Archive for Mary Magdalene

Calling Light

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2017 by timtrue

Been a while since I’ve posted. Not that I haven’t been writing! Chalk it more up to being too busy, if anything. Out of necessity, really, my blog has dropped to a lower rung on the priority ladder recently. Maybe it’s because Holy Week and Easter make up the busiest time of the year for us pastors. Maybe it’s because a nasty virus decided to make itself at home for a while in my body. Maybe it’s because I recently announced my resignation from St. Paul’s (blog post to follow soon on THAT). Maybe, probably, it’s a combination. Whatever the case, what follows is my sermon from Easter Day, April 16.

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John 20:1-18

Today is Easter:

  • the day when Jesus rose from the dead;
  • the day when enslaving sin, darkness, and death have been forever vanquished;
  • the day when more visitors come to church than any other of the year.

And so, on this day when more visitors are likely to attend than any other, we pastors are told, trim the roses, cut the lawn, clean the bathrooms, create an inviting nursery space, provide a fun Easter egg hunt, and, by all means, preach a simple sermon!

Well, I do hope you visitors and regulars alike find our grounds appealing and our facilities clean and our Easter egg hunt fun.

But I’m not so sure about the simple sermon.

I may not be the best gauge, but my impression is that visitors to church in this day and age aren’t really looking for some easy, laid back, elevator homily. If that’s what people are after, in my experience anyway, then in this day and age, why come to church at all—on Easter or any other Sunday?

People aren’t visiting church like they used to, we all know that. The sense of obligation—the social pressure—just isn’t there anymore.

Instead, visitors to churches on this Easter Sunday—as I see it anyway—more often than not are genuinely interested in the Christian story.

So, that’s what I’m going to do today: I’m going to tell the Christian story.

And I’m not going to hold back. I’m going to ask you to put on your thinking caps; to make some connections between the old, old story and our modern lives, connections that maybe haven’t occurred to us before.

So: our starting point is a metaphor.

If you’ve been with me for the last several weeks, during Lent this year, then you’ve heard me refer to this metaphor time and again; for we’ve been hearing the Good News from the Gospel of John this year, and John makes much of this metaphor.

If you haven’t been with me, however, not to fret: the metaphor is easy enough: light and darkness.

In the Gospel of John, darkness especially represents confusion; and light, clarity.

Think back to Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman, the man born blind, and Lazarus. All experienced a time of confused, muddled darkness. And all came into a light of clarity, of greater understanding about who Jesus really is and how to respond to him. Even Nicodemus, who first came to Jesus in the middle of the night and then disappeared back into the darkness from which he came—even Nicodemus came into the light of the fading day in order to haul Jesus’ corpse from the cross to the tomb.

This association—darkness represents confusion and light clarity—is an easy enough one to make, even in our day and age when light is available 24/7. Things aren’t as easy to see in the darkness. We get lost more easily. We know this from personal experience. Ever been in a blackout?

This metaphor has framed our Lenten journey in the Gospel of John.

Lent is over now, yes. But we’re still in the Gospel of John.

And thus, despite a new liturgical season; despite a shift in focus from repentance to resurrection, today, with Mary Magdalene, this metaphor continues.

Who was Mary Magdalene?

Some say she was a prostitute. Ever heard that one? My guess is yes. Artists throughout the centuries have portrayed her that way. It’s a popular idea. There have been several “houses for fallen women” named after her, in Europe, England, and North America.

Or, how about this one: she was the secret wife of Jesus and the mother of his children? Dan Brown popularized this rumor in his books, including The Da Vinci Code. But it’s not just fast-paced literature. This story too, like the prostitute one, has been floating around for more than a millennium.

But the Bible never says either of these things. The prostitute rumor was started by a Pope, Gregory I, in the sixth century.

My personal opinion is that he didn’t like the idea of a woman receiving so much credit; and thus sought to discredit her.

And the secret wife story? It originates, probably, from an apocryphal gospel of the second- or third-century.

So, what does the Bible say?

The answer is, not much.

She is named as having been delivered by Jesus from seven demons. We don’t know more than that—what kinds of sins she committed because of the demons’ influence on her and so on, although this demonic oppression is the connection Gregory made to prostitution.

