[A sermon preached at St. Charles Presbyterian Church on April 17, 2016]
When Resurrection Bubbles Up
Old Testament: Psalm 23
Psalm 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
New Testament: Revelation 7:13-17 & 2 Corinthians 5:17
Intro: the book of Revelation is difficult to understand because it is history written in the future tense. (Wrap your mind around that concept!) And if that is not enough, Revelation does not come straight at you with simple declarative sentences. Instead it couches everything in poetic images and metaphors. The five verses from Revelation are best understood as being interpreted by 2 Corinthians 5:17. Enjoy the word pictures in Revelation 7:13-17; then allow yourself to understand what those verses mean when you hear the single verse of 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Revelation 7:13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
2 Corinthians 5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Resurrection is a story that has been bubbling up in the hearts and minds of people since the beginning of recorded history. Easter is the time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, but it is just one chapter in that story.
Unfortunately, we Christians have become overly focused on that one chapter. We have turned this sweeping epic story into an event – literalized, narrowed, and constricted. We have made resurrection a credal belief and, unfortunately, in the process have forfeited much of its great claim upon us and its inherent hope. This morning I invite you to suspend what you normally think about when the word “resurrection” is spoken and let you heart and mind wander with me into the variety of voices that the great story of resurrection bubbles up in us… in me… in you.
Meister Eckhart, German mystic, suggested that the Christian life is a combination of paying attention to Jesus and, resulting from that attention, doing good works in the world on a day-by-day basis. Those good works in the world are not an after-thought; they are the consequence of our paying close attention to Jesus. They are what Eckhart calls the ebulitio the welling up and flowing over of the life of God within us and out into the world. I am going to borrow Eckhart’s term, ebulitio!, throughout the rest of this sermon. When speaking of resurrection we need a colorful term of passionate expression, an outburst of joy, to keep us from robbing the epic story of its heart. Ebulitio! is a synonym for resurrection itself.
When the worship leader calls out “Christ is risen” what bubbles up in you? Is it just the words: “He is risen indeed” (even though they may be spoken with excitement)? Is it just the memories of story that happened so long ago? Or are your teeth set on edge; do you feel a shiver up your spine does your life pass before your eyes – a new life, an unexpected life, a transformed life?
When the worship leader calls out “Christ is risen” do you want to pull yourself up to your full height and shout to the top of your lungs, “The grave cannot hold me. I have new life. Throw away your spices and ointment brought to anoint a dead body; discard of the burial shroud you brought to wrap a dead corpse. I have risen, I have risen indeed. My life is an Easter hymn sung in a new key. Life has bubbled up in me and not only me, for we are one with Christ. Resurrection bubbles us in us. Ebulitio!
Life doesn’t just happen; life is not an accident, without meaning. Life bubbles up from within God
… bubbles up insistently… bubbles up into creative transformation in the world and within you and me…
Resurrection is a breath-taking story related in poetic images… the choreography of a beautiful dance supported by a resounding symphony… the colors on an artist’s palette resulting in a masterful painting – a painting that includes you and me. Ebulitio!
Once I began to see resurrection as a story, rather than an event, all sorts of story chapters opened up for me. For example, the 23rd Psalm. Consider its poetic images, its metaphors. Those images are overflowing with life, bubbling up with justice. Even enemies and death cannot stop the flow. Ebulitio!
Life is not about being smarter, richer, more prominent. It is not about waiting for the life to come. It is not about making sure your dogma is right. Life is a gift without why… the evanescence of a rose that blossoms because it blossoms, smells sweet because it smells sweet, and dies because it dies
Too many Christians who think they believe in the resurrection actually believe in the immortality of the soul – a Greek idea which actually trivializes resurrection, negating the body as being evil while commending the soul as the only good. Immortality focuses on the world to come, devaluing life in the here-and-now. It considering this life as a waiting station to be endured. It tosses nature aside as simply a resource to be exploited for human satisfaction with no thought for tomorrow. It turns Christianity into a hunting safari for saving souls and sending them off to the taxidermist to be preserved so they can be displayed as trophies on the walls of Heaven
But NOT the first century followers of Jesus. After his death on the cross, they were initially dejected, depressed, despondent – seemingly without hope… but life bubbled up effervescently. genuinely surprising them, radiating with the impossible possibility. Ebulitio!
Something electric was happening within that early community, and inside its members. Rome crucified Jesus, but did not defeat God. God’s kingdom was bubbling up in their midst. And, even though Jesus was no longer physically present to them, his presence continued to stir them to something more – to concern for the poor… to solidarity with the disadvantaged… to forgiveness toward enemies… to life abundant, here and now.
Resurrection is that gift which bubbles up and overflows into a transformed people. It is the endowment of hope that constitutes a New Humanity, the reality of memory and experience that insisted daily upon those first Christians.
