April 23, 2023
Scripture Reading: Exodus 3:1-15
I just had to come back to this post-resurrections topic one more time – give it one more attempt to see if I can come closer to saying what I think needs saying!
I can’t seem to get over the experience of Mary Magdalene as John remembered it on the first day of the week after the crucifixion. She goes to the tomb, finds it empty, filled with grief, and can only sit down and cry her heart out with grief. Her life had crumbled and the voice that had healed and forgiven her was silenced.
A stranger came up behind her and said: “Woman, why are you weeping?” “If you know where he was taken, tell me and I’ll take him away.” And Jesus said the healing word one more time: “Mary!”
Mary never needed a slogan or a gospel to forever believe that “God is still speaking!” That word, that experience, changed her life. It was a living word, before any printed word about the life of Christ!
We have been so blessed to have lived at a time when Bibles (those printed words) are so easy to come by. So many words – so inexpensive and available. Those words can certainly be for us the words of God to our hearts, but they can be like a letter written in the handwriting of a departed loved one that we run across after they’ve gone. Precious and cherished, but what we crave is not a printed document, but it is to hear their voice again.
Church is a place where we gather in the hopes of hearing our name one more time! We want to be able to say with Mary: “I know that God is still speaking!” I know it because I heard my name!
You could have sat down and debated the theology of resurrection and quoted scripture to her for a solid week and the words would have never been a substitute for that ONE word from the lips of Jesus: “Mary!” She could have been in grief counseling for months on end and it couldn’t have equaled that ONE word!
How can I say it in another way? I’m guessing most of you who take photographs will understand this perfectly. I doubt that I have gone on even one vacation without coming home and sorting through my photos and staring bewilderedly at too many of them and then said to Mary Ann or myself: “I can’t imagine why I took that picture. It just looks like a bunch of trees on a hillside!” And then I toss it because it has no life for me any more!
The truth is, I took it because in the moment, my spirit was stirred by what I was experiencing looking out over that vista and I wanted to preserve the EXPERIENCE. When all I have left of the experience is a static photograph, it’s empty!
Or it is sometimes like that when I photograph people. Children. I get home and discover that I didn’t capture what I felt! It’s now just a kid on a bicycle!
When we first went to Italy, it was a dream of a lifetime come true! We researched, took Italian lessons, looked at the WebSites, and studied the maps. But I have to tell you it was nothing compared to the experience. I could show you photographs of the little town of Cortona on the top of a hill overlooking the Italian Cypress trees and the picturesque grape vineyards. I could describe for you the cobblestone streets filled with Italian families, the quaint little shops along the piazza, and the grand ancient steps leading up to the cathedral. I could tell you how we sat at a table in an amazing restaurant just steps from the cathedral with a glass of wine and the tastiest pasta. All of that and if my storytelling skills were sharp enough, I could make you want to go buy a ticket to Rome, but it wouldn’t come close to what I experienced!
You see, when I say to you or when the UCC church says to you: “God is Still Speaking,” your mind may go to some words you have heard in the past: Maybe John 3:16, maybe the 23rd Psalm, or maybe the Beatitudes. As wonderful as any of those are, they are not what I am talking about. I’m talking about a living voice, a loving presence, an encounter that goes straight to the soul.
Moses was a rather average person who didn’t seem to have much promise of greatness in him. He sure never saw himself as a leader. He was just out on the hillside tending his father-in-law’s sheep one day. His sheep wandered off toward Horeb, “the mountain of God.” (You’d better watch when your sheep draw you toward the mountain of God.)
He glanced up ahead of him on the pathway and he saw what looked like a bush on fire but the fire wasn’t destroying the bush. His curiosity got the best of him and he said: “I’ve got to check this out! This is weird!” My advice: “Don’t even go there, Moses, if you want to just exist and never really live.”
Well, he went anyway and he was never the same. That day Moses heard the same speaking God that spoke through the person of Jesus and he heard his name.
When you decide to stop just practicing religion and reciting dogmas and you insist on hearing the One who is Still speaking, you will never be the same. It won’t be easy and you’ll want to quit more times than you can count, but you’ll be alive! And you’ll know what religion only points to and belief systems only suggest.