We Have Seen the Unseeable!

Jesus Christ is alive!

On the cross Jesus opened his arms in love for you and for the whole world and God the Father looked on Jesus’ faithful life, passion, and death, and acted decisively to upend and overturn the worst of what we can do, raising him from the dead.

But Jesus really died.

He did not nearly die and then find himself nursed back to health in the ICU.

He did not have a near-death experience but find himself resuscitated.

He did not come very close to death only to be brought back to health by a clinical trial of experimental medicine.

In the tomb, Jesus’ body lay dead.

Until the women came to the tomb with spices and found the stone rolled away, and two men in dazzling white said to them, “why are you looking among the dead for the living? He is not here but has risen! Don’t you remember how he told you he had to be betrayed, crucified, and rise again?”

But what happened before the stone was rolled aside?

What happened before the women arrived?

What happened inside that tomb?

That’s what our daughter Lucia wanted to know last night.

Our daughter is five years old, and was probably trying the stall-tactic, but when I was putting her to bed last night in the pitch-black darkness of her bedroom, she asked me, “Daddy, who was in the tomb with Jesus?”

“Who was in the tomb with him?” I asked.

“Yes, was anyone in there with him?”

I had to think about that.

Well, Joseph of Arimathea gave the tomb for Jesus and it was a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.

But more to the point, Yes, there was someone in the tomb with Jesus.

God was in the tomb with Jesus.

God had promised never to leave Jesus and God was with him in the tomb, just as God is with us in the tombs of our life.

You have been in the tomb, haven’t you?

Oh, of course you have stood beside graves of loved ones where part of you dies. But I know you have been in the tomb yourself.

You have been in the doctor’s office and received the diagnoses of illnesses we can’t control. You have been touched by separation and divorce, the loss of a job.
You have known loneliness and stress and sadness.

We experience the deep darkness in our lives – we experience the tomb – when it feels like it’s all over – AND there is tremendous pressure not to let on, not to let anyone know.

We don’t want to feel the shame; we want to keep it to ourselves and then we feel guilty about that.

We experience the tomb. And it is dark.

We live in a country captive to the darkness of violence as we mark the 20-year anniversary of Columbine knowing that things have only gotten worse.

We are captive to the darkness of racism where we still have basically-segregated-neighborhoods and lives.

And we are captive as a nation to the darkness of dysfunction as we wonder what happened to being the shining example to the rest of the world as to what integrity and justice look like.

We have been in the darkness of the tomb ourselves, but the good news of Easter is that Christ is now alive and sends the Spirit of his love and healing to you and me, to this whole world, and to the deepest, darkest places of this universe – places so dark it’s almost impossible to comprehend.

A week and a half ago astronomers with the National Science Foundation announced that at last they had captured an image of what had previously been thought unobservable:
a black hole.

Black holes are those cosmic abysses in the universe so deep and dense that not even light can escape them.

The black hole captured in the photo revealed to the world a week and a half ago was one located far across intergalactic space, 55 million light-years away from Earth, in M87, a giant galaxy in the constellation Virgo.

There, this black hole, which is several billion times more massive than the sun is unleashing a violent jet of energy some 5,000 light-years out into space.

I have to say, that what I have recalled by reading about this monumental discovery over the past week is that black holes aren’t just mysterious. They’re violent. They’re major disrupters of cosmic order.

Formed when too much matter or energy is concentrated in one place, black holes trap matter and light in perpetuity, and furiously consume everything around them pulling all life into itself where it is trapped forever, where it can never get out, and where it ceases to exist.

Most of the black holes that we experience aren’t 55 million light years away.

The abyss of addiction is much too close,
the darkness of depression is inside us,
estrangement from family; the void of loneliness and thoughts of suicide hover within us and in the ones we love –

They become a black hole within us that traps the matter and light of our lives and threatens to furiously consume everything good around them,

And, in the deep darkness, we ask:
is anyone here in this tomb with me?
God, are you here with me?

If you hadn’t seen the just-published picture of this black hole it might be interesting to hear how people have described it.

Some have described it as an illuminated smoke ring, others say it resembled the Eye of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings, one friend of mine says she thinks it looks like a fuzzy donut, but I can tell you what it looks like.

It looks like a tomb with the stone being rolled away and the beautiful light of God’s love escaping out into the universe and reaching out to you and me.

You see Jesus and the light of his love illuminate the tombs that we experience, are with us in the black holes of our life –
when we are afraid, when we are sick, when we are hopeless – God is there.

Just as God was with Jesus on the cross and in the tomb.

Maybe the two men at the tomb who greeted the women to tell the news that Jesus was alive had dazzling bright clothes because they were still iridescent from being in the tomb when God’s second big bang of love woke Jesus from the dead in a blast of light.

