Sunday, April 22, 2012

Meet Me in Galilee

Meet Me in Galilee
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 22, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Mark 16:1-8 

Our second Gospel reading comes from the end of Mark. If you look in your pew Bibles there is probably a break in the text at the close of this reading. Many scholars believe that this is the original ending for the text. Let us pray for God’s illuminating presence.

Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show us the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life. 

Mark 16: 1-8
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Have you ever looked at the significant differences between the Gospels? They all have distinctive features, they contain unique emphasis, and they portray many different events. Do you have a favorite? Are you drawn to one of the gospels more than the others? Many like Luke for the classic parables and the developed narrative of Jesus’ eventful journey to Jerusalem. Some prefer Matthew for its social teaching and the Sermon on the Mount. I had always liked the Gospel of John, for in John, Jesus speaks about himself, explaining quite poetically to us about the significance of his life, with classic passages like “I am the Good Shepherd,” or “I am the Way, the truth and the Life,” or “For God So loved the World that he gave his only begotten Son.” Rarely though is Mark chosen as a favorite, but at this point in my journey as a student, teacher, minister, disciple, and human being, I find myself strangely drawn to Mark more and more.
It is strange that the Gospel of Mark would appeal to someone whose first career choice was that of an English teacher because it certainly lacks the polish of the others. It goes from event to event quickly. It never slows down to develop its characters or to effectively describe its  events. It never slows down enough for the reader to catch his/her breath and take in the scene. Instead it races to its climax and leaves the reader wondering what exactly just happened.
The characters are also troublesome. The followers of Jesus are always making mistakes, constantly confused, and are repeatedly fearful. Even Jesus’ portrayal is much more human in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus spits, he rebukes, he tells people to keep secret his miracles and healings, and all the time he is speaking of the coming of the “Kingdom of God,” which must have sounded to his audience much like Chicken Little’s refrain that the sky is falling. It is strikingly different than in the other Gospels. But what is most striking and upsetting about Mark is the ending, which is the scripture lesson that I read this morning and which gives shape to this morning’s message.
The Easter scene that we all celebrated a couple weeks ago happens in Mark much like it does in the other Gospels. The Mary’s go to the tomb to anoint the body, worrying on the way about how they will roll away the stone, but they get there, the stone is moved and the body is gone. A young man in white robes is there and tells them, “ Do not be amazed, You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here. He has risen.” Then he tells them to go get the disciples, mentioning Peter by name, and tell them to meet Jesus in Galilee, where he will go before you.” All very simple, we are all familiar with the story, but then Mark throws in the twist. “And they went out and fled from the tomb; for they were trembling and frightened, and they said nothing to no one for they were afraid.” Nothing to No one!
As I said before this is thought by most scholars to be the original ending to the Gospel of Mark. There was added a longer ending, which redeems the disciples to some extent. I can imagine that it was added because obviously this isn’t the end of the story, the Mary’s had to have said something to someone, or else how would we know what happened. It is not the end of the story, but it is the end of Mark’s Gospel. With No doubting Thomas story, no Road to Emmaus, no Feed my sheep, and no great Commissioning.
So to sum up, Mark’s Gospel is not aesthetically written, the characters are not developed, and at least other than Jesus, the characters are all pretty underwhelming, if not outright pathetic, and the ending is cut short, leaving the story very much in limbo and us the reader left wanting.
All of these issues about the Gospel of Mark are true, but at second look perhaps the seeming sloppiness of the writing may just be intentional. Perhaps it is not poor writing at all, but a subtle and artistic method of showing a truth that the other more polished Gospels often miss. It tells the truth that the story of Jesus life, teaching, death, and resurrection is all at once frightening, earthy, human, messy, confusing, life changing, earth shattering, world shaking, and both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. It is this aspect of the Gospel of Mark that continually draws me in and challenges my heart, mind, and soul, and also that makes this Gospel so important for our lives today.
So the Gospel of Mark moves very quickly. There is a sense throughout that time is short and constant action is crucial. Everything that happens seems to happen immediately. The word immediately is used repeatedly

  Mark 1:42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

·  Mark 2:8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts

·  Mark 5:29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

·  Mark 5:42 Immediately the girl stood up and walked around  

·  Mark 6:27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head.  

