Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

April 2020

Jesus Appears to Mary

Jesus Appears to Mary


Each Sunday during worship - and I hope you do this every day - we say the Apostle’s Creed together. It is a brief way for us to continually remind ourselves of who we are - we are God’s people - and to remind ourselves what is important for us to understand about who we are. We always need to remember, however, that this is a summary and not a comprehensive account of what we need to know about our faith. This time of year is a case in point, for we are in the portion of the church year we know as the season of Easter. This season of the church year goes from Easter - the celebration of the Resurrection until the Day of Pentecost - which is a period of 50 days. 40 days after Easter we celebrate the Ascension - when Jesus leaves the earth and goes into heaven.
As you recall, in the Apostles Creed we say the paragraph about Jesus, we say the crucial events that we just observed - Jesus was crucified and died, he descended into hell (which by the way said ‘descended to the dead in the original translation and is just a way of emphasizing that Jesus was truly dead); we continue with ‘he rose again on the third day’ - which is the resurrection and the next phrase says ‘and he ascended into heaven to sit on the right hand of God the Father Almighty’. So if we take this at face value, our understanding is that upon his resurrection, Jesus then goes straight to heaven. But we know that is not the case. According to the Biblical account of Jesus after the resurrection, he spent 40 days on earth before his ascension to heaven. For 40 days after the resurrection, Jesus remained on the earth appearing to various disciples and followers to sort of give them that last little bit of instruction, of teaching, of encouragement for the task ahead of them and proof that he truly had come back from the dead.
These days when Jesus remains on earth, are what we recognize as the Season of Easter. And to reinforce this 40 day time between resurrection and ascension, we spend this season recalling some of the appearances Jesus made to his followers - and understanding what Jesus is trying to teach us in these appearances.
We also do things in the sanctuary, which help us remember that during these 40 days Jesus is still present. White is our color - white is always a symbol of the presence of the Christ. We have our special Christ Candle which burns - which again is that symbol of the presence of Jesus with us - and we will leave our flowered cross during this season - just another reminder of the presence of the one who brings beauty to our lives.
Today we look at one of the appearances Jesus makes immediately after his resurrection. Remember, no one actually witnessed the resurrection - even though we know it happened, it is still a mystery. When the women first went to the tomb, soon followed by Jesus’ disciples - the only indication they had of the resurrection was the fact that the tomb was empty. The women had some corroboration by a couple angels that told them that Jesus was raised from the dead - but the disciples assumed that someone had stolen Jesus’ body and told the women they had seen an hallucination. And the women thought maybe the men were right…..
Mary Magdelene then goes back to the empty tomb in grief. She sits outside the tomb and weeps. And even though angels had told her that Jesus was resurrected, she didn’t see how that would be possible and so she assumed that someone had stolen the body and that Jesus was still dead and she was devastated at the loss of her friend.
Mary grew up on the shore of the Sea of Galilee – in the town of Magdala. We don’t know what her life was like before she met Jesus except for one thing – her life was miserable. The Gospel of Luke tells us that she was filled with seven demons and that Jesus delivered her from them all. She then became one of Jesus’ closest followers and supporters. She and a number of other women traveled with Jesus and his disciples and helped to provide for him during his ministry.
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb with the weight of the world and her sorrows bearing her down on her. She is in that place many of us have found ourselves - we have lost someone who means everything to us; someone who was an important part of our lives; someone that we loved so much that they were a part of who we are. And when we lose them, we are overcome with pain - emotional
pain and even physical pain. In our loss we feel just like Mary sitting outside that tomb thinking her whole life was over. Weeping over her loss….
Death is never an easy thing to talk about. Death is not a topic we like to think about - much less talk about. But we cannot truly understand resurrection unless we talk about death. Death is one thing we all have in common. We have all experienced death of someone close to us - we will all die. We can’t get around that. It is a fact of life. We can’t cheat death and we can’t ignore it.
It is just as devastating for us to lose someone as it was for Mary that day as she sat outside the tomb. Don’t ever let someone tell you that you need to ‘keep a stiff upper lip’ - that you have to be ‘strong’ - that weeping over the death of someone close to us is a ‘sin’. It hurts to lose someone; there is going to be a void in our lives as long as we live on this earth. We all have that time when all we feel like doing is to just sit and weep - often that sobbing with our whole body when for a moment - we feel like our life is over.
That is how Jesus found Mary. She was unable to believe anything except Jesus was gone forever and now she was alone and it hurt, badly.
Then Mary senses this person standing beside her. He speaks softly to her and inquires why she is weeping. She, not even looking up, states simply that someone has stolen Jesus’ body and all she wants is to be able to find the body so she can pay her last respects to her friend by doing the proper burial ritual - that is her last chance to honor the person who had been so important to her in her life.
She then hears the voice of the person beside her say, “Mary” - obviously in a way she had heard before because she turns to this person and realizes that standing beside of her is Jesus!
Mary had to be filled with an abundant of different emotions - shock, disbelief which turns to understanding. Jesus had tried to tell this followers over and over this was going to happen and they didn’t believe him - and here what he had said had come to pass….. Jesus rose from the dead! He was alive! Just as he said he would.
And that is our promise as well. It is a promise - a guarantee - a done deal. Because Jesus was resurrected, the same thing will happen to us - the same thing will happen to those we love; those we care about; those who we have lost who have been such an important part of who we are. Because we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection - we can celebrate the resurrection of our loved ones.
You know in our faith we don’t call funerals - funerals. We call them Celebrations of the Resurrection! A big part of our faith is our understanding of death - it is not the end - in many ways it is a beginning. A beginning of a new life with Jesus forever - where we are guaranteed eternal life filled with joy.
What we learn from this appearance of Jesus
after his resurrection is that weeping and pain and grief are a part of death - we grieve, and that is a normal part of experiencing that death, but if we truly have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we are assured, guaranteed, that resurrection is the next step after that death - whether ours or the person we love.
Belief in the resurrection is one of the things that makes us different than the world around us. We still experience death in our life; we still don’t understand death - the whys or the hows or the whens - we will still experience the pain of missing someone - but we can get past that because we have faith in the promises of a resurrected savior who comforts us in our grief and gives us the promise that pulls us out of that sorrow and into the knowledge that because Jesus was resurrected we know - without a shadow of a doubt - that our grief can turn into the joy of knowing that death simply leads to the wonder of living in the presence of God forever.
That is what Jesus taught Mary that day. We can’t become so overcome by our grief that we forget the promise - we can’t become so overcome in our lack of understanding of the whys that we forget Jesus rose and showed himself so that we could believe - that we could trust in resurrection. Her weeping turned into joy of the knowledge of resurrection - and she ran off to tell others of this wonderful news! Amen!

