“Transformed”

Download a PDF of this sermon here.

 

Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

April 20, 2014 – Easter Sunday

Scripture:  John 20:1-18

 

Andrea was nearing the end of a busy afternoon. Starting from the moment when the school bell rang, she had been chauffeuring her five kids all over creation—dropping one off at the dance studio and another at the soccer field, picking one up after homework help and another after drama club, opening and closing the sliding door of her minivan more times than she cared to count. They had been on the go for hours, and now it was getting late, and the kids were starting to whine. Mom, how long until we get home? Mom, what’s for supper? Mom, I’m hungry… And she knew it was going to be a little while longer, since they still had to pick up her oldest from her after school babysitting job, and then drive home, and she hadn’t even had a chance to think about what she’d cook once they ot there. So she stopped at the supermarket to get them a snack.

Transformed-Bananas

Photo:   keepon

The kids piled out of the van and trekked across the parking lot. She steered them clear of the junk food aisle and the Easter candy displays. They made a quick loop through the store and made it to the checkout in record time. She put the groceries on the belt—bananas, and string cheese, and apple juice, and yogurt. And the cashier scanned them and put them in a bag and said, “That comes to $17.38.” Andrea swiped her card through the reader and pressed the button where it said EBT/SNAP. And the machine beeped, and the screen flashed TRANSACTION DENIED. She tried again, and the same thing happened. And then the cashier said, in a loud, carrying voice, “Oh, the EBT machine is down. No food stamps right now. You’ll have to pay another way.”

Well, there had been a time not so long ago when she did pay another way. There had been a time when she had several credit and debit cards in her wallet to choose from, and some cash on hand just in case. But that was before husband had been laid off after 17 years with his company. That was before they had lost their house, which had come with the job. He had been looking for work for months, looking hard, pounding the pavement and knocking on doors, submitting application after application and receiving rejection after rejection. And now the only way they were staying afloat, the only reason they had food on the table at all, was those SNAP benefits. That EBT card was the only way she had to pay.

She could feel her face going red, could feel the prickle of humiliation spreading through her belly, could hear the blood pounding in her head. She could see her children shuffling their feet and looking at the ground. She could feel the eyes of the stranger behind her in line boring into her as she began to shepherd the kids toward the door. She steeled herself, ready to hear the all-to-familiar refrains. Maybe you should’ve had fewer kids. Maybe you should get a job. Maybe you should learn to support yourself.

But none of that came. Instead, that stranger said, “Here, let me get it,” and handed the cashier a twenty before Andrea knew what had happened.      And in that moment, the air came back into the room, and the ringing in her ears went away, and the burning heat of shame was transfigured, transformed into the glowing warmth of relief and gratitude.

*          *          *

Rachel had been writing her blog for a while now. She wrote about her faith, about her life, about her experiences and beliefs. She poured her heart and soul into it, trying to share her passions with the world.

At first it was well-received. Her family and friends would read it and share their comments, encouraging her and telling their own stories and inspiring one another. Over time, one person shared the link with another, and they shared it with another, and her following grew, and her blog became more and more well-known. It was exciting to know that people from all over the country were reading her words. It was encouraging to know that people from all over the world were finding hope and inspiration there. It was intriguing to hear what they shared and to learn from their reflections on what she had written.

But then the hate mail started arriving. The nasty blog comments from those who disagreed with her. The profanity-laden emails. The mean-spirited, name-calling Facebook posts. The more she wrote, the more they came, a tide of vitriol that threatened to overwhelm her.

And then someone gave her an origami book, with step-by-step instructions and illustrated diagrams. And she took all those nasty letters and malicious messages, and she printed them out, and she began to fold. Crease after crease, she made paper cranes, and paper frogs, and paper foxes. Fold after fold, she made paper sailboats, and paper flowers, and paper boxes. Sheet after sheet, all that hate was transfigured, transformed into creativity and beauty.

