It is the LORD who created the stars,
the Pleiades and Orion.
He turns darkness into morning
and day into night.
He draws up water from the oceans
and pours it down as rain on the land.
The LORD is his name!
(Hubble telescope photo)
It makes me shiver when I hear of a church leader choosing to leave family, church and ministry in one fell swoop. Sin is such an indiscriminate destroyer; and I have no slinging stones in-hand because there isn’t a sin, big or bad enough—murder, lying, adultery, pride (for a more comprehensive listing, please see the Bible) that exempts any of us from the truth that, “there, but for the grace of God, go I…”
For everyone has sinned;
we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
Sometimes we speculate and wonder what outcomes and consequences might follow a particular choice—but other times, there’s no need to guess; because it’s spelled out in plain old English.
Dear brothers and sisters,
not many of you should become teachers in the church,
for we who teach will be judged more strictly.
“Judged more strictly”. Succinct. Non-ambiguous words. James didn’t even wrap them up in a parable that could be interpreted on various levels. He just laid them out there stark naked-like: “judged more strictly”.
Makes me shiver.
(Hubble telescope picture)
(Based on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John)
Have you heard? Have you heard what happened this morning?
IT’S AMAZING! And you may not believe me—just like the disciples don’t believe me right now; but I’m telling you, I know what I heard—I know what I saw—and I know what I know.
But wait—I’m getting ahead of myself—let me tell you the entire story.
My name is Mary—Mary from Magdala—the little fishing village at the bottom of Mt. Arbel over beside the Sea of Galilee.
These days most people call me Mary Magdalene; but just a few years ago, back before I met Jesus, people called me a lot of different names—not very nice names. They were afraid of me and said I was demon possessed; they were right—and my life was cold and dark.
Then I heard about a Miracle Worker called Jesus of Nazareth—how he was going from town to town—telling crippled people to get up and walk and telling blind people to open their eyes and see. The story was that one time he even woke up a dead boy—during his own funeral! Talk about excitement—people said you could hear that boy’s mother laughing and shouting for miles around.
But as for me, the most amazing part was how people said he knew everybody’s name—even if he’d never met them. They said he knew everything about them—even all the bad stuff they’d ever done, but he didn’t shame them and say that God hated them—instead he said that God loved them and wanted them to love him. That was so radical and different from what our teachers—the chief priests and Pharisees—had taught us about God.
Then one day I met Jesus—and he said MY name—he said “Mary”. I held my breath and stood very very still—and then, praise be to God, do you know what he did? He commanded seven demons to leave me! AND THEY DID! And then I could breathe again—I was alive on the inside—I didn’t feel dead anymore.
From then on, I followed him—I couldn’t NOT follow him; and I and all the rest saw him do some amazing things—one time he even let Peter walk on top of the Sea of Galilee!! Can you imagine? ON TOP OF THE WATER!
Jesus taught us so many things—lots of things we didn’t really understand; and our teachers, the chief priests and Pharisees, HATED the things he said. When he told them he was Messiah—the Son of God—they accused him of blasphemy.
Jesus never did anything bad to anybody, but they lied about him and beat and disrespected him. Then on Friday—The Day of Preparation before Passover—just the day before yesterday, I stood with His mother Mary. We watched them crucify him on a wooden cross—between two criminals—over on Golgatha’s hill. It was horrible and so very wrong—I can’t even begin to tell you—but perhaps you were there. Maybe you saw the sky turn black for three hours right in the middle of the day—maybe you felt that huge earthquake. If I hadn’t been so numb, I think I would have died from fright.
Then we heard Jesus cry out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And then he died—and I was so confused—how could our Messiah be dead? We waited and watched—finally one of the Roman soldiers came over and stabbed Jesus in His side with a spear—blood and water gushed out.
Later, Joseph from Arimathea (he was a secret disciple until then) and Nicodemus came and took Jesus’ body down from the cross. They wrapped it in strips of linen cloth along with a lot of spices that Nicodemus had brought. Then they carried Jesus away; we followed them—and watched them put his body in a new tomb over in the garden near Golgatha. Then Joseph rolled a great big stone up against the entrance of the tomb and closed it.
Exhausted, we went home and mixed spices and perfumes together to take back to the grave and finish anointing Jesus’ body for burial; but before we could finish, the Sabbath hour had arrived and it was too late. We honored God’s commandment and stayed home and rested yesterday. That was Saturday.
But today—this morning—Sunday morning, we got up before daylight and started walking back to the tomb carrying the spices. It was dark and chilly; and as we hurried along, we tried to figure out how we were going to get inside because of that big stone Joseph had rolled over the entrance. Then the strangest thing happened—the very ground beneath our feet started shaking—just like it did on Friday when Jesus died. It was scary, but also a good thing—because it must have rolled the stone away—the tomb was open!
Then we saw something very peculiar—soldier’s equipment scattered all around a dying campfire over on the side—it looked as though somebody had left in a big hurry. I saw a ribbon and a broken Roman seal just dangling there; it was, I tell you, most peculiar.
However, I didn’t pay much attention to that because all I could think was—someone has stolen our Lord’s body! I turned around and ran to find Peter and John so I could tell them what had happened. They got all excited and ran back with me—John got there first and looked inside the open tomb; but when Peter got there he went straight inside and then they both witnessed that what I’d said was true—Jesus’ body was gone!
We talked for a while; there was nothing we could do though so they finally left, but I just couldn’t. I stayed there outside the empty tomb and cried and cried. Finally I leaned down and looked inside for myself—and you may not believe me—but I saw two angels. Their clothes gleamed as white as snow and I had to squint my eyes because they looked as bright as lightning. They were sitting down—there on the stone slab where Joseph and Nicodemus had laid Jesus’ body—one angel at the head and the other at the foot. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t even scared.
The angels asked me why I was crying and so I told them, ”they’ve taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”
Then I turned around to see the sun coming up over the garden behind me and saw a man standing there—I figured he was probably the gardener—and maybe he knew something. Then he asked me why I was crying.
I said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.”
And do you know what He said?
He said my name—He said, “Mary.” And I knew His voice—it was Jesus; it was my Teacher and my Lord—it was my JESUS.
I ran over and grabbed Him—I wanted to hold on to Him forever so He’d never leave me again—but He said, “Don’t hold on to me for I’ve not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
So I did—I went to the disciples and told them the news, ”I have seen the Lord!” and then I told them what He’d said to me.
And guess what? They didn’t believe me; but I know what I heard—and I know what I saw—and I know what I know. He is NOT dead—HE IS ALIVE—and He said my name!