The Report of the Guard

The Report of the Guard

We tend to shoulder responsibilities and to own their outcome. We are responsible people and whether something works out or doesn’t work out is all up to us. At least that is what we think. If something doesn’t work out it is our fault and we shower ourselves with guilt - if it does work out we tend to pat ourselves on the back and say, “What a good thing I have done”. But in Jesus Christ, we should do neither - in Jesus Christ we don’t have to shoulder all the responsibility; in Jesus Christ we don’t have to worry about the outcome; in Jesus Christ we don’t get the credit either. What we are called to do is to listen, to do what God asks us and to trust. God’s in charge and God knows the outcome and God can do amazing things.
This time of year is known as the Season of Easter. The Season of Easter lasts from the day of the Resurrection - Easter Sunday - to the day of Pentecost. This is a 50 day season from Easter to Pentecost. For 40 of the 50 days during the season of Easter, Jesus spends time with his disciples. He teaches them, he guides them, he reassures them. On the 40th day, Jesus ascends into heaven. During this Season of Eater, we spend time talking about the events that occurred from the Resurrection to the time of the Ascension. We talk about how the events from the Resurrection to Pentecost shape our knowledge of Jesus and our Knowledge of what Jesus wants us to know.
Today we are going to start off our learning about this time period with an event that happened immediately after the resurrection.
We all know the story of the events leading up to the Resurrection. Jesus dies on the cross and is buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea. The Jewish leaders were concerned about Jesus’ claim that he was going to raise from the dead so they placed a large stone in front of the entrance to prevent any such event to occur - and if he did raise from the dead he wouldn’t be able to get out of the tomb! And just to make sure nothing could happen, two guards are placed at the tomb to keep an eye on things.
Because Friday was the Passover, the customary burial procedures were not able to be done. Saturday was the Sabbath so no work could be done either, so it was Sunday before the women had an opportunity to get to the tomb to do what needed to be done to Jesus’ body. Early Sunday morning they made their way to the tomb and when they got there, the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty.
The book of Matthew also gives us a glimpse of something that happened on Saturday. Saturday morning, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to meet with Pontius Pilate. This is kind of ironic since one of the biggest complaints the chief priests and the Pharisees had against Jesus was that he did things he shouldn’t have done on the Sabbath - and here you have the leaders of the Jews, the ones who are suppose to be the perfect example of what to do and not do, the ones who are suppose to enforce the law, are now breaking the law by visiting Pilate on the Sabbath.
At any rate, the religious leaders remind Pilate that Jesus predicted he would raise from the dead. They wanted Pilate’s help in assuring that the disciples of Jesus wouldn’t steal the body and then claim that Jesus had resurrected. The religious leaders knew that the people were expecting this resurrection; they had heard Jesus say more than once that he was going to be resurrected and they wanted to make sure that nothing could happen that would continue this Jesus movement in Jerusalem. They had the stone, they had the guards and now they had a seal put on the stone as well to make sure that no one could break in, steal the body and replace the stone. Pilate and the religious leaders thought they had everything taken care of!
But we all know that nothing can stop the plans of God and God doesn’t care much about guards or stones or seals and Jesus was resurrected and the stone was rolled away and Jesus was gone when the women got there on Sunday morning. An angel was there and told them what happened and the women started to run back to the upper room and according to Matthew, Jesus met them on the road and told them who he was, they saw the nail holes in his hands and feet which proved who he said he was, and he told them to go and tell the disciples what had happened and they did.
But the disciples told the women to be quiet because the disciples didn’t believe the women. The disciples in their own way tried to stop the message of the resurrection.
Meanwhile, the guards who are guarding the tomb really have a problem. They had one job to do - to be sure that Jesus stayed in that tomb. But here it was morning, and even though they had been diligent all night, the stone was magically rolled away, they saw the empty tomb, they heard the angel tell the women that Jesus was resurrected and that he was alive, and Matthew writes, “The guards were so afraid that they tumbled and became like dead men.” In other words, they were scared to death.
