This sermon is the second of a two parter which began on Good Friday (you can find that sermon here). It is the fruit of conversations that have been going on at Holy Cross Lutheran Church for a number of months. I am indebted to the members of the congregation for their courage, wisdom and curiosity which they so graciously share. I am indebted to Dom Crossan, Jack Spong, Barbara Brown Taylor, Michael Morwood, and Dick Rauscher whose work has inspired and emboldened me in my preaching. You can listen to the sermon below and I have also provided the manuscript (which is never quite the same as what comes out from the pulpit) Shalom.
On Good Friday we gathered here to grieve the death of God. I began my Good Friday sermon with the Parable of the Mad Man that was written by Frederich Nietzsche back in 1882. The mad man in the parable goes around announcing that God is dead. The parable gained notoriety 1966 when an issue of Time Magazine asked the question: Is God Dead? The question appeared on the cover of the magazine and created quite a stir. It referenced Nietzsche’s parable as the inspiration behind the “God is dead movement” which insisted that “man” has killed God because “man” has evolved beyond our need for gods.
So, on Good Friday my sermon took a long hard look at the god who is indeed dead. In my sermon, I grieved the death of The Father-god, the Sky-god, God the grand puppeteer, who watches over us like a kindly shepherd, and listens to us, and interferes on our behalf, and judges us and longs to welcome us into heaven, but is willing to let us languish in hell if need be.
I pointed out that parables like the parable of the mad man are stories that tell us what we already know and Nietzsche’s Mad Man was right, this god that so many of us have loved and worshipped for so many years is indeed dead; sacrificed on the altars of reality.All that we have learned about the cosmos; all the scientific breakthroughs, our technologies, our philosophies, biblical scholarship and our evolving theologies have killed the personification of god that we once worshipped and adored.
I looked upon the cross and I wept because the death of the personified god is not easy to bear and I miss the Father-god because I really did love him, and he really did save me. For most of my life the personification of God was the only way I had of knowing anything of the Force that lies at the very heart of reality. God is dead; the Father God, the Sky God, the kindly Shepherd that I was counting on to make me lie down in green pastures, is dead. Our science, technology, philosophy, history, and our theologies have killed this personified deity that we both feared and adored. God is dead and we have killed him.
The pain of that death is almost too much for me to bear. But I look upon the cross knowing that death will not have the final word. Death could not take Jesus from us. We know that despite humanity’s most violent efforts, the cross could not take Jesus from us and that death did not win. Jesus lives. So, if death could not take Jesus from us, death cannot take God from us. Just because we have outgrown believing that our personification of God is actually God does not meant that the reality that we personified can be overcome by death. We personify all sorts of things, and just because we stop personifying them does not mean they disappear. We personify hurricanes but whether we think of them as Katrina or Andrew, we cannot destroy them simply by refusing to personify them; the force of a hurricane lives beyond our personification of that force. And while we grieve the loss of our Father, we know that death cannot take God from us anymore than death could hold Jesus captive in the grave. Jesus lives beyond death in ways that his first followers could never have dreamed or imagined. Our God, the One who lies at the very heart of reality will not be destroyed by the death of our various personifications of God which have always fallen short of who and what God IS. But we do not grieve as ones without hope. For we know that death will not have the final word. We know that when all is said and done, the grave can never, ever keep our God who is Love from us.
That’s pretty much where I left off on Good Friday. It seemed fitting that in a community where we have been exploring and questioning the nature of Divinity that we should take some time to grieve what we have lost with all our questioning. God is dead sacrificed on the altars of reality. And so, trusting that death will not have the final word we come to the darkness of the empty tomb. Our questions, our ever-expanding knowledge, our technology, our endless quest for wisdom may have allowed us to evolve to the point where somehow the stone has been rolled away. But if we peer inside we shall see the darkness. Darkness punctuated by strange stories that have the texture and the feel of rumors and innuendos; the kind of stories that spring up when people can’t quite figure out what has happened. Just like the women who went to the empty tomb all those centuries ago, we too must face the darkness of such emptiness if we are going to move beyond our grief and confusion. The darkness of the empty tomb was not what the followers of Jesus expected to find.
The horror of the execution of the one they had hoped would lead them out from under the oppressive injustices of Roman domination and help them usher in God’s reign of justice and peace had shattered Jesus followers and sent them scurrying for into the shadows afraid, confused and wondering if God had abandoned them.
