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

On this special day…when we celebrate the miracle of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…the ultimate victory over death…and like the early Christians we boldly proclaim “He’s Alive!” let’s start with a learned observation based on a more recent story.

Dallas Willard…a professor at the University of Southern California School of Philosophy…has written a book entitled Divine Conspiracy.  He calls it a “…guide to living the life Jesus intends for us.”

Professor Willard starts with this story.  ”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 down.”

Now…he offers this observation.  “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…we have strong proof of belief.  In their story we have strong proof of the truth…a truth…that we must…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 immediately 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.  Do we sometimes 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 direction?

But…when Jesus called…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.  In this Christ demonstrated 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 calling you and me, too…in order to bring his ministry to us…so that ministry is taken 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 clothing.

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 provided 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 from his estate.

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 community.

Today millions of people are now refugees from war-torn Syria…escaping only with their damaged lives and the clothing on their backs.  Nearly 20-million others are refugees from starvation in several lands.

Yet…in our nation and neighborhoods today …a nation that was started by refugees trying to escape the tyranny of a king…neighborhoods prospering because of the toil of people who were once refugees…a nation often claiming a  Christian heritage…many are saying we should not allow any of those refugees to enter our country.

Our neighbor to the north…Canada…is prospering with an entirely different welcoming attitude.

We see reports routinely of children whose primary language is English…who have grown up in our neighborhoods…coping with the loss of their parents and grandparents through deportation.  The only crime those adults committed in all of their years as our neighbors was crossing a man-made line to build a better life for their children and for the community in which they lived and worked.

How many hurting and hungry people did Jesus turn away?  How many of those who were trying to improve their family’s lives did he send away?

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…wannabe leaders…and neighbors 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 wanting us to reach out to 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 had a significant ministry opportunity.

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 is working to make that happen.  We certainly could join their effort.

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 brave folks have overcome and the stories of those who aided them along the way…who showed them Christ…Christ inside them…Christ inside each of us.

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…the hands he would reach out.   We are among those people the fear-mongers are asking to support them.  We are among those who influence our families…our neighbors and those who’ve been chosen to lead us.  Fly right side up and influence them as Christ would have us do.

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 sitting in a pew on Sunday and at the lesson on Wednesday.  Ministry is not just writing a check.  Ministry is the interaction of persons…each of us with 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…and with our family and friends.  Let us do 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?

You see…in each of us…He’s Alive!