Sunday, April 29, 2018

Do I Fear God?

Psalm 22:25; John 15:1-8


        Lynne Carson caught me last Sunday and wondered how she might respond to someone who had asked if Presbyterians fear God. It was a great question to which I gave a completely inadequate answer. I suggested Lynne substitute the word “awe” for “fear”. We certainly can be inspired without feeling fear particularly when it comes to our relationship to God. Isn’t it amazing when we speak without thinking we later regret speaking so hastily? The next morning I read this week’s text from the Gospel of John. “Abide in me. Those who abide in me will bear much fruit. But whoever does not abide in me will be thrown into a fire and be burned.” I quickly ran to the Psalms hoping to encounter something a little less frightening only to come across the words, “Blessings will fall upon those who fear the Lord.”  Houston, we have a problem!

        I remember as a child my fear of God was very real. Ever rearrange the brownies?   At the church I grew up in we would occasionally have dinners after worship. Folks would bring all kind of delicious food and deserts to be enjoyed at noon. Between Sunday School and Church my friends and I would sneak into the Fellowship Hall to steal a morsel or two. The treats were beautifully arranged. Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to have them look so magnificent. We assumed this was done to keep us from eating them before the proper time. I would go to the tray with chocolate brownies and figure out how to remove one and yet make it appear as if nothing had been touched. Once I had captured my treasure I would quickly consume it, and then rush to the bathroom to make sure there were no crumbs around my lips. I gleefully celebrated my mischief.

        After the opening hymn and before the scriptures we always read a prayer of confession. It went something like this. “Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo. Forgive what our lips tremble to name, what our hearts can no longer bear, and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgment.” (stop)  I never heard the scripture or sermon. The brownie which had tasted so good earlier now became a cauldron of discomfort. I wanted to rush from the sanctuary to the nearest bathroom but the sermon seemed to go on and on and on. Here I was in the house of the Lord where God and God alone was aware of my transgression. I had sinned. My pain was real and my fear of God, intense.

        We can easily dismiss this as the confessions of a ten year overcome by guilt. I had no business taking the brownie, I knew I had no business taking the brownie, and in the midst of a prayer of confession acid reflux caused me to taste the fruits of my transgression. I had sinned and while only God knew of my transgression that was enough.

        Thanks to vigilant parents I was constantly reminded that whatever I did never escaped the watchful eye of God. I was taught what was right and what was wrong. Any variance from the prescribed path of righteousness would not go undetected. My God was like Dikembe Mutombo. For those of you who don’t recognize the name, Mutombo was a legendary NBA player best known for his shot blocking ability. His teammates knew anytime someone ventured near the basket Mutombo would send their shot flying in a different direction. Then he would wave his finger at the offending player as if to say, “Not in my house”. Such was the presence of my God. I might fool my friends, I might fool my parents but I could not fool God. Any attempt at deception was swatted away followed by the finger of God being waved in my face reminding me I knew better.

        At some point and time I outgrow this childish understanding of moral values. I became the captain of my own ship. The idea that God would zap me was no more real than those monsters I believed existed under my bed. But who or what became my moral compass?

        As I returned to the Bible to help me unlock the mysteries of my own universe, I discovered an amazing fact. In the Old Testament we encounter the message that we are to, “Fear the Lord”. But the emphasis of the New Testament is, “Fear not.” It would seem these statements lie in direct opposition to each other.  Remembering the Hebrew language can be a puzzle unto itself I researched the word “yare”, the word we translate as fear.

        The writers of the Old Testament lived in a primitive society which was ruled by superstitions and beliefs we would consider to be nonsense. Weather was thought to be directly related to the emotions of the gods. Showers represented God’s benevolence. Thunder storms or flash floods signified the rage of the Almighty. Fear of an angry God was a real component of daily life. Then I discovered “yare/fear” had more than one meaning. It was also the word used specifically to describe Israel’s relationship with Yahweh. The closest English equivalent would be trust. To claim to trust God is certainly a great deal different than being afraid of God. Imagine standing in the storms of life and declaring I will not fear for I trust God. This translation allows the Old and New Testament messages to be consistent.  So how was that understanding of our relationship with God lost?

