God Loved the World This Way

God loved the world this way: she created it. We’re never told why. We’re never told for what purpose. Maybe it was just a joyful act of creation; the kind of thing an artist does. But, for whatever reason that she made a world, she made a world, and she made it good. And she gave it as a gift to itself.

And then we broke it. And God saw that the world was broken and came into the world as one of us: a little baby born in a manger in a backwater province of a powerful empire. He grew in wisdom and in stature and became a prophet to a dispossessed people. He taught and he healed and he performed wonders. And his people—some of his people—hailed him as a king.

And so we took the God who had come to show us a better way, and we hung him on a cross. We crucified him. We do it every day. “For whatever you do to the least of these,” he said, “you do it to me.”

And I know it’s a little weird to start off an Easter sermon this way. But you don’t get Easter without Good Friday. And you don’t comprehend the power of Easter without understanding the condition we were in.

Every person sleeping in a park, or under an overpass, or out in the woods, because they have no home to go to… is Christ, crucified.

Everyone who goes to bed hungry because they don’t have enough food to eat… is Christ, crucified.

Every refugee who is told that our country is full, every immigrant who is told to go back where they came from, every person who is called a terrorist just because of their faith… is Christ, crucified.

Every lesbian or gay or bisexual youth who is thrown out of their house because of their sexual orientation, every transgender person who is told they’re not really who they identify as, every genderqueer person who experiences violence… is Christ, crucified.

Every sick person who cannot find care, every prisoner who walks through the prison gate, every child who is bullied… is Christ, crucified.

And, yes, there are moments when we are Christ, hanging on that cross. And there are far more times when we are Judas, selling him out. And there are far, far, far more times when we are Peter, saying, “I do not even know the man!”

And this is where we are on Sunday morning, when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, go to the tomb that someone has laid their friend and teacher in. 

Every gospel tells this story a little differently. In Mark, it’s Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body with spices. In Luke, it’s Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and some other unnamed women going to the tomb to do the same. In John, it’s Mary Magdalene by herself, who just happens to go to the tomb.

And in Matthew, it’s Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, going to the tomb. Matthew doesn’t tell us why they went or what they were thinking or whether they were talking to each other along the way.

But… if you’ve ever been to the grave of a friend—especially a friend who died suddenly, especially a friend who you feel a little bit of survivor’s guilt over, especially a friend who you were cruel to just before they died—then I suspect you know why they were going. They were going to say, “I let you down… I wish things were different.”

God loved the world this way. When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb, there was an earthquake, and an angel of the Lord rolled the stone away from the tomb. And the angel said to the women,

Do not be afraid! I know that you’re here looking for Jesus, who was crucified, but he’s not here. He’s been raised. See, there’s the spot where he should be and he’s not there. Go tell his disciples that he has been raised from the dead, and tell them to go to Galilee, and tell them that he’ll meet them there.

Matthew 28:5-7

And the women ran away from the tomb with great joy. Their friend and teacher was alive! And the women ran away from the tomb with great fear. Their friend and teacher—who had been betrayed, who had been denied, who had been crucified—was alive!

And I can understand that joy. And I can understand that fear.

We are good mainline protestant Christians. We don’t talk about judgment a lot. But…

If Christ returned today—if the heavens split open right now and the Son of Man came in all his glory and all the angels with him—I wonder how he would see me. And I suspect he would see me surrounded by the bodies of the Christs I have crucified. I suspect he would see me surrounded by the disappointed faces of the Christs I have denied.

And if he followed human justice—if he demanded retribution and the satisfaction of his honor—then he would be justified in sending me into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And I wonder if Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had the same thought. We let you down… we wish things were different, but they’re not… do what you have to do.

But as they run from the tomb in joy and fear, Jesus—who had been betrayed, who had been denied, who had been crucified—appears to them. And he says, “Greetings! Do not be afraid. Go tell the others to meet me in Galilee.”

This is the good news of the gospel: you are forgiven.

There’s nothing you did to earn that. You are not forgiven because you did enough good deeds, or because you’ve lived a good enough life, or because you repented just right, or because you said the sinner’s prayer, or because you signed the little blank in the back of some tract.

You are forgiven—I am forgiven—because God loves the world this way. In spite of all the things we’ve done and all of the things we’ve left undone, God meets us on the road and says, “Do not be afraid.”

In spite of all the things we’ve said and all of the things we’ve left unsaid, God meets us on the journey and says, “Go get your friends and meet me further up the road.”

In spite of all the things we’ve thought and all of the things we’ve left unthought, God meets us on the road and says, “I’m not finished with you, yet. There is still so much more to be done!”

God sees us in all our brokenness and says, “Let me heal you. Let me make you whole. And while I’m doing that, let’s go out together and find some more broken people and heal them.”

That is the gospel, in all its fullness. You are forgiven. God’s not done with you, yet. And if you weren’t afraid before… well…

We have been forgiven. Our slates have been wiped clean. Our debts have been paid. We have been created anew. Not just once, on a Sunday morning, a couple thousand years ago, but every Sunday and every day and several times every day. God keeps coming to us saying, “Do not be afraid. You are forgiven. I’m not done with you yet.”

And the central question of Christian ethics—the central question of Christian life—is, “What are you going to do with that?”

Because there are people sleeping in parks, and under overpasses, and out in the woods, because they have no home to go to…

And there are people who go to bed hungry because they don’t have enough food to eat…

And there are refugees being told that our country is full, and immigrants being told to go back where they came from, and people being called terrorists just because of their faith…

And there are lesbian and gay and bisexual youth who are being thrown out of their houses because of their sexual orientations, and transgender people being told that they’re not really who they identify as, and genderqueer people facing unimaginable violence…

And there are people who are sick and cannot find care, and prisoners walking through the prison gates, and children being bullied…

And so many others. So, so, so many others. All of us, in fact. Every last one of us.

We all need good news; we all need Christ. We all need you to be good news. We all need you to be Christ. We need you to be the hands of Christ, reaching out to help in any way that we need and in any way that you can. We need you to be the feet of Christ, walking alongside us on our journeys through this world. We need you to the mouth of Christ, reminding us again and again that we are the precious children of the God who is love; reminding us that we are loved and worthy of love.

God loved the world this way: she created it. We’re never told why. We’re never told for what purpose. Maybe it was just a joyful act of creation; the kind of thing an artist does. But, for whatever reason that she made a world, she made a world, and she made it good. And she gave it as a gift to itself.

And then we broke it. And God saw that the world was broken and came into the world as one of us: a little baby born in a manger in a backwater province of a powerful empire. He grew in wisdom and in stature and became a prophet to a dispossessed people. He taught and he healed and he performed wonders. And his people—some of his people—hailed him as a king.

And so we took the God who had come to show us a better way, and we hung him on a cross. We crucified him. We do it every day.

And, every time—Every. Single. Time.—God gets up. God looks at us in our brokenness and our guilt and says, “Do not be afraid. Go get your friends and meet me further up the road. I’m not finished with you, yet. There is still so much more to be done!”

God loves the world this way: she creates you. She makes you anew… again and again… an instrument of her peace and love and pardon, of her union and truth and faith, of her hope and light and joy.

So do not be afraid. Go and tell the world that Christ is risen; he is risen indeed! And carry him into the world, being the love of Christ for each other and for everyone you meet.

Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia! Amen.

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