Sunday, March 31, 2013

Not Any More (Luke 24:1-2)

Note: This message is similar to one preached on a previous Easter using a passage from Isaiah. The text has been altered to correct the scene from A Shot in the Dark and to reflect the different scripture text. The original sermon may be found here.

One set of movies that will get my family parked in front of the television is the old Pink Panther series with Peter Sellers.

Sellers plays Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau of the French Sûreté, or national police. He is a bumbling idiot, and the slapstick stunts of the movies made us kids laugh while our parents chuckled over the more adult-level humor of some of the situations and dialogue. In a climactic scene in one of the movies, Clouseau has gathered all of the suspects in the "mer-der," as he calls it, in a room in the house while he spins his theory of the crime, just like in an Agatha Christie book.

At some point, he manages to get his hand stuck in the gauntlet of a suit of armor. He can't get it off, so he continues to lay out how the "mer-der" was committed, while it's still on his hand. A fly buzzes around the room, and lands on a piano. Clouseau forgets he has the gauntlet on and slams his hand down on the fly, destroying the piano.

"My God, man," the house's owner says. "That's a priceless Steinway!"

Clouseau looks at the ruined piano briefly, then turns to the owner. "Not any merre," he says.

How does this connect to Easter? What does it say for us, who call ourselves "Easter people?" After all, we celebrate a risen Lord and we say that the event which changed everything has already happened!

Sometimes that celebration can make people think we don't concern ourselves with what goes on in the world around us. And we can all probably think of well-meaning Christian folks who are "too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good." But in reality, Jesus Christ is God's way of dealing with the real world. God created the world and called it good, but he knows better than any of us how much the way the world we see is not how things are supposed to be. Rather than wipe it out and start over, he enters it in the form of Jesus -- the Word made flesh. And then he calls us, his followers, to reach out to help him re-make the world and to push back against the things in it that are wrong.

We do, but we find out reach limited. We're just individuals, after all. So we combine, and we find our reach extends -- even more than we might have imagined. As the gathered body of Christ, we find our impact is real and can actually bring about major change in the world.

The abolitionist movement in the 19th century was led by Christian, especially in England. In our nation, the problem of slavery was tied into several other issues and that brought us to war. But the English Parliament simply outlawed it. William Wilberforce, one of the leaders of that movement, was influenced by his faith.

In our own nation, the original leaders of the civil rights movment of the 1950s and early 1960s were church people. Martin Luther King, Jr., was first of all the pastor of the Ebenezer Street Baptist Church, and he came to prominence as the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Many of the people who went to the South to help the movment came from the churches and synagogues of northern cities. No one could say that our nation has healed all of its racial issues, but anybody who tried to install separate water fountains for different races today would find himself a heap of trouble, and not just from law enforcement.

And even Jesus, when he came into this world, managed to change only a very small number of things. Yes, he healed people, and yes he taught them how to live in ways that would help them and benefit the weakest among them. Yes, he offered a new way of looking at people that focused on love of God and of others instead of love of only self. Among the people who followed him, there probably were some changed lives for the better.

But it was such a short time and he reached so few people in his little corner of the Roman Empire. Pilate had no idea who he was and it's a sure bet Cæsar never heard of him. Plus, whatever he managed, there was one thing he couldn't conquer: Death. No matter how much else he might have accomplished, he could be and was stilled by the force at the disposal of those who opposed him.

And we, Easter people, face the same reality. Even if we follow to the letter every teaching of Jesus and even if we were to somehow convince all people to do the same, we would still have to deal with the reality of death. Of the end of life and of the separation it brings.

We can push death back some. Modern medicine gives us the possibility of a length of days reached by only a tiny few in earlier times. We could give up french fries and live longer -- of course, who'd want to, but we could do it. But we can't eliminate it. Death comes to us all.

If you want to put faces on the forces of oppression, and sickness, and misery and sadness and hate and anger and all of the things Jesus came here to oppose, you might imagine them gathered round on that Saturday, mocking the people who gave their lives over to following the Galilean preacher.

"Yeah, you guys did real good. Healed people and taught them to love one another and help each other out. Pushed us way back, away from your lives so that you might even forget we were around. For awhile, anyway.

"Because we were just hanging back, playing with you. We had the big gun waiting, old death himself. Couldn't push him away, could you? Kick oppression to the curb, show sorrow the door, give anger and hate their walking papers, sure. But you still dance with Mr. D. And that takes care of all your good work. Death's on our side, and death has the final say."

And then Easter morning dawns and says, "Not any more."

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