Be the Proof

April 17, 2022

Series: April 2022

Speaker: Rob McClellan


Today's Sermon


"Be the Proof"


Isaiah 52:2-10
Luke 24:1-12
Acts 13:26-31

         26 ‘My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. 27Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him. 28Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. 29When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30But God raised him from the dead; 31and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD. 

Be the Proof

            A word of thanks to begin, to our Worship Committee for all the decoration that went up in the sanctuary before Palm Sunday, and to Bethany, our Associate Pastor who personally drove to Fairfield after our palms failed to be delivered to the church.  That’s the kind of couple years it’s been, people going the extra mile to pull things off, make it happen, make things beautiful, whether it’s a meal for someone or flowers for the church.  And, lest you think making things beautiful is the church losing site of the point, getting caught up in silly things such as flowers.  It is the point.  Shaman Martin Prechtel, obviously of another tradition, describes making beauty as a spiritual vocation.  In Rescuing the Light, he reminds us that ourwork is to make beauty for the holy.  How’s that for a redefinition of productivity?  “Always make beauty,” he says, real beauty, not superficial beauty. When you have a question, Prechtel says, “Be beautiful on the way to the answer.  That is the answer.”[1]

            Some years ago, we had a speaker here talk about how in places where traditional Mayans and Christians overlap, you’ll often see crosses depicted with flowers growing from them, because the cross is seen as a second tree of life, giving new birth to the world.  Even in the States, there’s long been a tradition of churches flowering crosses on Easter, which seems so appropriate.  I hope you have participated or will in that ritual.  It’s a nice balance to the tradition Christians also have of implicating themselves in the crucifixion, sometimes assuming the part in the story where the crowd shouts “Crucify him!”  Perhaps you’ve been to a service that’s done that.  I was once in a service in which we all processed forward and hammered nails into the cross, each and every one of us.  It was actually quite powerful.  I get the impulse behind this, for much Christian theology is bound up in how our sin is held on that cross, but sometimes I wonder if our fascination with that ugliness and violence betrays our divine calling to make beauty, to give birth to something beautiful even out of the ugly and the violent and the painful.  Christ endured the violence; he didn’t fetishize it.  He rose from it, turning the dead wood of the cross into a new tree of life.  If there’s anything in which we should involve ourselves, it’s that.

            Some of you may have come wondering about proof of the resurrection.  I can’t give you that.  You can find preachers who will try.  All I will say is the resurrection is present in the earliest writings in the New Testament. There’s no doubt Jesus’ followers had an experience of him after his death.  Make of that what you will.  I mean that in more senses than one.

            Maybe you’re not feeling up to it this year.  I had a friend who last week confessed—that’s an interesting word—that she wasn’t “feeling resurrection” yet.  She’s a pastor and a mother, and she was thinking of mothers in Ukraine.  She shared a report of Ukrainian mothers writing identifying information in permanent marker on their children’s backs.  I’m sorry to take you there so abruptly, and on today, but there is where some are. The creed, one which I know many don’t like, says, “Jesus descended into hell.”  Another way of saying it is the Easter flowers grow from somewhere.  Their beauty is born of something serious, of struggle, of suffering, of subjugation.  We are called to make beauty because it stands in such stark contrast to what we sometimes have to experience or witness.  Beauty is our defiance.  What God did on Easter was to make beauty out of the worst of what humanity is capable of. Thankfully, beauty is not just up to us to make.  It’s all around us.  Beauty, holy beauty, is resilient.  It comes back.  Every time a flower returns, we should recognize it as a miracle.  Drawing on that notion, Philip Newell reminds us, “Anything that is of God, even though pushed to the ground, will come forth again.  Anything that is true, anything born of love and compassion, anything filled with true vision for justice will rise again.”[2] 

            People debate ad nauseum the inevitability of Jesus’ death.  Did he have to die?  In what sense?  To satisfy a bloodthirsty God?  To atone for our sins?  To fulfill prophecy?  It was the natural consequence of standing up to authority?  What we should be talking about is the inevitability of resurrection of that which is born of God.  We should have seen it coming.  But, of course, he wasn’t recognized—the passage from Acts says they didn’t recognize him.  Why? Because the world is filled with those who do not recognize the sacredness of what they see, what is of God, and we must count ourselves among those who at times do not recognize what we’re seeing.

            Do we now recognize the Christ, and the beauty Christ made, the love Christ made with the world?  Will we join in that?  Are you still looking for proof? 

            Clarence Jordan was born in Talbotton, Georgia in 1912, the seventh of ten children, to a Southern Baptist family.  It was at church that he learned racial equality, though he didn’t see it in his society.  He went on to earn a Ph.D. in New Testament.  He later authored The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John, a reimagining of the Jesus story in rural Georgia in the first half of the 20thcentury.  Imagine what Jesus would have had to say in that context.  That was later turned into the musical the “Cotton Patch Gospel,” written in part by Harry Chapin.   

            In 1942, Jordan founded Koinonia Farm, which exists to this day.  Koinonia is Greek for fellowship, communion, sharing.  Koinonia was his attempt to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously, something we don’t see a lot of even by many of those who seem to profess Christianity the loudest.  Jordan called Koinonia farm, a “demonstration plot for the kingdom of God.”[3]  Koinonia hasn’t just engaged in sustainable farming, but has also been involved in peace work and housing, launching what would eventually become Habitat for Humanity. 

            Jordan, who chose to try and manifest the gospel in his life, said this, “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship.  Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-awaychurch.”[4]I love that.  People since the beginning have obsessed over whether people carried Jesus’ body away, when what we should be concerned about how we, as the living body of Jesus, are willing to get carried away.  What would it take to get carried away being and providing a safe-haven for young people struggling to navigate an increasingly mentally and emotionally taxing world?  I don’t mean a little bit doing it, get carried away doing it.  What would it look like to promote a sustainable place for people to live in a world increasingly hard to afford?  What would it look like to be a sanctuary for those searching for a spirituality that is here to cultivate beauty rather than reign down threats and judgment?  Let’s get carried away.  What’s the worst that could happen?  It could fizzle, even die, but if it’s from God, it will get back up. We have the ability to birth to beautiful things.

            Back in 2017, when Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc in Texas—some of you were there—something powerfully symbolic happened in Corpus Christi, of all places, fitting since that means “the body of Christ.” The Rojas family had a fire at their home just as the hurricane hit.  They evacuated and returned to find total devastation.  All of it was gone,…except one thing, standing alone in the ashes was a statue of the Virgin Mary.[5]  Now the temptation, the common interpretation, is to say, “What a miracle! Of all the things destroyed, God spared the statue.”  But, if God spared the statue, that means God didn’t spare the home. 

            I think the miracle is that we all have what that statue represents, the capacity to give birth to the holy.   That is a capacity that endures.  Always. You can always give birth to the holy. You can always make beauty.  It’s not that tragedy won’t come, that we won’t be met by those who fail to recognize what is sacred.  It’s not that we won’t sometimes we won’t be among them. It’s that in the midst of it all, we who sometimes must write the information on the backs of our children in permanent marker, can and must fill this world with the fleeting beauty of flowers. 

            That’s what it means to believe Christ is risen.  Christ is risen indeed.



[1]Martin Prechtel, Rescuing the Light

[2]John Philip Newell, Sacred Earth Sacred Soul:  Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What Our Souls Know and Healing the World(New York: HarperOne, 2021), 118.