Monthly Archives: April 2019
“All Things New”
An Easter Sunday Resurrection Sermon
April 21, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Andrew Kukla
First Presbyterian Church, Boise
Isaiah 43:1-10, 18-21
1But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— 7everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
8Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! 9Let all the nations gather together, and let the peoples assemble. Who among them declared this, and foretold to us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to justify them, and let them hear and say, “It is true.” 10You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.
18Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
The last part of winter was a little unique here at FPC Boise. Death is one of those things that sometimes comes in cycles. And we had death at a peak as December turning into a new year…. And that lead to a stretch of five Saturdays out of six in which we had a memorial service here at the church. Toward the end of that stretch I admit that it was getting to me. I’m no stranger to death. My calling puts me in close proximity to death with some frequency. When I did my yearlong residency in hospital chaplaincy at Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta (Georgia). I was very acquainted with death. I recall one weekend shift: that was 72 hours without ever leaving the hospital, in which I worked through 11 deaths in a row without sleeping. Each death walking with a family through tragedy and grief and coming to grips with it. I am no stranger to death. But there is a different task when it comes to leading worship for each of those deaths. Giving testimony to Resurrection and standing before the grieving community and pronouncing that death is not the final word. And I love that responsibility, and I take that responsibility very seriously – and even joyfully. But when you stand before the same community Saturday after Saturday with what is basically the same message in the wake of death… well, I was weary and with the sense that all I had were the same words… again and again and again and again and again… I wanted to get up at service number four and basically say: everything I said last week? Same thing…
It’s not that I couldn’t say them again… it was the sense that I had nothing new to say… and one of my ordination promises was that I would “serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.” But I wasn’t finding such imagination… no newness… let’s admit it: somedays its just work.
I lamented that among friends on FB, the weariness my own unoriginality… and a strange and unexpected thing happened to me, a bunch of them said: “well Andrew there is nothing new under the Sun.”
The quotation, if you aren’t sure, comes from the Book of Ecclesiastes (which, by the way, I never spell correctly the first two attempts) which is self-attributed to the “Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem” which would make that Solomon… Solomon the Wise.
The full quotation is: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has already been, in the ages before us. The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.”
The text is a philosophical musing on the emptiness of accumulation – be that stuff or knowledge. It restates again in chapter 2, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun… So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me —and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? ”
Solomon begins to lament that he did great work… and leaves it to unworthy people. “A great evil” that he should have to entrust his good work to… less qualified people who will come after him. Solomon… kind of seems like a jerk.
I continued to go through the whole book and while there are some parts of Ecclesiastes with some profound insight and counter-testimony to his sense of life as vane and empty… what I really ended up thinking was “Solomon really needs a sabbatical.”
This is not good news. And while I love my friends I do not know what they were thinking by telling me “there is nothing new under the Sun”. What was that supposed to accomplish? To mean? Was that good news they were offering me? I am sure they did not mean it so but what it did to me was make me feel unheard, unloved, and unappreciated. It made me kind of fighting mad to be honest. I heard them tell me that I just needed to get over myself because plenty of people have dealt with this and I’m just having a pathetic pity party… pick yourself up by the bootstraps, Andrew, and get back to it – we all have.
In the full observance of Holy week there is a forgotten day. A very important but mostly unobserved day… Holy Saturday. For the followers of Jesus, it was day of Sabbath and worship. It was the day of rejuvenation at the end of the week when – like God in creation – they rested from their toil. Only on this particular Saturday, Holy Saturday, they did so in the midst of the great horror of Friday… of the Cross… of the death of Jesus… of the death of God? – certainly, of God’s Son… the innocent one. The suffering one.
They had to sit there in silence without the ability to work or distract… for a whole day.
We can’t really give it an hour… or a minute. But they had to… they had no choice.
And I wonder if that is the very place that Solomon found himself when he wrote Ecclesiastes… a time of deep hurt, heart-rending lament and grief, a time of despair-laden emptiness… and it all felt – life felt – pointless. All that we gave up… all that we did right… and that we worked so hard to do… and it came to this? Nothing??? A dead end. A tomb. Death. We gave our all… for nothing.
“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared, and they found the stone rolled away…”
What? …. What is this?
I say that and what comes to mind is that scene in the Nightmare Before Christmas – when a despondent Jack Skellington who is skulking in fatigued vanity – his own Holy Saturday moment and he finds himself suddenly in Christmas land in the snow – something he has never seen before:
What’s this? What’s this? There’s color everywhere
What’s this? There’s white things in the air
What’s this? I can’t believe my eyes
I must be dreaming, Wake up, Jack, this isn’t fair
What’s this? What’s this? There’s something very wrong
What’s this? These people singing songs
What’s this? The streets are lined with
Little creatures laughing Everybody seems so happy Have I possibly gone daffy?
What is this?
