Go. Raise the Dead.

Preached at Christ Episcopal Church, Tacoma on June 16, 2013
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6, Year C)

Go, Raise the dead.

You can imagine that I sat up and paid attention when I heard Sara Miles say this to us at our annual clergy conference a few years ago.  That’s what we are called to do, she challenged us – as Christians, as church, as community – to Raise the Dead.  Notice she didn’t pick the “easy” things that Jesus calls us to.  You know the ones that are hard enough but seem at least doable – feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, free the captive (well, visit them anyway) or even Go to all the nations and make disciples.  No she focused on the most challenging in the list:  Raise the dead.

The title of the conference was “All are Welcome: Glorifying the Stranger and Building Community.”  She and Paul Fromberg came from Saint Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco to talk to us about being a truly welcoming community through liturgy and service; one that welcomes all, especially the Stranger, the Other.  In doing so, we grow; our world is enlarged and enriched; we hear the gospel a little more fully.  We are, in a sense, raised from the dead.  Our lives are transformed and we are made a new people.

Who wouldn’t want that?

Now, you may be thinking that I must have read the wrong lessons for today.  I mean, last week, was all about raising the dead.  This week is about the woman who was a sinner.  Oh, and Simon of course.

Which one of them do you think this story is really about?  The woman or Simon?  I suppose it depends on where you find yourself in the story.

The woman comes to Simon’s house, not by chance, but by plan.  It would seem, from the parable Jesus tells, that this is not her first encounter with Jesus.  Her sins which were many were already forgiven.  She comes to Simon’s house because she knows Jesus will be there.  She has prepared her ointment in an alabaster jar.  She comes with purpose.  I don’t imagine she intends to make a spectacle of herself, embarrassing absolutely everyone in the room – except Jesus, perhaps.  But when she is actually in his presence again, she is overcome.  She can’t help herself.  Her tears are tears of love and gratitude.  She has been raised from the dead and given new life.

Simon, on the other hand, has set himself up as judge over her – how dare she come into his house and behave so shamefully?  He is a righteous man and this is a respectable house.  Yet he has not offered Jesus even the minimum that courtesy demands: water for his feet and a kiss of welcome.

This story reminds me of the movie, The Sixth Sense, that came out quite some time ago.  The little boy in the movie sees dead people – except they don’t know they’re dead.  They go about their “lives” so to speak, oblivious to the fact that they aren’t actually interacting with the living world.  They don’t know that the living can’t see them or hear them.  They can’t feel their touch.  While the boy can see them trying to live, no one else can.  And they can’t see the truth of their death.

Simon doesn’t realize that he’s dead; that he, too, needs the new life God has to offer through Jesus.  After all, he is a righteous man, a good man and he has a good life.  He has the respect of the community.  The woman was fully aware that she was dead and that now she is alive, transformed.  And so she comes to Jesus in love and gratitude for the life she has received.

Now where do you find yourself in the story?  Are you like Simon, the righteous man? Or like the woman who was a sinner, who was dead and has been raised to new life?  Maybe you find yourself with the other guests at the party watching the scene unfold.  Or maybe you’re walking by on the street outside the house.

Or could you see yourself in Jesus – bringing new life, raising the dead?

Now, let’s go back to Sara’s challenge to us – that we are called to go raise the dead.  Who are the dead around us – in our community, our neighbors?  Who are the dead among us – sitting in the pews with us?  How will we recognize them?

For that matter, what may be dead within us and how will we recognize it?  And then, what will we do about it?

What if we, the people of Christ Church Parish in Tacoma, were to embrace that mission, To Raise the Dead?  What if we were to understand that mission as the reason for our very existence?  That God has put us here to raise the dead in this neighborhood, right now.  Imagine the life and energy it could bring to our neighbors.  Imagine the transformation – not only around us, but more especially in us.

A colleague shared this quote with me.  Listen to what Fr. Richard Rohr has to say about our gospel reading:

Those at the edge of any system and those excluded from any system ironically and invariably hold the secret for the conversion and wholeness of that very group. They always hold the feared, rejected, and denied parts of the group’s soul. You see, therefore, why the church was meant to be that group that constantly went to the edges, to the “least of the brothers and sisters,” and even to the enemy. Jesus was not just a theological genius, but he was also a psychological and sociological genius. 

When any church defines itself by exclusion of anybody, it is always wrong. It is avoiding its only vocation, which is to be the Christ. The only groups that Jesus seriously critiques are those who include themselves and exclude others from the always-given grace of God. 

Only as the People of God receive the stranger, the sinner, and the immigrant, those who don’t play our game our way, do we discover not only the hidden, feared, and hated parts of our own souls, but the fullness of Jesus himself. We need them for our own conversion. 

