Go! – September 13, 2016


Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 John 20:1-18


Dallas Willard…a professor at the University of Southern

California School of Philosophy…has written a book entitled Divine Conspiracy.  It is billed as a “…guide to living the life

Jesus intends for us.” 

Professor Willard starts with a most interesting story and

an observation to set the tone.  He

wrote…”Recently a pilot was practicing high-speed maneuvers in a jet

fighter.  She turned the controls for

what she thought was a steep ascent…and flew straight into the ground.  She was unaware that she was flying upside


“This”…he wrote…”is a parable of human existence in our

times—not exactly that everyone is crashing, though there is enough of that—but

most of us as individuals, and world society as a whole, live at high-speed and

often with no clue to whether we are flying upside down or right-side up.  Indeed we are haunted by a strong suspicion

that there may be no difference—or at least that it is unknown or irrelevant.” 

That’s the way it was for the disciples…and Jesus’

followers…during the week we call Holy Week.

Jesus led them triumphantly into Jerusalem on Sunday…riding a donkey

colt…just as had been prophesied.  But…on

Friday…just as the psalmist had prophesied a thousand years earlier…Jesus cried

out from the cross…”My God…My God…why have you forsaken me”…as the soldiers

cast lots for his garments.  Later that

day Jesus was buried in a tomb…believed gone forever…and the disciples were

hiding in fear of the authorities. 

The builders had rejected the stone.


Because of that, the disciples did not know whether they

were flying right-side up or upside down…just as Professor Willard described

people in our world today.  Bearings out

of whack!  Don’t know what to

believe!  People in leadership

positions…or trying to be in leadership positions taking liberties with the

truth in order to achieve their goals. 

John…the Gospel writer…at the end of the chapter we heard a

few minutes ago…wrote these words…”…these are written that you may believe that

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in

his name.”  In Mary Magdalene and John

himself…described as the disciple whom Jesus loved…we have strong proof of

belief.  In their story we have strong

proof of the truth…a truth…that we might…as Mary did…go and tell others. 

First…there was John…the disciple whom Jesus loved.

John is one of the most important figures in this story.  He looks into the tomb, sees the evidence,

and believes.  While not seeing the

resurrected Jesus, he sees what has been left behind; he sees the remnants of

divine activity in history in stone and fabric and decides to believe. 

In his Gospel…John has provided us with the best evidence he can muster to persuade us

that belief is not only a reasonable choice, but a necessary decision if we are

going to follow Jesus.  Jesus is not just

an idea.  He is a person, God

incarnate…in the flesh…in human history, and in coming into history he has left

marks that we can see and measure and trust.

The resurrection is the capstone that demonstrates the reality of what

has happened since the moment of incarnation. 

Though Mary was the first person to have seen the risen Christ….at first she could not

see Jesus because of her tears.  She was

like the pilot…flying upside down and not realizing it.  Her grief kept her from seeing the joy that

was being offered.  How often do we let

our reactions to the events in our day get in the way of seeing the joy that

could be ours? 

Also, she could not recognize Jesus because she had turned her back to him to look

into the tomb.  She was looking in the

wrong direction.  Do we find ourselves

and others doing the same?  Do we turn in

the direction of clever politicians… business leaders…television heroes and

heroines …athletes…and others…to find comfort and direction…often the wrong


But…Jesus called…and Mary recognized him.  She

probably attempted to throw her arms around him…as we would when we encounter

someone who we felt had been lost from our life.  Jesus told her not to hang on to him.  Jesus wanted Mary to understand that a deep

change was taking place in their relationship…and in his being.  Jesus was going to leave them physically…but

would be with them through the Holy Spirit.

He asked Mary to go to the disciples and tell them the good news…that he

had arisen and that he was returning to them.

He was returning to create a new intimacy with them…a spiritual

intimacy…an intimacy that lives to this day…with you and with me. 

Let us pause to note something quite significant here.

The resurrected Jesus first appeared to this woman…Mary Magdalene…not to

one of the apostles…not to someone significant in society.  He appeared first to someone whom society had

oppressed…a woman who had sinned greatly.

Christ fulfilled his promise.

“Blessed are those who are poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of

heaven.”  He brought that kingdom

directly to Mary.  He’s call calling you

and me, too…to bring his ministry to us…to take it to others through us. 