She may very well have been the Mary of Bethany, who is the sister of Martha and Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. If so—which I happen to believe—then she is also the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with that expensive perfume, called nard.

Delivered from seven demons. Maybe Lazarus’s sister. Maybe the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet.

And then there’s what we see today, this bit in the Gospel of John.

That’s it! That’s Mary Magdalene!

Oh, but what we see today is spectacular!

She comes to the tomb, while it is still dark, and finds it empty. This confuses her—as darkness is so often equated with confusion in the Gospel. So she runs to tell the disciples.

Her confusion is expanded in the narrative that follows. Two of the disciples, Peter and another, an unnamed disciple, race to the tomb and confirm what Mary has said. The body of their friend and leader is gone. Where he was laid, now there are only rags.

One of these two disciples believes, continuing the theme of hope seen in Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea; but the Evangelist is quick to point out that still they do not understand.

They’re still confused. They’re still in darkness. And in this state they return, like Nicodemus had done, into the darkness from which they came, shaking their heads.

But Mary stays.

And she stands there weeping.

And this time it is not the light of the sun that opens Mary’s understanding, but the white light of two angels. They speak to her, and as they do a voice behind her calls and—behold!—it is Jesus.

Mary Magdalene is the first person to see the resurrected Jesus. And in this sense, she is the first real convert to the Christian faith. Ever!

And, even more profound, she’s the first person, the only person thus far, Jesus entrusts with the Good News, the Gospel. She’s the one told by the resurrected Jesus himself to go and share the Good News that he is indeed risen from the dead.

It’s not Peter, into whose hands Jesus placed the keys to the kingdom.

It’s not John, that disciple whom Jesus loved, without whose Gospel we would be left with an incomplete Bible.

It’s not any of his male disciples—which frustrated the dickens out of Pope Gregory.

But it’s Mary Magdalene, a woman, out of whom Jesus cast seven demons. It’s Mary Magdalene, who anointed Jesus’ feet with a year’s wages out of simple gratitude. It’s Mary Magdalene, whose brother Lazarus was now raised from the dead to new life.

I wonder, what would have happened to the church if Mary had not gone and done what Jesus told her to do on that day so long ago? What if Mary just threw her hands in the air, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I’ll just let one of the men handle it”?

Never mind! Mary Magdalene is and ever will be the Apostle to the Apostles.

(And Jesus is and ever will be a feminist!)

Light is connected to clarity in the Gospel of John. But if we’ve seen anything else this year during Lent, it’s that the Light of Christ is also a call to action.

Nicodemus comes by the fading light of day, in full view of a hostile world, to remove the body of Jesus from the cross and lay it in a grave.

The Samaritan Woman drops her water jar in the full light of midday to run and tell her friends and family the Good News.

The man born blind is made to see and immediately follows Jesus.

Lazarus hears Jesus’ voice and comes forth.

And Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles, tells the disciples that Jesus is risen, alleluia.

By the new light of the Easter dawn, Mary acts.

And the world is a better place for it.

By the light of this Easter Day, you too have acted; for you are here.

Now let’s go out and continue to act; and make the world a better place for the sake of the risen Christ.

Alleluia. Alleluia.

Seeking New Life

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2016 by timtrue

FatherTim

Luke 24:1-12

Alleluia.  Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

Amen.

We say this together, yes.  And we’re happy to be saying it—alleluia!—after setting it aside for the past 6.5 weeks.

But I wonder: do we mean it?

Christ is risen.

But do we tire of hearing the same old story?

Don’t we come back to the same old place at about the same old time of the year to engage in the same old service and hear the same old story?

Think about Mary Magdalene.  Not what you know about her today, in 3rd-millennium America; but how it must have been for her when she approached Jesus’ tomb on that dark morning and saw, incredibly, that the stone had been rolled away.

Can you do that?  Can you remove yourself from our twenty-first century mindset long enough to put yourself in Mary’s place?

What must have gone through her mind when she saw this?  What did she think when she entered the tomb and saw that Jesus’ body was not there?

Did she think someone had stolen Jesus’ corpse?  That’s what the Gospel of John suggests.

Whatever the case, here in Luke she didn’t have much time to think it over.  For, suddenly, she found herself standing in the midst of two other-worldly beings, “men in dazzling clothes”!

