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EASTER - B - 2021

 

Grace be to you and peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In my 40 some years of ministry, I’ve been on quite a few mission trips.  With Gettysburg Seminary to the Lutherans in El Salvador; with SC Lutherans to the Lutherans in Colombia; with a confirmation class trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico; with CH Lutherans to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, to help a congregation build a place of worship; and then taking LCM students to work with homeless persons in Baltimore and Atlanta and Philadelphia, AND  10 different times to DC.

In every one of those mission trips there would be a time, every day, usually just before or after the evening meal, when the mission trip leader would gather the participants together to reflect on their experiences that day, on how they experienced God in the places visited, and the people met.  Often the leader would call this a “God Moment.”

Now, sometimes, participants would be INVITED to speak, but only if they felt like it. Other times, the leader would announce that we were ALL going to share, in order.  Well,  I have never liked being told what to do.  And so, on one trip, when we were asked to share - in order - when it was my turn, I told the group that at my age, a good bowel movement was my God Moment that day.  True, but, maybe just a little inappropriate.  But after that, our leader made our sharing voluntary.

It was on one of my trips, that the leader, on our very first night after arriving in country, gathered us after supper, and invited anyone who wanted to, to share their most memorable experience of God, up to that point - of God speaking to them.  This is what I shared.

I grew up in Johnson City, in a two story house on West Maple Street.  Upstairs were three bedrooms and a bathroom  A bedroom for me, one for Judy, and one for Kathy.  Baby Sally was downstairs with our parents.

Every night, in my growing up years, my father would come upstairs after my sisters and I had put on our pajamas and brushed our teeth.  He’d come into my bedroom, kneel by my bed, and we’d have our evening prayers.  Then he’d go to Judy’s room, kneel by her bed, and they’d have their evening prayers.  From there he’d go to Kathy's room, kneel by her bed, and they’d have their evening prayers.

That, I told the group, was my most memorable experience of God speaking to me.  Speaking to me THROUGH my father’s love for me, speaking to me ABOUT my father’s love for me.  Saying, through those nightly kneelings, “Larry.  I love you.  I’m here for you.”

I don’t remember when those kneeling prayers stopped.  Probably when my sisters and I aged into our surly years, those teenage years of rebellion, those my-parents-don’t-know-crap-and-embarrass-me-all-the- time years.

In any case, they ended, over time, but the memory of them will never end.  Of God, through that kneeling, speaking to me, calling me by name, “LARRY” - loving me.

“Mary”, he said.  He called her by name.  And she knew him.  And everything changed for her!  Everything!  It was a new creation!  Something from nothing.  Death had been changed to life!   The impossible had become possible!

Don’t you wish he would call YOUR name.  So that you, too, would know him?  So that EVERYTHING would change for you? So that you could respond as Mary did, and go to proclaim the GN in word and in deed?

Don’t you wish that he would call YOUR name?

In 2011, my nephew Joey and his family lived in a suburb of Atlanta, in a subdivision that had its own little lake and sandy beach.  One afternoon he was at that beach with his 4yr old Lily and 2 yr old Ella.  Tired of playing in the water, they all came back up onto the beach to their blanket, where Joey took off the girls’ water wings, and reached back to get the food out of their picnic basket, and the book he hoped to read if Lily would only play with her younger sister Ella.  When he turned back around, little Ella was gone.  Wasn’t there.  He shouted for her, ran up and down the crowded beach asking people if they'd seen her.  No one had.  Someone called 911.  Soon authorities were combing the nearby woods and searching the lake.  All night long they searched those woods, and in the morning divers were sent down into the lake.  They found her little body at the bottom of a drop off a few yards out from the lake’s edge.

How can Joey ever recover from that?  How can the “What ifs” not rule his life forever?  He’d never see ice cream all over Ella’s face again.  He’s never feel her arms hugging him again.  They’d never listen to House At Pooh Corner together again.  His beautiful. precious little girl. How COULD Joey ever recover from that horrible, horrible, horrible tragedy that brings tears to my eyes even now? 

“Joey.”

Jesus called him by name.  “Joey.”  But how can that be?  Joey doesn't even believe in God.  How can Joey hear our resurrected Lord speaking his name?  Not from sermons, which Joey never hears.  Not from reading the bible, which Joey never does.  And not from his friends saying stuff like “Well, she’s in a better place.”  or “You’ll join her and see her beautiful smile again one day,” or “God has a plan, and we just have to trust it.” No, his friends knew better than to say things like that, which wouldn’t have helped at all..  How does Joey hear his name spoken as Mary heard hers?  How do things change for Joey?  How does a new creation/a new beginning happen for him?  How does EVERYTHING change for him?

You know.  I know you do.  Joey hears Jesus saying “Joey” through people like you - loving him, supporting him, being silent as they sit with him, hugging him, helping him to weather his guilt and his grief.  He hears, and has heard, our risen Lord speaking his name through people like you.  He might not know it, they might not know that they’re speaking it, in their love, but it’s true, nonetheless.

Let me say that again.  Joey might not know that our risen Lord is calling his name, through his friends, and their love for him, and THEY might not know that they’re doing it, but it’s true, nonetheless.  God is love, and every expression of love is of God.

“Mary.”  Hearing her name enabled Mary to become the first evangelist, the first one to proclaim the good news that changed our world:  “Jesus is risen, from death to life.”  The impossible has become possible.  From nothing, to something - a new creation.

So, on this Easter Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ rising from death to life. On this Festival of the Resurrection, we look forward to being resurrected someday, ourselves, from death to life with Jesus.  To someday, being reunited with our loved ones.

But Easter means so much more.  Easter has something to say to us about NOW!  Resurrection/new life/new beginnings can happen NOW, whenever we hear our resurrected Lord calling our name.

 “Mary.”

Everything can change in just hearing our name being spoken.

Easter asks us, “When have YOU heard YOUR name being spoken?

Our resurrected Lord speaks our name through fathers who kneel by our bedsides for prayer, using God speech; our rL speaks our name through friends who love us and embrace us w/o any God speech; speaks our name through the cries of our beloved planet in peril; speaks our name through children separated from their parents, and put in cages; speaks our name through voters being denied a chance to vote.  EVERYWHERE YOU TURN, J is calling your name, beckoning you to respond to someone’s need.  Beckoning you to enable new life!

Speaking your name is both a declaration of love to you, and also a calling, a beckoning, to go, tell of God’s love through your words, or your hugs, or your kneeling . . . or your protests, or your votes.  J is calling your name to send you forth to change His world.  Not just to SHARE the Gospel, God’s good news of unconditional love.  But to BE the Gospel!  Like Mary.

So remember, Easter isn’t just about THEN, the sweet bye-n-bye, life after death.  It’s also about NOW!  About hearing our name called, about recognizing Jesus in the calling, about going to do and to tell.

We don’t have any control over whether or not we’re going to  heaven after death.  Jesus has taken care of that.  But we do have countless opportunities to introduce people to Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

And that, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is Good News on this Easter Sunday!   

CHRIST IS RISEN!    Amen.

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