2018-5-13 “When Direction is Required”

“When Direction is Required”

A meditation based on Matthew 28:8-20

May 13, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

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                   Happy Mothers Day!  Over the years, this holiday has enjoyed various incarnations: its beginnings in the late 1800s were as an anti-war protest led by women after the Civil War ended but while the wounds were still raw; the day quickly morphed into a deeply sentimental tribute to mothers; now it is the biggest flower-giving, phone-calling day in the entire calendar!                   This day is a day of action…where we get up and change love from a feeling into a verb.  That verb takes different forms for each of us, depending on many factors…including our relationship with our own mother.  I’d like you to think about your mother for a moment, or if your memory of her is not particularly pleasant or clear, choose someone else—male or female—someone who has mothered you at important times in your life.  When you think about that mother figure, what one word comes to mind? 

[share aloud]

                   I’m struck by how many of these qualities show up in the scripture story we’ve read today!  There is wonder and quick movement, as the women who have seen the empty tomb leave that tomb to go and tell the others.  There is fear and joy, mixed, as these same women run with their news.  There is enthusiasm, stopped short, as they literally run into the living breathing resurrected Jesus.  And there is a deep knowing in these women.  For unlike the other stories we’ve read this Easter season, in this one, the women see Jesus and recognize Jesus and take hold of him and worship him…no lagging at all in their perception.  They immediately see him for who he is.  This is not to say the men were slow or ignorant or anything like that.  It is simply to say that, sometimes, women’s way of knowing is a more effective way of actually seeing spiritual matters more clearly, for it is a more intuitive, visceral, even spiritual type of knowing.  And the great news is, this intuitive tool isn’t limited to only females. 

                   How many of you, when I asked you to think about someone who has mothered you, thought of a male?  Yeah!  We are so very fortunate to live in an age when gender identity is fluid, and gender categories are in flux, and no girl has to wear pink if she’d rather wear blue, and no boy has to play with tanks if he prefers legos or dolls.  Such open perspectives lead us to a place where we can accept mothering from males and females and trans and and and.  For mothering isn’t contained in one person or one gender.  Hallelujah! 

                   So these women in the scripture story, using intuitive ways of knowing, saw Jesus for who he really was.  In the other stories we’ve studied this Easter season, where the living breathing resurrected Jesus shows up, you may recall I’ve talked about the verb that Jesus employs which then shows the disciples who he is.  In one story, he takes bread and blesses it.  In another, he cooks breakfast.  In yet another, he breathes on them.  All verbs.  All actions showing his identity.  In these post-Easter stories, Jesus becomes the verb by which they see him in his resurrected form. 

                   However, in this story, the verb is enacted by the women and the men, not by Jesus.  First the women see.  Then they run.  Then they worship.  Then they go and tell the others.  All verbs.  All actions.  Finally, the whole group of disciples, standing together on a hillside, see the living breathing resurrected Jesus, and together they worship and together they hear and together they receive and together they accept their direction from this Jesus.  “Go,” he says.  “Go where?” we can hear them ask in their whispers.  “Go into ALL the world.  Tell them what you have seen.  Tell them what I have taught.  You teach them what I’ve commanded you.  And don’t forget, I am with you…always.”

                   And that, my sisters and brothers, is where the verb gets murky over 2,000 years of Christian history.  For what did Jesus command?  He says to them in his direction, “Teach them what I’ve commanded you…”  What did he command?  Did he command that everyone had to become Jewish in order to follow him?  Did he command that all had to believe alike?  Did he command that only some people could preach his message, while others were left out?  No, no, and no.  In all of his teaching, Jesus made only two commands and you know them well: Love God; Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Love.  That is the only command.  Love.  “Take my love into the world…” Jesus says to those first followers.  It really is that simple.  “Take my love into your world…” Jesus says to us as well. 

                   So let’s think about that for a bit.  What does it look like to take love into this world today?  What does that look like?  Maybe think about it this way…where have you seen, recently, love taken into the world?

                   I saw it just the other day.  There is a family in this church’s preschool, whose father is battling a very aggressive type of cancer.  The other day, one of the preschool teachers shared with me that the man’s daughter—4 years old—asked for help with an art project.  She laid her hand flat on a piece of paper and directed the teacher, “Take the crayon and draw around my hand…do it again…and again…and again.”  She moved her hand a bit each time and soon the page was filled with handprints.  Looking at it together, the little girl told her teacher, “these are the angels that help my daddy when he gets sick and catch him when he falls…”  There is love, the love of God as a mother and as a father and beyond, there is love taken out into the world. 

                   What does it look like for you to take love into this world?  You know, over these two plus years of our interim season, I’ve seen some pretty incredible love-as-a-verb actions around here.  And after breathing your loving air, I’m even more sure that today’s scripture isn’t about Jesus giving direction to go out and force people into a relationship with him.  He was saying to his very first followers, do what you’ve seen me do.  Walk with the people.  Eat and drink with them.  Show them love and that will be enough. 

                   Friends, in all the changes coming to the church these days, it is so heartwarming to see and to know that love prevails.  And love is paving a way forward for the gospel to be seen and heard and accepted in this world.  Places and groups of people who commit to loving others as they love themselves, and loving God through it all, these are places and groups that are expanding and permeating their communities with little bits of love.  You can read about it every day.  Yes, you have to slog through some of the hate and fear and power games and the like.  But woven into that story is another.  It is a story of those who are daring enough and courageous enough and willing to go out into this sometimes fierce world with the simple practice of love. 

                   So I ask you again: what would it look like for you, this week, to commit yourself to the practice of love?  When an unkind thought arises, instead of reacting, take a moment and ask God to bless that person.  You see, putting love into action—meaningful and transforming action—really is that simple.  And, Jesus makes clear on that mountainside, love in action is what it means to be his church. 

                   This is the week before Pentecost, the day when we celebrate the birthday of Christ’s Church…that was the day the Spirit blew through those first followers of Jesus, with refreshing breath, and the church was born!  Some churches encourage worshippers to wear red on Pentecost to symbolize that movement of Spirit.  Let’s all commit, here, to do more than simply change our clothing.  Let’s commit to love.  The kind of directional love we sometimes saw in our mothers and mother figures.  The kind of compassionate love we experienced at various times in our lives.  The kind of healing love that Jesus made into a verb and passed on to those closest to him, including us.  Let’s receive that gift of love from Jesus and pass it on this week through choosing loving words, and embodying loving actions, and framing and reframing our thoughts with love.

Amen and Blessed Be