A sermon preached at the United Parish of Upton MA on Easter Sunday, 2016
Luke 24:5b “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.. . .
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Hatred runs free in our land.
City water in Flint, Michigan, poisoned the city’s children and no one cared. It was more important to save money than lives. And who would complain? Flint is incredibly poor. The median household income is around $27,000. And more than half of Flint is black; who listens to black people anyway? So, said the State of Michigan, let’s save money.
It’s not just Michigan. It’s now legal to discriminate against gay & lesbian citizens in North Carolina. If you’re transgendered, you have to use the bathroom of your original gender, no matter what you look like, feel like, are, today. I cannot imagine how scared, how hate-filled some people must be, to pass these laws. I wonder if North Carolina is now going to form a TSA-like corps of people who will stand at restroom doors checking credentials.
It’s here in Massachusetts as well. A few weeks ago, there was a basketball game at Newton North High School. That largely-Jewish school was playing Catholic Memorial, an all-boys prep school from West Roxbury. The kids taunted one another across the basketball court, and it escalated beyond all belief when the Catholic Memorial kids chanted “you killed Jesus” at the Newton North kids.
On Friday, someone hacked into 3 Massachusetts colleges, using their printers to spew out anti-Jewish flyers all over the campuses.
Churches in the Boston area put up banners proclaiming that BLACK LIVES MATTER. And they are defaced with profanity, cut up with knives.
All across our country, speakers at public events shout out hateful things about women, gays, Hispanics, Muslims, journalists and protestors. And if a little violence breaks out, well that’s the breaks of the game, right?
I’m not talking about bombings, about which we here in Massachusetts know much more than we want. I’m talking about home-grown hatred. I’m talking about ordinary people…ordinary places…but extraordinary hatred.
I saw a cartoon the other day: picture a chemistry lab, complete with bench, bunsen burner, flask and retort. Your job is to refine the contents of the flask. And the heat of the bunsen burner comes from flames of fear. The flask is filled with ignorance. And what comes out the retort is pure, distilled hate. That’s our world today.
It is as if we are stuck at Good Friday, stuck in a place where the best we can do is blame someone else for everything we hate about ourselves. We’re stuck filled with anger, stuck attacking those who cannot defend themselves. It’s Good Friday, and hatred walks our streets.
Here we are, in a beautiful room. It’s been lovingly decorated with gorgeous flowers and blessed by gracious music…. What place does hate have in this room, in this company?
On such a beautiful day, why do we want to notice the slime of hatred oozing into our world?
The power and joy of Easter is that Jesus Christ came just for days and times such as these, to give us a a pattern for life in the worst of times.
When we hear hatred voiced, we know there is a better way.
When we hear worries and concerns met with callous disregard, we know there is one who calls us to a path of love.
When we recognize the negligent disregard of racism, we know there is a way to live in perfect equality, one with another.
We know this because, in the worst of times, Jesus Christ came to be in this world. He came to teach us to measure our world against the standards of generosity, justice, righteousness and love. We know this because after he died in pain and shame, on the third day, he rose from the dead.
It’s easy to say that this Resurrection, this central act of our faith, makes no sense. Of course, it doesn’t. Resurrection makes no sense at all. It’s not sensible; it’s not logical; it’s not scientifically reproducible, like a chemistry experiment.
It’s the sheer irrationality of the event that testfies to its essential truth. Because, you see, this isn’t about science, isn’t about rationality or historical fact. It’s about light shining in the darkness.
Easter began, not at sunrise this morning, but in the darkest events of Thursday and Friday, in the despair of Saturday. Easter began with betrayal. It deepened with desertion, abandonment. It continued with a trial, condemnation, and execution.
Buried in haste, his body was gone when the women came to the tomb. Nothing about this made any sense, not in that long-ago time, and not today. And out of that senselessness, new life came. Out of confusion and fear, courage bloomed, lives were changed.
The despair and terror of Jesus’ followers is our despair and terror when we face an unknown future. Their joy when they realize they are not alone, is our joy as well.
This story, this resurrection isn’t about science experiments; it’s about real life. It’s about life where things just don’t go right. It’s about those times of quiet desperation when you just can’t see any way forward.
It’s hard to remember our need for God when all is going well. We humans like to take good times and good weather for granted. We may well expect everything to always turn out well, but we’re doomed to disappointment. It’s a fact of life, and not plain pessimism to point out that good does not continue in perpetuity.
Now some will argue that the blessings of our lives come because we’re better than those who suffer. We’re smarter, we’re more generous, we have louder voices and are better at pushing our way to the front of the line and we thus get the best rewards. This is the “everyone gets what they deserve” school of life.
And others will say that we get what we work for, and so all we have to do is work hard and rewards will appear. That’s kinda the “I went to MIT, so my life will be great” school of life.
Both run thin when we face a cat-scan filled with signs of cancer. Neither has any comfort or strength when the factory closes and we’re out of a job at the age of 59. And neither has any explanation for the kinds of evil we see every day in our news feed.
Christianity is faith for the tough times. It’s not an “always sunny weather” way of living. It anticipates challenges, knows we’ll face ethical dilemmas, personal disasters. It knows that at the end of all, we will die – the ultimate failure in American life.
Through all that, it helps us understand the value of our lives. It shows us that life isn’t about toys, or job success, but about the grace with which we live.
And today it reminds us that hatred leads to death. Only love leads to life.
Because we serve a risen Savior, we will not incite riots.
Because we follow the way of Christ, we will not stand for condemnation of the poor.
Because we carry on the love of Jesus, we will not join in the disenfranchisement of the downtrodden.
We are Christians; we will condemn hatred and practice mercy.
Today is the spring of souls, the beginning of a new year of following God’s way.
When we sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today we proclaim that death is not the end of things. Hope rises up out of despair, creates justice, proclaims mercy, practices love.
Today, we are a resurrrection people, born anew out of a culture riddled with hate, born to be messengers of God’s love, to all the world.
Christ the Lord is Risen! Hatred will not win the struggle.
© 2016 Virginia H. Child