Known By Name

April 1, 2018
by Rev. Melanie Homan

      LHUMC 4-1-2018 Sermon

View, print or save PDF: Sermon.04.01.18 Known By Name

“Known by name”

April 1, 2018

Rev. Melanie Homan

John 20:1-20

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.19 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.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

I remember when… Back in the good old days…  If only we could go back to the way things used to be… I often hear some iteration of these declarations, whether it’s at the bedside of someone in the hospital, at a committee meeting here at church, or around the dinner table with friends.   Everything was better in the past, or so it can seem. In the past, you built a church and people would just come, packing the pews, because it was just the thing “everybody did”. Back in the day, kids had free reign to go off and play on their own until the town siren went off, letting kids know it was time to go home for supper.  I have fond childhood memories where, free from parental supervision, I biked around the whole town of Waseca, regularly playing on the railroad tracks, skipping rocks into the marsh. In the good old days, you could bring peanut butter sandwiches to school – but why bring peanut butter when you could have bologna and butter on Wonder Bread every single day?  Back in the day, my grandma used to give me an entire ice cream bucket filled with sugar cookies when I saw her.  My sister got her own ice cream bucket of chocolate chip cookies, too. The past was pretty amazing.  Each one of us can look back in our mind and long for some aspect of what once was.

Our good memories from the past help us forget the things that weren’t so great. There are things from the past that I long for, just like everyone else, but I’ll admit, when I hear people pine for the good old days of church, I can’t help but inwardly roll my eyes and think, “Yeah, back in the day, women weren’t allowed to be ordained.   And the church was just as segregated as the nation.  That sure was great.”  Or, when someone says that their hometown has declined – it just isn’t what it used to be, I think, “Yeah, back in the day everyone looked like everyone else and spoke English and now – now there is an abundance of diversities.”

At the author panel discussion we had last month on racism in Minnesota, Sun Yung Shin referenced the book “Sundown Towns” by James Loewen. There’s a website affiliated with the book, where you can search a database of sundown towns.  I’d never even heard of the term until Shin mentioned it.  At its most blatant, some towns had signs posted at their city limits, stating non-whites needed to leave by sundown.  Come to find out, I grew up in a sundown town and didn’t even know it!  It would explain why every single kid in my class growing up was white.  The past was pretty great, but not all of it was so great.  Some of it is awful.

There is much from our past that we need to reckon with, and it’s best we do so with eyes wide open, tossing our rose-colored glasses aside.

We are coming up on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. next week. When we look back on his life, it is with equal parts longing and regret.  We long for his powerful words, that cast a vision of God’s dream for the world.  We remember the marches that helped transform our nation.  But, the thing of it is, we can’t separate the inspiring words of MLK from the culture that created the need for them in the first place.  A “desire” or “longing” to return to what once was…we see it today in the rise of white supremacy groups and isolationism and it is disturbing.

What does Jesus have to do with any of this stuff going on in our nation today?  Like us, Jesus had an appreciation for and a love of the past.  He could read a scroll from Isaiah along with the best religious leaders of his day in the synagogue.  He referenced the prophets, he quoted the Psalms, the law, the prophets – but he didn’t try to get people to go back to the ways or times of the past.  Jesus wanted them to see how God was fulfilling the words of the prophets by doing a new thing in the present.

The reality is, if you move forward while looking back, you’re likely to trip and fall flat on your face. On the wisdom path, you take the best of the past with you, leaving the worst behind, as you live forward.

In Jesus’ time, the people were so focused on looking back, that they didn’t see the new thing Jesus was doing among them in their present – until it was too late.  Jesus ends up dead and gone, buried in a tomb, and then they grieve – longing for what they had with him.  They want Jesus back.  They want to return to their rhythm of life with Jesus – listening to his teachings, following him from town to town, witnessing his miracles and healings!  Jesus was always feeding everyone, making sure they had enough – whether it was fish…bread…or WINE.  Oh, how they wanted Jesus back!  If only they could return to what once was, things would be ok.  They longed for the “good old days”.  Look at Mary.  She’s weeping at the tomb, grieving Jesus’ death and then she discovers this strange gardener, who is in fact Jesus.  She immediately wants to embrace him.  She wants to grab hold and never let go.  But, Jesus said, “Don’t cling to me”.  Jesus was no longer dead, but neither he nor Mary were returning to what once was.  They were on the way to something new.

What we celebrate today is resurrection – which is NOT to be confused with resuscitation. Resuscitation is “a return to things as they were before.”[1]   We are NOT a people who gather today to celebrate resuscitation!  We are not returning to things as they were before!!!  Resurrection means that Jesus, as well as each of us, is on our way to something new.  “Don’t cling to me!”  “Don’t cling to the past.”  We are on our way to new life, and we get there by living forward, instead of looking backward.

This whole interaction between Jesus and Mary is interesting. Mary was talking with Jesus and didn’t know it.  How does that work, really?  How do you talk to someone and not know who they are?  Well, maybe we do that more than we think.  Maybe we talk to people all the time without really knowing who they are.  Mary didn’t know that she was talking to Jesus…until he spoke her name.  When someone speaks your name, you are truly known.   Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus is called the “Good Shepherd”.  As the Good Shepherd – “The sheep hear his voice and He calls his own sheep by name and leads them” (John 10:3).  Christ, our Good Shepherd, knows and calls each of us by name.

If you remember, I said we take the best of the past with us as we live forward. One of the things I take from the past is a book of essays by James Baldwin.  It was published in 1961, during the summer of the Freedom Riders, titled “Nobody Knows My Name.”  Nobody knows my name…  Imagine what it would feel like, to have no one know your name.  Cameron Murchison says the truth in this title is that the African-American experience in America is “not exactly that of being nameless, but rather that of not having one’s name known and called”.  When nobody knows your name, you are forced outside of community.  When your name is known and called, you are enfolded in community.

Whose names do we not know?  God knows the names of those the world is not listening to.  As followers of Christ’s way, we must listen and come to know, the names of those the world is not listening to.

Whether in the past, present, or future, it will always require great courage to name and confront injustice.  It also requires vulnerability to see our own participation in injustice.  Jesus spent his life confronting injustice and offering us a new way of life, where everyone would be enfolded in community as God’s people.   Other people have followed in Christ’s steps, speaking hard truths.  Doing so comes with the risk of death.  Some, like Desmond Tutu lived.  Others, like Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were killed.  There will always be tension as people confuse resuscitation and resurrection.

We are an Easter people, an Easter community, and Christ the Good Shepherd has called our names, just as he first called Mary by name. We are known by God and we are known by one another!   We have no need for resuscitation, for returning to what was.  We sing our Alleluia’s today because of resurrection – because we are continually on our way to new life and God is present with us in it.  Today.  Tomorrow.  And every day after.   Hear this Good News Today:  Jesus lives!  God’s justice wins!  We walk toward new life.  Alleluia!

[1] Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, Feasting on the Word.