Empowered to Share: Practicing With-ness

May 14, 2017
Brian Keepers
Acts 8:26-40

Introduction

A children’s choir was performing a special Easter anthem as a part of their church’s Easter Sunday celebration.  When the song was finished, a little boy had been assigned to step out and recite Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John, where Jesus says, “I am the Light of the World!”  The little boy stepped out on cue, but suddenly froze as his mind went blank, with all those faces staring at him.  Fortunately, his mother was sitting in the front pew, and she leaned in and whispered her son’s line: “I am the Light of the World.” The little boy regained his confidence, stood up straight, and belted out, “My mother is the Light of the World!”

There are many of us who share this little boy’s sentiment as we celebrate our mothers and the other special women in our lives today.  But as wonderful as these women may be, there is only One who is the true Light of the World.  His name is Jesus, the Crucified and Risen Lord who is on the move in the world.  And as John the Baptist reminds us, we are all called to be witnesses of this Light, to testify to him.

We’ve seen examples of these witnesses throughout the book of Acts.  We’ve met ordinary Christ-followers who, empowered by the Holy Spirit, were emboldened to be courageous witnesses:  Stephen who was martyred for his faith when he stood before the Jewish religious leaders and gave testimony to the risen and reigning Christ, and Ananias, this unassuming disciple who was flexible and available to God and was sent to pray over Saul of Tarsus.

Today we meet another one of these ordinary Christ-followers named Philip.  Philip is first introduced with Stephen in Acts 6, and was one of those deacons who helped care for the widows in need.  Then the Holy Spirit led him to the city of Samaria to preach the good news among the Samaritans.  But the Spirit is not done whisking Philip about.  Just wait to hear where the Spirit leads him next.  Listen to this story from the book that we love, found in Acts chapter 8.  Recite Scripture.

Drawn into the Story

Well, nothing says “Happy Mother’s Day” quite like a strange story in the Bible about a eunuch in a chariot!  This is a strange story, indeed!  And yet it is also a wonderful story, full of so much insight and wisdom.  Especially as we think about what it means for us to share our faith in our own lives here and now.

I want to invite you to crawl into this story with me this morning, to find yourself in company with Philip.  Wonder with me: what might we learn, from inside this story, about what it means to bear witness to the hope of our hearts?

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the wilderness road).  The first thing we learn, and this is the most important, is that sharing our faith is ultimately God’s work from beginning to end.  God is the central actor in this story.  Philip has a part to play, but it is in a supporting role!

An angel of the Lord, which in the Bible refers to God’s presence, is the One who calls Philip to act.  God initiates this whole thing that is about to happen.  God issues the call, gives the directions, and will be the One who empowers Philip to share.  This theological conviction is at the heart of any kind of ministry we do.  It is not ultimately about us!  It is always about God and how God is already at work. 

And where does God call Philip to go? Toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.  That’s as much detail that Philip gets at this point.  He doesn’t know why God is calling him to go this place, or what will happen when he gets there.  It’s a strange, unexpected place—a dangerous place.  This is the same road that the Good Samaritan travels on in Jesus’ parable—a dangerous road that was a den for robbers and thieves.  And yet this is the place God calls Philip to get up and go to.

How does Philip respond?  So he got up and went.  Like Ananias last week, Philip is flexible and available to God.   He is listening to God.  And when the call comes, even though he isn’t given much detail, he responds with obedience.  He goes.

And once he gets there, he happens to meet the most unexpected person—an Ethiopian eunuch who was a court official for the queen of the Ethiopians.   As an Ethiopian, this man would have been someone who, to the first century Jew, came from a more exotic place, someone who would have been an “outsider” to the Jewish community.  He is also someone who is an important man—a powerful and wealthy man who had much authority and power in the queen’s court.  He’s on his way home from Jerusalem, where he was worshipping at the Temple.

What’s so powerful in this story is that we see God’s Spirit on the move out beyond Jerusalem, into Samaria and Judea, and even to the ends of the earth.  The Ethiopian would have represented someone from the ends of the earth—a Gentile living in Timbuktu!  And yet this radical love of God in Christ is for all people!  The gospel crosses cultural boundaries and embraces everyone.

