A follower of Jesus looks a lot more like a fool in love than a professional in control…

We are invited to be fools in love with the Lord, living in the knowledge that all is set right in Christ, even when all the world seem to be more broken each day. We’re invited to embrace our weaknesses when the whole world seems to assume that might makes right. When the world tells us to lie and to hide our true selves behind possessions or jobs or trophies – we’re invited to be vulnerable, sharing our stories, exposing our wounds because through the wounded body of Christ, the whole world finds healing.  

4/1/2018

Mark 16:1-8

16When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

A follower of Jesus looks a lot more like a fool in love than a professional in control. A guy named Paul wrote letters to the churches he helped start in Rome, Philippians, Corinth, Galatia, and several other places. These letters make up a significant part of our Bibles and deeply shape the way we think and talk about the Christian faith. Paul was a deep and philosophical thinker who wanted to work out a very precise definition of who Jesus is and what it means be a faithful member of the body of Christ.

So often, when people talk about Christianity and what it means to be Christian, Paul’s letters are quoted. And it is his deeply academic and systematic ways of thinking that shape our approach to learning and growing in Christ. We like to have our precise belief statements and moral systems – we like to have a verse, usually from Paul, to back-up our precise and everlasting conclusion.

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” Paul says in Romans – therefore if we really believe Jesus is Lord and say the right prayer, we’re guaranteed to get into heaven. Or from Philippians – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” Therefore, we might think, I will score the winning touchdown in my next game because – Jesus. “Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk,” Paul writes to the Ephesians. Therefore, no 4 letter word should ever leave your lips.

It is so natural and so deeply human to love acting like we’re professional Christians, completely in control, knowing all that there is to know about what to do and not to do, totally ready to condemn all those others, over there, those pagans and sinners who flaunt the clear and obvious words of scripture. And when we inevitably fall short of our clear and precise understanding, there is always forgiveness and grace, ready for us after we knowingly fail to be the perfect professionals that we have decided God must want us to be.

But, a follower of Jesus looks a lot more like a fool in love than a professional in control. We so often try talking like Paul and refining our systems and building our little boxes into which we like to fit all of life. And when we do that we forget that long before any attempt at putting words on a page is a profoundly absurd and nonsensical claim – that not only did God come to this earth to live our life and be one of us, but that God in flesh was killed on the cross, condemned like a criminal, and on the third day, he rose from the dead, and left an empty grave for his followers to find.

The cross of Christ is the ultimate reminder that we are not in control of our lives and futures – we are loved beyond measure and invited to trust in the one who calls us His own. It’s strange the way we so often treat a relationship with Christ more like a pop quiz than a friendship. I’ll admit when Sallie and I got engaged, I had her take a test. I made sure she knew and agreed about when I was born; and she had to believe that I won not one, not two, but three tennis tournaments in my life. And last, I wrote a 90 page thesis paper in college – so I made sure that she read the whole thing and could quote at least 5 or 6 of the most important sentences. Needless to say, she passed with flying colors, and the last 10 years together have been flawless.

Now…….No…I didn’t really do any of that. She might have passed most of it, but I’m fairly confident Sallie would not be with me today if I had really made her read my thesis paper. It’s absurd to think that reading a book and memorizing a few of my accomplishments and basic life history has any real impact on the relationship we share. Obviously, we find out new things about each other every day – we could probably answer just about any question about each other anyone else knows. But that knowledge comes from building a life together – not the other way around.

Only after we experience life together do we start to form the stories we tell. Facts and figures are woven together into memories that give shape and meaning to life. Everyone has a few stories that define their life and relationship more than any others. Some of these are the stories that we tell at every family gathering, year after year. Some are the stories that we only share with small groups of our closest friends. Some are the stories we keep locked hidden inside our hearts, afraid to tell anyone at all – maybe 1 or 2 people in the whole world know. As we experience life and relationship, more and more of these memories and stories form who we are and how we love one another.

[Most often referenced story is – Corn Dog.

Another often quoted story – Don’t know anything about my life.]

These are the fun stories we tell all the time in my family. We laugh, we remember, we get in a few playful jabs and we bond as a family or group of friends just fine. Closer to home are the struggles and challenges we go through – sometimes with beautiful endings, sometimes with no resolution.

[For me, it would be the story of the one and only question I missed on an english midterm – in 9th grade. The reading was the cask of amontillado – the correct answer was dramatic irony. I still can’t quite let that go.

Even more present than that – the rollercoaster of infertility – so many ups and downs but mostly just indescribable stuff that doesn’t exactly feel good or bad, but it sure does feel a lot – helped when so many others shared their stories too]

Then there are those stories that I’m tempted to keep deep inside, the feelings that are so hard to admit to myself, much less anyone else. These are usually the stories of the fear or guilt or hurt or unmet needs that lay beneath the surface of the stories we tell others.