In 1604,  King James called for an English translation of the Latin Bible.  Actually it wasn’t his idea but a ploy to keep the nation from revolt. The relationship between the King and his subjects was tenuous at best. A Catholic King ruled a Protestant nation. The King was feared but not necessarily trusted.  The translation took seven years to complete. Those loyal to the King were terrified that some Biblical passages would fuel their rebelliousness. When our beloved King James Version was completed in 1611 it was very monarchy friendly.  James saw his word and the word of God as one. Therefore “yare” was translated exclusively as fear. In other words, you will fear God and you will fear the king. Because of political unrest, the intent of the Psalmist was lost. Unfortunately, future translations, even through  today, have failed to return to the original intent of the Psalmist. Listen to the difference when read as intended.

 Psalm 67:7, “May the Lord continue to bless us. Let the ends of the earth trust God.”  Psalm 119:79, “Those trusting God will turn to God.” Psalm 22:25, “God will bless those that trust the Lord.”

        Fear is the great pathology of any society. I know that was true during the time of the kings and prophets of the Old Testament. I could make a pretty good case that we continue to be paralyzed by fears both real and imagined. The antidote for fear is hope. This is why it has always been the message of God’s people to proclaim, “Fear not”, an assurance grounded in a God who can be trusted.

        So who do we trust? I suspect, more often than not, we only trust ourselves. I am perfectly capable of determining what is right or wrong and if we happen to disagree, then obviously you must be wrong. What if trust begins with a relationship of mutual respect? And what if there are rules of behavior that lead assist in developing that relationship?

Take this as a start point:

Don’t work yourself to death. Take a day to remember what is important.

Remember the ancient ones among you. Their wisdom will guide you through turbulent times.

Preserve the life and the hopes of another.

Instead of taking from another, offer someone that extra coat that has never left your closet.

Do your best to speak honestly, even if it might not seem in your best interest at the moment.

If someone has a better house or car than you, rejoice that you have a house and car. Not everyone does.

Love your neighbor, but always remember there are boundaries which must not be violated.

The moral code we call the 10 commandments offers an opportunity to reside in a community based on trust rather than lies and deceit. When we disobey these regulations, more often than not something bad happens. Therefore when the writer of John speaks of God being the vine and we the branches, it is implied that a community will thrive when the branches live in harmony with each other. Discord abounds when members of the community are ruled by selfish ambition.

Do we seek harmony because we fear chaos? Perhaps. Will harmony abound if we live in fear? Probably not. God calls us toward a relationship of trust, not only toward God, but also with those with whom we live. There is an African proverb that states, “Because we are, I am.” In other words communities thieve when they do the right thing for the right reason. This builds mutual respect and interdependence.

That is easy to do when we all agree. But sometimes that is not the case. So who do we trust? So often, when we are only thinking of our own needs we devour the chocolate brownie. The bigger mistake might be closing our hearts to that inner voice that cries out, “You messed up, but trust me, I can help you through it.” If we fear the voice, we slide further into chaos and risk relationships which have taken years to build.  But if we trust the voice, if we live into hope, we open our hearts to the words of the Psalmist.  “For God alone our soul waits. Our hope is found in God. We can trust the Lord at all times for God is our rock and our salvation. We shall not fear.”            To God be the Glory       Amen.