And what’s this man doing as he rides in is chariot?  He’s reading from the book of Isaiah!  Not only is God’s Spirit at work in calling Philip to go, but we see God’s Spirit at work in the mind and heart of this Ethiopian Eunuch, preparing him for his encounter with Philip!

What happens next?  Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it (or stay near it).” God is still in charge, giving the directions.  And Philip still has his ears and heart tuned to the Spirit’s leading. 

So Philip runs up to the chariot and stays near it, waiting on the Spirit’s timing.  And as he waits, he hears the Ethiopian reading from the book of Isaiah.  We’ve already seen the way that Philip is someone who listens to God.  Now we see that Philip has this same posture of listening with the Ethiopian, which tells us that maybe evangelism, sharing our faith, is first and foremost about learning to listen.  It’s about learning to listen with, what novelist John Steinbeck called “a good ear.”  Listening with a good ear is about listening to what is going on beneath the surface, listening to the lives of people we encounter, listening to their questions, their hurts, their hopes, their fears.  Would that change your view of evangelism if I told you the most important thing you can do is learn to really listen with a “good ear?”

It is only by listening first—without pretense, without judgment—that a way is made for Philip to enter into conversation and relationship with the Ethiopian.  He listens to what the Ethiopian is reading, listening even more deeply to the spiritual cry of the man’s heart, and he asks the question, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

And the Ethiopian replies, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And then I love the next part.  And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him, which is another way of saying, “Come and sit in my chariot with me, come travel with me on the road of life.”   By listening first and being genuine in the way he related to the Ethiopian, Philip was welcomed into a relationship with this man.

Author and speaker Brian McLaren has suggested that being a witness, at its heart, is really a call to with-ness—to be with people: to be with people in the real stuff of life; to be with people in their pain; to be with people in their questions and doubts; to be with people in their joys and struggles.  The incarnation is all about the God who came to be with us; and we follow the pattern of Jesus when we learn to simply be with people. 

Think about your own faith journey.  Who are the people who have had the most significant influence in your own life?  Are they not those who genuinely cared about you and came alongside you and “got in the chariot” to be with you on the journey?

Most people long for authentic, meaningful relationships, and it is when we learn how to be with others, without an agenda, entering into friendship, that God opens up opportunities for us to share in natural, fruitful ways.  This is when they invite us into their chariot to travel down the road of life with them, having earned respect and trust and the right to be heard.

And that’s what happens with Philip.  He earns the right to be heard.  Traveling along together, the Ethiopian turns to Philip, and in reference to the passage he just read in Isaiah, asks him, “Tell me please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”

This is the window of opportunity.  And Philip doesn’t get embarrassed or shrink away or change the conversation.  He tells the man about Jesus.  Clearly, plainly, genuinely, he shares his faith.  Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

One of the biggest obstacles I often hear from people about sharing their faith is, “I don’t know enough about the Bible.” And I would agree that it is important for all of us to be growing in our knowledge of Scripture so we can talk with people about Jesus.  But when it comes to sharing our faith, we don’t need to panic or get anxious about our knowledge of the Bible.  Our role, as we see in this story, is simply to introduce people to Jesus.  To share with others who Jesus is, what he means to us, and how he has changed our life.  We all have stories about how God is at work in our lives, and as Lindsay reminded us last Sunday, there are no “boring” stories.  Your story is your story, so share it.  Let the Holy Spirit work through your testimony of what Jesus means to you personally.

There is one last part of this story that I want us to highlight this morning, and it really is the climax.  As Philip and the Ethiopian travel together in the chariot, they come upon some water.  And the Ethiopian says, “Look, here is water!  What is to prevent me from being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot.  Then both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 

Baptism points to God’s promise, which is that we belong to Christ.  It is a sign and seal that we have been welcomed into God’s family, as one of God’s children.  It points to moving from being on “the outside,” so to speak, to being enfolded into the community of faith.  Our calling as witnesses is not just to go out and come alongside people and introduce them to Jesus; it’s to practice a radical hospitality that welcomes them into God’s family.  It is going beyond “out- reach” to embrace, as my good friend Denise Kingdom-Grier likes to say.