What must she have thought then, at that moment?  The passage says she was terrified and bowed her face to the ground.

Amazing!

But is all this lost on us?  Do we somehow miss it?

Because if it is, if we do; then surely we’ll miss the best part.

The best part of this story is not as dazzling as the rest of the show.  So if we’re no longer dazzled by this dazzling story—I mean, we’ve heard it so many times now—we’ll pass right over the less-dazzling-nevertheless-more-important part—the most important part—of this story.

It’s what these other-worldly messengers say.

They ask why.

Do we miss that?  Do we miss the challenge that these other-worldly messengers present?

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Now, there’s something in us that desires the new and novel.  There’s something about our humanity that seems to be wired this way.

  • The first iPhone was released in 2007;
  • The iPhone 3G came out in 2008;
  • In 2009 it was the iPhone 3GS;
  • 2010 launched the iPhone 4;
  • 2011, the iPhone 4S;
  • 2012 revealed the iPhone 5;
  • 2013 saw both the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C;
  • 2014 gave us the iPhone 6;
  • 2015 went one step further with the iPhone 6S;
  • And—don’t worry, Apple will not let us down—2016 promises to give us the iPhone SE, with all the capabilities of the iPhone 6S but the more popular and convenient size of the iPhone 4.

Apple keeps giving us new phones—new, expensive devices—and we keep buying them!

Of course, this is just one example.  But what is it in our human nature that likes the new and novel?

And so we come to the Easter story—that same old story.  It’s not new.  It’s not fresh.  It’s the same old thing we’ve heard over and over for the last two thousand years.

And no matter how the church tries to repackage it and resell it every year, it can’t keep up with Apple.

Unlike my iPhone, the Easter story doesn’t have touch screen technology.  It doesn’t cater itself to me specifically, knowing what makes me tick.  It doesn’t interact with me with an almost human-sounding voice.

We’ve all heard it said that Jesus meets me where I am.  And yet Jesus doesn’t close to where my iPhone meets me.

And the same old story Easter and its men in dazzling clothes have, well, lost their dazzle.

It was there in the Garden, you know: this human desire for the new and novel.  Satan, that serpent of old, knew it.  And he capitalized on it.

“You’ve been in this comfortable garden a while now, Eve,” he slithered.  “Hasn’t it all begun to feel a little too comfortable?  A little too familiar?  A little ho hum?  A little, perhaps, mundane?”

And with a focus on the new and novel, he continues to wear Eve down.

“You know,” he says, “God calls it monogamy, when two people like you and Adam are bound in lifelong matrimony.  Sounds to me more like monotony.”

And so on and so forth until Eve actually becomes sympathetic; until,

“Has God really said,” Satan questions, “that you will die?  Surely, you’re not gonna die just from taking one little bite from that delicious fruit.  Instead—let me tell you—it’ll blow your mind.  You’ll know new things, see new things, beyond your wildest imagination.  Just do it, Eve.  Just take one bite—and hold on for the ride of your life!”

There’s something in our human nature that craves the new and novel.  Satan knows it.  Apple knows it.

Now, to clarify, and for the record, I am not equating Satan here with Apple, Inc.

In fact, I will go so far as to say there is nothing inherently or morally wrong in craving the new and novel.

In the story about the Garden I just reiterated, Adam and Eve’s desire for the new and novel was there before they fell into sin.  In other words, it was there in our humanity before sin ever entered the picture, in that part of our divine image that’s not tainted by sin.

So there’s nothing morally wrong when you find yourself craving the next version of the iPhone.

And Apple, Inc. is not in league with the devil.

Nevertheless, sometimes we crave the new and novel so much that we forget about the important parts of life.

Like the same old Easter story we hear year after year.

Or that same old message the “men in dazzling clothes” tell us all: not to look for the living among the dead.

But that’s just what’s going on here; that’s just what the dazzling men are telling us.

This is not the same old story year after year.  This story is new and fresh each time we hear it—or it should be.  For we are not told to look for the living among the dead, but rather to look for the living among the living!  That’s what resurrection is, after all, isn’t it?  New life emerging from the old!

So then, this story of resurrection, rather than being confined to the pages of a book, is alive and all around us.  We just need to know where to look!

For example, how many of you know a cancer survivor who, after getting a clean bill of health, has said something along the lines of, “Now I have a new lease on life!”  Isn’t this a kind of death and resurrection?