Sunday, April 22, 2018


John 10:11-18
        There aren’t many poems more beloved than Psalm 23. Metaphorically the Psalmist responds to the trials and tribulations of the human condition through the eyes of one who has found comfort in the everlasting presence of God. When Jesus declared, “I am the good shepherd”, the members of the early church and those of us who still claim the Bible as our holy testament, substitute Jesus as the shepherd beautifully described in David’s poem.
The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
This morning, I want us to look at two words, hesed and halos, both translated to mean good or goodness. We often understand the word “good” to simply be the opposite of bad.  The Greek and Hebrew offer a much more glorious understanding of this not so simple word.
The Hebrew word Hesed is a claim of enduring fidelity. Hesed is frequently found in the Psalms and the writings of Isaiah. God will not just bring goodness. God will remember us, rescue us, and restore us. The fidelity of God last forever. Even if we should forget God, the goodness, and mercy of God shall continue. It is an unconditional contract by the creator toward the created. God’s goodness, God’s love is not just for a moment. It is steadfast and everlasting.
The concept of good shepherd found in both the Old and New Testament retains that fidelity. The Greek word Halos is defined as being noble, competent, faithful, moral, and praiseworthy. No sacrifice is too great. The shepherd knows the cost of protecting the sheep and is willing to pay it. The fidelity of God and the integrity of the shepherd transcend our notion of just being good. God will act morally and faithfully, an action applauded by our praise.
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be God. Using the analogy of shepherd gives us a glimpse into this complicated dilemma. Not long after I moved to West Texas I was invited to visit a working sheep ranch.  The first thing I learned was sheep are completely self-absorbed. Their primary motivation in life is the grass under their nose. They have to be prodded from spot A to spot B. They seldom follow directions and are prone to wander off looking for the greener grass anywhere outside the pasture. They are easy targets for predators because they never seem to be concerned with their environment. Getting them home is a difficult task because the sheep has no desire to move from where they sit.  A good shepherd is caretaker, motivator, and deliverer. The farmer told me, “You have to love sheep to be a shepherd because every other thing a sheep does is self-destructive. No one wants to admit they raise sheep. It is an all day job. I spend more time with my sheep than I do with people. Folks find me to be a bit odd.”
I innocently asked, “So why don’t you hire someone to watch them?”
He laughed, “Can’t keep anyone. After a week they see how hard the job is and quit.”
The writer of John has expanded the OT image of fidelity by insisting the Good Shepherd not only cares for his sheep but will lay down his life on their behalf. Jesus is no hired hand. Jesus doesn’t leave when we stumble into a briar patch. Jesus stands beside us even when we walk through the dark valleys. Furthermore, Jesus is not only competent but faithful. Jesus acts with moral integrity. Jesus will not leave us alone. Jesus has loved us to point of laying down his life. This is the personification of goodness as seen through the eyes of God. So how are we being asked to respond to this goodness?
We don’t know who wrote the Letters of John but we know they are commentaries on John’s gospel. The author of these epistles confronts us with the complex question concerning our covenant relationship with God. We could say, “Why ask us? We are just sheep. We are too stupid to understand.” That is a convenient response, but not one any of us really wants to claim. In John’s epistle the writer believes we have the capacity to choose to be good. But with this choice comes a responsibility toward the person walking beside us. The writer of the epistle encourages us, “to love, not in word or speech, but in truth and in action.”
