Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How are we known?

     Naturally, a few weeks ago, I expected to be preaching on “Doubting Thomas,” reminding you that Thomas is no different than most of us and certainly does not deserve his moniker, seeing as how he is the one who encouraged the other disciples to follow Jesus to Jerusalem and die there with Him.  But a strange thing happened along the way.  Last Thursday, Judy brought an Order of Worship from a parish she had visited, and she was very much taken in by the prayer.  She should have been; it was one of our Collects for unity.  But we got to talking about whether it might be appropriate for our use at Advent, given the discussions of our Vestry retreat.  You will pray that prayer in a bit, and you will be able to judge for yourself.

     Between Judy and my discussion was a feast we call Easter.  Those of you who made it to church last week may have noticed we had a visitor or three.  Many of those who came apologized to me afterwards for not having attended earlier.  Many introduced themselves as Adventers, but lamented that life had gotten in the way of their spiritual life.  All, by the way, were blown away by the other-worldliness of the choir last week.  Brothers and sisters of the choir, you all do good work week in and week out.  Last week, however, was spectacular.  A bunch of people asked me if I thought the heavenly choir would be better.  Those who attend infrequently may or may not remember my sermon and may or may not be serious in the desire to attend more regularly this summer.  But they will all remember that music for some time to come.  Thank you.

     The Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter celebrations are important to us because they remind us of the love God bore for us in the work and person of Jesus Christ and of the life we are called to live in light of His testimony and work of incredible power among us.  The short version of that new call on our life is that we are called to be an Easter people.  If Jesus was raised from the dead, then how should you and I be living?

     One of the treasures of the Bible hidden by our lectionary editors is the book of Acts.  I say hidden because we read very little from it during the course of the three year cycle.  Most years, we only read from the book of Acts during our celebration of the Feast of Pentecost.  It makes sense, of course, Acts begins with the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost.  In year B, this year, Acts supplants the Old Testament readings during the Easter season.  Why is this disappointing?  Acts is the longest book of the New Testament.  Better still, It testifies to the life of those who witnessed the Resurrection and those first people who believed in their testimony.  We have an Archbishop of Canterbury and a Pope calling upon their respective churches, and their personal view on ecumenism, arising out of churches’ reclaiming their heritage from the book of Acts.  It is in the book of Acts that we see the Church as a place for healing.  It is in the book of Acts that we see God using those who truly believed in the Resurrection of Jesus to accomplish amazing things in His name.  It is in the book of Acts that we see another characteristic of the early Church today.

     When I was in seminary, I was privileged to eat a few meals with a number of notables in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.  My bishop had caused a ripple or two around the church and the Communion by supporting the redefinition of marriage and by allowing me to attend Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.  In everyone’s mind, the two were incompatible, antithetical.  Trinity was insistent that we seek Jesus in the Scriptures and test our thoughts, our experiences, and our feelings against God’s word.  Generally speaking, bishops who supported the redefinition of marriage would not allow their ordinands to go to Trinity.  What made the bishop’s position even more unique was his refusal to release me to a call outside the diocese of Iowa.  So, when people came to visit, I had a number of people who wanted to meet me and get a measure of my bishop, or at least my perspective of his measure.  More often than not, we would eat in the lunchroom at seminary and talk.

      One of those conversations that really hit me was with a gentleman by the name of George Gallup.  You are right, as far as I know, there was no Archbishop or bishop Gallup.  George was businessman who happened to be Anglican/Episcopalian and on our Board of Trustees.  George’s business was the collecting of information.  Gallup polls are probably world famous.  And I see by the nods you have all heard of them.  During a conversation, George shared with me some disturbing news.  It was either he or one of his competitors had commissioned a poll to examine how non-Christians perceived Christians.  What disturbed him as a faithful Christian and me, as a soon-to-be Christian clergy, was that we were viewed overwhelmingly negatively by those outside our parish walls.  Words like “Arrogant,” “judgmental,” “boring,” and “hypocritical” come to mind from that conversation.  In fact, almost three quarters of respondents in that survey overwhelmingly identified us in very negative ways.  Very negative.  Our lunchtime conversation turned on that question of how the Church had lost its joy, its playfulness, and its respect among those not a part.  That conversation, no doubt, played a part in my wardrobe decision.  Yes, I take God’s Word seriously.  Yes, I believe it is true, even the things that I cannot yet explain.  But I call you and others to a feast, I call you and others to The Feast in His name.  I don’t wear black because the colors are a small testimony that we can be a joyful people even as we are serious about our faith and our callings.  For better or for worse, my colored shirts have provoked a couple hundred conversations among people who are not part of the church and not a few with those not a part of our church.

