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Easter 2019 Sermon: 4/21/2019

Posted 6:09 PM
Sermon – Easter C                                                                                                                 Jeffrey B. MacKnight
21 April 2019                                                                                                                      St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

“One With Everything”

First, a story.  Now listen carefully – I’ve been known to tell jokes that make people groan.  I don’t want to have to explain this one to you. 

A rabbi, an imam and a Buddhist monk go into a pizza parlour. The waitress walks over and says, 'What would you like on your pizza?'

The rabbi says, 'I like sausage, but my faith forbids me from mixing meat and dairy. Make me one with just cheese, if you don’t mind.'

She turns to the imam. 'I would like a meat topping,' the imam says. 'But my faith forbids me from eating pork. Please make me one without pepperoni.'

She turns to the Buddhist monk, who calmly says to her, 'I don’t worry about what I eat; only about achieving nirvanaPlease - make me one with everything.'

Christ makes us one with everything!  It’s a beautiful Easter Day, and I am so glad you are all here to celebrate.  Today is a day to remember the gorgeous creation, the joy of our families and relationships, and stoke the fires of our hope for the future.  We Christians capture this joy and love in the story of Jesus, who came and loved, suffered without vengeance, forgave his enemies, and rose to new life – for us and for all people.  It’s through Christ that God makes us “one with everything” – the state of perfect communion and serenity that we long for – a sense that we are in right relationship with our Creator, with the creation, and with our neighbors.   

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to attend a conference with two of the most creative Christian thinkers today: New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, and Franciscan priest Richard Rohr.  In a fascinating revelation, Professor Crossan showed how our Western Church – in Europe and the Americas -  lost sight of the universality of Christ’s resurrection.  Salvation in the West came to be seen as an individual quest – something each of us has to earn on our own merit.  Western art depicts Jesus rising alone from the tomb, suggesting this one-by-one view of redemption from sin and death.  In this view, Christ rises to life again only to become a stern judge over all human beings, counting every sin and transgression.  Many of us grew up with this kind of a view of Christ!  It can be downright scary. 

But the Eastern Orthodox Churches – Greek, Russian, and others - retained the ancient teaching of God’s universal salvation – that Jesus rose not alone, but bringing with him Adam and Eve, and by extension, all humanity.  Eastern art regularly pictures Jesus rising, and reaching out to take Adam and Eve by the hand to lift them into new life as well.  Sometimes other ancients are included: Abraham, Moses, the prophets.  The clear meaning is that all humanity is raised with Christ – Christ is the unifying, life-giving power of God, inviting all of us into communion with God and our neighbors.  We don’t each have to manage our own salvation by racking up enough brownie points here on earth. 

And there’s more.  We need not try to limit the saving love of God to one event or one religion – Adam and Eve represent all humanity, in all times, in all places.  What we call Christ can be known by other names in other peoples and other religious traditions.  This does not lessen Christianity at all – rather it means that our Christian faith conveys the deepest truths of God and Creation.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes: “To claim God exclusively for Christians is to make God too small….  God is bigger than Christianity and cares for more than Christians only.”  Think of all the people who lived before Jesus, or who have never heard of Jesus!  We treasure our faith, and the distinct revelation in Jesus Christ, because this self-revealing of God has drawn us in, and warmed our hearts, and given us hope and courage.  But that does not mean Jesus is the only way God can speak to people.  If that were the case, no person born before Jesus could be saved – and that is outrageous. 

The truly great world religions teach the love of God, the worth of human beings and creation, and an ethic of compassion; they are expressing this same great truth.  God created us all in love, and loves us all still – whether we were born in 2000 years after Jesus, or 2000 years before; whether we come from India or Indonesia, Galilee or Gaithersburg; whether we are brown or black or white, male or female or non-binary, gay or straight or queer.  Much of our identity as individuals is, after all, an accident of our birth.  The religion we follow is often the result of our parents and family.  But one thing is not an accident of birth: our creation in God’s image, as persons of infinite worth.  The God who creates us in love cannot then decide to love only a tiny fraction of those God has made – that would make no sense. 

Still, Jesus’ cross is such a horrible thing, the cause of much suffering.  So how can a terrible tragedy bring forth new life, new hope, and new possibilities?  As we gather here today, the ashes have settled at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, one of the most beautiful and significant churches in the world.  We all watched in horror as the flames swept across its giant roof, and toppled the spire over the crossing.  Our hearts go out to the people of France, especially, for whom Notre Dame has always been the mother church, the spiritual center of the nation.  (In this we are reminded of our own Washington National Cathedral, built in the Gothic style, with two west towers very similar to Notre Dame.)

Nobody would wish for the Notre Dame fire to occur.  And yet it has happened.  So now we look to the future.  And I am so heartened, so hopeful, about that future: Notre Dame will be rebuilt!  I’m thrilled to see the huge outpouring of contributions to rebuild Notre Dame (a billion dollars!). I believe this tragedy could serve to bring together the French people, at a time when they need a unifying force.  I hope that the sadness of this loss may, with God’s help, become a sign of hope and a symbol of unity.  May Notre Dame rise again, stronger and more glorious than ever, to preside over the City of Light for many centuries to come. 

In conclusion…I tell you again a story about God’s gift of Easter, a story I first told about ten years ago.  A frazzled young mother had been busy with eggs and Easter baskets for her kids, but she wanted to look her best for Easter, so she asked her young son to shine her shoes for her the day before.  The boy went off with the shoes for a while, and returned with the proud smile that only a seven-year-old can muster.  He presented the shoes for inspection.  They shone!  His mother was so pleased, she gave him a quarter. 

When she put on her shoes on Easter morning, she noticed a lump in one shoe.  She took it off and found a quarter wrapped up in paper.  Written on the paper, in her son’s handwriting, were the words, “I done it for love.” 

“I done it for love.”  That’s an Easter sermon in five words, really.  God sent Jesus into our world to walk with us, help us bear our burdens, and bring us joy.  Why?  “He done it for love.”  We don’t have to earn it.  We don’t have to deserve it.  We just have to receive it.  Then if we are inspired, maybe we’ll pass it on. 

I believe that Christ comes with a message of love that is not for a select few, but for all of God’s people, created in God’s image.  I have always been what’s called a “Hopeful Universalist.”  We call this outpouring of God Christ; others may call it by a different name, and that’s okay.  Surely God reaches out to every person, in every age, in every place.  The important thing to know is quite simple:

“He done it for love.”

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