As another example, what about marriage?  What married person doesn’t know the truth of dying to self in order to enjoy new life in and with another person?

Now, okay, these are big things—overcoming cancer; deciding to leave the single life for marriage.  There’s a certain sense of death and resurrection in them that’s fairly obvious.

But what about in smaller things?  Do you see resurrection—new life—in these?

Do you see new life in the waters of baptism?  We go down under the water—symbolizing death to self—and come up again—symbolizing new life in Christ.  Isn’t this an expression of death and new life?  And so we renew our baptismal vows, annually, at this service.

Or, did you see it in the new fire and the Paschal candle?  New fire snuffs out darkness with its light.

Do you see new life each time you come to the altar to receive communion?  This is your spiritual sacrifice, where you die to self and live in Christ.

Or, to move out of the realm of the sacred, what about in the first-grade classroom, when a student’s eyes suddenly light up with the joy of a new truth discovered?  Do you see new life here?

What about in the smile of a homeless person as you hand her a sandwich?

Any time hope overcomes despair; any time truth defeats falsehood; any time beauty conquers ugliness; any time charity gives selflessly; any time goodness prevails—aren’t these all examples of new life overcoming death?

New life is all around us!

Let’s take the advice, then, that the men in dazzling clothes give us.  Jesus is not here, they tell Mary, where you might expect, in a tomb, among the dead.  Rather, he is risen.  He is out there, with the people, among the living!  Go, seek, and find him!

This “same old story,” rather than being dusty, old, and monotonous—is alive.

That’s because this same old story is about resurrection.  It’s about seeing new life all around you, in and through and with all the living souls with whom you interact day in and day out, all those people who may or may not clamor to get the latest iteration of the iPhone.

Do you see the new and novel in your daily life?  Do you see new life all around you, in the world of the living?  Do you live out resurrection?

Your Conversion Story

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , on March 27, 2016 by timtrue

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John 20:1-18

Conversion is not always a one-time experience.

By now you’ve heard parts of my conversion story—how I grew up in a family that meant everything to me.

We didn’t go to church.  So all my boyhood questions about the meaning of life were answered in my family.

That is, until my parents split up.  Which sent me outward, looking for answers to questions about the meaning of life beyond my little circle.  I had to think outside of my family box.

Which led me to Bible studies, and youth group, and a Billy-Graham-Crusade like experience at a camp where I went forward to pray and receive Christ as my Lord and Savior.

I remember the day, in fact, April 1st, 1985—almost 31 years ago today!  I even remember the time: 7pm.

Yes, something significant happened in my life at that moment.  Was it conversion?  Yes.  Another name for it, a more biblical name, is repentance.

Anyway, can you relate?  Do you have your own conversion story to tell?

Maybe yours was the day you were baptized, or even the moment the water first touched your scalp in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Or maybe, like with my wife’s conversion story, you don’t recall a specific time and place where the Holy Spirit grabbed hold of your heart in an obvious way.

Nevertheless, you reflect on your own life and you see Christ at work in you.  You were baptized: you have a certificate at home in your filing cabinet in your garage that says so.  And you know and trust the theology of the church well enough to know that this, too, was a bona fide conversion experience.

Is it okay that you can’t point to a specific time and place?

Well, of course it is!

You and I both know we can’t bank on a one-time conversion experience, as if we’ve checked off a box on our spiritual to-do list, depending on it to carry us through the rest of our lives into heaven.

Conversion, we know, is not always a one-time experience.

In fact, conversion is arguably never a one-time experience.  Rather, scripture, tradition, reason, experience—they all persuade us that conversion takes place over a lifetime.

And don’t we all experience conversion differently?

Just look at the three main characters in today’s story: there’s an unnamed disciple; there’s Peter; and there’s Mary Magdalene.  Each of these experiences conversion differently.

The unnamed disciple hears Mary’s news and runs—races, in fact—to reach the tomb first.  But there, at the entryway, he lingers.  He doesn’t enter the tomb, but just looks in, staring at the linen wrappings there on the ledge.

Peter then shows up and, unlike the unnamed disciple, enters the tomb without reservation or hesitation.

Why didn’t the unnamed disciple enter?  Was he too amazed, too awestruck, too afraid?  We don’t know.