     Now, I say it may have been one of George’s competitors who collected the information because I came across a book around five years ago that was based on a three-year Barna research product.  It was entitled something along the lines like “What the New Generation Thinks of Christianity.” The time frame of the research overlaps, so George could have been pondering this survey.  The guy who wrote the book was a member of that research team that collected information for three years.  In this book, he shared that our society had an incredibly negative view about people of his faith.  90% or more saw Christians as antihomosexual; 80% or more saw Christians as hypocritical and judgmental; 70% or more saw us as insensitive, boring, and in other such negative tones.  It wasn’t until the ninth or tenth adjective that the next generation had something positive to say about Christians.  Think about that for a second.  If I asked you to describe yourself, would words like judgmental, arrogant, and hypocritical come to your mind first?  What if we asked our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends, our family members outside the Church how they saw us, would their description match your own of yourself?  Or, do you think, they might think you are the special one and not see you as they overwhelmingly see Christians?

     Such descriptions and attitudes contradict the Church from early Acts.  Everyone who believed was of one heart and soul.  Their job seems to have been two-fold.  They navigated that tension that exists in the Church.  They ministered to the needs of one another even as they gave their testimony to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  One of the difficulties we face is drawing others into our Lord’s embrace even as we minister to and care for one another.  Last week is a perfect example.  I was told by several regular attendees that the service would have been perfect had I sung the liturgy.  Yes, it was a high, festival day.  Yes, it would have been a great day to sing the liturgy.  But, aside from my joyful noise bringing the music experience way back down to earth for everyone last week, the sung liturgy would have made the experience that much more challenging for those who do not come.  For every “I wish you would have sung” I got last week, I got a “thank you for not making us sing.”  What was the right answer?  Honoring God and celebrating the Resurrection with a sung liturgy?  Or making the liturgy more accessible to others?  I don’t know.  I struggle with questions like that.

     Did the early Church?  At times it seems as if they did, but at other times it seems as if they did not.  In our reading today, we are told that all who believed forsook private ownership of all property.  Now, before the capitalists among us get their hackles up and think I am going to preach communism this morning, relax.  God does not say that private property is a bad thing here or anywhere else in the Bible.  In fact, He is quite adamant that we have things as stewards for Him in most places.  The people in the early Church, being of one heart and soul, decided not to claim private ownership.  If someone needed something, proceeds of sales were used to supply the need.  It was a thankful response to the Resurrection and loving response to their brothers and sisters in Christ.  How counter-cultural was that living testimony!  How counter-cultural would it be today?

     How good are we at meeting the needs of others within and without?  Is there a reason that outsiders look in on the modern Church and describe us so negatively?  And I am not just talking about financial needs, although those are often the easiest to see and the easiest to see met.  What about companionship?  That requires tremendous gift of time.  Sometimes all our brothers and sisters need are a shoulder to cry on, a friend to remind them their circumstances do not signify abandonment by God.  Maybe they are recovering from illness and need a meal or three, transportation to a doctor or therapist, help cleaning their home.  Maybe they are homeless and need a warm place to sleep, a couple good meals, access to medical care, and maybe access to mental health care.  Maybe they suffer from addiction and need and need to hear they are loved, that there is help available.  Imagine if the Church got back to being about the care of its members and preaching with power the testimony of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.  What would be the impact on individual communities?  Cities?  Nations?  The world?

     And what of those not yet a member of His Church?  How do we serve them?  How do we incarnate the love of Christ in their lives?  In a few weeks we will remind ourselves that we were all given gifts by the Holy Spirit to serve this body, the Church of the Advent, to His honor and His glory.  Are we using them?  Do people, when they hear of or think upon Advent, begin to recount all the things that we are doing which testify to our collective belief that He is risen indeed?  Our we reknowned for our care of widows, of orphans, of slaves, of survivors of domestic violence, of shoddy medical access, of those who slip between the cracks of the government’s safety net, of those in our prisons, of those who are new to our country?  Are we a church that takes our faith so seriously but is joyfully emboldened to help those outside our parish but within our diocese, our country, or our Communion, knowing that in serving them, we serve Him and advance His kingdom?  I see the squirms.