The Church is always converted when the outcasts are re-invited back into the temple. You see this in Jesus’ commonly sending marginalized people that he has healed back into the village, back to their family, or back to the temple to “show themselves to the priests.” It is not just for their re-inclusion and acceptance, but actually for the group itself to be renewed.

This is the season of Pentecost, the season of the Holy Spirit who empowers us to do what Jesus calls us to do.

Let’s go.

Let’s raise the dead.

Disruptive Alleluias

Preached at Christ Episcopal Church, Seattle on April 15, 2012.
Easter 2B

Alleluia, Christ is risen!!

How disruptive is that?  For most of us, not very.  I mean, it happened a long time ago.  We live in a post-resurrection world.  To ask what significance it has may be a bit like asking what’s the significance of having running water?  We have no way of knowing what it was like before the resurrection.  Regardless of what one believes about it – what Jesus’ body was like, whether the resurrection was quite literal or more metaphorical, or even that the whole thing is a hoax or simply a fairy tale of sorts – even atheists live in a post-resurrection world, after all.  It simply doesn’t have the power of an event that truly disrupts our lives.
A total game-changer.

You’ve probably had those experiences though; if not, you will eventually.  For many, 9/11 was such an event.  It changed their understanding of our place in the world; their sense of personal safety and risk they face every day.

Many disruptive events are more individual and affect us on an intimately personal level.  Events such as:

  • The birth of a child into the family
  • The loss of a close family member
  • A medical diagnosis
  • Loss of a job or starting a new one
  • Even getting a new boss can be a disruptive event.
  • Moving out of the house for the first time –
    or the last time.

There’s a sense that life will never be the same again.  And it won’t.

Now try to imagine the disruption Jesus’ resurrection caused for the disciples.  Their lives had already been disrupted by their decision to follow Jesus in the first  place.   Here we see them and it’s still that very first day.  Already an awful lot has happened.  The day began for them, when that crazy woman, Mary Magdalene, came and told them that Jesus’ body was gone; the tomb was empty.  Right.  Except Peter and John went back with her to see and sure enough, it was empty.  The guys came back and told them so.  But Mary stayed a little longer and then came back and said she had actually seen him!

Can you imagine trying to wrap your head around all that?  And now, night has fallen and they locked themselves in the house – all except Thomas.  They were afraid.  What would happen next?  They were afraid they may be next on the cross.  They may have been afraid that Jesus would confront them – after all, they abandoned him in the garden when he was arrested.  At his darkest hour, they were nowhere to be seen.  So much for all their bravado at dinner just hours before.

On the other hand, if he was alive, where was he?  Why hadn’t he come to them?  Maybe that’s where Thomas was, looking for Jesus.  Would they continue where they left off; traveling the country preaching, teaching, healing?

They probably were not expecting what happened next.

Jesus showed up, dispelling their doubts (all except Thomas).  And he said, “Peace be with you.”  Now that was the standard greeting, but it also offered them forgiveness and reconciliation.  He wasn’t holding it against them that they abandoned him.   Ok.  Sigh of relief.

Even more unexpected.  No, they weren’t just going to continue what they were doing before.  Jesus sent them to continue.  He told them to forgive and if they retained sins, they would be retained.  He sent them to reconcile people to God.  And then, to make sure Thomas was included too, Jesus came back a week later.  Now all the disciples’ doubts had been answered.

Now. Imagine Jesus’ resurrection disrupting your life that dramatically.  Imagine Jesus breathing on you and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  As the Father sent me, so I send you.  If you forgive, sins are forgiven; if you retain sins, they are retained.”

What will you do?  Those of you who were here on Maundy Thursday may remember that I said we’re not pretending to be disciples.  We already are.  What are we going to do about it?  What will you do about it?

What if the resurrection is about practicing forgiveness?  And I’m not talking about saying “I forgive you,” or “Your sins are forgiven.”  I’m talking about actually forgiving; no longer keeping accounts, so to speak, but letting go of the injury and all that goes along with it.  There’s a commercial on the radio that features a woman talking about the day her doctor told her she had breast cancer and how her life has changed.  Her cancer is gone, but she sees things differently.  As she points out, when the barista gets her latte order wrong, it’s no big deal anymore.

Imagine how light we might feel if we quit carrying the burden of others’ sins.

And now imagine how that might spread.  It reminds me of an online video that was making the rounds awhile back.  It started with someone doing something kind for someone.  That person turned around and did something kind for the next person.  You should have seen the kindness and the smiles spread.

Imagine if we treated others as fully forgiven.  Everyone.  All the time.   And if that forgiveness spread.

That’s resurrection.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.