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Sunday, April 04, 2010

So He Rose from the Dead...Now What? -- A Sermon

So He Rose from the Dead…Now What?
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

April 4th, 2010
Easter Sunday

Isaiah 65:17-25
Luke 24:1-12


I have been thinking about bullies recently.

Now it is Easter Sunday and you may be thinking, “Well that is odd. Did he say ‘bullies’ or did he say ‘bunnies?’”

Bullies.

This is actually a good Sunday to think about bullies.

It being Easter and all, you might think it would be a good Sunday to talk about Eternal Life. We could talk about life after death in heaven and whether or not we’ll see granny there. We may wonder about what kind of body granny will be wearing in heaven. Will she look like granny or will she put on her twenty year old body and not look like a granny at all?

Maybe granny will just be a speck of light. Perhaps granny will be a dancing bodiless photon the weight of an immortal soul. We could certainly speculate on those matters.

We could talk about Jesus’ body. We could chew on that old chestnut of whether or not Jesus got his body back. We could ask whether the gospels were reporting on an event that happened. Dead body on Friday. Live body popping through walls and eating fish on Sunday.

Did Jesus really get his groove on or was it all in the minds of the disciples? We could go round and round as to whether the resurrection of Jesus was an objective event or a subjective experience and whether or not the gospels were historical reportage or symbolic narratives. We never seem to tire of that debate.

Or we could just talk about Spring. Actually that would be easier. Flowers and bunnies. Have you noticed how everything came alive this week? The buds are popping. I have to say Spring is awesome in Southern Appalachia. The seasons match the holidays. Easter works with what is happening outside. Where I come from up north we put on our parkas and snow boots for the Easter egg hunt. Just look for the colored snow, kids!

None of that this morning. Not flowers. Not bunnies.

Bullies.

I looked up bullies on the internet. The first website was all I needed. It was called Kids Health dot org. “Dealing With Bullies.” Here is what it said:
Bullying is a big problem. It can make kids feel hurt, scared, sick, lonely, embarrassed and sad. Bullies might hit, kick, or push to hurt people, or use words to call names, threaten, tease, or scare them. A bully might say mean things about someone, grab a kid's stuff, make fun of someone, or leave a kid out of the group on purpose. Some bullies threaten people or try to make them do things they don't want to do.

Bullying is a big problem that affects lots of kids. Three-quarters of all kids say they have been bullied or teased. Being bullied can make kids feel really bad. The stress of dealing with bullies can make kids feel sick.

Bullying can make kids not want to play outside or go to school. It's hard to keep your mind on schoolwork when you're worried about how you're going to deal with the bully near your locker. Bullying bothers everyone — and not just the kids who are getting picked on. Bullying can make school a place of fear and can lead to more violence and more stress for everyone.
I was surprised at the number. Three-quarters of all kids say they have been bullied or teased. Maybe you remember being bullied in school. I do. Some people are bullies their whole lives. The next section answered the question, “Why do bullies act that way?”
Some bullies are looking for attention. They might think bullying is a way to be popular or to get what they want. Most bullies are trying to make themselves feel more important. When they pick on someone else, it can make them feel big and powerful.

Some bullies come from families where everyone is angry and shouting all the time. They may think that being angry, calling names, and pushing people around is a normal way to act. Some bullies are copying what they've seen someone else do. Some have been bullied themselves.

Sometimes bullies know that what they are doing or saying hurts other people. But other bullies may not really know how hurtful their actions can be. Most bullies don't understand or care about the feelings of others.

Bullies often pick on someone they think they can have power over. They might pick on kids who get upset easily or who have trouble sticking up for themselves. Getting a big reaction out of someone can make bullies feel like they have the power they want. Sometimes bullies pick on someone who is smarter than they are or different from them in some way. Sometimes bullies just pick on a kid for no reason at all.
Who knows what deep psychological issues drive a bully’s behavior? The important question is, how do we stop it? The website offers advice:
As much as you can, avoid the bully. You can't go into hiding or skip class, of course. But if you can take a different route and avoid him or her, do so.

Ignore the bully. If you can, try your best to ignore the bully's threats. Pretend you don't hear them and walk away quickly to a place of safety. Bullies want a big reaction to their teasing and meanness. Acting as if you don't notice and don't care is like giving no reaction at all, and this just might stop a bully's behavior.

Stand up for yourself. Pretend to feel really brave and confident. Tell the bully "No! Stop it!" in a loud voice. Then walk away, or run if you have to. Kids also can stand up for each other by telling a bully to stop teasing or scaring someone else, and then walk away together. If a bully wants you to do something that you don't want to do — say "no!" and walk away. If you do what a bully says to do, they will likely keep bullying you. Bullies tend to bully kids who don't stick up for themselves.

Get a buddy (and be a buddy). Two is better than one if you're trying to avoid being bullied. Make a plan to walk with a friend or two on the way to school or recess or lunch or wherever you think you might meet the bully. Offer to do the same if a friend is having bully trouble. Get involved if you see bullying going on in your school — tell an adult, stick up for the kid being bullied, and tell the bully to stop.

If you are being bullied, it's very important to tell an adult. Find someone you trust and go and tell them what is happening to you. Teachers, principals, parents, and lunchroom helpers at school can all help to stop bullying. Sometimes bullies stop as soon as a teacher finds out because they're afraid that they will be punished by parents. This is not tattling on someone who has done something small — bullying is wrong and it helps if everyone who gets bullied or sees someone being bullied speaks up.
That is good advice for kids and important information for adults to take responsibility for the safety of our children. The best way to stop bullying is to get everyone involved.

