University Congregational Church
April 19, 2020
“A Resurrection Shaped Life: Growing Beyond our Past”
In A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway makes a bleak and tragic point about how the world crushes and kills even the best among us. “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” During coronavirus, we have lamented the changes to our world and the losses we are (and will) experience. The rest of Hemingway’s lament is that we are made strong at the broken places. I believe it is true. Scar tissue is strong – and it can be beautiful. Scars can tell of survival, courage and strength.
It occurs to me that the world will have changed when the stay-at-home order is reduced and lifted. We will be free people, but changed. Dare I say it? There will be a new normal. And we will find our way into it over time. We will recover, but there will be scars from our time away. We will have to rebuild our economy. We will have to re-establish and renew relationships. It will take time to find our way to mend and to heal.
Looking at it from the Christian perspective of the resurrection we celebrated last week, we see that God transforms the lives are living – the sorrows, wounds, regrets, and all – into the ability to mend and to heal. This is what Jesus did when he was resurrected… he offered new life to his followers so that they could teach and preach and heal and carry on his ministry! Listen to this resurrection story in the Gospel of John, recorded immediately after the story of the women finding an empty tomb:
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:19-23
When the disciples accepted the invitation to follow Jesus, they agreed to pattern their lives after his life. This was they way of teachers and rabbis in the ancient world. The students lived with and followed their teachers closely and copied every aspect of their everyday life. They ate together, talked together, slept together. They emulated every part of the teacher’s behavior. Gradually, they let go of the lives they had known in order to receive a new kind of thought and way of being that Jesus was passing on to them: his very own life. That is the gist of the gospel stories of Jesus and the disciples – the remaking of their lives. We are told these stories so that we, too, can understand how to follow Jesus and remake our own lives.
Jesus gives us instructions along the way about what a resurrection shaped life looks like:
• Turn the other cheek. Don’t imagine that violence will solve anything.
• Forgive others. Repeatedly. How you feel isn’t the point.
• Love your enemy. Even the dangerous one who hates your guts.
• Give away your stuff because someone else needs it. Don’t even ask about who deserves it.
• See everyone – simply everyone – as infinitely valuable. No one is here to serve your agenda, gratify your desires, or live up to your expectations.
• Eat with sinners. Befriend outcasts. Get over yourself.
That’s what a resurrection-shaped life looks like in the here and now. We have to learn it over and over again from Jesus and his followers because it doesn’t always come naturally to us. We have to put away much of what we have been taught in our past and learn from our mistakes and grow from and even beyond our past.
Henri Nouwen talked about being wounded healers. He said that wounded healers offer their hurts to help others receive comfort and encouragement. They become a gentle, strong and compassionate presence for the people around them, in part because of the wounds of their own past. They take the empathy they have from their own personal struggles and turn that into a tender-hearted understanding and compassionate support for others in need. When we feel our own sadness, anger, anxiety, or even inadequacy, we can empathize with the emotions of others so that they can receive care themselves
After Jesus’ crucifixion, and even after they heard the news that the body of Jesus was missing and possibly that he was resurrected, the disciples were huddled in a locked room. They were afraid of violence against them. Jesus appeared. And he breathed on them. This breathing thing seems a little weird. But it is intregal to the Biblical story. Jesus inspired them. The root word means to breathe in – to fill with breath. Remember that humans were made by God’s breath breathing into the clay.
So, Jesus breathed new life into the disciples. He literally resurrected them on that first Easter day. His own resurrection animated them. His breath gave them new life and a new vision of what the world could be. They became the messengers for a new day and a new vision of what the world could be…
• A world where love dissolves hate
• A world where compassion displaces fear
• A world where generosity eliminates deprivation
• A world where respect guards the dignity of all
This was the resurrection life Jesus breathed into them that day and they went out to preach it! They were wounded healers in that room. Those people who had denied him and left him at the cross to die, who were huddled in the room afraid of the authorities and who doubted his resurrection were suddenly animated into preachers and teachers and proclaimers of good news!
Anne Lamott has written prolifically about the times in our lives when things start going wrong all at once. If there was ever such a time, it might be now. We are huddled in our own homes like the disciples… afraid of this virus… worried about many things… not sure when we will be safe or what will become of our city or our economy. Anne Lamott writes that when a lot of things go wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and beautiful that is trying to be born – and that this something trying to be born needs us to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.
“The resurrection is not merely something that happened to Jesus two millennia in the past. Neither is our own resurrection something that happens to us only after we draw our last breath,” writes Jake Owensby. Resurrection is shaping our everyday, ordinary lives. God’s best work is happening right now in the broken places of our lives.
I want you to think about that for a moment. Really think about it.
• In these quiet days at home, what about you is being resurrected?
• What hurts, brokenness, scarring do you have from your past that needs the breath of Jesus?
• Where are you aching that may make you into a wounded healer?
• What big, beautiful thing inside you is trying to be born?
Let the breath of Jesus come over you and heal you, strengthen you and prepare you. As Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
Owensby, Jake. A Resurrection Shaped Life; Dying and Rising on Planet Earth”. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 2018.