Sermons That Work

The Resurrection: Love Which Makes Things a Mess, Great Vigil of Easter (B) – 2000

April 22, 2000

When I was a child my parents sent me to Sunday School. And in all the direct and indirect ways that children ask, I asked “Who is God?” This is what my teachers told me:

God is omnipotent; that is, all-powerful.
God is omniscient; all-knowing.
God is omnificent; all-creative.
And God is omnipresent; God is all-over-the-place!

If you ask me what I think about these definitions tonight, I guess I would say, “not much.”
It’s not that these ideas are unimportant, but they are minor themes. It’s not that these ideas aren’t in Scripture, but they’re a small part of Scripture. They’re a part of Scripture to which the church has often felt drawn when it’s most afraid to deal with God’s passion. But tonight is not so much about intellect and ideas as it is about emotion. Tonight is less about systematic propositions and more about passion. What we celebrate and proclaim tonight is God’s passion; God’s passionate desire for humanity.

I really like movies. One of my favorite movies is Moonstruck. Towards the end of that movie Ronnie says to Loretta:
Love doesn’t make things nice, it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. We’re here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts, and to love the wrong people, and die.

That’s what God’s love is like. That’s what all those stories we heard are about. Salvation history is messy. God loves the wrong people; like a boat builder named Noah, or a mixed up nomad named Abraham, or a bunch of Egyptian slaves called the Israelites, or a wild warrior woman named Deborah, and the prostitute named Rahab, who ended up in the genealogy of Jesus. God loves the wrong people, and God’s heart breaks every time the people wander away. Yet still God calls; still God pursues; still God loves.

Finally God comes to us, as God’s beloved (we call that Immanuel–God with us). And even here, even coming to us, even in Immanuel, God doesn’t make things nice. God doesn’t make things perfect, at least the way we think of perfection. God doesn’t take away death. God doesn’t fix the world. Instead, God joins us. God is so passionate about us that God joins us in birth, in life, and in death. Where we would have God take away death and make the world a nicer placer to live (keeping everything calm and cool and peaceful), God joins us in our death. And, scandal of all scandals, God even enrolls us in this mad, passionate, excessive love for humanity. We’re asked to love as God loves; to risk as God risks; to be the way that God comes to others in love. We’re asked to embody God’s love, to give up safety and security and seemliness in favor of witness and service and evangelism. We’re asked to embrace the things that act out God’s passion for humanity.

There’s a silly and somewhat hedonistic song that I’m sure you’ve all heard. One of the lines says, “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” That’s not what God says. God says, “Be my love. Incarnate, that is, give a body to, my love for everyone whom you meet. Love excessively, passionately. Break your heart, make your life a mess by loving others as I have loved you. Ruin everything and die for love. Have courage. Risk love and remember that I will raise you up at the last.” That’s what God says.

Far too often when people talk about the Resurrection they don’t use that word. Instead, they talk about their “heavenly reward.” The implication is that somehow, if I lead a flat, wimpy, doormat kind of life, I’ll get a reward in the next life. That is most people’s theology of the Resurrection. The danger of that idea is, of course, that if you can’t accept the gift of life now how will you accept the gift of life after you die? Resurrection is not a heavenly reward as much as it is an opportunity for courage and risk. Resurrection is an invitation to spend your life passionately for other people; to love others as God has loved you. Your are invited to know that God’s account for loving is never overdrawn. The Resurrection is not some promise of a heavenly reward as much as it is a reality, a spiritual reality about life and love. God will honor them, life and love. We can risk breaking our hearts and loving the wrong people, serving and witnessing, loving justice and mercy. We can take these risks because we know the Resurrection. God honors life and gives it as a gift again and again.

There’s a Sufi poet name Rumi who often called God his Beloved. He left instructions with his friends for his funeral. I would like them to be the instructions for my funeral. Maybe they can be the instructions for your funeral as well. Rumi said:

If I die, lay me next to the beloved.
If he looks at me, don’t be surprised.
If he kisses me on the lips, don’t be surprised.
If I open my eyes and smile, don’t be surprised.

By using so many readings, the Great Vigil of Easter takes a sweeping look at salvation history. It therefore invites the preacher to share the good news of the Resurrection within a broad vision of God’s work with humanity. In other words, this liturgy suggests that salvation history implies Resurrection. If we take the Johanine idea that we should be doing what God is doing, then salvation history implies an approach to life and ministry. Therefore, Resurrection implies an approach to life and ministry. This sermon is less an exegesis of a particular text than it is an exploration of that very idea; that Resurrection implies a particular approach to life and ministry.

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Christopher Sikkema