The eunuch asks a question, and it’s a great question.  What can prevent me from being baptized?  One way to interpret this question: What can keep me from becoming a part of God’s family?

One answer, and I’m sad to say it, is us, the church.  We can stand in the way of others being welcomed and included in the family of God.  When we keep others at a distance because they’re not like us or refuse to embrace others because they don’t have their theology all together or their life all together (not like we doJ--or pretend to, anyway)!  Or even this: when we don’t move beyond just being friendly and welcoming but really include others in our lives—open up our circles of friendships to make room for others.

I know I only have a few sermons left to preach as one of your pastors, and I want to make every sermon count.  Here is one of the ways I really want to challenge us as a congregation: Let’s go beyond outreach and being friendly to be the kind of church that is practicing “with-ness” by truly enfolding and embracing new people in our church family.  Will you go out of your way to come alongside some of our new members and connect with them on deep and meaningful levels?

I’ve pointed out a number of things from within this story, and as we wrap up, let me highlight what we’ve talked about:

  • Sharing our faith is God’s work from beginning to finish.  It’s ultimately not about us!  We are simply God’s instruments.
  • The most important posture for being a witness is the posture of deep listening—listening to God and listening to the lives of others.  And being willing to be obedient when the Holy Spirit prompts us.
  • Sharing our faith happens best in the context of authentic relationships—learning to be “with” others, to ride with them in the chariot on the road of life.  When we earn the right to be heard, we trust God’s timing to open up an opportunity for us to share what Christ means to us—to tell our story.
  • Beyond outreach, God calls us to embrace and welcome others into God’s family.  To enfold others into the circles of our friendships.

So what is the Spirit saying to you this morning?  To us?  Who is God calling you to come alongside?  Is there a name or a face that comes to mind today? Maybe it’s someone outside the walls of this church; maybe it’s someone within the walls. Think about the people God has placed around you. 

As we go into this week, I invite you to join me in assuming a posture of availability and deep listening, saying: “Lord, your servant is listening.  Direct me where to go and to whom to go.”

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

Renee Krueger
Empowered to Share

May 7, 2017
Lindsay Small
Acts 9:1-19

I think its probably safe to say that our culture loves a good before and after story.

You know the ones…they play themselves out on TV everyday.

HGTV has made millions by making every show about taking a rundown house and transforming it into something beautiful. The more ugly it is…the more before the before…the better the after.

The same could be said for weight loss, self-help stories, and makeovers…they are all based on this concept of before and after.

This is all well and fine. I love Chip and Joanna Gaines just as much as the next person…

But sometimes these extreme before and after stories can be problematic.

They can make those of us without brand new open concept kitchen cabinets hand sanded by Drew What’s his name…feel a little inadequate.

Those of us who haven’t lost 50 pounds in two weeks…haven’t been given a free new wardrobe…haven’t sat with Oprah in a forest…feel like we’re missing out on something.

We know that those of us are most of us. That what we see on TV is not the norm…even though it can begin to seem like everyone should be able to buy home for $100 and have remarkably good looking people renovate it.

It’s entertainment and fun…and harmless…as long as it doesn’t skew our view of reality. Ironic, isn’t it, that most of these shows are called “Reality TV?”

The before and after narrative runs deep in popular Christian culture as well.

I attended a high school youth conference at the University of Indiana when I was in 10th grade…its occurring to me that this is not the most timely illustration…

But even though it was almost 5 years ago…okay 25…I still remember the speakers all seemed to follow the same script:

I was bad. Really bad. And I did bad things. Then I found Jesus.

Then I didn’t do bad things anymore. Go and do likewise.

I don’t mean to take any of these stories lightly. For a 16 year old who was a pretty good kid it was good for me to hear stories of God’s grace reaching out to change lives.

But these stories have a way of quieting the quieter stories.

They can make our ordinary conversions feel a little bleak. Or perhaps you’re on the ‘before’ side of conversion…and you’re just not sure yet if you want to be in relationship with Jesus. (And its important to mention that there is room for you here in the place…to help you get to know who Jesus is…)

This is where radical before and after stories can be tricky.