I see examples of this every day.  I am overwhelmed by the goodness that abounds within this congregation. Tuesday night many of us were fortunate enough to be sitting in a session meeting as Jerry Wrenn delivered our opening devotion. He began by stating the obvious, “God is love.” Jerry suggested those are no more than words unless love is practiced. He told us that he was suffering from AFib,  a heart condition many of us will inherit as we grow older. His heart beat is not as consistent as it was when he was 25. He was given medication and some advice. “Don’t climb ladders, watch what you eat, and don’t watch the news.”
Jerry said giving up ladders was easy. He has not been so successful with the other two suggestions. Jerry suggested we are living is a culture of rumors and half-truths. Often there seems  little room for communication. He then reminded each session members that we each have experienced the love of God. This alone should inspire us to reach out in love rather than anger to those with which we disagree. Then he read I Corinthians 13.
The best sermons in our congregation don’t come from this pulpit. They emerge when each of you has the courage to love another as Christ has loved you. As Jerry reminded us, “We can’t shut down the noise, we can’t change the message but we are responsible for how we respond.”  When we act lovingly, we can be assured that nothing less than the love of Jesus is pulsating through our hearts and through our hands.  Through our goodness we become the shepherds of our community. Through our fidelity we become the standard bearers for our nation.  Through acts of moral courage we become a shining example for not only our friends and neighbors, but for those with whom we disagree.
As hard as that seems I would remind you that self-sacrifice, for Christians, should be ordinary, not extraordinary. Let me give you some examples. We lay down our lives when we put others first. We lay down our lives when we live for the good of others. We lay down our lives when we make time for others. How heroic would it just to listen rather than rant and rave? Is truth only unique to us? I wish I would practice that sermon more often.
Eugene Peterson suggests, “Love is the most context-specific act in the spectrum of human behavior. Acts of love cannot be canned and delivered off the shelf. Every act of love requires a creative and personal investment.” He continues by stating what should be obvious. “Love is not built into our genes. A lot of essentials in human life take place without being learned or practiced. We breathe, our hearts pump, we come out of the womb kicking and screaming and eventually we fall asleep, all without prior training. But we learn how to love by being loved.”
Some things we just don’t get instantly. I read about Dick and Jane before I tackled Dostoevsky. I caught a 1,000 groundballs before it became as natural as breathing. I experienced love through the actions of my parents and a group of adults who names I can longer remember.  Then it came my turn to reciprocate. I have stumbled and failed. I still do. None of us get it right the first time. But the words of Christ remain in our soul. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Those are hard words to implement yet Christ pleads with us to keep trying despite the results. The good news is God will never give up on us because we are more than just God’s sheep. We are shepherds in training. We are called the practice the art of loving, and loving, and loving even if we don’t always get it right.
I read somewhere that a glacier is the most powerful force in the world today. It forms by the accumulation of snow over a very long periods. An inch at a time the snow deepens, the weight compresses, forming ice. This continues year after year. Nothing happens until the glacier becomes sixty four feet thick. Then it starts to slide, and once it starts, nothing can stop it.
The shepherd loves us each moment, each day for a lifetime. Then the shepherd encourages us to slowly, consistently, sometimes even painfully, love each other. That might take a lot of trust in God’s grace, yet I suspect each of you can tell the story of a heart of ice that encountered so much love it eventually it began to slide. It might even have been your own.                           
To God be the Glory.                                Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