Maybe these two men were shining as bright as a supernova because the same love that exploded in joy to make this world, exploded in an equally joyous outpouring of love to
remake this world through the resurrection of the one who has saved it.

The women and the apostles can’t be blamed for being slow to believe.

If you and I are sometimes slow to believe maybe we can’t be blamed either.

Who would think a person who had died could live again?

But an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Shepherd Doeleman, speaking about the photo of the black hole last week, said,

“We have seen what we thought was unseeable.”

God breaks into your life
and is with you in the loneliest voids,
the deepest black holes,
the darkest tombs.

And when God breaks in with the light of his love,
through his word,
through the meal of forgiveness,
through the friendship of another,
through the surprising moment of grace,
you have to tell it.

You can’t keep news that good to yourself.

I am not a scientist, but I have a friend who is. We were talking about the photo released and this amazing scientific breakthrough.

I asked him what he thought and he said, “Oh! I believe it. Ibelieve it because they went public. You only go public if you know what you’re talking about!”

That’s how it works.

At the tomb, the women remembered Jesus’ words, and they realize:

In Jesus’ resurrection
God didn’t just reached into the grave of one man to raise him up.

In Jesus’ resurrection
God has reached into the black hole of the cosmos and rescued life from the clutches of death – for you and for me and for the whole universe.

So, then we have to tell the news that he is alive!

God’s Spirit has called us here today to hear this good news of Jesus’ victory over death…

and to tell it,

to sing it,

to live it,

to be it,

and to share it….

Our Living God is with us and says, “Friends, it’s time to go public!”

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Welcome Home

A lot has changed with the family in just a few short generations. 

I’ve heard Baby Boomers tell about their childhood and explain that if they did something wrong, their parents would discipline them by sending them out into the yard to get a switch off of a tree – that’s a branch that would be used to switch the legs. The child was to bring back the weapon with which they would be punished and if the switch they chose wasn’t big enough, mom or dad would go get one the right size and it would be so big that you would never make the mistake of bringing in a switch too small again.

Just look around and you’ll see that the approach to parenting today has relaxed a good bit, but you’d be hard pressed to find a parent more permissive than the father we meet in this parable Jesus tells to the crowd of tax collectors and sinners, and pharisees and scribes that are gathered around him.

The father in the parable is approached by the younger of his two sons, who comes to make a demand, but he’s not just asking for access to social media because all his friends are on Instagram, or an Xbox One with NBA2K19, or even a car of his own. 

The son says, give me… EVERYTHING.  I… want… it… all. 

And the father says, “Okay!”

The father takes stock of all that he’s worked for, saved for, and stashed away.  He cashes out his stocks and bonds, his equities and annuities, and liquidates half of all that he has and gives it to his younger son. 

And this leads us to wonder: What kind of father is this?!

This is the kind of father who has a son who can’t wait to blow town.  The younger son heads down the road with his pockets stuffed with cash, spending it like it will last forever, until is doesn’t, and in a far distant town, he realizes that he has spent everything he has and scattered it all into the wind.  And then, bankrupt, penniless, and all alone, things go from bad to worse.  A famine hits that country and no one has anything to eat. 

So the boy gets a job at a local farm slopping the pigs, but he hasn’t eaten for days and as he looks at the gruel in his bucket, he feels the hunger pain in his gut, and the pod soup, which he’s supposed to feed the pigs starts to look good, and he wishes that he could eat it, but no one allows him to have even that.

So the younger son realizes he’s hit rock bottom.  He has no food.  He’s far from home.  He has no friends.  He has no one who can help.  He may wonder how he could have possibly failed so spectacularly and taken every single wrong turn necessary to end up standing in this field of excrement and mud, with pig food a delicacy beyond his reach.

And then he remembers.  His father!  His father’s servants at least have food to eat! So he will go home and apologize and throw himself at his father’s mercy.  Surely, his father will help.

And we don’t know what really motivates the younger son at this point.  Maybe he is contrite.  Maybe he has been brought down so low and feels so devastated by his failure that his heart is filled with remorse and he’s prepared to change his ways. 

Or maybe he is the same conniving, manipulative, selfish son that his actions have so far shown him to be, and he just knows his father well enough to know if he can get home, his father will be a push-over and will agree to help him.

This younger son’s motivation is impossible to read, but he has a moment of clarity about what’s happened and he heads home. 

And in this moment, we learn what kind of father this is.

The father sees his wayward son far off, coming over the horizon, which means he or a servant has posted themselves around the clock to keep watch for the son.   He’s kept watch because he loves his son, and maybe because knows his son and his son’s lack of business acumen well enough to know that eventually he’d be coming home empty handed.

And so the son comes over the horizon and the old man is running – not sending a servant or even walking out to meet his son – but running out to meet his son – and the Greek here is even more poignant and lovely than what we heard read this morning. 