We don’t really have much to go on, just a few disjointed, contradictory accounts. But when you put these stories together with nearly 2000 years of the history of those who have experienced the life, death and resurrection in their own lives we know that something powerful happened to that rag, tag group of followers that convinced them that death does not have the final word; that death could not keep Jesus from the world. Jesus was such an unusual character, who lived so fully, loved so extravagantly, taught so radically, acted so courageously, that in Jesus his followers were able to see the spirit of God in the flesh. Each of Jesus’ followers had been touched by him in ways that called them into a new way of living, a new way of being human; a new way of facing injustice, hatred and violence; Jesus called them into a new kind of humanity. Jesus called them into this new humanity by living it himself, loving so freely and graciously and abandoning what up until Jesus they had believed was the only way to achieve any sort of justice in this cruel world; Jesus renounced violence. In the face of military might, in the midst of the most brutal injustices, under the oppression of the mightiest Empire the ancient world had ever known at the risk and cost of his own life Jesus refused to take up the sword. Jesus’ life and teachings had brought them out of whatever hell they had been living in and gathered them together to learn a new way of being. Jesus’ execution could not be reconciled with their hopes and dreams of a new world; a new way of living under God’s reign. Jesus’ message and his life could not be reconciled with his fate. Their darkness went far beyond the emptiness of the tomb. If their God could let the best of them die such a horrible death, then perhaps their God was no god at all.
Gradually, as the shock of their loss began to loosen its grip they began to realize that the tomb was indeed empty; for it could not contain Jesus anymore than death could take Jesus from them. Jesus lived in, with, through and beyond them; they could not explain it, his presence was so real; his impact on who and what they were continued to change and mold them into a new reality.
The stories that have been handed down to us don’t always satisfy our need to know exactly what, when, and how it all transpired. We live in an age that demands proof and the proof that Christ is risen cannot be found in the empty tomb.
The proof that Christ lives is in the transformed lives of the millions upon millions of people who have made their way to the darkness of the tomb and come away not with proof that Jesus rose from the dead but with hearts transformed by the emptiness of the tomb.
So, hear we stand at the edge of that empty tomb peering in hoping against hope that it is true; that death does not have the final word, that life can be lived so fully, that love can be so extravagantly given, that God can be so wonderfully en-fleshed, that justice can be achieved and that justice and not violence is the way to peace.
We have come from the horrors of Good Friday and we know that the world is still a violent place, we know about the horrors of our history and we can see in our own living rooms the evidence that violence and injustice still reign supreme, as the people of the Ukraine, Syria, North Korea, and the dozen or so nations where unjust régimes continue to oppress, torture and murder innocent men, women and children. We know that greed and hatred are the go to responses of far too many of us and that humanity has a long way to go before all of us have an equal share of the wealth some of us choose to squander in ways that are killing this planet. We know that most of us are still so afraid of dying that we cling to all sorts of behaviors that even though they will ultimately fail to save us from our fears, we steadfastly refuse to risk giving up our tightly held beliefs; lest the darkness overcomes us.
We know all this and yet the life and teachings of Jesus bring us back to the emptiness of the tomb, were we continue to hope that God has not forsaken us and once again new life can spring forth so that we too can be transformed and begin again to change the world.
I said on Friday that in addition to grieving the death of Jesus, some of us are also grieving the death of god whom we have worshipped and adored most of our lives; the personified god that was sacrificed on the altars of reality by our ever-expanding knowledge of the universe and our own humanity. It is not easy to know how to move on after a loss so deep. For if this personified god is dead and if we have killed him, how are we supposed to make sense of this life without the one who has comforted us, inspired us, lead us and loved us in ways that have empowered us to become the people who want to share this god’s love as we try to usher in God’s reign of justice and peace for all our sisters and brothers.
Some of us, stand dazed and confused before the darkness of that empty tomb hoping against hope that even though the personified God we have worshipped and adored for so long is dead, that death will not have the final word and that God coming back to life.
On Good Friday, I spoke about the cover of Time magazine from 1966 that posed the question “Is God Dead?” and on the back of the Good Friday worship bulletin I printed a copy of the Time magazine cover from 1986 which posed the question, “Is God Coming Back to Life?” I put that graphic on the back of the bulletin cover as a sort of teaser; a kind of hope-filled reminder from the secular world that the death of God was not the end of the story.