What is this… and then, then, two men in dazzling clothes appear in a space that is closed off from all possibilities – appear out of nowhere and say: “hey… hey… why are you here? Don’t you remember? Don’t you know? Jesus isn’t here. Jesus… isn’t dead. He told you. He let you in on this from the beginning… he is alive. Death can’t hold him. Tombs? Are thoroughfares of life as far as he is concerned… there is no such thing as a dead end.”
And that? Blew their minds.
Nothing new under the Sun? With all due respect to Solomon – everything is new. Everything is being made new. And that wasn’t something new just now in this moment… hear the prophet Isaiah again as if its God speaking to the tombs of this world, the exiled, the dying, the lost:
“Give them up… do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— everyone! Everyone! … Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! Let all the nations gather together, and let the peoples assemble. … do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
All things new. Of all the places I think Lamentations 3 says it best: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
All things new. There are no dead ends. Vanity is the illusion, despair is a nightmare… grief and loss – while real – do not get the final say.
The women went to what was final – they heard Jesus say it, “It is finished” – so they expected that to be the case: and it wasn’t. Because it isn’t. Because it never has been. And the power of this story is that it isn’t only true of Jesus.
In ancient tradition when Jesus dies he descends into hell – the ultimate place of no return… the tomb of tombs. But it cannot hold him. And when Jesus rises? He comes not alone.
The scourging of hell is Jesus destruction of bars, and despair, and dead ends. He doesn’t rise for his sake – but for the sake of all creation. For you and for me. A reminder in the midst of all our dead ends that whatever despair has hold of us – it doesn’t define us… and it certainly doesn’t speak to us of the end.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Whatever ails you. Whatever is weighing on your heart. Whatever deep weight is causing you to sink in the swamp of despair. Whatever walls are being put before you and shutting you off and away and out. Whatever futility is making you question why and for how long and what the hell. Whatever dead end is defining you.
This week Jesus says: no more. Remember not the former things. The past need not define the future. Probability holds no sway over the breath of God. And tombs cannot hold me. You are not alone. Life rises. I rise. And you will rise with me.
So what now?
There is this old story that’s been retold a bunch of times and a bunch of ways. One such goes like this – compliments of the show The West Wing:
This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
Jesus has shown us there is a way out of even the darkest corners of life, the strongest tombs of Death. There are no dead ends. All things can be made new.
And he jumped in that hole with us and he shows us that way out. And then he invites us to do the same for others. So… you have seen. You have heard. You know: life wins. Go tell that story in every pit you can find, in every dark room, and to every heavy heart. And walk with them through it – because life will rise, together.
The following “poem” is rough and raw because its just stream of consciousness poetry in the moment… but a Holy week poem for this year:
Dots, Connecting and Colliding
A shared lament with a friend rooted in her experience of Christian disdain for her Jewishness…
A quick text conversation about ministry where narratives of a sovereign God make no sense…
A call of tears and laughter; pretending we can say “have a good day” knowing it’s not possible…
Another call to one where all their concern is not for self but others… but the self needs care…
A process of renewal set on tracks and ready to roll when a disastrous but temporary halt is called…
Efforts at vulnerability mistook for weakness because real is so unexpected it’s unappreciated…
Planning a service that is about the unplanned…
Conveying the overwhelming power of a moment… to friends who fell asleep…
Holy Week is so good at being Holy Week.
It’s only been 4 days… that cannot all have happened in a mere four days… right?
And we really haven’t even gotten to the “good” parts yet.
Here we are: Thursday. This is where all will start to unravel.
When a God-plan unravels… are we left with God at the end of it?
Or did we perhaps overstate from the beginning the idea of plan… and the idea of God?
We presumed far too much in the way of knowledge about how this was all supposed to work.
We were busy agreeing that this must be what it was supposed to be to see what it really is.
We love it when a plan comes together. Because so many of them don’t.
Painfully. Anxiously. Frustrating to a point of maddeningly so. Plans unravel.
All our plans.
And we look to find one whose plans don’t as if aspiring to lofty unattainable perfect will help.
We look to connect our unraveled self to “the well put together” as if it all rubs off on us.
And we try not to notice when it does… because its tarnished and not all that real after all.
Perfection is that way… it simply isn’t and cannot be.
But does the weaver of life do in response to the cycle of non-being???
The weaver of life chooses real over desirable.
The weaver of life sets about to unravel pretentions.
Disabuses perfection of its power.
Shatters its own lofty achievements.
The weaver dashes desirable to hell… and pulls the real up out of it.
Because lateral love is better than condescending ideals and hierarchical worship.
And still… we struggle to replicate it. Because the desirable is just so… desirable.
And the weaver is moved to greater and greater depths to show the beauty of loving what’s is
Really broken. Really pained. Really longing.
But always too: really loved. really worth giving up all the perfects for.
really worthy in all our unraveled quandry
That’s a story we all should all show up to… every week, but at least, in its own Holy week…
Damn…. maybe that was always the plan after all… eh, let’s not pretend to know. And bask instead in the knowing… no great love than this…