We heard that the father is filled with compassion and puts his arms around the son but the text actually says that the father throws himself on his son’s neck – imagine the old man’s nose buried deep into the warm flesh of his son’s neck – it says: and he kisses and he kisses him fervently.

Before the son can finish the talking points that he had rehearsed and explain that he had just hoped for some food and maybe a place to live, the Father is calling for the finest robe – which signifies he won’t be working like a servant in the fields – and calling for a ring for his finger, which signifies that his honor as a son has been restored.

The father is so happy that his son has come home that he calls for a feast.  He’s not thinking about his financial ruin, or the fact that he’s lost half his estate, because he’s too busy giving orders: “Fire up the grill!  Tell everyone you know: tonight, we sink our teeth into grain-fed beef and all the fix in’s!  Bring everyone you see: tonight, there’s going to be an open bar!”  And you can almost see the guitar players tuning up their strings, as the band counts off and the first song lifts into the air as everyone heads out onto the dancefloor. The father has to celebrate because his son is back home under his roof safe and sound. 

But the strains of music aren’t so sweet to everyone.  The father’s older son is standing out in the field after a long day of work with tired muscles, and he is incredulous.  He simply can’t believe it.  He hears the ruckus, and finds out second-hand what the party is all about, and he refuses to come in.  It would be a shame worse than death to walk in in order find his reserved seat by locating the little card with his name on it above his plate and to sit down at the table and join this party thrown for his loser brother.

And again, in this moment, we learn what kind of father this is.

The father leaves the celebration and comes out to his eldest son to plead with him to join in the party.  Under the stars the father listens to his son’s complaints.  He listens as his son finally unbottles his feelings that he’s always seen himself as a slave rather than a son.  He listens as his son admits that when he dreams, he dreams of having fun and celebrating with his friends – not with his dad.  The father listens as the son grumbles about how terrible his life has been with him at home.

The father listens to this rule-following but cold-hearted son and tries to get him to see that his fatherly love for him isn’t diminished by anything that’s happened.  In fact, each day that they were together through his brother’s long absence was precious to the father because the elder son was with him at home.

The father assures his older son, “All that is mine is yours” and holds out his arms to the older son, hoping he will give in and join him and his brother and their family and friends inside, where the party is going strong.

This is the invitation and we are invited to the party.

Our Heavenly Father welcomes us home when we are like the younger son and go astray, when we waste opportunities, when we neglect his compassion, when we ask for things from a place of selfishness, when we try to manipulate him, and when we hurt the people he has put in our lives.

And our Heavenly Father welcomes us home when we are like the older son and are cold-hearted, and judgmental, and have a chip on our shoulder, and don’t want to make room for others who aren’t as faithful or smart or this-or-that as us, and when we think we’re good enough to earn God’s love.

Jesus’ parable features two unfaithful, stumbling sons. 

We can focus our eyes on the younger son and see that those who recognize they’re powerless to save themselves and call on God will receive the full welcome, forgiveness, and love of God.   

We can focus our eyes on the older son and see that there’s the danger of forgetting how much we need of God, but that even if we do God will forgive us.

And we can probably see parts of ourselves in each of these sons, but really, the best place to focus our eyes is not on the younger or the older son, but the son telling the story – the one who gives us the love of the Father.   

In Jesus Christ we are all brought home, we are forgiven, we are sheltered, we are kissed and kissed fervently, we are given a robe and a ring, and we’re invited into the feast that never ends.  His death and resurrection is the celebration that is the bright light in the night of our despair, our fear, and our wandering.

I don’t know about you but I’ve been far from home. I’ve been through times in my life that were so hard, I didn’t know if I would make it through.  I didn’t know if I had it in me to take the next step.  In those times there was nothing left to do – no other options – but to pray to God and beg for enough strength to get through the day.  And he did give me enough strength.  I remember thinking in those times that if I could just keep going; if I could just get through it, one day I would look back on that time and it would be like a dream; almost like it never happened.

This morning, Joshua reminds us of how God brought the Israelites through the desert and after forty long years, how their long wilderness wondering was finally ended as they ate manna for the very last time and finally sunk their teeth into the crops growing on the vines of the promised land.  Their years in the desert were over, like a dream they just woke up from, because God saved them.

And Paul tells us that most surprising news that if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away.  It’s over.  It’s almost like it never happened. Everything has become new.  Its as if we never were in the far distant land with excrement and mud on our boots.  Its as if we never were standing outside the party with our arms folded, too resentful and ashamed to come in.

In our baptism into Christ, we are home with our Father, who keeps watch for me and for you by day and by night. 

We have a Father whose discipline is forgiveness.  Whose correction is mercy.  And whose approach to parenting is grace.

Today God embraces you, protects you, loves you, and invites you to the feast.