This blog is mostly sermons of a pastor serving Riverside Community Church, Mattawa/Desert Aire, Washington. An eremite is someone who lives in a wilderness or desert of some kind. I have often lived in remote places. Early Christian eremites lived under the discipline of solitude within the discipline of community. I try to be involved in worshiping, studying, and praying with others; and serving others wherever I find myself. I try to keep up with my correspondence in the electronic desert.
Monday, April 1, 2013
A New World: The Future Is Meeting
Preached on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013
Scriptures: Psalm 118:1-24;
There were these disciples, who were women, who were
the only disciples brave enough to risk going to the tomb of Jesus. They
planned to finish caring for the body of Jesus; giving it a good washing, and
rubbing it with sweet herbs, and oils, and ointments.
Pictures near the Snake and Palouse Rivers, Washington
The tomb of Jesus was a family tomb. But it didn’t
belong to Jesus’ family. It was a borrowed tomb. It really belonged to a member
of the High Jewish Council named Joseph of Arimathea, who was also a supporter
of Jesus. The tomb would be used again and again in the future. The women
wanted Jesus to smell as nice as possible for those who would open the tomb to
lay others to rest near him.
These disciples went to do their work at the earliest
possible moment. There was not a moment to lose, because Jesus had been dead
for close to forty hours, over a span of three days, in the warmth of a desert
spring. Dead meat began to smell early in their part of the world, and the tomb
(even though it was a cave) was not a refrigerator.
Already it was a step of courage for them to do this.
And there were other obstacles: guards at the tomb (though they aren’t mentioned
by Mark); possible spies and police who would come after them later. There was
the heavy, round stone door, at the opening of the tomb that had to be rolled
aside, and it was at least as big as a wagon wheel. They couldn’t do this by
themselves, and they weren’t sure they would even be allowed to do this.
They were determined to try the last thing that they
could do for love. This made them brave.
Then they found the tomb unguarded and empty. They
saw the young man (or was he an ageless man; an angel?) dressed in white.
“Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.
He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go! tell
his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee.
There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mark 16:6-7)
Then they were no longer brave. “Trembling and
bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to
anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8) The message of the angel and the
fear of the disciples, as they ran away from the tomb, are among the most
important verses in the Gospel of Mark.
I think the disciples ran in fear because they
realized that they had been terribly wrong about Jesus. They had not given him
enough credit. They had trifled with him.
They loved him, of course, and they knew he was
capable of doing great and powerful things. He was able to say the most amazing
things. But they had not understood who Jesus truly was, even when they used
the right words to describe him.
What they wanted most was for Jesus to be an earthly
Messiah; a king who would drive out the Romans and put Israel at the
top of the world. They had worried about Jesus’ safety; and even about his
wisdom, when it came down to that safety.
They weren’t sure how much sense he had. The times
when Jesus spoke of his being killed and rising from the dead had scared them.
The risk Jesus took by coming to Jerusalem
had also scared them.
On their way to sweeten the dead body of Jesus, they
thought how right they had been to be afraid. The sure knowledge that Jesus had
been wrong and they had been right might have formed part of the compassion
that gave them the courage to go to the tomb. They knew what they were doing
and then, suddenly, when they reached the tomb, they realized that they were
The men had betrayed Jesus by running away from the guards
who had come to arrest him. Peter had betrayed Jesus by denying that he even
knew who Jesus was. (Mark 14:66-72)
The women at the tomb realized that they had betrayed
Jesus by trifling with him. They had betrayed Jesus all along by
underestimating him, and even by coming to anoint his poor dead body.
Jesus had said that he would rise from the dead.
(Mark 8:31) They had never believed this. They had never fully trusted him.
They were afraid because they had substituted their
own idea of who Jesus should be for what he told them about himself and what he
had come to do. Jesus had told them that, “The Son of Man did not come to be
served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
They had thought Jesus should rule them by defeating
their enemies, and sitting on a throne, and making laws and judgments. Jesus
had come to rule them by dying for them; by saving them from their sins.
