She sat across from me in my office years ago, and yet I can still see her face. I’ll call her Mary. Mary was a Christian. She loved Jesus. She was active in a young adult Christian group. Then one night, everything changed. One of the young men in the group, another professed follower of Jesus, lured her to his home, and victimized her. Mary was never the same. Sometime later, she found her way to my church, and to my office, for guidance.
She was confused. Like many women who have been abused in this way, she thought it was somehow her fault, that she had done something wrong. She wondered if God was punishing her, or trying to teach her a lesson. She asked me, “How could God let me get hurt when I was one of God’s faithful people? I was leading other people to know Jesus?” I had no answers to satisfy Mary.
But I will never forget the day, when I asked her: “Do you believe that God loves everyone?” She said “Yes, except me.” She believed that God could forgive every human being on the planet of every mistake. And I did not even think she had made a mistake that led to her abuse. But even if she had, she believed that God could forgive ANYONE, but not her.
In her head, she knew this did not make sense, but in her heart she could accept that God loved her.
Have you ever been there? Have you ever been in that spot, of just not being able to trust in the miracle that God could love you? No questions asked. Have you ever been in the position to make a choice – to trust in the miracle of Jesus – or not? Well of course you have! We are in the position every day. Today, this Easter day is no different. Today, we have to choose – will we believe the miracle – or not? Will we believe that the women went to the tomb and found it empty? Will we believe that Jesus rose from the dead?
Because here is the thing about faith – it is a choice. There is no proof. It comes down to putting our trust in God. I, for one, choose to trust God. And I think you want to trust God too, or you would not be here today. We want to choose hope. We are a people of hope.
There are a couple of other Marys in our Bible story for today, they are called Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. They go to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been taken, after he died on the cross. They go there to anoint his body. Here is how the story goes in Matthew’s gospel (MATTHEW 28:1-10 from the Message translation for those following along via the net): “The earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God's angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow-white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn't move.” “ 5-6The angel spoke to the women: "There is nothing to fear here. I know you're looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed. 7"Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, 'He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.' That's the message."
Now if you were in their shoes, what would you have thought? I might have thought I was having an hallucination, from all the grief, and probably from a lack of sleep. They SAW Jesus die. No one comes back to life after they have clearly died as Jesus died. I think they could have felt like my young friend Mary felt, when her life fell apart. My Mary felt abandoned by her God. I tried to be her angel and say: “No your God is not dead from you. God is still alive and with you. You are not forgotten. God loves you and God has never left you.”
Well here is what happened in the story of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. 8-10The women, deep in wonder and full of joy, lost no time in leaving the tomb. They ran to tell the disciples. Then Jesus met them, stopping them in their tracks. "Good morning!" he said. They fell to their knees, embraced his feet, and worshiped him. Jesus said, "You're holding on to me for dear life! Don't be frightened like that. Go tell my brothers that they are to go to Galilee, and that I'll meet them there."
Now the women had a choice, just like we do. They could have given in to their fear. They could have run home, afraid to say anything, and just waited a little longer. But instead, they allowed themselves to be filled with wonder and joy. They lost no time. They went to tell their friends about the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection. And then they were given the most wonderful gift. They saw Jesus himself! And Jesus gave them a message: “Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee and I will meet them.” (Want to guess where we get the crazy idea women can preach?)
Here is the thing, if the women had not trusted, and told the story, we would not be here today. We would never have heard the story of Jesus. We would never have heard the witness to the power of God to overcome death! Because this whole thing – this whole movement of Christianity, is a movement of one person telling another; who tells another; who tells another. It’s about people who trust in the power of God’s love to transform our lives. You see, God can take our broken, dead, mistake-laden lives, and forgive us, and heal us of the things that we do, and the things that other people do to us. God can make us into new people. God can take the dead places of our lives, and make us new.
That is what I was trying to say to my friend Mary in those conversations back in my office. Mary is still trying to claim that love of God in her life. She has had some ups and downs. I reconnected with her this week. She told me that I might not want to talk about her in this sermon, because everything is not all rosy in her life now. She is still struggling. She lives in another city now. She is having conversations with another pastor, who reassures her as well of God’s love for her. She is still having trouble believing that. But I know Mary wants to believe it – otherwise, why would she be going to church, and why would she be going to see that pastor? She wants to believe. I believe in the transformative power of God. I believe in the resurrection. I believe in the power of God to restore Mary to wholeness. Because God has done it for me.
I believe in God’s power to make us new too. Because you see, I make mistakes too. And I have to ask for God’s forgiveness. I have made mistakes just this week. And I will probably make some this next week. Big sigh. That’s why I have to come see you all every week, and be here in worship with you. It’s why we come together each week. Because here, we remember that God forgives us and loves us, and God has the power to overcome the death of our mistakes and make us into something new.
Jesus went to his death on the cross, so that God could raise him from the dead and show us that death does not have the last word. Our mistakes, our sin, and our sorrow do not have the last word. God always has the last word. And this is the message: Jesus lives, and we can live too.
So, my friends, on this Easter Sunday, let us claim that message. Let us say “YES” to The Miracle. Let us put our trust in God – the one who brings life when all we feel is death. And then, like Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, let’s go tell the world – let’s go tell the world about Jesus. Tell the world about Jesus – and tell the world about God’s love for us. The message never gets old. We need to hear it. Everyone out there needs to hear it. God Loves Us. Hear that again GOD LOVES US. Now, say it out loud for yourself – GOD LOVES US. Now, Go, tell the world that message.
Do you believe that? Do you feel it and know it? If not, find a place where you can find that truth. If you’re near the corner of Monroe & Central in Toledo, come join us as we remind each other of this truth. We’re here every Sunday at 11 AM and out in the world the rest of the week.