Sermon – Plotting Your Resurrection by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons

2021 April 11

Plotting Your Resurrection

Ana Levy-Lyons

April 4, 2021 – Easter

First Unitarian, Brooklyn – online

When Jesus was dying on the cross, the Scripture story says they tormented him with sarcastic comments about what his God will do for him if he’s really the Messiah. The soldiers said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” One of the criminals hanging next to him piled on, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” At this point Jesus may have flashed back to another time, when he was in the wilderness and the Devil tempted him. He had been fasting for forty days and the Devil had mocked him: “If you are really the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” If you’re really the Son of God, here, jump off the highest part of the temple in Jerusalem. You’ll be fine, right? It says “angels will lift you up in their hands,” right? So. Go on. Let’s see it.

But Jesus didn’t do any of these things. The stones didn’t become bread, he declined to jump from the high tower, and he did later die by crucifixion. The stories say that he performed plenty of other miracles – he walked on water, he healed the sick, he exorcised evil spirits, he even raised people from the dead – lots of other miracles but not these. Not when someone else was testing him. Not when someone else was trying to define him. Not when someone else was trying to tell him what it’s supposed to look like if God is really with him. Only Jesus could know this for himself.

How many times in our lives have we had this experience – of other people trying to tell us who we are and who we aren’t; what our personal ministry is supposed to look like if it’s real. And, yes, I use the word “ministry” intentionally because I believe that every single one of us has our own ministry in this world. Each of us is needed by someone or something. And that’s true even if we don’t have a family to take care of. It’s true even if we do have a family and it prevents us from doing the work out in the world that we wish we could. It’s true if we’re single; it’s true if we’re partnered; it’s true regardless of what kinds of physical and mental abilities we do or don’t have. We each have our own purpose, our own unique gifts that we are called to offer in own way at our own time. No one else can tell us what that way or time is. No one else can tell us what it will look like if we’re succeeding or how our lives would go if there were a God and that God really loved us. No one else can tell us what we should be willing to sacrifice. Only we can know these things for ourselves.

Let me be clear: This is not a message of individualism – that we should all just do whatever we want. Jesus didn’t give himself over to the Roman state because he wanted to be crucified. In fact, the day before in the garden of Gethsemane, he was heartsick. He told his disciples who were with him, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” He believed he would be resurrected, but I imagine that he had some attachment to this life and he dreaded the pain that was ahead. He prayed, imploring God to not make him go through with it. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Let this cup pass from me.” But ultimately he surrendered himself to the greater purpose he was fulfilling. He prayed, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He later put it slightly differently: “If this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” In other words, if the mission can’t be achieved unless I make this sacrifice, I’ll make it. This is faith.

The Baptist minister Clarence Jordan wrote, “Faith is not belief in spite of evidence, but a life in scorn of the consequences.” A life in scorn of the consequences. In other words, faith is knowing that you’re working with a higher power, greater cause, or deeper truth and that whatever mockery or worldly cost it entails, you’re willing to take it. It’s a life guided more by your own inner light, and less by the agendas of society. If you’re a starling, it may mean being a bookworm, rather than a flying bird. But we all know that those agendas of society – those outer voices – are really loud. They’re chattering and flapping at us from every corner of the internet, from every store we enter, from our workplaces and schools, from our own family. The voices are not all bad, some of them are supportive and loving; but wow, are they still loud. And wow, can it be hard to hear our own truth or the voice of our God in the din.

Some of the noisy voices aren’t outside of us at all, but inside us. Like the Devil who harassed Jesus, sometimes there’s the voice of depression, the voice of anxiety, the voice of “I’m not good enough,” the voice of resentment or jealously, the voice of guilt. All these voices are conspiring to tell us who we can be and who we can’t be. Outside and inside, it’s a pandemonium of voices.

People may try to tell you what you should feel about the pandemic, what you must be craving, what you must want to go back to, and what your own resurrection should certainly look like when it’s all over. Did you do the pandemic right? Did you do enough? Did you emerge with a six-pack and a raise and a published screenplay? No. Scorn those voices! We’ve all had such different experiences of the pandemic and we’ve each had such different roles to play. No one else gets to say, “If you really were doing it right, you would fill-in-the-blank.” No one else gets to judge how you’re getting through.