Luke 24:13-35
        Two men are walking along side a road. They are going to Emmaus yet they are going nowhere. For the last three years they had had a sense of direction, but now they are lost. Don’t misunderstand me, they know where the road leads, they just have no idea where their hearts will take them.
        Sometimes we are left completely helpless by events that crash into our lives.  Sometimes the faith that sustained us as children crumbles in an adult world.  Sometimes the answers that come to us so easily on Sunday morning seem almost foreign, even useless, the rest of the week.  We have this deeply entrenched belief that if God is for us, then nothing horrible will ever happen to us.  We believe God will always care for us and  will keep us from harm’s way.  We were taught as children that “Jesus loved me”, and through the years we have accepted a number of preconceived convictions concerning exactly what that means.  Unfortunately, as many of you have experienced, life is not always scripted the way the way we would have written it.   Far too often tragedy is only a phone call away.  When we lose control of our lives, we question our faith.  What do we really believe when nothing around us makes sense?  In our moments of pain, we want to believe Jesus        is with us, but the ache blinds us from recognizing this most blessed of assurances.
The story I share this morning story pales in comparison with the tragedies many of you have experienced. It is not a recent story. My Aunt Evelyn died over thirty years ago. But when word of the death of a loved one disrupts our life, it is a moment we never quite forget.   My Aunt was a brilliant woman.  She taught English at Waynesboro High Scholl and was seldom seen without a book in her hand.  I was privileged to spend a great deal of time in her basement when I was growing up.  The walls were filled with her precious books.  When I visited Aunt Evelyn, I had permission to take any book off the shelf, and go where my imagination might take me.   Historical novels, stories about spies, intrigue and murder, the classics and some not so classic stories were at my finger tips.  Her collection was better than any public library.  I would stay up way past my bedtime, too frightened to sleep until the last page had been turned.
        My aunt developed Alzheimer’s in her early sixties.  The books she loved no longer had meaning.  Her life was lived in confusion. One day, lost on a path she had traveled for years, she tripped, fell into the South River, and drowned.  I was in my thirties and mistakenly thought I was old enough to deal with tragedy.  After all I was an ordained Presbyterian minister, fully prepared to handle issues of life and death.  I weekly stood in the pulpit and proclaimed the good news of the gospel.   I had conducted many funerals and ended each with the proclamation that nothing, not even death, could separate us from the love of God.    My head believed everything I said, but now my heart was broken, unable to call on all the recourses of my faith to offer the comfort I so desperately needed.
        I quickly made plans to drive to Waynesboro.  David had just been born, making it impractical for all of us to make the trip.  Out of the blue the phone rang and a member of my church asked if he could travel with me.  I was too confused and desperate to refuse his offer.  An hour later, Phil and I headed north into a blinding sunset.  My friend and I were on our road to Emmaus.
        For the next six hours my friend listened to my stories, offered words of comfort, then he asked a question which left me silent. “So, is the God you are always talking about on Sunday making this trip with us?”  
        I hated him for introducing that question. I had been raised with a clear understanding of the power and majesty of God. I could see God in the miracle of creation. My creedal statements and theological training stressed the omnipotence of the Holy One. Yet this so called friend, in the midst of my grief, dared to question if the God I preached took a rain check when tragedy interrupted perfection?  You all know the questions that creep into our minds once the keeper of unquestioned truth removes his finger from the dike. If God is all powerful, why doesn’t God intervene?  If God is all knowing, why doesn’t God give us a warning?  If God is omnipotent, why are we so vulnerable? It was on that trip I began to discover if I only understood God as all knowing, all powerful, omnipotent and omnipresent, then perhaps I don’t know Jesus at all.
        What blinded the two men on the road to Emmaus?  Why couldn’t they recognize the man walking beside them?  Why were their eyes closed? Why were their hearts empty? Perhaps they too never knew Jesus.
        Less than a week before he died, Jesus had taken bread, and said, “This is my body broken for you.”  His last sermon was not about the power of God.  His last words were not about the knowledge of God.  His last breath was not about the creating genius of God.  It was about brokenness, something at some point and time I believe we all have experienced.
I have no idea what the two men on the road to Emmaus expected.  They heard rumors Jesus had been raised from the grave but they seemed to have discredited the unconfirmed gossip. I guess they believed if Jesus had risen he would return with a band of angels descending from heaven.  That is what any of us might anticipate from the God of power and might.  But what is it that we really need most when our lives have been shattered?  Is it an affirmation of God’s power?  Is it proof of God’s might?  I am not sure any words would have been adequate. Phil’s question was not particularly helpful as we traveled toward Waynesboro, but in years following, Phil’s question continues to haunt me. I sometimes wonder if the resurrected body of Christ heals an aching heart.  I sometimes wonder if God even desires to understand our pain. Then I wonder if an omnipotent God can even experience agony. 
In the story of the road to Emmaus, before revealing himself, Jesus walked the two men through the Old Testament. I don’t know which scriptures he highlighted but the men were impressed by Jesus’ knowledge. But even this comprehensive journey through the sacred text failed to reveal his identity. Only when Jesus broke bread were their eyes opened.
When broken, how many of us have questioned God’s power? When broken, how often do we reconsider who God is? When broken, how often have we discovered a presence that never quite fits our traditional perception of the Almighty?
We like to brag that we are created in the image of God. Have you ever considered this image might have nothing to do with ultimate power or knowledge? Have you ever considered if those attributes are godly at all? If we are created in this image then God must be self-righteous, violent, even hateful because   aren’t power and selective knowledge the vehicle we most often use to enslave or divide folks different from us?
Rabbi Abraham Heschel writes, “Sin is the refusal of humanity to become merciful, gracious, and steadfast in love. When we are anything else, we not only fail, we blame God for our failure.”  Yet we still cling to power as a chalice of salvation.
Imagine embracing our brokenness? Imagine believing only a broken God can understand the pathos of our condition. Imagine emerging ourselves into the brokenness of this world as a condition for restoration. I imagine if we do, we might discover God is already there.                    To God be the glory.  Amen.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The April Fool