I ask this question of all of us today, because this is everyone’s problem. Do we have adequate anti-bullying programs in our schools? Don't just answer "Yes." It is serious business. I want to thank teachers, counselors, administration, staff, and parents who are aware and doing what they can to raise awareness.

Bullying has made the national news with the suicide death of Phoebe Prince. This 15 year old girl was a recent immigrant from Ireland. She moved with her family to South Hadley, Massachusetts. According to the news story, she was found hanged in her home
“after enduring weeks of torment from bullies on Facebook and in the halls of South Hadley High School.”
According to the district attorney her
“death on Jan. 14 followed a torturous day for her, in which she was subjected to verbal harassment and threatened physical abuse.”

The DA added South Hadley High School officials knew of the bullying of Prince. "It was common knowledge," said the DA. adding the girl’s mother spoke to at least two school staff members.
Do read Phoebe Prince’s story.

You might still be wondering, but what is the Easter connection?

Here is the punch line.

Jesus didn’t die of old age. He didn’t die of cancer. He didn’t get trampled accidentally by a runaway horse. Jesus was bullied to death. Not only Jesus, but thousands of people were tortured and executed methodically in a spectacle of brutality and control. We have covered over this story with so much theological gobbledy-gook that we miss the main plot. Jesus was a victim of imperial terrorism.

The Easter acclamation, “Christ is Risen!” meant what? I think it meant that they, the people, those who told and wrote the stories about Jesus had had enough. They had had enough of Rome’s bullying. They said,
“Every time we gather for a meal of bread and wine we will remember. We are Christ's body. Christ is alive with us. We will continue to remember and to resist. We will show hospitality to those who are victims of imperial bullying, to the outcast, to the slave, to the stranger. We will lean on and support each other. We will remember and tell the stories of the victims. And we will dream, hope, and work for the day in which the kingdom of God, the empire of God, the empire of justice and peace will be realized on Earth.”
Obviously, Christianity evolved and moved in all kinds of directions and embraced many different mythologies and interpretations, and some of them quite good and helpful. But it is important not to lose sight of our roots. The earliest interpretation of the death and resurrection of Jesus is this:

In Christ, Empire’s brutality is overcome by God’s justice.

I wear this cross around my neck to remind me whose side I need to be on.

As we all know, bullying doesn’t only happen in school. It happens in the workplace. It happens in the family. It happens in the church. It happens in our government. It happens at the hands of corporations.

To say ‘Christ is risen’ means we stand with those who are bullied.
  • We find our courage. Courage is not feeling brave. It is pretending to be brave even when we don’t feel it.
  • We stand together. We don’t suffer in silence. We don’t suffer alone. We find our strength in each other.
  • We use our voices. We name those institutions that exert power over others or are complicit in their silence.
One person who I think represents Easter is Vandana Shiva. The announcement about her is in today’s bulletin. She will be at ETSU Monday evening. Talk about someone who is taking on the world. She is taking on global bullies--those who in her words have hijacked the global food supply. She advocates sustainable, biologically diverse farms.

She using her voice to remind all of us that we are not using the Earth justly, but we can. The crises of climate, energy, and food insecurity are not addressed in the board rooms of global corporations. These corporations are the problem and “are responsible for crimes against nature and humanity.” She writes:
Industrialization of food and agriculture has put the human species on a slippery slope of self-destruction and self-annihilation. The movement for biodiverse, ecological, and local food systems simultaneously addresses the crises of climate, energy, and food. Above all, it brings people back into agriculture and reclaims food as nourishment and the most basic source of energy. New ways of thinking and acting, of being and doing, are evolving from the creative alternatives being employed in small communities, on farms, and in cities.” P. 144 Soil Not Oil
Her work reminds me of the alternative communities that sprouted up in the name of the Risen Christ in those early centuries to resist Roman oppression and to show hospitality and welcome to those left out of Rome's plutocracy.

In Christ, Empire’s brutality is overcome by God’s justice.


I titled the sermon, So He Rose from the Dead: Now What? to make a statement. Regardless of how you interpret the resurrection, we need to answer this next question. You certainly don't have to see it the way I do, still the next question is: OK, he rose from the dead (figuratively, literally, whatever) -- Now what?

Christ is risen is an invitation to live differently. It is the via transformativa -- the way of justice making. This is the spiritual path of compassionate action. This is where we find the voice of the prophet with in each of us.

It isn’t just standing up to those bad guys—those bullies. It is transformation within as well. It is the path of aligning ourselves with compassion and justice. It is recognizing our own privilege.

Mel White is another Easter person. Mel White was the ghost writer for Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and some other big name evangelical leaders. Finally, after years and thousands of dollars in an attempt to "cure" himself of his homosexuality (because the church bullied him into thinking he had to change) he accepted himself.

He realized he had a mission. He and his partner, Gary Nixon, started an organization called Soulforce. It works for the transformation of churches so that they will stop their spiritual violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Stop the bullying.

He realized that transformation is not just outer work. It is also inner work. To engage in relentless non-violent resistance, we have to continue do important inner work so that we don’t become what we hate. The work of non-violence requires of us to see the truth about ourselves as well as others, to work ultimately for reconciliation.

In Christ, Empire’s brutality is overcome by God’s justice.

Vendana Shiva and Mel White are just two examples of Easter people.

As I look around this congregation I see all kinds of Easter people.

We do important work here.

It is good to be in the company of such a great cloud of witnesses.

Christ is risen, indeed!
Alleluia!
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