For a couple reasons, not only were they frightened by the events - after all Jesus is gone and they saw an angel - but their lives were on the line because they had failed at their job. And in the Roman army failure at your job - especially one as important as this one - often meant death.
Now we know that at least one of the guards was a Roman and some of the guards were from the Jewish army - the Romans allowed the Jewish religious leaders to have their own army with soldiers who would enforce Jewish law - the Jewish guards went back to the chief priests and told them what had happened. Well, as you can imagine the religious leaders were livid. What were they going to do now? Their whole focus was on getting rid of Jesus and on squelching this teaching of Jesus that he would raise from the dead. And so his body was gone, the guards are talking about angels, this problem is spiraling out of control. There was this secret meeting with other religious leaders trying to decide what to do and what they decided to do was to basically pay the guards off.
So they go back to the guards and Matthew tells us they paid the guards a large sum of money - hush money. So this is three times the religious leaders have paid money to try and get rid of Jesus - they paid Judas to turn Jesus in, they paid two individuals to falsely testify against Jesus at his trial and now they have paid off the tomb guards.
The trade off for the tomb guards was they were to say that they had fallen asleep and Jesus’ followers had stolen the body. Now the problem with this solution was the guards were putting themselves in jeopardy. There would be consequences for their falling asleep while on duty - and I kind of think these guards don’t want people to think they fell asleep when they didn’t. So the guards are worried about what this lie is going to do to their career - this could mean firing for them and jobs for guards who had been fired for dereliction of duty would be hard to come by. But the religious leaders assure the guards that they would take care of that and not to worry. They didn’t need to worry about their jobs or their reputation - just stick with the story. Remember, Jesus’ followers stole the body when you fell asleep and then they claim that Jesus was resurrected. That is all you know…..
Once again, the religious leaders thought they could stop the spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Once again, the religious leaders thought that they could stop the message of Jesus.
We have no power to stop the message of Jesus. Remember on his ride into Jerusalem during the Palm Sunday celebration when the religious leaders tried to stop the people from talking about what had happened Jesus had said that if you try to stop his message even the stones would cry out. Jesus had told his disciples in Matthew 24:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world.
When you look at the history of the spread of the gospel people tried their best to stop the message of Jesus - all the disciples but John are martyred to keep them quiet, John is locked away on an island to keep him quiet, the Apostle Paul is beaten and imprisoned and killed to keep him quiet, Christians are thrown to lions to keep them quiet….
And here we are today - talking about the gospel message of Jesus Christ. No matter how they may have tried; no matter how many times they tried, the message of Jesus could not be stopped and it changed the world in spite of the opposition.
That message is for us today - our job is to tell others of the message of Jesus - that in Jesus Christ we can have a relationship with God forever - but it is not our responsibility to worry about whether a person or a group of people receive that message. God will take care of that.
I remember when I was a teenager in a decade that seemed to live by one line slogans - one of the slogans said, “We have to go preach the gospel because we are one generation away from message dying out.” It was an attempt to guilt people to share the message of Jesus - but if we truly believe our life is better because we are the chosen people of God and because of the work of Jesus Christ why do we need to be guilted into telling others about this wonderful gift of grace we have received?
But more importantly, why do we think that the gospel message lives or dies on what we do or don’t do. We can’t let guilt dictate why we do things - the spread of the gospel will not stop just because we don’t do what we should. God will not let the truth of Jesus die - God will make sure the gospel is spread.
Are we called to spread the gospel - yes. But are we responsible for it - no. Is the weight of the God’s message on our shoulders - no. Don’t let the worry of whether or not you will be successful in your willingness to teach the gospel of Jesus keep you from telling people about the great gift you have received.
You see how many times just in the first 100 years of the good news people tried to stop it and yet the message of Jesus survived.
The women saw the empty tomb and ran to tell people what had happened and were told to be quiet, the guards saw the empty tomb and were told to cover it up. And the Gospel message spread anyway! And it will continue, regardless.