They were afraid because Jesus told them how to
follow him in a way that they could not face. “If anyone would come after me,
he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to
save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the
gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
They suddenly saw how Jesus could now claim the right
to make them listen to him. Jesus could claim the right to make them do just as
he had done. He had lost his life for their sake and risen from the dead, and
they would have to follow him.
Coming to the empty tomb was like meeting Jesus for
the first time. Jesus had actually always been a bit scary, but this was very
scary. Jesus might do anything; ask anything. There is something wonderfully
scary, about Easter: meeting Jesus for all he’s worth.
I am, by nature, painfully shy and timid. When Jesus
first called me to the ministry, when I was twelve, I didn’t want to do it
because I was afraid. The scariest thing I could think of was to stand up in
front of a congregation and speak. It is still pretty scary.
After I was finally ordained, my first church was in
a little lumber mill town on a lake next to the sand dunes on the south coast
of Oregon. When
I had been there for a while, I came across a case of child sexual abuse and I
reported it to the sheriff’s department. The guy I reported was put in jail for
a few weeks. But then he got out of jail, to wait for his trial.
When he got out he came back to Lakeside.
I didn’t look him up, but I heard that he was telling people that he was going
to come after me and shoot me.
I had been afraid of preaching. I never dreamt that
going into the ministry could get me shot.
Another time, in another place, I got a call from a
mother who was extremely worried about the mental state of her grown son, who
lived with her and her husband. Her husband was out of town when she called me
late one night. She asked me to come and talk with her son.
I did this with some fear. I also felt the voice of
Jesus calling me there, through the voice of her fear. I went to their house,
and went to his room, and found him holding a revolver to his head. I spent the
next couple hours talking to him while he held that gun to his head.
The thought came to me, as I did this, that a really
desperate man might shoot his counselor before he shot himself. I didn’t know
what he might do if I got up to leave the room. Not knowing what to do next, I
went on listening and talking until he promised he would not kill himself for a
A few days later, I had a session meeting, and the
elders told me not to go there again; at least not under those circumstances.
So when the mother called me again, with the same fear in her voice, I asked if
her son might be a threat to himself again. She said that he was, so I called
the sheriff, because God had spoken to me through the voice of my elders.
Do you know, it was almost as scary a thing just to
call the sheriff, even knowing that Jesus had told me to do so through my
elders? I was afraid of what that guy and his family would think of me.
Knowing what Jesus came to do actually helped me know
what I needed to do. I knew that Jesus had given himself as a ransom, for me,
and for that woman, and for her son. I knew that I needed to do what was right
and trust the work and the mercy of Jesus. This gave me the responsibility to
make that scary call.
We never know where following Jesus will take us.
Following Jesus often makes whatever scared us, in the beginning, look very
What is your fear of following Jesus? What is your
fear of going to meet him where he calls you? Do you know that this may be the silliest
of all the things that you might need to face? The best thing is to not be
afraid and just go to meet him.
The women, on their way to the tomb, thought they
knew where they had put Jesus. Then they found out that Jesus was not there at
all. He was risen and he going before them into Galilee.
Galilee was their old, familiar home but, it
had really stopped being their home once they began to follow Jesus. They came
to see that their real home was with Jesus. They could be at home only if they
went with him.
Now, at the empty tomb, they were being called to go
on a journey to meet Jesus. Now they knew that this would always be true. This
is what the rest of their life would be. They could only be at home if they
went to Jesus wherever he led them; wherever or whatever going to him meant,
whatever choice it involved.
They found that Easter was the call of Jesus to go to
him wherever he might lead them. Easter means the same thing for us. Jesus has
died for us and risen from the dead for us, as a kind of ransom that sets us
The freedom of Easter means that we know who it is
who calls us to follow him. Easter means our knowing that life, from now on,
will always be a journey with Jesus, who is stronger than our sins, and stronger
than death, and even stronger than our fears. From now on, our life will always
be about going somewhere to meet Jesus as we travel together.