Luke 24:1-12 & Acts 10:34-43
Why are you looking for the living among the dead?
In Luke 24 a series of scenes charged with emotion are brought before us: first a scene of deep grief, sadness, longing. It turned into a scene of being frightened and bewildered, rushing around, and there was people who didn’t believe the other people who claimed to have received a message from an angel, and very little clarity at all.
Grief, uncertainty, distrust, fear and anxiety. Many of us know the depths of these states of being after the last 2 years, than ever before.
Even as many of us can feel like the worst is behind us, some things have been changed, or lost in permanent or seemingly permanent ways, and not for good. Loved ones we are missing, those suffering from the effects of what is known as long Covid, the way our society’s fabric has been stressed and torn in many places. And yes right now, a war, a devastating war with no good cause and civilians bearing the brunt of it. this is happening on the other side of the world but we receive the harrowing images and some economic consequences.
So maybe we feel like we can relate to some of the emotions here in this story, the not being sure of what is going on, missing someone you loved so much, being afraid, not sure if you can trust the words being spoken to you, wondering what really happened.
But this is the very story of resurrection. They were looking among the dead, BUT- Their beloved Jesus was no longer dead, but alive!
This, Peter can say from the time later in Acts 10, is because God raised Jesus. After he had seen Jesus with his own eyes, spoken with him, eaten with him, after he had hidden in a room with others and then been surprised again by the Holy spirit Jesus had promised, and experienced the resurrection, tried it out and found it to be true; then he was able put in his own words the message from the women that day, God raised Jesus from the dead.
God acted in a way that was predicted by Jesus, and more than once, but the idea of resurrection still was so beyond their experience that it took TIME to accept, live, and tell about. At first all Peter could do, was wonder what was going on.
And that is how it happens with us. We may still be looking among the dead because we don’t know where else to look. God does unexpected things that we might not be able to accept right away.
It takes time to be able to see, what God has done and that God has done it.
And now just as we can see all around us today, the effects of evil, the ways of death, all over the place: we can also, sometimes see, looking back, the effects of Resurrection around us, the ways of New Life that God makes possible.
God will continue to bring new life. Right in the middle of all of our confusion, uncertainty and grief.
Rev. Katie Hines-Shah says this about looking for resurrection in our time and place, now: “Why do we come to church in an era that does not value God, serve in the homeless shelter when "the poor will always be with you", pray for peace when the world is bent on war, keep on working for climate justice when it seems like we have gone to far to be redeemed? We do these things because that’s where resurrection comes. Jesus said so. That’s what it means to "remember." Every single time God starts in places of death and brings life there.
God is doing it now. Again.”
We may be drawn to the places of death, but resurrection is all around, in every bud that becomes a bloom, in every hurting heart that has been comforted, every true expression of forgiveness and every broken relationship that has healed, every addict who stays sober for one more day, every refugee who makes it out of the warzone alive, every time someone chooses to process their own pain instead of taking it out on someone else.
God has been at work in my life to help me know myself better, and my family towards healing and wholeness. We all have areas where we can grow, and God has been growing in me. But that is not my story alone to tell, so I will tell another story that is more public.
Many of you know that when I came here to be your pastor I thought it would be for a short while, a transition time, because I wasn’t ready to think long term. My spirit and my heart were hurting from my recent experience, because the church I had been a pastor at, had to close its doors. The pain of that, and the blame and shame that comes from not getting the quote unquote “right result” was weighing on me.
But another piece of what was weighing on me is that there was unfinished business at that church in Ventura county. The church had an endowment fund , and members of the church did not want all of that to be automatically absorbed by the Conference, but put to use in the local community. Some of us had been dreaming about an Under One Roof Center to help the community. Instead of having to go to the next city over or from office to office, to be able to access many services in one spot. But as I left plans were very uncertain and nothing had been put down in writing about what would happen. It was time for us to move; I entrusted that dream to God and people on a committee.
I had not heard much about what happened, respecting as I do that former pastors aren’t supposed to stay involved in previous places, but what news I did hear wasn’t very encouraging.
Well a few weeks ago I started to hear from a former church member, a meeting was coming up, could I pass on my notes from the meetings we had had with the District Union? I am not sure I was very helpful, but this last week they had a meeting, the community members and former church members and area pastors and District representatives, to see if those endowment funds could be used to provide for the operation of the Under one Roof, which is already functioning and already providing many services to the community, but needed some help to be able to have some long term security. And they approved it!
This to me is a resurrection story. There was in a sense, a real death for the remainder of that faith community, great grief and sadness in saying goodbye to the church as they knew it. but this is also a story of God working through many people, some pastors yes, a superintendent, but also regular people, Methodist and not, who want to do good in their community, to help there be more life. More access to rent and utility assistance, food, diapers and other items for babies, and workshops on domestic violence, vaccine outreach and more. The funds given for God to use are being used for God’s purposes, God who is on the side of life, even if in a different way. You could say I was among those who planted a seed, though I didn’t even do that alone, and while I wasn’t paying attention, God made it grow and bloom.
Yes there is plenty around us now, and always, to cause concern, maybe even anxiety and fear and sadness. Our attention may be drawn that way. But from this Biblical witness we know, whether we can see it in the moment or not, God is on the side of life. God raised Jesus up. And then Peter who also went to look among the dead, who at first could only wonder what had happened, became a powerful preacher and really good at explaining this mystery. He himself talks about how he was continuing to learn about how God accepts all people and all that the resurrection means. That we cannot be held back by our former mistakes, that God will keep working on our behalf. In these simple ways, even when we are uncertain, fearful, grieving, resurrection still happens: In every bud that becomes a bloom, in every hurting heart that has been comforted, every true expression of forgiveness and every broken relationship that has healed, every addict who stays sober for one more day, every time someone chooses to process their own pain instead of taking it out on someone else. In all these ways the resurrection still takes place among us. And we keep remembering Jesus and looking for him in this life, this broken world. At Palm UMC we are pouring out love and care for our neighborhood elementary school, Wilson and encouraging those teachers and staff; we are providing benevolence funds for those who find they have some extra need; we support other ministries in our area like Open Gate; we are dreaming of how to minister to families in our neighborhood directly with fun family-based faith activities. We continue to pray for one another and be a caring community so no one feels they are all alone. God is at work, even here, for resurrection among us.
May it be that even when we look among the dead, God surprises us with life.
Christ is risen alleluia!