Amen!

Broken Majesty

Broken Majesty

It was the Saturday evening before Passover. Jesus is at the home of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus in the town of Bethany; about a mile from Jerusalem. Lazarus has become a bit of a local hero, seeing as how he had been raised from the dead. People were gathering at his house, not only to hear Jesus teach, but to see this man who had been dead and was now alive. So there is quite the crowd at that house in Bethany. Jesus is just wanting to spend this evening with those he cares about, with his friends, because he knows what the week ahead holds for him but as so often in his ministry, he is surrounded by a great crowd of people who wanted to hear him and perhaps see a miracle or two.
The next morning Jesus gets up and he and the disciples, and many of the people who had been visiting the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, all began to walk into Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus sent a couple of his disciples to find him a donkey to ride, because the prophecy declared that the messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Custom also said that kings of peace rode into town on the back of the donkey, kings of war would ride in on stallions. Jesus was announcing that he was entering Jerusalem as a King of peace. This was the day of gathering for Passover and pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean basin were traveling into Jerusalem to get ready for the Passover. Hebrew law required that everyone who was able was to come to Jerusalem for the Passover – this was the reason all these crowds were on the road. Everyone traveling is in a festive mood – they looked forward to all coming together during this celebration. You would come to see people you only saw once a year, you would gather for feasts and parties as the week would build up to the Seder meal and the Passover rituals near the end of the week. Not unlike Forest Festival where there is the same type of mood and thousands gather who see people they only see once a year and spend time visiting and partying and enjoying the activities. So that is why there are so many people on that road to Jerusalem on that day. Jesus comes riding a donkey and the people are thinking the Messiah is going to come in and overthrow the Roman government in Jerusalem; they are singing Hosannas because they thought that Jesus was coming to give them back their land – to kick out the Romans and once again there would be a Hebrew king governing the people of Israel. So the celebration heightened as they did what you did for a King, - wave palm branches, lay your cloaks on the road, sang Hosanna. What a great time – the great celebration of Passover and just like the first Passover when they were released from slavery, they would now be released from the oppression of a foreign government! Into the city they go, rejoicing and having a great day!
Jesus, the disciples and the crowds continue into Jerusalem under the watchful eye of the religious leaders who are leery of what is going on. All this allegiance to this wandering teacher was disturbing. The leaders were worried their power would be questioned. This teacher had the crowds all worked up looking for change. Change is never good when you are in power and the religious leaders were understandably worried. Even today we are cautious of new ways and new ideas and change;. Jesus was turning everything the Jews thought were absolutes and telling them there were new ways to look at what they thought was truth. New ways to understand their role as God’s people. The leaders thought everything was fine the way it was. They thought they were being obedient to God the way they were. By the afternoon, however, after everyone has entered the city, we see Jesus not joining in on the party, but sitting on top of the hill overlooking Jerusalem and weeping. He knows that this great celebration and this happy mood and these hopes of a new government will be crushed by the end of the week – things will not turn out as these people who are now so full of joy think it will. As the
week goes along, the mood will quickly become dark. Jesus knows that everyone is going to turn against him and even his closest disciples would abandon him.