     The truth is, brothers and sisters, how we care for one another and how we care for strangers is some of the best testimony that you and I can give to the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.  I can stand before you and speak in passionate and eloquent terms, but if, as a parish, we are miserly with our resources, our time, and even our talents, the world rightly judges us as hypocritical and, more often than not, turns away from our Lord’s saving embrace.  What if we were that island of hope and joy in the middle of the world’s concerns?  What if we were known for how we visited one another when ill or shut-in?  What if we were known for how we cared for those most hurting among us?  What if we were, to use the words of Pope Francis today, an oasis of the Living Water that brings life to the world?  Would the world be repulsed?  Or would the world maybe want to share in that Peace and Joy we possess?  We already know the answer.

     A few decades after this event in Acts, one of the emperors decided to confiscate the property of any who followed this “Way” of a son of a Judean carpenter.  He decided to strip citizenship from any Roman citizen who was determined to be a Christian.  We cannot begin to understand the worth of Roman citizenship in the ANE, but ask an immigrant to this country what American citizenship means to them and we might begin to get an idea.  Anyway, in the midst of this particular Persecution, the emperor Julian included in his edict that the Christians were doing precisely what the state ought to be doing for those who lived under its umbrella.  Think about that for a second.  A persecuting emperor acknowledged that his enemies were doing the job that his government should be doing!  That would be like modern atheists or Imam’s, as they were ridiculing us or condemning us, said that we were doing their job better than they!  Can you imagine a Fatwa that said Christians cared for poor Muslims better than Muslims?  Can you imagine a treatise that said these idiots who worship a spaghetti god sure act as if their God is real?  Is there higher praise than when an enemy praises us?  What made his edict even more lamentable was the statement that the neediest in Rome would be forced to look in vain to the state to meet the needs now that he was eradicating the Galileans. 

     In March, the Vestry and I gathered in the annual retreat.  We spent some time imagining how we wished church worked, but in particular, we spent some time imagining how Advent worked?  Who are we?  How do people describe us?  Do they even know who we are?  As part of the fruit of that discussion, most of the Vestry and I will take part in a series of classes on Gifts & Talents taught by Dick and Ron.  Before we can begin to lead the parish properly, we need to understand where God is leading us, calling us, individually.  In turn, it will be our job to help you hear that same still, small whisper in your life.  Over time, I have no doubt we will hear God’s voice and discern His will for us here on the county line.  In the meantime, I have some homework for you.  In the Holy Cow you claimed to want a teacher; well, teachers come with homework assignments.

     Your first assignment is to ask questions, be quiet, and listen.  Think back to that wonderful service last week.  Remember how transported you felt, how alive you felt giving thanks to God for the Resurrection of His Son our Lord?  Now, look around.  I know it is low Sunday and we good little Episcopalians use Low Sunday as a training day for Episcopal vacation.  But look around and ask yourself the questions: Who is missing and why?  What is more important than day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, year in and year out, giving thanks to God for the gift of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord?  Who in your life missed out on that wonderful service last week that you fear may miss that eternal worship to which we are called.  Almost as important, who that attended last week was absent this week and why?  Then here comes the hard part.  Go to your friends, your co-workers, your family, your neighbors, your golfing buddies, your bridge partners and ask them what they think of Christians.  Ask them what it is about God that turns them off.  And then listen.  Consider well what they say.  Ask God to hold your tongue that you might here His conviction in their voice.  Ask them, in the end, what they think of you.  If the “they” are Christians, then the “they” are you.  Ask them why they find you arrogant, judgmental, somber, and whatever other description they want to use.  Don’t defend yourself.  Pray to God for the strength to be silent before the shearers and listen.

     Make no mistake, brothers and sisters, the homework I give you is hard.  We do not like critical evaluations in our society.  But consider: we have the greatest news in the world to proclaim, that Christ has come into the world, died for our sins, and been raised from the dead.  Better still, He calls us as heralds of His eternal kingdom.  We get to issue invitations to the greatest wedding Feast that will ever occur.  And that feast will never end.  Even better, cool people like us will be the guests.  We will be there talking and singing and celebrating with the Lord who loves us so.  If we as a parish really accepted all that, really believed all that, last Sunday’s worship would be the norm.  Every time we gathered, every time we came together to thank God for the saving work He has done in our lives, our service would be like last week’s.  We would be, for a few minutes of our day, see that veil thinned just a bit and His kingdom breaking in.  We would be reminded that we will be at a table that extends beyond space and time, at a table that has other cool guests such as our spiritual heroes and heroines, at a table that has even those who invited us and those whom we invited, at a table with even better music than last week as “background noise.”  And terms like “low Sunday” and “Episcopal vacation” would fade from memory like the dry grass.  Why not find out what keeps others from sharing that joy that is within you?  Who knows?  Maybe in your conversations your flame had become an ember and that all you needed was a reminder of why you clung to His promise in the first place.  Maybe, maybe if we all intentionally engage in such critical evaluation, we might discover HIs calling on our lives and on our parish.  Maybe, if we respond faithfully to that call, people here in our community will speak of us as did Rome, an enemy, of our brothers and sisters, and find themselves drawn to our heart and our soul, the Lord Christ.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