Mary was now piloting right-side-up.  She ran

to tell the others what she had seen.

She had seen the Lord. 

Let me share some of today’s reality and ask if we might apply lessons from Mary in order

to fly right side up in our world. 

When I was ten years old a boy named Mikhail showed up in my classroom weeks after the

school year had begun.  He was one of

three children of a couple who were refugees from war-torn Hungary.  His dad had been a doctor in Hungary.  His mom had been a teacher.  All that they possessed when they arrived in

Syracuse, New York that fall was the clothes they were wearing.  They didn’t even have a change of


My classmates and I embraced Mikhail.  His

family was embraced by a church.  They

were supported and guided in making their transition.  Mikhail’s dad eventually became a nurse in

one of the hospitals.  His mom got work

as an elementary school teacher. 

Mikhail grew to become the chief executive of a very large company…and from his

earnings he contributed generously to the church that had supported and guided

his family…and to the university that gave him an education.  He died a couple years ago…leaving a significant

estate.  His widow is well cared for…and

the university and church have received significant gifts. 

The first church I attended when I moved to Greenville in 1981…Aldersgate United

Methodist Church…was in the process of adopting a family of refugees from

war-torn Viet Nam.  This family of seven

had nothing when they arrived…other than the clothing the church had provided

them.  The church provided them guidance

and support.  This family of seven has

grown…two generations have been added…and they are contributing greatly to our


Today millions of people are now refugees from war-torn Syria…escaping only with

their damaged lives and the clothing on their backs. 

And…the leaders of our nation…a nation that was started by refugees trying to escape

the tyranny of a king…a nation often claiming a

Christian heritage…our leaders are saying we should only allow

ten-thousand of the millions to enter our country. 

Let’s look at reality before we match today’s lesson with this travesty.


If ten-thousand refugees were distributed equally across the entire United

States…that would be a little more than three people added to each county in

our nation. 

If ten-thousand refugees were distributed proportionately in just the top one

hundred metropolitan areas in our country that would mean 31 new residents of

Greenville County. 

If all ten-thousand were re-located to Greenville County that would be a population

increase of just over one-point-five percent…near the average annual growth

rate of our county over the past decade. 

It’s not about numbers, folks.  It’s about

Xenophobia…and people playing off that terrible disease.  Xenophobia is the big word that means fear

and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or

foreign.  It’s a fear that has no reason

for existing…but it does…and some of our leaders and wannabe leaders…are

playing on that fear to further their cause. 

Are we going to be like Mary that first Easter morning?  Are we going to be so fearful that our eyes

tear up and we can’t see Jesus in these people?

Are we going to look in the wrong direction…toward the

noisy…fear-mongering leaders? 

Or are we going to take the good news of Christ and his love to our upside-down

world?  We have a significant ministry

opportunity here…just as Mary did. 

You may ask if I’m suggesting we adopt one of these families.  That’s a major undertaking…but a group of

churches and non-profit organizations in the Upstate are working to make that


Each of us can…and should…have a more immediate ministry impact.  Instead of being fearful…let’s get to know a

refugee or someone who is different.

You’ll find in doing so that your eyes might fill with tears…but they’ll

be tears of joy as you hear the stories of the many obstacles these folks have

overcome and the stories of those who aided them along the way…who showed them

Christ…Christ inside them. 

Instead of looking in the wrong direction…to those who play upon fears let us speak up

and tell them…and those who support them what we think Christ would do…the love

he would share…the support he would offer


We are among those they are asking to support them.

We are among those who influence those they are asking to support


Professor Willard is right in saying that much of the world is without clear knowledge of

whether they are right-side-up or upside-down.

Because of this many will crash in some way.  Despite being in that same condition the

disciples’ world was righted…because Mary had gone to them with the

message.  She was in personal ministry

with them. 

Ministry is not a passive activity.  Ministry is

not just writing a check.  Ministry is

the interaction of persons…each of us and someone else…just like the ministry

of Mary to the disciples. 

Let us be like Mary…let us go…leave this sanctuary today…celebrating not just for ourselves…but,

as Mary did…joyously taking the same message to others we encounter. 

Let us show how the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone

of our lives and our living. 

To whom can we go to tell the good news…  to

whom can we go to live the good news in ministry with them…to share the Christ

inside us?