Mark 16:1-8

        Monday night is my prescribed time to catch up with the continuing saga of Carrie Matheson on the TV show Homeland. But my mother was visiting and I decided perhaps the show was too intense for her. OK, I was afraid she might be disappointed in my choice of entertainment. So I flipped to the Turner Movie Channel which was airing The Incredible Shrinking Man. It is the story of a guy who is a control freak when it comes to his job and relationship with his wife. In other words, he is a typical guy in the 1950’s. During a boat ride he is covered by a mysterious mist. Weeks later he notices he is losing weight and statue. Everything but his immense ego begins to disappear. In a classic scene he is chased by the family cat and falls into the basement. There he encounters hunger, spiders, and a flood caused by a leaking water heater. We sit, guessing how he will regain his previous statue. But the rescue never comes. In the final scene the shrinking man accepts his new place within the universe and slips away into oblivion.

        Deb screamed at the TV. This was not the ending we expected. Movies, especially those produced in the 1950’s, are supposed to have happy endings. There should never be loose ends.  We anticipate the same thing from our Biblical stories. Yet this morning’s Easter account found in the gospel of Mark is not what we expect. “The women fled from the tomb, overcome by terror and amazement. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”   End of story.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!! In Matthew the disciples return to Galilee, meet Jesus on a hill and the resurrected Lord delivers the Great Commission. In Luke Jesus appears before unsuspecting folks on the Road to Emmaus. They only recognize him in the breaking of the bread. In John, Jesus meets Peter down by the lake and tells the disciple to, “Feed my sheep”. These endings represent the majesty of the resurrection.

        So what happened to Mark? Where is the pizzazz? Where is the proof that negates all doubt? The Gospels are supposed to be Good News. So why all the ambiguity?

        Lamar Williamson, one of my NT teachers, asks, “When is an ending not an ending? When a dead man rises from the dead and a gospel ends in mid sentence.” In the gospel of Mark three women come to the tomb to prepare the body of Jesus for a proper burial. They encounter a young man dressed in a white robe. He tells the woman that Jesus is notion the tomb. He is alive and waiting in Galilee to meet with the disciples.

        Somehow we expect the woman to say, “Hallelujah! We knew this was going to happen. We can’t wait to meet with the disciples and head to Nazareth.” Only that is not what is recorded in Mark.  They were terrified, scared out of their wits. They could handle death because they understood death. The crucifixion had placed a definitive closure on Jesus’ life. But these women were asked to believe a stranger who shared something beyond the scope of rational thought. Death had been conquered. Do you really think folks are ready to hear that kind of news?

I love the Easter story in Mark. It is the Gospel that ends without an ending. Oh I know if you go to Mark 16 you will find verses 9-16 which clear up the vagueness. But any scholar worth his or her salt will tell you those additional verses were added later by a different author. Mark’s account doesn’t tie up the loose ends. It doesn’t give us the closure we desire. Mark’s gospel leaves us speechless and terrified. Mark seeks to inform us the closure we desire will not from what we know, not from what we can prove, but rather from what we come to believe.

        Imagine being those women. They inherited the job of reporting their findings back to the disciples. Ever think about why the disciples weren’t the ones at to the grave. The answer is pretty easy. The disciples hid out as soon as the soldiers showed up for Jesus. Peter denied knowing the man. With one exception, none of the disciples witnessed the crucifixion. They were afraid. They figured they were on the top ten wanted list. They even sent the woman to the grave. Once they reported Jesus was properly buried, they planned to return back to Galilee and oblivion. Now the women, with only the word of a stranger, were told to tell these suspicious men Jesus was alive. What do they say?