As a pastor, when tasked with asking people to share their story…the most common response I am met with is: “Oh, I don’t have a very good story.” or “My testimony is not that exciting…”

I don’t believe it. And God doesn’t either.

Today’s passage is one of the most exciting and unexpected before and after stories in the Bible…but here’s the thing: there’s more to it than the flash! It takes longer than 60 minutes, or 43 with commercial breaks…there is an in between, a space between the before and after, that is rich with story and meaning for you and for me…

Listen now, as I read from Acts chapter 9…

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at

Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision[a] a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul[b] and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored.

Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

This passage begins right where we left off last week…literally.

The last verse of last week’s passage was, “But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.”

 And the first verse of this week’s passage is: “Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest…

 Dragging off men and women…putting them in prison…threats of murder…

This guy is on the before side of before….

Paul was determined to make life miserable…to the point of even ending the life…of anyone who followed Christ.

So the fact that God would choose Paul to carry his message to the ends of the earth is not something to be glossed over…

If Gallup had done some polling and asked, “Who is the LEAST likely person God would choose to be his messenger to the world?” 99 out of 100 people would have said, “Saul…” and the other 1 person would have said “Paul” but meant the same person.

God chooses this most unlikely person…the guy who has been locking up Christians…the guy who approved of Stephen’s murder! That’s who he chooses.

It is amazing. It is outlandish. And of course…it is of God.

This is a remarkable before and after story…especially since we can follow it through to the end…we know that because Saul’s “After” will be all about following and preaching Jesus…he will be the one in prison…he will be the one murdered for his faith.

Paul takes all the energy, all the will, all the determination that had been directed at persecuting Christians, and directs it into preaching the gospel relentlessly.

This is an amazing before and after story.

But there’s this space in the middle…somewhere between before and after…that deserves another look.

Saul has been blinded on the road to Damascus…and arrives there and does not eat or drink for three days.

And then…another person enters the story. A man named Ananias.

Now, we don’t know his conversion story…his before and after. We don’t know how he became a follower of Jesus. All we know is that he was sitting at home when the Lord called his name…and he answered.

Ananias is the lesser known character. The ordinary.

The often forgotten.

He is the Watson to Paul’s Sherlock Holmes. The Hermoine to his Harry Potter.

The Chewbacca to his Han Solo.

There is no great BEFORE AND AFTER moment in Ananias’ story…

But there is a present…an in-between moment…and its no less remarkable.

Ananias is faithful to his call from God in the moment…and in doing so, ushers in Paul’s great ‘after’…

—-

If you look closely at the passage, you see that God enters into conversation with both men the same way: he begins by saying their name. “Saul” “Ananias”

Now Saul and Jesus were not really on a first name basis…so he needed to start with introductions…

“Who are you Lord?”

But Ananias…his response is different:

“Here I am, Lord.”

He knew God. And it seems as though they’ve spoken before. And so he answers…making himself available before he even knows the request. He’s ready. He’s open. He’s willing to be interrupted.

Here I am Lord.

 Not, There I was…or There I will be. Not before or after…Now. Here I am Lord.

 One of the congregants at our last church loved to say that God asks us to be ‘flexible and available.’ I love that…and I think it’s great advice for all of you… Often times I am terrible at both of them…but not Ananias. He is flexible and available. (Here I am Lord)

Now of course, as soon as he hears what he’s supposed to do…he may have regretted answering.

The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision[a] a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

 God might as well asked Ananias to go to the moon.

Word had already reached the community of Christians in Damascus about Saul…they knew what he had done in Jerusalem and they maybe even knew he was on his way to pay them a visit…

This is the man they had been living in fear of…the man they were hoping to hide from…and now God is telling Ananias to go directly TO HIM.

He says, “Are you sure?” Yes, I’m sure.

And so he goes. And does exactly as the Lord tells him to do…

He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

We don’t know Ananias’ before…we don’t know his after… But we know that he was present.

He laid his hands on Saul. He called him brother.

And healed him and baptized him.

 “Here I am Lord.”

He is working in ways we never thought imaginable…and uses us as his hands and feet to carry out this work…before and after…and the in between.

God used Ananias to transform Saul’s wretched before to a glorious after.

