April 8, 2012 Gospel: Mark 16:1-8 1st Reading: Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
One of the joys of having Fridays as my day off is that I get to listen to Science Friday on NPR on the way to mom’s group at Providence Portland. A few weeks ago, Alan Alda was on to talk about his “flame challenge.” When he was 11, he asked his teacher, “What is a flame?” She didn’t answer in a way that satisfied him. So now he is holding this contest that will be judged by 11 year olds. Over 800 people wrote in explaining what a flame is in a way that hopefully makes sense to an 11 year old.
I listened to one explanation by Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman from the 1980s. He explained it this way. He said that everything is made up of vibrating molecules. When something is hotter the molecules are vibrating faster. Oxygen and carbon like to be joined together. When a tree takes them in, the energy of the sun jiggles them until they break apart. The tree keeps the carbon and releases the oxygen. So when a fire happens, the nearby molecules are really shaking around and they bump into the ones in the tree and the carbon and oxygen get slammed into each other and connect again and they emit the heat and light, the energy of the sun. That’s the fire.
All pastors I know went into the ministry so they could help other people. But we all a second reason. Some want to pick the hymns. Others get all geeky about the wardrobe. And then there are the pastors like me, who enjoy fire—the candles, the holy spirit, the life, the energy!
And that’s what this morning’s readings are all about. Fire.
We read about the spreading of the gospel from one person to the next, from one community to the next. It isn’t like my smart balance buttery spread where it has to become thinner in one part in order to cover the rest of the bread. This is a spreading that is not diminished by sharing. Instead it grows in intensity and spreads in all directions without anyone running out.
It seems like a really exciting time. Everyone was trying to figure out who Jesus was and what his resurrection means to each of us. People were arguing and discussing. They were trying to live out their faith in different ways. Some were living in community and sharing all things in common. Some were partying day and night in celebration. Some were keeping the Jewish customs and others were throwing them off entirely.
Everyone was jiggling like the molecules of a hot substance. They would bump into other molecules. One person would wonder why this person was so passionate about their religious experience. The one would share with the other what their faith meant to them and the faith spread, like fire.
I don’t know if faith is like this so much anymore—at least Christian faith. What has happened is that we have tried to contain the flame. Maybe we have taken some of the mystery out of it by explaining it to death. We’ve tried to contain it—a controlled burn. We’ve tried to say this is what faith is, what it should look like in your life, how it should be expressed, what you can do and not do as a person of faith. And it in trying to contain it, we’ve snuffed it out. The church has almost snuffed it out.
The message of the Gospel is one in which brings new life in the face of destruction. It is a message of hope in a hopeless situation. It shows that where we see death, there is still an ember of life there. There are still jiggling molecules even though we might not see them.
And this is a message that is true. There is reason for hope. If it weren’t for hope, we wouldn’t bring children into this world and get out of bed every morning and reach out beyond ourselves to give a hand to a stranger. We need hope, or we wouldn’t go on. There is a lot to be hopeful about. We’ve got the resources to feed everyone on this planet. We live in a place where we can practice our religion freely, where we can participate in a democracy, where we can speak our minds. Each of us has people who love us. We had enough health to get here this morning—enough food, transportation, energy.
And we’ve come to hear a story of ultimate hope—the story of Jesus. He came as a helpless person, although he held the power to create the universe. He lived a life like ours. He experienced strength and weakness. He sometimes felt overwhelmed and other times full of energy and life. He experienced love. He embodied love. He crossed boundaries of what was acceptable in his time and talked to people he wasn’t supposed to. He didn’t really care about the social order and all our stupid rules. They didn’t make sense to him so he chucked them. He was a molecule jiggling with love and he didn’t care who he bumped into and shared his energy with. He was an equal opportunity savior. Jesus’ fire would not be contained.
This is a greater hope than the world can offer. It is powerful. It is about love and forgiveness. And this power is eternal—it has no end but extends from this life, through death, and into the next life.
His jiggling and sharing his energy ticked a lot of people off and they moved to take the jiggle right out of him. They set out to stop him in his tracks. You know eventually the jiggling of molecules slows and that is why things cool off as long as they aren’t being hit by other jigglers. So for three days he lay in the tomb. But Jesus is the source of all life, all energy, all heat, all jiggling, all love and so he was raised and came back to continue to share life with those who wanted him dead.
This is a message the world needs to hear. People need hope right now. They don’t need to hear, “Oh it will be alright,” or “Don’t worry.” They need a reason to hope. They need people willing to help them. They need to bump into some people with some energy to share—food, clothing, money, help. The need to meet people on fire with the Gospel. It isn’t that they necessarily need us to tell them about Jesus. Remember, the women didn’t say anything to anyone. Instead, they need someone to act like they’ve met Jesus. They need to meet someone vibrating with new life and willing to bump into them and share some of that energy.
Fire is a lot of things. It is life. It is light. It is some little pieces of carbon coming together with oxygen. But most of all it is an event. It is a happening. I don’t know if most of us would claim that the gospel is happening to us, right now. But it is. We are creatures of new life. We got a new start this morning, a chance to try another day unencumbered by guilt and shame. We can see this beautiful earth all around us, the flowers, the birds, the trees, the mountain. We can meet all kinds of people who have gifts and skills to share that we might need and we have gifts that we can also share with them. Families are getting together to share food and love and laughter and maybe a good argument or two. The good news of new life is happening right now. If we could open our eyes to see it, we might dare to work to transform our world, so that the parts that aren’t hopeful and life-giving might be changed so that more people could be jiggled with hope and new life and get energy and light to keep going.
It says in the Gospel that the women were afraid. We live in a world in which fear is trying to keep hope in check. We fear rejection. We fear we won’t have enough. We fear that people will see through us. We are afraid we won’t do it right. The church has used fear to control the fire, the hope, the joy. Politicians use fear to keep our imaginations in check because they profit from us being powerless. The corporations use fear to sell things to us that we don’t need because we are fearful we won’t be enough without them. Jesus comes so that we can be fearless and break out of the chains of fear and bump into each other with hope.
It says in the Gospel that the women said nothing to anyone. Maybe it isn’t a matter of what we say, but what we do that shares the good news of new life. It is reaching out to someone we’ve hurt or who has hurt us. It is volunteering and helping. It is sharing what we have with others. It is sharing our feelings with other people and our compassion.