Monday, 01 April 2013 00:00

"Possible", March 31, 2013

John 20:1-18
Easter Sunday
March 31, 2013
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Possible.  The seemingly impossible happened on Easter Sunday.  And we are supposed to believe in the possible.  Even on Easter.

I think about this especially on the other side of a hell of a year in my family.  Not only did we lose a father, but we lost two aunts and a cousin’s troubled daughter.  Did I mention that my mom had a heart attack?  It’s been a rough year.  There were times in the midst of it that I felt so stuck by the despair.  The normal things don’t seem normal anymore. It’s one extended Lenten year. I haven’t been running.  I attribute some of it to an aging body, a bum knee and an awfully long winter.  But the reality is that I just didn’t feel like it.  I mean, I knew I should get out and run, but it was enough to just function.  It almost seemed impossible to do much more.  But I long for another way. I long to see beyond the numbing difficulties and move toward the possible.  

On that first Easter morning. Nothing seemed possible.  Jesus had been beaten, killed and buried.  The disciples were in hiding.  The crowds were scattered and scared.  Mary was weeping.  Nothing seemed possible. It all seemed impossible. There was nothing to do but weep.  Nothing to do but go to the tomb at sunrise and sit shiva. No offending mirrors to look at.  Nothing but grief and loneliness and terror. Nothing but impossibilities.


You know what happened. Mary went to the grave but found the tomb empty. She found the bunched up grave clothes in the corner. This too was impossible.  Someone must have stolen the body.  Was it a conspiracy?  The guards were standing there, looking dumbfounded.  The gardener looked on shaking his head.  Impossible? I imagine Mary going through the stages of grief all weekend: Shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  Was she now supposed to do it all again at the empty tomb?

How do you make the shift from the impossible to the possible?

Mary finally recognized Jesus in the garden and she was excited.  Excited and confused.  What does this mean?  Is it really possible?  She saw his hands and his feet, the wound in his side and she realized that while he was alive again, it meant something very different from what life meant three days before.  What had become possible? That can come later.  First, what was now impossible?

It was impossible to deny like Peter did.  
It was impossible to doubt like Thomas did.  
It was impossible to run away, like the crowds did.  
It was impossible to go about business as usual.

Is the resurrection about getting your own personal ‘get out of death free’ card?  Or is it a call to exuberantly embrace the possible in a world of seemingly endless impossibilities?

My friend and colleague Ann Keeler Evans writes a daily blog.  Here’s what she posted this morning:

I begin to know with some amount of clarity
What fruit I will bear the world this year.
My world steadies when I allow my life to be both
An ongoing, consistent march toward Peace
And a wild variation/enhancement on what I’ve tried before.
I’ve come this far, in this style… how next to apply my gifts?
Each year it seems I spiral closer to the person I want to be
Discovering both new possibilities and clearer limitations.
May I use those skills I have burnished into talent
And make space at my side for the Peaceful gifts you offer.

May March's sweet reminders of possibility and renewal
Grace your growing dream of Peace…

I think of Mary at the Easter tomb.  She was met with the reality of Jesus’ death and his surprising triumph over death.  But this didn’t mean that she could stop mourning.  It didn’t mean that everything was all right.  It meant that there was work to do that was confusing and difficult.  Would her work be simply to go back to being the also ran with the rest of other disciples?  Or would she go on to found her own church, her own movement.  There are those who say she did just that.  Because she new that the resurrection of Jesus meant that something else was possible.

I think Mary saw the possible at the resurrection.

Maybe she knew that when she went back to meet Peter and the rest of the disciples, she would be met again with dismissive remarks.  Maybe she knew she needed to make the announcement before getting on to her own work.

I like to think that maybe she and Jesus had a strategy session in the garden.  Jesus might have said, “They are not going to understand.  They are not going to believe you. They’ll put you down again.  Don’t worry about it.  Do your work.  And I will be with you right by your side, as close as your very breath.  All things are possible.”

“With God all things are possible” echoed the Apostle Paul a few years after Jesus died.  He said this to a continually persecuted minority.  He was harkening back to the Easter surprise.

We rented the film “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” this past week.  One of the main characters, the owner of the hotel (which was really just a dump) reassured his patrons when everything was falling apart: “There is an old saying in India. ‘Everything will work out in the end. If it does not work out, then it is not the end.’”

It doesn’t mean everything will go your way.  It means that God will make a way even to your broken heart.  God will pick you up when you don’t think you can go on.  God will surprise you like a gardener on Easter Sunday and trade your impossible with possible.

God won’t make people take back their decisions, but God can help you react to the possibilities that emerge on the other side of such decisions.

Because of this or that decision, what is possible?  Because of your decision, what is possible?

Robert Schuler and Norman Vincent Peale made a hefty living doling out something they called possibility thinking.  While it seems like a trite way of looking at the world, I think there is something to this thinking that is related to the resurrection.