He needs people who are willing to be present, willing to be interrupted, willing to be flexible and available.

He is calling all of us by name…

For some of you, he has called you by name to make incredible journeys…to travel the world. To spread the gospel…to love in the name of Jesus to the least likely of places and spaces.

For others, he has called you by name to be present in this space…to lay hands, to pray for, to call others by name.

There is never a day that does not present an opportunity to say “Hear I am Lord.”

Where is God leading you?

What will be our response when God says to us, “Get up and go.”

God is in the before…in the after…and in the in between. Our task is to show up and say “Here I am.”

God,

Forgive us for missed opportunities. Lead us into new opportunities. New ways to say “Here I am Lord.” Today…and everyday.

Renee Krueger
Easter Sunday: Surprised by Good News!

April 16, 2017
Brian Keepers
Luke 24:1-12

When the women arrived at cemetery on that first Easter morning and found the tomb empty, to say that they were surprised would be a major understatement.

Amazed. Astonished. Bewildered. Confused. Even scared.

That’s more like it.

We may have all showed up this morning ready to exclaim, “Christ is Risen!” and sing our old time favorites like “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and hear the good, old story about the empty tomb, but not those dear women…nor the rest of the disciples.

Let’s just be clear. In order to grasp the amazement of Easter morning, the shocking surprise of the empty tomb, you must realize this: on that “first day of the week at early dawn” that Luke tells us about, no one was expecting Jesus to rise from the dead.

But wait, you say. Should it really have been that much of a surprise? After all, don’t the two men in dazzling clothes, presumably angels, sort of scold the women for not knowing this would happen? “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

The angels were right. Jesus had told them this is how it would all unfold. Not just once but three times. Spelled it out pretty clearly. First back in Luke 9:21-22, then again in 9:44-45, and a third time even, right before Holy Week, in 18:31-34. He didn’t talk in some Rabbinic-Jedi code. No puzzling riddles. This was plain talk. Straightforward and direct.

So why are they so surprised? Each time Jesus foretold his death and resurrection, Luke tells us that the disciples (including these women) “understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”

Not because they weren’t smart. Not because they weren’t paying attention. But because this whole idea that the Messiah—the long awaited Savior who would rescue Israel from Roman oppression and the whole world with it—would suffer, die and rise again was completely foreign. It didn’t fit one bit within their mental framework of what the Messiah would be like.

First of all, the Messiah was coming to conquer, not be conquered. With the strength of a warrior or the political savvy of a diplomat, he would overthrow the bad guys, not be overthrown. But to be handed over to suffer—and to suffer in the worst possible way—the shame of a Roman Cross. Well, the Torah seemed clear that such a one was cursed by God. A suffering, dead Messiah was just another failed messiah, and history had handed down plenty of those.

And then there’s the whole “rise from the dead three days later” thing. While there were some among the Jewish community who didn’t believe in a resurrection of the dead (namely, the Saducees), most did. But here’s the thing. Their understanding of the resurrection of the dead was that it would happen at the end of time, when God would usher in his new creation, and it would happen all at once. Everyone at the same time. What they had no concept of was that one person would be resurrected in the middle of time!

So of course they didn’t grasp it when Jesus warned them that this is how it would go. That’s why they are so surprised, so astonished and bewildered and confused when they discover the empty tomb and hear the angel’s message. It was the last thing in the world that they were expecting. And here they are, grasped by the terrifying and glorious surprise of it all!

But maybe that’s the point of Easter. Not so much that we are able to fully grasp it—to fully understand it in all its mystery and wonder—but that we are grasped by it! What if the point is not that we are able to fully comprehend Easter but that our lives are fully apprehended by the love and power of the God who raised Jesus from the dead? God is bringing about new creation—that’s what the empty tomb means—and now we are drawn into it and transformed by it! In the words of Deitrich Bonhoeffer: “Bewilderment is true comprehension.”

That leads to the second big surprise in the story. The fact that these women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James (and the other women with them)—are the first ones grasped by the surprise of Easter and recipients of the Good News! They are the first ones to experience the dawn of God’s New Creation! They get a front row seat! They, of all people!

