Sermon Series

Mark 1:14-15, 16:1-8

This journey can lead us to the majestic heights of Baptism, spiritual highs, and the kingdom of God. Yet, this same journey can also lead us to the tundras of temptation, conflict, and even death. The question is, will we take this journey knowing that the odds are not always in our favor? Because only on this journey of life and seasons, waxes and wanes, ups and downs, mountaintops and valleys, will we find resurrection and meet Jesus.

We desire for the stones of our lives to be rolled away, and we wish to meet Jesus at the empty tomb, yet Mark tells us we still have to travel. The power of resurrection is not only the power to defeat death, it is also the power to keep on living, to keep on loving, to keep on keeping on, to keep on journeying in the midst of the evil. The power of resurrection is speaking life when death reigns, to speak hope in the midst of despair, to heal in the midst of pain, to pursue wholeness in the midst of fragmentation. Brothers and sisters, do not be deceived. We have victory in Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’ Resurrection gives us hope and a never-failing promise, but his resurrection also makes demands on us. Go back to Galilee. Because in Christ, we have been raised, said Paul. We are already participating in the resurrected Christ. The power of resurrection is already here.

The power of resurrection is not only the power to defeat death, it is also the power to keep on living, to keep on loving, to keep on keeping on, to keep on journeying in the midst of the evil.

But the questions still nag… If death and sin have been defeated then why is there still death and sin? If the power of the kingdom of God can give sight to the blind, and multiply loaves and fish, then why don’t we see this kind of power today? If the resurrection defeated the cross, then why are so many people being crucified today?

The problem is that people… Or more to the point… Christians…. Too many Christians have tried to make the resurrection solve the problem of suffering, injustice, and evil. The resurrection doesn’t solve the problems of suffering, injustice, and evil; resurrection defeats–in hope–those problems. What Jesus’ resurrection points to is the eventual defeat of sin and ultimately death. But it does not mean that sin and death have been ultimately defeated now. Nor does resurrection mean that the problems sin and death pose have been solved so that we no longer feel the scandal and the injustice of the cross of Jesus and the crosses of history. If injustice and evil are no longer problematic, then why should we struggle against them? Be careful when people try to make injustice and evil sensible and meaningful. They are a stone’s throw away from the demonic space of the anti-Kingdom.

The resurrection doesn’t solve the problems of suffering, injustice, and evil; resurrection defeats–in hope–those problems.

The resurrection tells us that Jesus death was not a death of natural causes. Jesus didn’t die like my 95 year old granddaddy. We must be honest here. Historically speaking, Jesus was murdered. He was the victim of injustice. His murder, his execution, his cross was like so many murders and crosses—they are the signs and occasions of injustice. If we easily accept that Jesus needed to die or that God demanded him to die, then we’ve come dangerously close to making God synonymous with the executioners. What God asked of Jesus was that Jesus be faithful to God’s loving and merciful call, no matter what. And unfortunately, faithfulness and mercy cannot be known unless they are tested (And like Marcellus Wallace said on Pulp Fiction, “that’s a hard &#$@%! fact of life”). But not even the threat of death would stop Jesus. He looked up and pressed on!

Jesus knew the reality of this world. And the reality is that when you are faithful to love and mercy in a world of fear and hatred, you are often marginalized, killed, and/or persecuted. It is not God’s will for this to happen; God’s will is love and peace and communion. And God loves us so much, Jesus suffered the scandal and shame and abandonment and injustice of the cross… because God’s love is a  non-coercive, gracious love that loves to the very end. God’s is a love that doesn’t just save from the outside; this love saves from the inside too. Or as the theologians Ellacuría and Sobrino would say, this love “bears the burden of reality.” That is what Incarnation means at its deepest, most theological level. God is not removed from this world but intimately connected to it because of love. God’s love bears the burden of the real. No matter how much we want to escape the demands of the world and the problems of the world, God has shown us that love is not an earthly flight into heaven. You gotta go back to Galilee. 

I think we miss this when we focus on resurrection solely as the defeat of death and the cross as solely a sacrifice for sin. Through resurrection, God in Christ also defeated the injustice of his execution. Jesus is not just the risen one, that is, the one transformed and changed into an imperishable body and reigns at the right hand of God. Jesus is also the vindicated one, the one who was shown to be innocent after all. The resurrection, for Christians or for those who appreciate the story, should be the ultimate indictment of the crosses of history. The resurrection is an indictment on a world that kills and victimizes folk because they get in the way of “progress” and the status quo; the resurrection is an indictment on the fact that the majority of the world is made expendable for sake of the few. The resurrection indicts the religious, political, and socioeconomic leaders who conspire and put to death those who dare to dream of a more just and equitable society. Lest we forget the prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” The resurrection is the declaration that these injustices and deaths are not God’s will. In America, Christianity has been the religion of the dominant for so long that sometimes this aspect of resurrection is forgotten and/or ignored. We’ve forgotten that the good news is first announced to victims, the poor, the marginalized. We must repent of this sin.

So go back to Galilee and keep on taking seriously the call to love your neighbor as yourself. Keep on fighting for justice and for life. Continue to struggle against oppression fear and hatred. Because by participating in this struggle–in small or large ways–we can see Jesus. This is what Jesus said in Matthew 25 in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. When the Son of Man returns, his refrain will be: “As surely as you did it to the least of these, you did it also to me.” And the question back to Jesus was, “when did we see you hungry, naked, imprisoned, and sick? When did you appear to us, Lord…?” And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit’s Resurrecting Power, will say, “You saw me in Galilee. You saw me every day. But you failed to recognize me in the present. You wanted to linger in empty tombs and upper rooms. But I’m found on the journey. You thought you could only see me at the end of time. You thought I was at the destination. And because you failed to see me everyday in Galilee and because you refused to take the journey of faith, so too are you now refused.”

I know this is a different kind of Resurrection sermon. But God is asking us to take Mark’s telling seriously. Whether on purpose or because the complete original ending was lost, Mark’s is the only resurrection story in the gospels where the resurrected Jesus does not appear. And that means something. It is the only gospel that shows us that fear and silence can keep us from accessing resurrection. It is the only gospel that shows how fear and silence keeps us from returning to Galilee to start the journey over. Mark’s gospel tells us that even if we see the empty tomb… Even if we grasp and see that Jesus is not dead, that doesn’t mean that we’ve seen and grasped the Risen One. Even if we understand Jesus is not dead, that doesn’t mean we’ve seen Jesus.

This Resurrection Sunday, I’m not peddling cheap spirituality nor am I offering oppressive religion. God is offering us a deep spirituality and a liberating religion. We want our salvation quick, fast, and in a hurry–we want to be delivered in 3 days (or less), but deliverance is not an extra value meal–cheap and made to order. No, my friends. Until we get to that great getting up morning; until we get to that day where the lamb and wolf feed together; until the day where every tear is wiped away–Mark tells us the cold, living truth… Go to Galilee! There we will find resurrection. Start the journey. And there you will find joy. And you will die to your old habits; we will die to our old injustices; we will die to our old fears, our old hatred, our old lives… And as we journey to Jerusalem, we will begin to be reborn; we will become new creations; we will be able to, however briefly, manifest the power of God’s kingdom.

The power of resurrection is the power to remake, the power to transform, the power to recreate that which already exists. Which means that even today, my brothers and sisters, even today, your lives and this world can be changed through the power of God.

© 2016 M.J. Sales

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