The seemingly impossible happened on Easter Sunday.

And because of this resurrection, this Easter reminder, we dare to dream of the possible. We dare to open ourselves up to the possibility that we are not done yet. There is still more to do with our one little life, as Mary Oliver suggested. The resurrected Jesus did not hang around for very long. Maybe 40 or 50 days, enough to help the struggling community figure out how to create a movement without one charismatic leader but dozens who begat dozens more who started the work about bringing hope to a world in need. Possibilities.

So look at your situation, no matter how tough it is and imagine, not only how upset we are about what has happened, but because of what has happened, what is now possible.

Holy Week!  Did you see how many people stormed the gates at the Supreme Court and at courthouses across the country? People of faith, praying for the Supreme Court to do the right thing and promote marriage equality.  Facebook was a sea of red and pink equal signs as people changed their pictures to support equality. What a Holy Week.  Hear this, marriage equality is possible.  It’s possible that it will happen as early as June. It’s also possible that it won’t happen then.  But it will happen.  It’s inevitable.  Kinda like resurrection.

Friday, I attended a press conference at Shir Tikvah synagogue.  I joined other Jewish and Christian clergy to decry statements made by Minnesotans for Marriage accusing LGBT affirming people of using Nazi tactics to get their points across.  This showed up as a part of their suggested sermon material for preaching against same-sex marriage. Not only is this provocative, but it is highly insulting given that the Nazis executed countless homosexuals as a part of the holocaust.  What was incredible was that so many clergy could be mobilized on Good Friday and Passover to make such a united statement.  Such a great turnout might not have appeared possible just a year ago.

I received a message from our sister church in Leon, Nicaragua earlier this week.  They said:

My brother, God bless your family. We are praying that everything goes well. Here in Nicaragua we are presenting some details with the Ministry of Education. We have many children in our school. We have the 7th grade. With God's help everything will be fine. We have had very pleasant activities and our revenues have been a blessing. We are planning to hire an architect to begin construction of the second floor after Holy Week. Also this week we will be gathering at 5 am each morning. On Thursday and Friday we will be in retreat in a rural community. (we will send photos)All for the Glory of God. Testing? Yes, Problems? Yes, but God is greater than all that. GRACE AND BLESSINGS TO  ALL.

This comes from a congregation whose school was on the verge of closing just year and half ago.  They are embracing the possible and it’s so good to see.

It’s all like a resurrection.  People have found their voices.  People have believed that good things are possible.  And it causes them to imagine great things.

What do you imagine?  What possibility might you be willing to embrace on this Easter Sunday?

We imagine a city where people are not forgotten.
We imagine a people with adequate health care.
We imagine a school system without bullying.
We imagine a nation where there is a limit to assault weapons.
We imagine a city where we don’t have to spend Good Friday remembering 54 murder victims, most of them from gunshot wounds.
We imagine decent jobs at a decent wage.
We imagine a clean climate and responsible regulations so that our grandchildren will be able to enjoy this world of ours.
We imagine healthy relationships with family and friends that speak of solidarity.

I like to think we turned a corner this spring.  Maybe it’s just the fact that the snow is finally receding.  Maybe it’s the fact that we are making maple syrup once again in our back yard.  Maybe it’s the spending time with friends and giving them sweet nectar of the gods.  I hope to see a more normal season.  But it won’t be that way.  There will be college visits, performances, and maybe I’ll even run a race or two. I don’t know what it will look like, but I like to believe in the possible.

God meets you in the garden on Easter morning.  And maybe God is whispering in your ear a strategy of possibilities.  Maybe there is a different way that we can approach the world.  Maybe there is a way that we can imagine a new way to be.

God is whispering to you in the dark, showing you a new way, and saying “possible” where we say impossible.

There’s an Easter mantra that we say back and forth.  Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen, Indeed.

The first is a statement of fact taken from the Easter story.

The second is a statement that we make when we embrace the possibilities that accompany that empty tomb and the subversive conversation with the “gardener.”  When we say, “Christ is Risen, Indeed” it is an affirmation that we are going to embrace the possible.

We are going to look for possibilities where we had only seen death and destruction and sadness.

We are going to look for signs of joy.  
We are going to look for hope.  
We are going to look for people who bring us life.  
We are going to connect ourselves with a movement of peace and serenity and freedom and equality.

We are not going to settle for business as usual if that means that we give our best energy for something that moves us nowhere.

That’s why we come to church. We are longing for that hope, that possibility that we see in and empty tomb, in a cheerful gardener, in a room full of people at once encountering possibilities.

Mary said, “Christ is Risen.”  It took a while, but when the rest embraced the possible in their lives moving forward, they proclaimed forevermore, “Christ is Risen, Indeed.”

Christ is Risen.
Christ is Risen, Indeed.