        I think we all can understand their dilemma. A new couple has moved in next door. We drop by to meet them. They seem like wonderful folks. We tell them about the restaurants in the area. We share places they might shop. We talk about all wonderful cultural activities offered in the area. Then we invite them to Bold Rock. We sit by the fire and take in all the beautiful the scenery. Our new neighbors ask, “Where are some of the places you go socially?” Golf, bridge, fishing, hiking are mentioned. Then we dare to tread where few people have gone before. “We also attend Rockfish Presbyterian. It is filled with great folks. You will not believe the choir, it is amazing. The church is involved in many activities. There is the wood ministry, week-end food for kids, a garden which grows vegetables for the community, a knitting group, two book clubs, and all kind of other stuff. We have something for everyone. And then there is the minister. Don’t worry; he is not one of these religious types.” Yet most of us are uncomfortable saying, “Come to Rockfish Presbyterian where we celebrate the risen Lord.”

 What an awful accusation to make on Easter Sunday. But isn’t it true for many of us that we haven’t reached closure on what the resurrection means. We have our dogma, we know what we are supposed to think but deep down don’t many of us find the resurrection story a bit terrifying. I certainly hope so. If you are NOT afraid of making that kind of declaration, you might not understand what the statement actually means. I don’t think Jesus is all that interested in comfortable disciples who triumph in the light. Jesus wants faithful disciples who are willing to walk through the darkness. What on earth does that mean?

 It’s easy, particularly on Easter Sunday to declare, “Jesus is Alive.” The hard part is to ask the question, “So What?” Will the resurrection of Jesus get me to heaven? Or maybe more important, will the resurrection of Jesus make me like my neighbor? Will the resurrection of Christ end world hunger? Will the resurrection of Christ solve racism? When asked those questions I feel like the kid in the Liberty Insurance commercial asking his friend if he is holding a lug wrench. The kid responds, “Maybe.”

If all I have is a “Maybe”, why am I standing before you this morning? Because beyond what I can touch, beyond what I can see, beyond what I can prove, I believe there exists the imagination of God. Do we follow or do we flee? Do we spread the word or remain silent? If you are like me some days I think I know the answer. Others days the answer makes me feel so foolish. And yet we are still here.

        Ever get a song in your head and no matter how hard you try the song won’t disappear. It keeps coming back, often at the most inappropriate times. The song infuriates you, it overwhelms you and it just won’t stop. So we replace it with a happy tune. We want to be reminded that tomorrow the sun will be shinning, that somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly. We whistle our happy tune to keep us from thinking the plight of our neighborhood, or the struggles of a stranger. Ever notice how  happy tunes disintegrate in the face of darkness and chaos.Yet, when hope seems lost, the song we tried to banish, reappears.

        A couple of years ago Lee Goodrich introduced the choir to the hymn, This Joyful Easter Tide. There is nothing terribly exciting about the words but the tune is stuck in my head and it won’t go away. I’ll be in the hospital sitting with someone whose loved one is undergoing a difficult surgery. The hours of waiting are often horrific. Eventually there is nothing left to say. Then that song creeps into my mind.

        Last July I was standing with two fellow ministers on the streets of Charlottesville. We were assigned to try to keep the calm on that Saturday when the Klan came to town. It was hot, tempers were hotter and the rhetoric was blazing. I felt myself losing control when out of nowhere that crazy song started playing in my head.

        On Ascension Sunday, after church I am racing from Nellysford to Gloucester to be by my father’s side.   I get to West Point when the phone rings and Deb tells me dad has died. I pull of the side of the road and tears begin to flow. Once again that song poured into my heart.

        Does this prove the resurrection? Of course not. But that song has more than once penetrated the darkness of my soul, reminding this old fool of the imagination of God.

I will admit when engaged in a battle of intellect and wits concerning what happened on Easter morning sometimes I can only offer an unsatisfactory “Maybe.” I plead guilty to getting lost in the details. Yet beyond my ability to explain the unexplainable lies a creative force which I know never succumbs to fear, or chaos, or even death. In the midst of my darkness I start humming and my soul becomes calm, my vision sees beyond yesterday, and I discover the possibility of tomorrow.

“Can I prove it?         NO!

Do I believe it?

With all my frightened and confused heart.   

To God be the glory. Amen.