catalyst that causes us to wonder at events that have transpired in our lives.  Hearing the works of power that He has done may cause us to look back on our own experiences.  Maybe there has been provision in the face of privation.  Maybe there has been incredible saving in the face of death or extreme danger.  Maybe there has been reconciliation that defies all expectation.  Chances are, though, there are events in all our lives that remind us that God is acting in our lives every bit as much as He did in the lives of those disciples.  Maybe, for those of us who need to hear His voice, He is speaking even now to us in the same gentle tones He did with Mary that Easter morning, placing us in the midst of that saving embrace.
     Of course, not all of us respond to voices or lectures, right?  Some of us need to see for ourselves.  Certainly John falls into that category, as will a number of disciples, Thomas the most notable.  Does John understand the significance and believe in the beginning?  No.  He does not know what to believe.  He stands at the entrance of the tomb trying to solve the puzzle in his own mind.  My guess, and it is only a guess as he does not record his thoughts, is that he was trying to figure out why somebody outside the disciples might steal the Body.  Then, as he reflects on the details, he begins to wonder about our Lord’s teaching.  Even when he writes that he believed, he qualifies it with the understanding that he still did not understand from the Scriptures.  What had taken place took place to fulfill God’s promises to humanity.  As far back as the expulsion of Adam and Eve, God promised to work to restore humanity to Himself.  But John has no understanding of that yet.  We might see he has not attended the Bible studies, listened to enough preaching, or spent enough time in prayer.
     Many of us are like John.  The details are before us.  The testimony is right in front of us, but we are not sure.  We are scientific.  We are too smart to be gullible (except when it comes to electing politicians).  We need to figure these things out for ourselves and reconcile them with what we understand.  The problem, of course, is that God is beyond our understanding.  Just when we think we understand Him or have Him right where we want Him, He acts!  Outside the faith community, outside the study of Scriptures, outside intentional communion with Him, we may miss the significance or even miss the sign altogether.  But we understand He is working in the world around us; we desperately want to believe that He is working for us!
     If you have never paid close attention to the story of the Resurrection before, Peter’s response may surprise and encourage you.  In many ways, Peter describes our own walk with God.  Peter is the one upon whom Jesus promised to build His Church.  Peter is the one who will preach that incredible sermon on the Feast of Pentecost, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and begin to place the activities of God in the lives of those who hear and in the world around us.  But that is some time off in the future.  Peter, remember, just lied about his relationship to Jesus this past Thursday.  Peter, who was willing to die with Jesus and who raised the only sword in defense of Jesus, chickens out when confronted by powerful serving maids.  Can you imagine the shame?  Can you imagine the self-loathing?  Most of us do not need to imagine it because we live it.  Every one of us gathered here this morning, each and every one of us gathered this morning to celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection has those disappointments in our own lives.  During the church year I often refer to them as our secret unlovable sins.  We know we know better, but we do things which we know disappoint our Lord.  Maybe those secret sins are simply the blowing off of the gathering to which He calls us.  It is an easy command to break bread, to pray, and to teach and study with other Christians, but life sure tries hard to get in the way.  Before we know it, weeks, months, years, and maybe decades have passed before we know it.  And we fear to approach a church again for fear that God is disappointed in us.  Maybe our sins are more professional.  Maybe we sacrificed family to climb the corporate ladder.  Maybe we trusted in mammon when we should never have forgotten God.  Maybe we sought happiness in anything other than God’s saving embrace, and we came to see ourselves as a disappointment in His eyes.  Maybe our secret sins are relational.  Perhaps we are judgmental of others but know ourselves deep down to be hypocrites of the worst sort.  Maybe we are quick to condemn the sins of others and do so to deflect such criticisms that could be leveled at us.  I see the squirming.  It is tough to learn that our Lord died for us, too, isn’t.  It is tough to learn that our Lord can forgive us and restore us, just as He did Peter, some twenty centuries before.  It is tough for us to accept that He can love us and forgive us, even when we know we are, like Peter, unworthy of such love and such forgiveness.
     Brothers and sisters, the Feast of the Resurrection is that wonderful time when we gather and remind ourselves that God has acted, that God acts, and that God will continue to act for the welfare of all His people.  God has promised, through our Lord Christ, that all our sins have been forgiven and that we are a redeemed, a freed, people.  That shame and fear and self-loathing which should rightfully belong to each of us has been embraced by our Lord on the Cross.  And, although such good news would be grand in our ears, still it is not Gospel.  He has promised that everything in our lives will be redeemed.  As we travel though the bracket or forks we call life, making decisions, we do so confident of our destination.  We can make the absolute worst decision and know that He will redeem it for His glory.  We can make choices that while maybe are not the worst, are certainly not the best.  Still, He will redeem even those choices.  And when we make the right choices, the ones which we are confident glorify Him, we know we will be blessed.  True, to outward appearances it may seem as if we lost.  We may be taken advantage of, we may be hurt, we may even make choices which involve tremendous self-sacrifice, but He has promised that He will justify us all in the end, even as He justified our Lord Christ.  Put in the language of the day, you and I are guaranteed a spot on the top of the podium.  We may miss the excitement of the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight, we may even seem to lose at important times, but in the end, we who claim Him as Lord get to share in His glory!  And we are reminded this day, this day when death’s sting was taken from our side, that He has the power to accomplish all that He purposes in our lives!  More amazingly, He has the willingness to address us all, whether we are a Peter, a Mary, or a John, and remind us that His is the Voice calling to each of us, calling each of us to His loving embrace.  Brothers and sisters, do you claim that embrace?  Do you hear that voice?  Why not claim Him as Lord and watch Him turn all things new in your life, even as He did those faithful three about whom we read this morning?