– I can’t quite let the english midterm go because there is a part of me that is an unrelenting perfectionist. Every once in a while it still happens that I make one mistake and fear that I’ve broken the whole world. The english midterm is the kind of story I used to have to laugh about because if I admitted the inadequacy I really felt I’d cry instead.

Then there’s the devastation of dealing with infertility for months and really years – and getting that one final negative result. I’ve let Sallie down. I’ve let my parents down. I’ve failed to do the one thing our bodies seem most programmed to accomplish in life. How do I love my life if it can’t be what I’ve desired so deeply for so long?

These thoughts and questions become the lens by which we view our life and choices – they become the stories that we repeat over and over again to tell us who we are.

The sum total of all these stories does far more to shape how I see myself and the world than anything else possibly could. No amount of academic knowledge; no clear and definitive statement of beliefs; no amount of practice pretending to be happy – will ever change a thing. We cannot change our past any more than we can control our future. But control was never the point. Our knowledge and strength and force of will were never meant to be strong enough to control the outcome. A follower of Jesus looks a lot more like a fool in love than a professional in control.

What changes everything is when we finally experience the love of Jesus Christ that never ends and cannot fail. When the story of God’s love and acceptance becomes the most important story we tell about ourselves, nothing will ever be the same. Even when the whole world around us seems to be devolving into a chaotic mess of fear and division, we know that God is faithful to the end. God will set all things right and make all things new because Jesus Christ is risen.

The story of Easter redeems and transforms each of our stories in the image of God’s love. Christ came to tell the story of God’s love and redemption to anyone who would hear it. He set aside a group of 12 friends to live life together. These were the 12 with whom Jesus shared almost every struggle and challenge throughout the course of all that he did on Earth. And upon the cross, we even receive a brief glimpse into the very depth of Jesus’ soul as he cries out My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.

The story of Easter is all our story – the sure foundation upon which we all stand. The empty grave is that moment when God packaged up all the stories we tell about ourselves – from the funny stories we love to tell to the more impactful memories we share with friends to the fear and doubt we try to hide – all of it is wrapped up in the cross of Christ and transformed on Easter morning. The empty grave is God’s absolute declaration that we are loved, we are accepted, we are enough. Through Jesus Christ, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God. And when we know what that feels like – when the story of God’s unimaginable love and unbelievable grace becomes the most important story we tell about ourselves, we start to look an awful lot like fools in love.

That first Easter morning, three women went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus for a proper burial. Their Lord and friend had been beaten and flogged and crucified on Friday. Now, it was Sunday and they didn’t even know how they would get into the tomb, but they knew they needed to go. When they arrived, the stone had been rolled away and the grave was empty. A young man dressed in a white robe told them, “Do not be afraid. Jesus Christ is not here, he has been raised. Go tell the others, Jesus will meet you in Galilee!” Mark tells us that the women ran away in terror and excitement and said nothing to anyone.

This is where the earliest copies of Mark’s gospel ended. An empty tomb. Terror and amazement. The women running away with no idea what they’ve just witnessed or what any of it means. At the core of the Christian faith is this absurd claim that God came and died and was resurrected to new life. You can work your whole life to try and figure out the details – there are entire fields of research set up to prove exactly what happened and how we can know with certainty – and yet the spread of Christian faith begins with this group of fools in love – the three women at the tomb and the 12 disciples right after.

It wasn’t structured beliefs and academic pursuits that convinced them to give their lives to the spread of the good news. It was knowing the power of a love that defeated even death itself. It was experiencing the life of the risen Lord that changed everything. The story of the empty grave is our story, and it touches and transforms every part of who we are.

We are loved, we are accepted, we are enough. Each and every one of us. Each and every part of us. The cross of Christ reminds us there is no shame, no hurt, no brokenness, no fear, no failure that God does not embrace within himself. The empty tomb reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, the love that takes each part of the stories we tell against ourselves and offers new life instead.

We are invited to be fools in love with the Lord, living in the knowledge that all is set right in Christ, even when all the world seem to be more broken each day. We’re invited to embrace our weaknesses when the whole world seems to assume that might makes right. When the world tells us to lie and to hide our true selves behind possessions or jobs or trophies – we’re invited to be vulnerable, sharing our stories, exposing our wounds because through the wounded body of Christ, the whole world finds healing.  

Be fools in love this Easter season. Open your heart to the Lord and trust that whatever scars we bear or wounds we cause, we are loved, we are accepted, we are enough. We are embraced by the love that conquered the grave and no one can ever take that away. It doesn’t matter how much you know or how well you can articulate the faith – what matters is that we are held in the outstretched arms of the one who knows our names and has called us his own. Jesus Christ is Risen!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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