On Monday, Jesus gathers his disciples in Jerusalem and begins to talk to them. Not just the 12, but many who had been following him. He begins to tell them parables to try and help them understand what is going to happen during this week. The disciples are still hopeful that Jesus is going to do something miraculous and take over the city, throw out the Romans and Jesus and the disciples will ascend to the throne in the city. But Jesus’ parables aren’t heading that direction at all. He tells them the story of the owner of the vineyard. The story goes like this: A man owns a vineyard. He decides to go on a journey and turns the vineyard over to the workers. Sometime later he sends a servant to collect the receipts and the workers beat the servant and send him back empty handed. Again, the owner sends another servant and the same thing happens. The owner sends one more servant and this one they kill. But the owner is still hopeful and continues to send servants with the same results, some are beaten, some are killed. Finally the landowner sends his son saying, “Surely they will respect my son.” But the workers in the vineyard figure if they kill the son, the owner will abandon the vineyard and it will then belong to the workers. And that is what they did. They killed the son and threw his body out of the vineyard. And Jesus says, and now the landowner will come and throw out all the workers who are there and give the vineyard to others.
Jesus told this story not only to his disciples, but there was a crowd standing around listening to this story. The Pharisees heard it as well and became very angry because they knew that Jesus was talking about them. But the religious leaders looked around and saw the crowds and were afraid of what the people might do if they arrested Jesus, so they left to look for another time to get rid of him.
The next day Jesus comes again to the temple. Now, remember the temple is huge. About the size of 3 football fields. Around the outside perimeter of the temple were areas where teachers would gather students and teach. On Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus is at the temple teaching. But his teaching is much more serious than the people have heard before, much more about sacrificing your life, your time, your money for God. His teaching was about how one needed to put God first over everything else. About how choices were going to be difficult and about how no longer was being a descendent of Abraham enough to be part of God’s people. The Religious leaders came and questioned Jesus and they didn’t like his answers about how they had missed the point of what a life as God’s people was all about. The people who had crowded around Jesus and hung on every word he said began to drift away as well. He wasn’t saying what they wanted to hear anymore. He actually told them to pay their taxes to Caesar. He told them, give all they had left to God…….
As the week progressed, Jesus continued his difficult teaching, telling the people who were left that if they followed him people were going to hate them. He talked about death. As the crowds left, so did one of his disciples. Like the crowds, Judas is disillusioned because Jesus is not doing what Judas thought he should do. Like the crowds, Judas wanted Jesus to do something radical. Like the crowds, Judas wanted Jesus to do something political and that wasn’t the direction things were going. So Judas thinks he can force Jesus’ hand by turning him in. Surely when they come to arrest Jesus, he will be forced to act in a different way; Jesus would be forced to start the coup against the government.
And by Thursday, all the crowds had left. There was no one left willing to listen to Jesus. it was only his disciples who were with him. And not only did one of them betray him, but one would deny him, and all but one of the remaining 9 would desert him. Only John would remain with him to the cross.
What a difference a week makes.
Holy Week begins today. We began the service with the waving of palm branches and we end with the somber music and a somber mood to remember this is the way this week will go. It begins with celebration and ends with death. It began with large crowds and ends with Jesus all by himself as he goes to his death. A death of an innocent man, who dies for us; who spends the week trying to help us understand what being the people of God is all about; a man who still goes to the cross even though everyone has deserted him…. A man who goes to the cross and looks out over those who have beat him and made fun of him and have put a nail through his hands and feet and in his agony cries out for God to forgive them – and to forgive us.
He didn’t look much like a king on Friday. The majestic ride into Jerusalem, broken by the sacrifice given for the very ones who put him on that cross.