*          *          *

Diane and Marilyn had an idea. It had all started a year ago last Tuesday, on April 15th, in Boston. The clock at the finish line said 4:09:43. The wheelchair athletes and the elite runners had long since finished, but more than 5,000 others were still on the marathon course, making their way from Hopkinton to Copley Square. They had trained for months, even years, to get to this point. Some of them were within sight of their goal, mere feet from the finish line, while others still had some miles yet to go. But then, you know what happened—smoke and shrapnel, sirens and shouting, fear and chaos where there should have been celebration and triumph.

Some months later, as preparations were under way for this year’s race, Marilyn and Diane hatched their plan. They shared it with their church and with their friends. Their friends shared it with their churches and with their friends. And someone put it on Facebook, and the media picked it up, and soon people all over the country and all around the world were involved. People old and young, black and white, male and female, Christian and Jewish and Muslim and atheist were jumping in to help. And this weekend, even as we speak, more than 7,000 hand-made scarves, all knitted and crocheted in the marathon colors of blue and yellow, including 19 from this congregation, are wrapping athletes in love and comfort as they visit the finish line to prepare for their races. And with every one of those scarves, terror and trauma are transfigured, transformed into tenderness and courage.

 *          *          *

Jesus had spent years traveling from place to place, healing the sick and feeding the hungry and embracing the outcast and binding up the broken. He had brought hope to the hopeless, challenge to the complacent, good news to the poor, boundless love to everyone. And people were so glad to hear it, so thirsty for what he had to say, that they followed him from town to town. The crowds grew and grew until you couldn’t help but notice.

The authorities noticed. The Roman authorities got nervous, because people who know that they are loved by God are difficult to control by fear or by force. They determined to put an end to all this rabble-rousing, and so they did. They bribed his friend to betray him, and they tried him on trumped-up charges, and they sentenced him to death. They stripped him, and they tortured him, and they mocked him, and they spat on him, and they nailed him to a cross, and he died there. He died a death of incredible pain and suffering and shame.

Photo:  clouds365

Photo:  clouds365

And then, on the third day, early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary came to his tomb. Puffy-eyed and congested from crying herself to sleep, she came to his tomb, and she wept and wept and wept for her friend. She wept for all that they had shared, for all that they hadn’t had time to share. She wept for the way he had suffered at the end. She wept for all he had done, all he had meant, for the message of love and hope that seemed to have died with him.

And then, in the watery early-dawn light, a figure showed up, familiar yet strange, known yet unrecognizable. And he said her name, Mary. And she knew, suddenly she knew it was her friend, her teacher, her Rabbi, her Jesus—not dead, as she had thought, but risen. And in that moment, all that suffering, and torture, and betrayal, and grief, and death itself were transfigured, transformed into a trembling, breathtaking, wide-eyed, speechless joy.

 *          *          *

This is the good news of Easter. That shame and humiliation do not get the last word. That poverty does not get the last word. That hate and vitriol do not get the last word. That fear and terror do not get the last word.

That war and torture, discrimination and bigotry, violence and abuse do not get the last word. That addiction and alcoholism, infertility and cancer, depression and grief do not get the last word.

That airplanes and ferries lost at sea do not get the last word. That attacks in schools in Littleton and Nickel Mines and Newtown and Arapahoe and Murrysville do not get the last word. That anti-Semitic hate crime shootings do not get the last word.

That all these Good Fridays, all these crucifixions, all these tortures, all these griefs and losses, the worst of the very worst that the world can do, even death itself—they do not get the last word.

God gets the last word, and God’s word is always life, love, hope, beauty, peace, mercy, joy, redemption, forgiveness, resurrection. God’s word is always life, love, hope, beauty, peace, mercy, joy, redemption, forgiveness, resurrection. God’s Spirit is always and already at work, transfiguring and transforming, feeding and folding and knitting this world back together—one grocery bill, one paper crane, one marathon scarf at a time. Resurrection life is real, and powerful, and it is on the loose, even here and even now.

If that sounds like good news… if that sounds like a word you need to hear… if that sounds like a work you need to be part of… then say Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!