On loose threads and tapestries . . . on our stories and His story!

     My mind has been on loose threads and cloths these last few days.  It began last week in a discussion I had with the women of the Fellowship Committee and ECW.  I cannot remember how we ended up on the subject, but I confessed to cross-stitching and needlepointing, and they started talking about the kneelers that had never been finished.  Don’t freak out gentlemen, I had a piano teacher who recommended it as a way to keep my fingers more nimble despite the breaks and stoves from playing football.  The discussion of fabrics continued a bit with my daughter Amanda and I discussing Hesiod.  She was introduced to Hesiod fairly recently, more on that in a moment, and so we chatted a bit about the cosmology of the Greeks according to Hesiod.  Then yesterday I found myself taking my oldest daughter Sarah shopping for her Easter dress.  I joked on Facebook yesterday that there is no greater love than this, that a dad takes his daughter dress shopping, much to the amusement to many of the ladies here at Advent and sympathy of most of the men!  The liturgies of Holy Week, as many of you have commented, are beautiful services on their own; woven together, however, they create a wonderful blend of the public and private nature of worship, capture the horror and joy of the fact that God’s Son walked this path to save us, and place these events in their historical context and setting.  Those liturgies rightly end with the Vigil, where we remind ourselves that the stories of the Bible all point to the story that we read this week: that God’s Anointed will die for His people and rise from the dead on the third day.  Lastly, of course, there was the reading from John.  John ties up so many threads that it is hard not to preach a long sermon fully explaining each and every one of them so that you will see them clearly, too.  Yes, threads and weavings have been much on my mind these last few days, as they should be.

     One of the polemics of the Gospel narrative, and there are many, is the idea that humans and gods are trapped in fate.  I shared a name a few minutes ago, Hesiod, who was an ancient Greek poet.  Hesiod is among those early writers who give us a sense of how the ancient Greeks perceived the world.  In particular, there were three powerful sisters to whom humans and the gods were subject.  I know we like to think that Zeus was the most powerful god, but even he was subject to the will and design of these three ladies.  Their names were Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos.  Collectively, they were known in antiquity as the Fates.  I won’t bore you with their confused lineage or other interesting details other than to say that these three ladies were responsible for this wonderful tapestry we call life.  Threads in this tapestry represented individual lives.  Clotho spun the threads, Lachesis weaved the threads into the great tapestry, and Atropos determined the length of each thread/life.  Whatever these ladies decided was the course of the world.  Gods, for all their power in the ANE cosmology, were subject to the Fates.  Zeus was more of a divine CEO, carrying out their design, than a creating or determining force.  If the Fates decreed a human died, the human died.  If the Fates decided that a god died, the god died.  Humans and gods could argue or bargain with them, but the ladies usually stuck to their plans (and threatened your thread with Atropos’ scissors if you argued too passionately!).

     From my perspective, what made their work truly interesting was their need to deal with uppity gods and uppity human beings.  The Fates control was such that, if a human being or god acted as if he or she had free will, the action could put a kink or knot in the Tapestry.  A significant portion of their work seems have been spent correcting the mistakes of others.  If a god whom they had decreed should live happened to die an untimely death, they simply stretched out the thread causing the god to come back to life.  If a human being did something that messed up their beautiful work, they might cut the kink (kill the upstart), stretch the thread to pull the knot (reward the individual with a longer life), or take another action to keep harmony in the tapestry.  Imagine a world where you believe your fate has been sealed and that they best you could hope for was not to draw the attention of the gods to yourself.  That is the world in which our Lord appeared, but the threads He used created a more beautiful, more vibrant tapestry than humans could ever have hoped.