The book of Revelation tells of white robed ones who have come through an ordeal and who, because life continues to bubble up in them, stay focused on God. Metaphorically, they will neither hunger nor thirst. They will not be subject to the vicissitudes of daily life under Roman rule because they inhabit a different kingdom. Ebulitio!
As kingdom people those followers of Jesus wanted, as we do, life to be unsullied by death. But, when he died, they could not abandon what they knew about Jesus – that he lived fully into God and made God known to them and us; that the kingdoms of this world are not God’s kingdom; but, especially, they knew that Jesus continued to stir their hearts. That stirring evoked in them a strong desire to engage the world on the side of the poor and disadvantaged. Ebulitio!
As kingdom people we continue to experience a present stirring within – a potentiality bubbling up into our midst… the force of a love that did not die on the cross. Like our first century forebears, we live in hope and confidence that Rome has not defeated God, that God’s Kingdom thrives (just as Jesus has taught us) whenever we take care of the poor and disadvantaged; when we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty Ebulitio!
Resurrection persists because of an empty tomb, a hollow space, a gap; not because of a resuscitated body. Resurrection persists because an insistence in the name of God penetrating that hollow space within us is more powerful than the insistence that comes in the name of Caesar
Resurrection is a story that enfolds each one of us, not an event that happens to someone else… a movement embracing our passion for life, not a dogma that creates truth… a passionate experience, not a creedal assertion. Ebulitio!
A contemporary prophet reminds us that “The arm of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Resurrection is that bend which happens in the name of God – a possibility that Jesus opened up for all; a potentiality that simmers within us. Resurrection bends us into the story, drives us back to faithfulness and trust.
Resurrection is invitation, a lure, an inner insistence to participate in life without why – doing things without hope of reward or fear of punishment. It is an invitation to an absurd and preposterous life – loving enemies; accepting and affirming people who are different because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, age, gender, or nationality; inviting homeless street people to dine in your home; turning swords into plowshares; replacing walls with bridges; not returning violence when facing violence.
Resurrection is living in a world where God’s justice is always happening, always insisting, always appearing on the horizons of our lives. It is residents of Ferguson proudly proclaiming “black lives matter”when a significant portion of society is telling them that only white lives matter (that’s resurrection bubbling up)… broken people telling their stories at a meeting a meeting of AA getting their lives back together through honesty and community support (that’s resurrection bubbling up)… a group of Jews and Muslims forming a cordon around a Christian church in Tulsa and singing “All you need is love” to provide a buffer against hate mongers and their bull-horns (that’s resurrection bubbling up)… indigenous people of Guatemala coming to church bare footed because they have so little and yet they come bursting with joy, celebrating the precious gift of life (that’s resurrection bubbling up).
Life matters in spite of that which torments us. Life is of consequence regardless of the limitations imposed upon us. Life is all the more precious in the face of death that haunts us
When life bubbles up it insists, invites, calls, nudges; it shakes us to our foundations. Then, shaken by the insistence, fermented by the invitation, and sparkling with the call we bubble up. We bubble up as from within God. We bubble up as God’s new presence. We bubble up as God’s Kingdom
in the world. Ebulitio!
Resurrection is the well-spring of hope that molds life, that transforms us. It is an insistence that will not let us go, that brings us back to ourselves where we find God within waiting to burst forth, wanting to arise. And that potentiality arises as we go forth effervescently – a glass of cool, fresh water for the thirsty; bread for the hungry; a support arm for the weak; solidarity with those despised by the world; a welcoming for victims and enemies; hope for a fractured world. Ebulitio!
If God is only a celestial police officer and the Bible is only a rule book and life is only a hiccup before we get to Heaven… If Easter is only a Sunday in the church calendar… a time to dress up for church… a day for colored eggs and chocolate bunnies… If that is all there is then resurrection is a magic trick; and ministers and theologians become charlatans. When that happens, no life bubbles up.
When we come to church out of habit to sing hymns of muted joy and appreciate sermons that confirm our preconceived ideologies, then the church has died and we have become white-washed tombs. And yet, resurrection continues to bubble up! It is awe-inspiring and yet terrifying when death turn into life. It is surprising and yet intimidatin when life bubbles up within us. It is an exuberant YES that shakes us up, stirs us, changes us at the core so that we can’t NOT respond in joy. It is a persistent insistence that enfolds us into a new way of being and doing beyond the creed, beyond the hymns, beyond the texts.
When someone we love dies, it is hard to let go difficult to experience them in a new way. It is difficult after Good Friday to allow the Palm Sunday parade to be transformed into a different kind of parade which goes on as the Easter journey – a journey where my beloved now lives within me, where I become the bearer of the hopes and dreams of the one I love.
“So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, something new has arrived!” [2 Cor 5:17]
That is what bubbles us in me, what is bubbling up in you?
Christ is risen; we are risen indeed! Ebulitio! and Amen.