Then on Friday afternoon, there appeared on my facebook newsfeed the preview of this coming week’s Time magazine. The cover along with the other two covers is printed in today’s worship bulletin. The headline for the current issue of Time a secular magazine, is not a question but a statement: “Finding God in the Dark.”
I don’t yet have the current copy of Time it isn’t available until tomorrow, so I haven’t read the article, but I can tell you that it features an article about the brilliant preacher Barbara Brown Taylor who has just released a new book about Finding God in the Dark, which I am currently reading. Taylor encourages to venture into the darkness because it is in the darkness were new life begins.
So, today as we peer into the darkness of the empty tomb, I hope that we can begin to experience the birth pangs of new life. For not even the death of the personified God will be able to keep the wonders of the ONE who is the source of all life from us because the FORCE that lies at the heart of reality cannot be overcome by the darkness.
Some of us are beginning to explore the Divinity that is so much more than our personifications of God could ever express. We are beginning to touch and be touched by the God who is beyond the beyond and beyond that also.
We are beginning to understand that the Spirit of God is the impersonal evolutionary impulse to “become” incarnate and immanent in ever aspect of creation. We are beginning to learn about the various ways in which that force, or impulse or Spirit has been creating, re-creating, and incarnating the cosmos for 14 billion years.
We are beginning to understand what it means to live freed from the notion that Jesus was sent to save us. We are beginning to realize what it means to live knowing that we don’t need saving from some fallen state. Jesus wasn’t about saving us from the past, but rather reminding us that we already are the light of the world! We already possess the spiritual ability to evolve and become. What Jesus taught us was what we are capable of becoming and how to become. Jesus life, death, and resurrection show us the way to be LOVE; and I’m not talking about our ridiculous ideas about what love is, I’m talking about the LOVE that is the Divine Force that lies at the very heart of reality. Jesus life, death, and resurrection show us the way not just how to love but how to become LOVE. (adapted from an article by Rev. Dick Rauscher “The Problem I have With Easter)
And that dear sisters and brothers is a resurrection indeed. Each and every time you or I embody LOVE, Christ lives in the world. Resurrection is the embodiment of Christ or LOVE or God, or however you want to express the Force that lies at the very heart of reality.
The LOVE that is God is beyond our ability to imagine or express, but that LOVE lives in, with, through, and beyond us. Death does not have the final word. No matter how many times this cruel world tries to destroy LOVE. LOVE will live again, in, with, through and beyond all of those who embody LOVE.
There’s just one more thing that I want you to notice as LOVE springs to life out of the darkness. Many of us have been trying to figure out exactly how we are supposed to live on now that we know that the personified god that we loved and adored for so very long has been put to death. Well let me just say this: there is absolutely nothing wrong with personifying the Force that lies at the heart of all that is. Let me say that again: there is absolutely nothing wrong with personifying the Force that lies at the heart of all that is.
Storytellers, artists, musicians, lovers, philosophers, scientists, poets and gospel writers have been doing it forever; even Jesus personified LOVE, and we shall continue to do it. We are after all human and humans personify stuff we don’t fully understand. There is absolutely nothing wrong with personifying the Force that lies at the heart of all that is, just as long as we don’t forget that those personifications aren’t actually God and we don’t begin to worship those personifications as if they are God. For God is so very much more than our ability to imagine or express, the Force that lies at the heart of all that is, is beyond, the beyond and beyond that also.
So, if it helps us to personify LOVE, then from time to time we shall attempt to call the Ultimate Reality by various names designed to help us to express some aspect of the Reality that IS God. Our expressions of that Reality will always fall short of capturing LOVE’s essence. The essence, the spark, the spirit of God who Is LOVE and who Is Beyond LOVE, that essence, spark, or spirit, lives in, with, through and beyond us.
So, let us rejoice because death has lost its sting! Christ IS risen! Christ IS risen indeed! Alleluia! Christ IS risen and the essence, the spark, or spirit, or Christ, however you want to express the Reality at the heart of all that is, that Reality lives in, with, through and beyond you and I. Christ IS risen! Christ IS risen indeed! Alleluia!
Let us rejoice because death has lost its sting!
Christ IS risen!
Christ IS risen indeed! Alleluia!
Christ IS risen and the essence,
the spark, or the spirit, or the Christ,
however you want to express
the Reality at the heart of all that is,
that Reality lives
in, with, through and beyond you and I.
Christ IS risen!
Christ IS risen indeed! Alleluia!