     If you want to see what I mean, turn back to your Order of Worship and the reading from John.  Where is the scene set?  A garden.  Now, think long and hard, when the Bible begins and human beings are introduced, where are we?  A garden.  Now here’s the real tricky question, if we fast forward to Revelation 21 and 22, where are we promised that we will be forever?  That’s right, back in the Garden.  Woven throughout Scripture is this thread of the garden.  Adam and Even sinned, so they were kicked out of the garden.  Now, here is Jesus of Nazareth dying on a cross for our sins and being resurrected, and we are told in the garden.  What was a rueful loss becomes a source of joy and hope!  Adam and Eve must have left the garden with regret and sorrow, but Mary must run from it exploding with joy and hope.

     Let’s look deeper.  Who gets the message first?  Everyone answered Mary Magdalene because that is how our translation reads.  What if I told you that in the original text Jesus uses the Hebrew Miriam instead of the Greek Maria.  Would that mean anything to you?  Can anyone think of another Miriam?  I know we have all been watching the History Channel and CNN and learning how the Old Testament was patriarchal and misogynistic and that women were chattel, but can you think of another Miriam?  Who is described as the first prophetess?  Who saw Pharaoh’s daughter pull her brother from the Nile and arrange for their mother to nurse the princess’ newfound child?  Yes.  Her name was Miriam, Moses’ older sister.  One of the images we are given about Jesus is that He will lead God’s people from their bondage to sin just as Moses did God’s people from their bondage to Egypt.  Here’s Jesus using Mary’s Hebrew name and recalling for just a moment, that same idea.  A Miriam will be the herald who declares that God has freed His people, again!

     Look even closer.  Jesus has taught in this Gospel that He knows His sheep and His sheep know His voice.  When Mary first sees the man standing in the garden, does she recognize Him?  No, she thinks He is the gardener.  In truth, Jesus is The Gardener, but that is not the revelation intended here.  How does she recognize Him?  He calls her by name?  She hears His voice and knows Him.  And immediately her confusion and profound sadness and disappoint are turn into surpassing joy and thanksgiving.  Something in His Body is different, make no mistake about that.  He can travel vast differences instantaneously.  He can enter locked rooms.  But He is still Jesus.  His friends will see the wounds.  His friends will eat and drink with Him before He ascends to the Father.  But His voice?  His voice is that of The Shepherd.  When He calls to Mary, she knows Him!  Just like He promised. . .

     Look still deeper.  How does she address Him?  Women were not allowed to go study under rabbis.  In this aspect the shows have been very accurate this week.  Only men were allowed to go and study under the rabbi’s in Israel.  Of course, Jesus has always been an equal opportunity educator.  Mary and Martha comes to mind, as does this scene with Mary Magdalene.  Mary hears her Master’s voice and she responds by calling Him “Rabbi.”  For Him to accept the title from her is to accept that she was a disciple, an unheard of practice in the ANE!  But that is precisely how He responds.  And, pulling a thread from another teaching, one of Jesus’ promises is that His people will know His teaching.  He will dwell among them and they will be His people and He will be their God.  And the people will not have to seek God, because they will know where He is.  And the people will not have to be taught about God, because He will have taught them and imprinted Himself on the eyes, ears, hearts, and minds!

     Lots of loose threads are ties up in our reading this week.  No doubt you are beginning to wonder whether I am going to touch them all.  I’m not, but I am.  One of the polemics against the cultural understanding of time, of course, is that God acts in history and bends it to His purposes.  It is an idea that often finds a home in our own culture.  The idea that God can intervene in history is incomprehensible to some.  They tease us for worshipping Spaghetti-Monsters and other such nonsense.  But consider your own experiences with God.  Each of us gathered here today, no matter how tenuous our attachment to our faith might be, has probably been drawn in by some miracle.  Were I to take the time and ask you, and you trusted me and those around you, everyone present today would likely have a miracle which speaks to a deep longing within your heart.  Why else would you be stuck indoors on such a beautiful day!  Some of us might like the idea of the parting of the Red Sea.  Others may like the idea of manna and quail and water in the wilderness.  Maybe some of us long to know that the Lord can stop the moon or sun in their courses.  Maybe some of us were drawn in by the Incarnational miracles.  Perhaps we like the healings of disease, the casting out of demons, the control of the weather, or the calling of those dead back to life.  Each of us has a miracle or two which sings to us, which tells us that God can accomplish for us that longing we most want in our hearts.