·  Mark 6:45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat   

·  Mark 6:51 Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."  

·  Mark 9:20 When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion.  

·  Mark 9:24 Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

·  Mark 10:52 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

·  Mark 14:72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time.

             Does this reflect poor writing or does it reveal some greater truth? Life moves quickly. And I don’t mean “time flies when you’re having fun” or the speed of hustle and bustle, of job requirements, 3 minute pop songs, fitting in as many news stories as possible between commercials. We are all very familiar with the intense speed of our technologically driven existence, but a few years ago I got a reminder that life in the natural world can be every bit as fast.
Dad and I went out fishing, or what you’d probably call boating, we didn’t have much luck in the fish department, but we got out to the York River and there was no wind and the water was as calm as glass. So we ventured up river toward West Point to check out an area of the river that we hadn’t seen before. When we got as far as we were going to go, we cast our lines, immediately the wind picked up out of nowhere and what was once glass, turned into rough waters and white caps. The skies were still clear, but our situation changed significantly and quickly. Immediately what was a leisurely fishing trip turned into an intense battle against wind, waves, water and freezing temperature. For those who have been in the midst of a hurricane or tornado, or a earth quake, life does change quickly.
But could you imagine how much faster life would change if you were in the company of Jesus? We as Christians have studied the Gospels for almost two thousand years. So we are completely familiar with most of the stories. Our familiarity tends to lessen the impact of them. We somehow without wonder, digest easily that Jesus walked on the water, and calmed the storm, and healed countless people, and fed multitudes, and so many other mind blowing miracles. The speed of Mark allows us to get a glimpse of the intensity of what life is like with Jesus running loose in the world.
What about the disciples though, who seem to us like a bunch of bumbling stooges, fearful, slow, always a step behind, and utterly confused. Their confusion is a reminder to us of the awesome nature of Jesus’ ministry. Of course we can judge them as foolish, but we have the luxury of time and slowness and rereading the passages that used to blow our minds, while they are dealing with all of it real time. We say to ourselves, “if I were them I would have acted much differently. To have been able to see those miracles first hand would remove all doubt from my heart.” Perhaps, but in the real time speed of our lives, how open are we to experiencing the totality of the Risen Christ? After two thousand years, aren’t we just as confused and incapable of “getting it” as the disciples are? Many times we like to simplify and package the Gospel Message, completely missing its awesome impact, showing ourselves to be just as foolish as the disciples, who speak up every time they think they get it, but are repeatedly proven hopelessly wrong and utterly incorrect. How very like the disciples we truly are. I think that is why there is very limited character development of the disciples in the Gospel. Our lives fill in those details because Mark’s Gospel invites us into the narrative as the disciples.
Now having dealt with the speed of the Gospel and the lack of character development., let’s take a crack at the ending of the Gospel, so seemingly anticlimactic and underwhelming, after the greatest saving miracle in the history of the world. Jesus crucified and risen, and the final and concluding response is that “they told nothing to no one.”
By the way as an aside in Greek the double negative Ogdeni ogden (no thing, no thing, they said) is for emphasis, in case there are any other High School English teachers here this morning, thinking that a double negative is really a defacto positive. No such luck here, nothing to nobody, means they didn’t utter a word, they were completely silent, mute, read my lips (nothing to nobody).
It’s really perfect as an ending. For me it’s this ending that makes Mark my favorite Gospel. Think about what it allows. Remember the pains that Mark has gone to, creating for us the three year whirlwind of life as discipleship, inviting us to live it for ourselves as a disciple. It’s so crucial because now as the reader of the Gospel, we are given a choice. Jesus is risen!, and he has gone ahead of us to Galilee. We can either meet Him there, or we can say nothing to no one.