These women were dear friends of Jesus, part of his inner circle, had been with him since Galilee. But this is a partriarchial world, and women were among those on the margins—without influence, privilege and power. And yet here they are, being grasped by this new thing God is doing and pulled into the center of resurrection action!

Luke tells us that when the angels make the announcement, “Then they remembered his words…” Then they remembered his [Jesus’] words… But not just in the sense of recalling something they had forgotten. Like I said, these women are surprised because they just didn’t understand what Jesus was saying…then. But now, in light of Easter, something is changing. Something jumps in them, something comes alive! God was at work not only opening the tomb but opening their minds, and helping them to begin to understand what they previously didn’t.

One definition of remember is to “put back together the pieces” after something has been dismembered. Certainly their world, in the tragic wake of the crucifixion, had been dismembered. But now, they were putting the pieces together in their memory—for the first time beginning to see clearly! It’s less an “Oh, yeah, now I remember…” and more like an “Aha—now I’m starting to see it!” What had looked like a failed mission was turning out to be the fulfillment of God’s plan!

And in the act of remembering, it’s as if the same power that raised Jesus from the grave was at work re-membering them—putting the broken pieces of their lives back together, their shattered hopes and busted up dreams and broken hearts. God was taking them as they are and mending them, making then new and whole.

This is what God can do for each of us, in the power of Christ’s resurrection. He takes the broken pieces of our own lives, the debris of shattered relationships, busted up dreams and dead hopes. He takes each of us, as we are, and goes to work mending us, healing us, forgiving us, making us new. Making us whole again. Making us alive.

Listen to this story of someone who has experienced the surprising grace of God who, like the women at the tomb, takes us in all of our pieces and makes us whole again. I want to invite my dear friend Suzie Timmer to come up and share a part of her story today.

At this point in the sermon, Suzie shares her story.

And all of this leads to one more big surprise in this story of the first Easter. The news that Jesus has been raised, yes, shocking. The fact that these women were the first ones to discover the empty tomb, to experience God’s new world being born. But even more, its these women who are sent as the first unlikely witnesses to share this news with the disciples and the rest of the world.

We heard it in Suzie’s story. When she was grasped by the power of God’s love, her own life put back together and made new, there was a sense of vocation—of calling—that came with this. And we see this in the women at the first Easter. In being grasped by the good news of resurrection, and remembering Jesus’ words, they are now sent to be the first witness to tell this news to the world.

They are such unlikely witnesses! In the ancient world, women were not considered to be credible witnesses in the court of law. Many have pointed out that one of the reasons we can trust the witness of the gospels is that they leave this rather embarrassing detail of the story in—that the first witnesses of Easter were women. If you wanted to make an airtight argument for your case, you would have done better to brush this up—leave this part out or change some details to make it more credible. But all the gospel writers leave this important detail in—because it is most likely how it actually happened.

It’s one of the things I love most about Luke’s gospel. We’ve seen him from the beginning show that Jesus was really about drawing in those on the margins and bringing them to the center. Taking outcasts and folks who don’t fit in or have power or privilege and assigning them star roles in the unfolding drama of God’s mission. Who is it that is present at the first announcement of Jesus’ birth and called to go deliver the news? Lowly shepherds. And who is it that is at the first announcement of Jesus’ resurrection and sent to be heralds of this good news? Women who were without privilege and power.

So it is with us! As those who have been grasped by this good news, we are now empowered and sent to be unlikely witnesses—to help the world remember who God intends it to be, and to be a part of the Spirit’s work of helping the world be re-membered—put back together, healed, made whole. This is our calling—personally and all together as God’s people.

The truth is, it’s a Good Friday world. But Easter happens in a Good Friday world! The surprising, bewildering, glorious good news of Easter is that the risen Jesus is on the move to set it all right, heal it, restore it, make it new. To bring life out of death. Light out of darkness. Hope out of despair. Yes, it’s a Good Friday world, but we join the women at the empty tomb and are being transformed into an Easter People!

So hear the angels’ announcement today—whether for the first time or the hundredth—the surprising Good News that grasps ahold of us and sends us into the world:

“Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here; he is risen. Remember…remember…remember how he told you that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again!”

Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed!

Renee Krueger