Then something in him triggers.  He enters the tomb after Peter; and, the scriptures tell us, he believes.  He believes, that is, but he doesn’t yet understand the scriptures.

Now look at Peter.  He hears Mary’s words and runs to see if what she says is true.  He races against the other disciple, and loses—I wonder what the meaning is in this detail.

In any event, Peter reaches the tomb and doesn’t slow; rather, he bowls over the unnamed disciple, like an impetuous bull.  He then looks at the linen wrappings, and notices a detail: the head wrapping is folded up neatly by itself.  If Mary was worried about grave robbers, this detail doesn’t fit; for why would a grave robber take the time to fold up the head wrapping neatly?

The disciples then return home.  The unnamed one believes, at least to some extent.  But we’re left wondering if Peter believes yet at all.  The only thing we know about him at this point is that he, along with the unnamed disciple, still doesn’t understand.

There’s something of a conversion experience here for both disciples.  But they leave still confused, still not understanding.  We’re left with the impression that something more still needs to happen for these two.

Then we hear Mary’s story.  She reaches the tomb—and stands outside weeping.  She’s obviously not believing or understanding yet either.

In her remorse, she eventually peeks in the tomb.  And—incredible!—there are two angels inside.  And these ask Mary a question.  “Woman, why are you weeping?”

But even here—I don’t know about you, but I’d be dazzled by the spectacle of two heavenly beings talking to me—but even here Mary simply responds, “They’ve taken my Lord away.”

This whole episode with Mary suggests something of a sleep-like stupor.  My thinking is that she is so grief-stricken that she can’t even see that these are angels.

She then hears a voice from behind her, from outside the tomb.  And it asks her the same question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Mary supposes it’s the gardener, when she turns to see who spoke.  It’s really Jesus, but she doesn’t recognize him: her grief has still got the better of her.

But then what happens?

“Mary!” Jesus calls her by name.

And now, in that divine address, Mary both believes and understands!

And in the conversation that follows, Jesus commissions her to go and tell the disciples that he lives!

And she does!

And so she is made the apostle to the apostles!

Have you ever thought about that?  Mary Magdalene was the first truly converted person.  Mary Magdalene was the person commissioned by Jesus himself to go and tell the Good News to the very apostles.  Mary Magdalene went and told the Good News to Peter—the Rock upon whom Jesus Christ would build his Church—and the others.

Leaving me to wonder—where would the Church be today without the conversion of Mary Magdalene?

But to return to my first point, every conversion story is different.  Mine is different than yours; Mary’s is different than Peter’s is different than the unnamed disciple’s.

Moreover, conversion is not just a one-time experience: it’s lifelong.

Like repentance.

Wait!  Hold the phone!  Did I just say repentance?

Yes, I did—for the second time, in fact.

Well, why am I bringing up repentance on Resurrection Day, Easter Sunday?  Wasn’t Lent the time for us to think about repentance?  Now is the day of resurrection—alleluia!—so why dwell any longer in the doldrums of our liturgical year?

Just this: repentance, remember, is the biblical word for conversion; and, more to the point, repentance is resurrection.

Repentance means turning away from the old nature of sin and death to the new nature of life in the risen Lord!

And this doesn’t happen just once, at some altar call, check off my spiritual to-do list and get on with my life already, thank you very much!

It is ongoing, daily, hourly, even minute by minute.  Repentance—and thus resurrection—is continuous and lifelong.

So, now, let’s return to our own conversion stories.  Think about your own ongoing conversion experience.

Have you ever experienced a time in your life when hope has overcome despair; when truth has defeated falsehood; when beauty has conquered ugliness; when charity has given selflessly; or when goodness has prevailed?  Every one of these is an example of new life overcoming death; every one of these is an example of ongoing conversion.

But Mary’s conversion story is different than Peter’s is different than the unnamed disciple’s.  And yours is different than mine.

But that’s just it: our stories are all different; but new life—resurrection—shines brightly through them all!  It is our common theme.

So follow Mary’s example!  Go and tell your story!

In your conversion, Jesus Christ is calling your name—again and again!  Listen to his voice.  Then go and tell your neighbors, your brothers and sisters, your friends and even your enemies, your ongoing conversion story!