Let me say it again, we can meet him there, in Galilee to continue as disciples, or we can say nothing to no one, ruled instead by our fear and confusion. The Gospel leaves it open doesn’t it?
There are obviously people who say nothing to nobody. It after all is a quite legitimate reaction for sure. Resurrection is a difficult thing to wrap your mind around. Can it happen? Did it happen? What if it did happen? What does all this mean? I’m afraid! I’m not worthy! I’m confused! How can I meet Jesus there? Who am I to do so? What will he have me do? Hmmm maybe I better not, so you say nothing to nobody and you go back to your life unchanged and uninspired and unaffected.
But what if you do decide to meet the Risen Christ in Galilee? What happens then? Luke shows the disciples encounter with Jesus on the Road to Emmaus? John shows the encounter with Doubting Thomas and tells Peter to feed his sheep? Matthew shows how Jesus empowers the disciples with the Great Commissioning, but Mark leaves it open. I love that he leaves it open, for it opens up the possibilities for us. It is our choice whether we meet him or not, and there is no telling what we will find when we take the leap and meet him in Galilee. For our encounter won’t be like Thomas’s and it won’t be like Peter’s, instead it will be every bit our own, completely unique to us and different each time.
But Mark doesn’t leave us completely hanging. He gives us more than is at first apparent. I believe that it is not mere coincidence that Mark ends his Gospel with the invitation from Christ to meet him in Galilee, and that he opens his Gospel with Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He invites us to go back to the beginning with Jesus and relive the journey of discipleship again; to go through the three year whirlwind with him again; to encounter the life of Jesus again and again and again. That is the beauty of Mark’s Gospel: Mark’s invitation to us to relive the encounter of Jesus, repeatedly just as if Jesus had been truly raised and is truly risen, and let loose on the world for all of us to truly experience. Three years.
A couple of weeks ago on the show, How I Met Your Mother they did a cool thing. The show revolves around a father explaining to his kids in 202-something how he met their mother sometime around now, and for the last 5 years or so, the show has been on and he hasn't met her yet, but since it is all told as a story, it is full of flashbacks, and the point of view looking back allows the story to jump around to different points of time. A couple of weeks ago the show revealed a pact that the main guy, Ted,  and his friends made to watch the Star Wars Trilogy every three years. It started when they were college seniors in the year 2000, while they watched they made predictions based on their hopes and dreams of where they would be three years later. Then the show flashed forward to 2003, and we as the audience got to see how some of their predictions came true, and how some didn't. Then the pattern continued 2006, 2009, 2012, where the main character was still single, having not yet met the "mother," but then predictions were made again with the same hopes for 2015. . . They showed him with a baby introducing the baby to Star Wars. It was really a cool show. . .
Do we ever know where we will be three years from now? I don't think the disciples did, either at the beginning of their encounter with Jesus, or three years later in the wake of the empty tomb. The call is made simply to meet Jesus in Galilee to begin a whirlwind journey, and then to follow. I first preached this very sermon three years ago. The members of the now dissolved PNC have heard it before because I had a recording of it. At that time my life was filled with questions, and it still is today. I was about to graduate seminary, then what? I was about to get married. Then what? I was forced to make a bunch of decisions. . . and God’s faithful direction on those decisions have all brought me to this place, but would this be what I thought it would be like those three years ago. Two jobs, almost two kids, I never would have thought it possible, but it is. Where will I be three years from now? Where will you be three years from now? Where will this church be three years from now? It is fun to think about, and it is possible to plan, but if we decide to meet Christ in Galilee, as called, all of those plans will go straight out the window, and then real and true life can and will begin.
Let us pray!
Wondrous God, your invitation is clear, give us the strength to accept it in our lives, day by day and with each passing moment, for if we are pointed in your direction, we know that you will guide our steps through the whirlwind that is life in Christ. In the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, Redeemer, and Friend, we humbly pray. Amen.