Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sermon: Jesus Calls Us By Name

Sermon for April 20, 2014
Easter Morning Sunrise & 7:45
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills, Tucson, AZ
For online access to the readings click here.

Lord, open our lips,
that our mouth might proclaim your praise. Amen

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  Happy Easter!

I like to watch those television shows
like CSI or Law & Order. 
The beginning shows a scene of
some criminal event,
and the story unfolds
as the forensic detectives gather clues,
follow their instincts, connect the dots. 

The ending nearly always has some twist to it
that I sometimes do not see coming. 
The man with the tow-truck
is actually the bride’s brother. 
The death of the nasty in-law really was
an accident, covered up by the bridesmaids
as a plot by the Italian mob. 
I like the intrigue, the journey,
the quirky actors, the sense of mistaken identity.

Today’s gospel text provides
classic elements of any good story.[1]
The main characters are commoners:
a woman , a fisherman,
another whose name we don’t even know,
a couple of angels and the narrator. 

The plot includes the intrigue of a missing body,
the journey of the quirky actors
running onto and off the stage,
the sense of mistaken identity. 

The whole story requires divine intervention
to be solved, and yet the story does not end –
it opens ever-more outward toward mystery. 

The first half of the story
focuses on the empty tomb.

Mary comes to the tomb
and sees the stone missing. 
She runs to get the others –
to share her confusion –

The others join Mary, quickly running back.

Each one –
Mary, Peter and the beloved disciple –
react very differently. [2]  

Mary SEES that the stone has been taken away. 
Running to Peter and the beloved disciple,
she laments,
“They have taken away the Lord from the tomb!” 
Mary SEES but does not yet believe. 
She needs some help believing,
and gets that help a little later in today’s story. 

Things go no more smoothly for Peter. 
Alerted by Mary,
he and the beloved disciple run to the tomb.
Peter SEEs Jesus’ burial clothes,
but does not believe.
Peter needs some help believing –
that will come later this season.  

The beloved disciple outruns Peter to the tomb. 
He peeps in and sees the linen cloths. 

And when the beloved disciple enters the tomb,  “He SAW and BELIEVED.”

All three of these disciples come to faith;
all three have different experiences
of seeing and believing. 
All three are responding to God’s call,
just as all of you gathered here today.

Mary needs a personal touch. 
The beloved disciple can believe without seeing. 
Peter, well, has a long way to go,
and yet, ultimately,
he believes so fully that he starts a church!

The truth is, no one path accounts for
the emergence of hope and new life. 

The second half of the story
focuses on the case of mistaken identity. 

Mary remains at the tomb, weeping,
while the disciples return home.
When she bends down and looks into what she mistakenly thinks is the empty the tomb,
She sees two angels sitting right where
she mistakenly thought
the body of Jesus had been lying. 

In a brief conversation with the angels,
she shares why she was weeping –
that they have taken Jesus’ body away.
Then, she turns around and sees –
where nothing was before,
a man standing there. 

In a classic case of mistaken identity,
she sees the man as the gardener. 
She rattles on about why she was weeping,
not thinking or reflecting. 

Mistaking him for the gardener,
she implores him to resolve her problem. 

Mary does not recognize Jesus.

This story reflects our case of mistaken identity.

We are there at various tombs during our life –
losses in our lives –
and we find ourselves weeping. 
We have lost a job.  We have lost our faith.
We have lost our health. 
We have lost a dear friend, a lover,
a partner, a parent

The world has lost an airplane. 
The ferry lost it’s passengers. 
Neighboring countries lost their peace.

After the shock wears off,
we look into these tombs ourselves. 
We bend down and look into the darkness,
yearning to have God make sense of this for us. 

It seems our losses have the final say. 
It seems that our losses
appear stronger than God’s promises. 
We cry out our questions to the angels,
the messengers of God, demanding answers. 
“Tell us why this is happening!” 
Deep inside these tombs
of loss and longing, sometimes,
we do not recognize the ever present Jesus,
right there in the midst of our loss.

And the plot twists –
even though Mary
mistakenly identified the gardener,
Jesus recognizes Mary. 

Jesus was there, all along,
ready to respond to her queries. 
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”  

In that moment of mutual recognition,
the intimate and the cosmic joined.

The reality of the resurrection was revealed.[3]

Suddenly, the voice of the risen Jesus
changes everything.
The empty tomb is not a manifestation of death,
but is a testimony to God’s YES to life. 

Mary now has,
what Mutual of Omaha[4] might call,
her “aha moment” –
that moment of clarity,
that defining moment where you gain real wisdom –
wisdom you can use to change your life.
Jesus recognizes us and calls us by name. 

Jesus is there, all along,
ready to respond to our queries.

Jesus says our names, “Vicki!” “Bill!” “Cam!” …
your daughter’s name,
your friend’s name,
the immigrant’s name,
the prisoner’s name,
the executive’s name,
the politician’s name.

Today’s good news is that Jesus recognizes us
in all our states and diverse ways of believing.
In our moment of mutual recognition,
the intimate and the cosmic join.

Jesus calls us by name.

When Jesus says Mary’s name,
she then knows him, deeply. 

She speaks to him, “Teacher!”
and reaches out to hold him,
before he gets away. 

Jesus tells her not to hold on
for he is going to his father and her Father
– to his God and her God.

The plot of this story is resolved, when,
after the angels come,
the missing body is found – alive! 
Yet, the story is not yet at its end;
as the credits rise, a new story s beginning.

In his first post-resurrection lesson,
Jesus reminds Mary that
no one can hold Jesus to
preconceived notions or expectations. 
When Jesus says our name,
then we begin to know him,
ever more deeply,
and he reveals new possibilities in our life.

We may be tempted to hold onto that moment of recognition. 
We can speak to him, but not hold on –
for the mystery of Jesus never ceases. 

He will freely give us the fullness that he offers, if we but let go. 
And in our letting go,
we will know the identity of Jesus
just as he correctly identifies us. 

·       He will show up in the face of a needful stranger. 
·       He will appear in the exuberant laughter of a child. 
·       He will walk before us on the sidewalk, slowing us down as we try to make our way quickly. 
·       He will soften our hearts after we harden them upon reading the newspaper. 
·       He will call us to non-violent action to work for justice and peace in the world.
·       He will meet us in our dying breath, promising to be with us to eternity.
·       He will appear in the bread and wine.
·       He will make himself known in the scripture.
·       He will be present in the comforting hand
of a dear friend who simply calls us by name.  

And our response,
like the first Easter witness, Mary,
is to announce to all the disciples here gathered,

“I have seen the Lord!”

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

[1] Inspired by Richard S. Dietrich, Feasting on the Word Exegetical, John 20:1-18,(Louisville, Westminster John Knox, 2010) p 371
[2] Inspired by Greg Carey, “Seeing and Believing at Easter Time,” cited at ( )
[3] Inspired by Women’s Bible Commentary: Expanded Edition, (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), p. 389-390
[4] Cited at on April 19, 2014

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