     In many ways, God is the master weaver.  God takes events and bends their outcomes to His will and His purposes.  Unlike Zeus and the other gods who bowed to the control of fate, God proclaims Himself the Master of this world, the Creator of all that is, seen and unseen.  When His purposes require a miracle, an act of power, He acts.  More amazingly, though, God seems to be incredibly adept at using human beings in this wonderful tapestry He is creating.

     When I was learning to cross stitch and then needlepoint, I received countless clucks of approval from older women and then tons of advice.  To keep your threads from bunching up, use beeswax.  To keep your threads from knotting, make sure you are always pulling the exact same way in the exact same direction.  Their advice may have been pretty good.  But nothing ever really eliminated all my issues.  Sometimes the thread just kinked; at other times it snapped; at other times it frayed.  I could be taking all the care in the world and still these things would happen and frustrate the heck out of me.  And even when nothing like that happened, still the whole piece did not look like it should in my mind’s eye.  Looking at the backside of my work was rather disappointing.  The back was where the tie-offs were.  The back was where some of the knots were hidden.  The backs were where the colors crossed the boundaries and sort of made everything look like a mess.  It was only when I held up the front that the picture truly began to take shape.  It was only when those tie offs, frays, and kinks were consigned to the other side that I could begin to see, truly to see, the art I was creating.

     The amazing thing about God’s tapestry, though, is that He uses people like you and like me to create His beautiful work.  Jesus takes the “loose threads” of this world and creates the most majestic of tapestries.  Mary Magdalene was possessed before she met Jesus.  Peter, poor Peter, is there an Apostle with higher highs and lower lows of faith?  And what of Paul in his letter this morning?  He reminds us that he is least fit to be called an Apostle because He actively persecuted, he actively sought to undermine the will of God, in his duties before he met the Risen Lord on the way to Damascus!  Miriam in the Old Testament, for all her wonderful efforts, found herself on the wrong side of a fight with God and Moses.  Sarah?  She believed enough to follow her husband, just not enough to think a 100 year-old woman could have a baby.  David?  For all his heart for God, he committed a few nasty sins.  If He can save men and women like them, He can surely save men and women like me and like you!

     One of the reminders of John’s Gospel is that God can take anyone, ANY SINGLE PERSON, and use their faith and obedience to His glory and, in the end, save them.  It is an amazing offer of hope.  No matter what sins we have committed, no matter how many bad decisions we have made, God not only can use us, He wants to use us as heralds of His in-breaking kingdom!  So often we buy into the siren-song of the world.  We begin to believe that we have made too many wrong choices, that we have strayed too far from Him for too long, that we have put off and put off a decision we know we should have made.  In weaving terms, we have frayed our threads, we have knotted our threads, we have kinked our threads, and we have dragged our threads through all kinds of muck and mud, discoloring them, making them unsuitable for any real use.

     Yet the God Incarnate, Man divine stands there in the garden this morning calling to each of us as He did Mary nearly two millennia ago.  Jesus is always reaching out that hand of invitation, offering that embrace of true love, to you and to me.  We need only to accept His offer.  We need only to call Him Lord, and He takes care of the rest.  Our threads are restored to their vibrant colors, more beautiful than any thread in any dress or tie we see here today!  Our kinks and knots are smoothed by His mercy and forgiveness, that we might be worked into His wonderful tapestry of redemption and salvation.  Even better, we become part of The Story, His Story, and promised a share in His eternal kingdom for our willingness to submit our lives to His call and to let Him use us to reach others with this amazing, Gospel news.  We are given new robes!  We become the Mary’s and Peter’s and John’s for others, inviting them to come and see.  Best of all, not even death can keep His story and His plans for all who call Him Lord from being fulfilled!  His power to redeem, as we are reminded again this morning, cannot be thwarted!  His power to save cannot be subdued!  And one day, one glorious day in the future, we who call Him Lord will hear His voice and answer His call to us, just as did Mary this morning.

     Brothers and sisters, the voice that calls to you from the garden this morning is no “figment of your imagination.”  It is not the result of some “mass hysteria.”  It is none other than our Lord Christ, graciously pursuing you, graciously reminding you, that all He did, all He suffered, He suffered for you.  Now, He asks only that you join Him.  Lend your voice to the throng, lend your thread to His Tapestry, lend your story to His story, that others in the world might be drawn into His saving embrace through your witness . . . The Lord is Risen.  Alleluia!