During this pandemic, many of us have felt spiritually entombed. We’ve been cut off from family, missing celebrations and holidays; delaying cherished dreams. We’ve lost loved ones and been unable to grieve in community. It’s been over a year now. But we are sensing that the stone is starting to roll away. As Jesus foretold his resurrection, we are predicting with fervent hope that we are entering a period of collective resurrection this spring and summer. We know that the pandemic is far from over – infection numbers are still high in New York City and around the world. The recovery is shamefully uneven. I ask you to continue to be careful to not spread the virus for everyone’s sake.

But as the weather is warming and vaccine shots are going into arms we are beginning to let ourselves believe that a resurrection really is coming. Ordinary things, like having lunch with a friend, will feel miraculous. Artists getting back to work, children getting back to school will feel like a godsend. In the words of Todd Wynward, the Mennonite minister whose poem Tyrone read earlier, we are beginning to believe that “spring will not be cancelled.” And so we begin to dare to ask ourselves, “What am I going to do with my resurrection?”

I want to invite us each to have an Easter talk with ourselves. To sit ourselves down and ask, “Who does my faith call me to be right now? And in order to be that person, which voices do I need to listen to and which do I need to ignore? Of what consequences am I willing to live in scorn?” Because that’s what it’s all about right? If there were no consequences, being who we are, speaking our truth, and living out our unique ministry would be easy. We’d all be doing it all the time. And we don’t. Jesus modelled what it means to live a life in scorn of the consequences. He knew where all his teaching and preaching and rabble rousing was going to land him. He knew that the Roman Empire doesn’t play games. But he did it anyway. He lived the life he felt called to live. And in the end, he walked knowingly, with eyes wide open, into the trap that had been set for him. At the end of his prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane, he basically said to his disciples, “Well, it’s time. I’ve been betrayed and in fact here’s my betrayer now. Come on, let’s go.”

We have a wonderful Easter tradition at First U – some of you who are newer to the congregation may not have been part of this yet, but here’s what it is: as people enter the sanctuary, each person receives a piece of flash paper. This is a special kind of magician’s paper that, if you touch it to a flame, explodes and disappears. We each write on our piece of paper the thing that we are willing to let die, to let go of, in order to be resurrected this spring. What’s the thing that’s holding us back? What’s the destructive pattern we need to get free from? We write that thing on our piece of paper. We infuse our piece of paper with that thing. And then one by one, we come forward, touch the flash paper to the chalice flame and let it go.

This year we can’t do this in the same way for obvious reasons. We thought of mailing you all some flash paper, but that would be all kinds of illegal and dangerous. But we can still invest this holiday and this moment in our shared story with meaning. We can still pause in this season and seize this moment for transformation. We can ignite that flash in our minds. Today, let’s let that flash be the flash of creativity, the flash of our own truth, the flash of boldness, the flash of unconditional self-love wherever we are at in our lives right now.

We may or may not all ground our faith in a god who loves us personally. But we can all faithfully tell ourselves: “I am of infinite value. [flash!] I am unique in the universe. [flash!] My life is a miracle. [flash!] I am worthy of unconditional love [flash!]. My body is here on this earth for a brief spark of a moment. Nobody is going to tell me what to do with my moment. [flash!] I have no use for your noise [flash!]. I will not listen to ‘I can’t’ [flash!]. I can and I will do what it takes to join the resurrection of this season [flash!]. ‘I’m not gonna’ knock; I’m just gonna’ walk on in’ [flash!].”

Whether or not Jesus had a bodily resurrection we can sense that something of him survived his death. Maybe it was this holy scorn of the consequences of his life. That he was willing to act on pure faith, doing the work he was called to do, without giving a fig for society’s opinions, questions, and punishments. That delicious scorn rose up from his dead body and has lived on for over 2000 years. That scorn is thrilling. That commitment to a calling is inspiring. That confidence of knowing who you are is deeply comforting.

May we soak in some of that holy scorn this Easter Sunday. Today may we find faith in a larger purpose and plot our own resurrection accordingly. We are green shoots pressing up through the earth like the season of spring. We are water bubbling through rock emerging as a spring. We are like a coil, long compressed and ready to spring. Today let’s answer only to the holy that is at our core, to the call that only we can hear to guide us. Let’s clear away the debris of doubt from our path. Spring will not be cancelled. Today let nothing keep us down. Let nothing hold us back. 

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