I Have Seen the Lord

Planet-Nine-orbit-plots“I Have Seen the Lord!”
John 20:1-18
Pastor Todd Buegler
March 27, 2016
Easter Sunday
Trinity Lutheran Church

Grace and peace to you from God our creator, and from Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior! He is risen! <He is risen indeed!> Amen! Alleluia!

This past January, scientists from the California Institute of Technology announced the discovery of a new planet in our own solar system. Perhaps you’ve read about it. They call it “Planet Nine.” It is thought to be ten times the mass of the Earth, and 50 billion miles away.

The scientists from Cal Tech who made the discovery admit that they have not actually seen, or even really found this new planet. But they are sure it exists, because nothing else could account for the gravitational forces, and the way objects in the outer part of the solar system move. “It must be there,” said one astronomer. “Nothing else could exert such influence.”

I only recently came to grips with the fact that Pluto is no longer a planet, and now I’m told that there is another heavenly body, apparently an invisible one, that I have to fit into my cosmology. So Pluto is out, Planet Nine (which I’m really hoping is just a temporary name) is in, even though it hasn’t actually been spotted yet? Ok. Well, these people are way smarter than I am, so I’m not going to doubt them.

And while it isn’t easy to give up what I’ve been taught for my entire life, sometimes the accepted facts must change in the light of new evidence.

I, like many of you, grew up in a “seeing is believing” world. We would see something, and it became real to us. But in the world we live in now, we can measure things 50 billion miles away that aren’t even visible to us. And so we put our faith in these measurements without the visible proof. In other words, rather than a “seeing is believing” framework, the world we live in is more and more, “believing is seeing.” We see evidence, we place our faith, then the reality becomes clear.

This is essentially the message of Easter.

Mary Magdalene gets up early that morning to visit the tomb. That’s not too surprising. We all understand that. It’s not uncommon for us to go and visit the gravesite of loved ones that we have lost. Every year on Memorial Day weekend, my family gathers at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis to visit the gravesites of my father, and my grandparents. We do this to tell stories, to tend to our memories, and to honor those we love. It can be a time full of different emotions. We laugh because of the irony that my Father, who was pretty politically conservative’s gravesite is smack dab between the gravesites of Hubert Humphery and Paul Wellstone. That would drive him nuts! We cry, because even after 17 years, we still feel the loss. We go there because it makes us feel somehow closer to loved ones we’ve lost. While it isn’t logical, there isn’t anything logical about grief.

So it isn’t surprising to me at all that Mary returns to the tomb. She was in shock…in grief. She went there to remember, and to mourn. What is surprising is what Mary finds at the tomb. The stone…the giant boulder that covers the entrance to the cave, which was rolled into place the day before, is moved aside, and the tomb is wide open.

Mary runs back to get Simon Peter and another disciple, probably John, and the two of them take off running. They go straight into the tomb and find the burial cloths lying there, and no sign of Jesus.

So they return home tell the other disciples, probably crossing paths with Mary, who was heading back to the tomb.

When she arrives, she stands there, confused and crying, when a gardener asks her “Why are you crying? Who is it that you’re looking for?” Thinking that someone must have stolen Jesus’ body, Mary asks if the gardener knows anything. The gardener looks her in the eye and says to her “Mary,” and in that moment, she recognizes him. “Teacher,” she cries out.

Jesus tells her to return and tell the other disciples what she has seen. When she arrives, she bursts into the door; and here is the line I want you to remember. It’s so important. (Confirmation students, if you’re filling out a worship note, and you put this line down, you’ll get an “A.”) Here it is: she looks at the disciples and says simply: I have seen the Lord.” “I have seen the Lord.” Some theologians have called this the very first Christian sermon.

Because Mary believed…because she had faith in what Jesus had said, because she heard her name called and recognized the voice of the one who called to her, her eyes were somehow opened and she recognized her teacher, and her Messiah. It had to be him. Nothing else could exert such influence.

“I have seen the Lord!” It is short…it is simple…it is personal…it is honest. It doesn’t describe or complicate. It doesn’t get bogged down in theological detail, yet it is perhaps the most theological statement ever made. It simply proclaims a truth: “I have seen the Lord!”

I had a preaching professor in seminary who used to just hound us, saying “Don’t waste your time describing God. Just tell ‘em what you’ve seen!”

This is an important lesson, and not just for pastors.

We are all Easter people. We all experience the gifts of the resurrection…gifts of grace for all of God’s people. And like Mary Magdalene, we all have witnessed the work of God in our world or in our lives. And if you were to tell me “I haven’t seen God at work? I don’t know what you mean,” well, I’m sorry, but I beg to differ. You have. You just haven’t recognized it yet.

God is all around us. And God is not passive. It’s not like when the Bible was completed and was sent off to the printer, God said “Great! I’m going to take two or three thousand years off now!” No, God is active… working…the creative, redemptive and sustaining work of God continues every day. When we believe this, and when we hear God’s voice call to us, our eyes will be opened and we will see!

I have seen the Lord. I have.

  • I have seen the Lord in the care and compassion of the doctors, nurses and other caregivers that I’ve witnessed when I have gone to visit our people who are critically ill in the hospital. It is physically and spiritually lifegiving.
  • I have seen the Lord in far away places, like Westhaven Children’s Home, where Trinity’s mission team will be in just two days…I’ve seen volunteer teams feed, wash, dress and care for these children, some as young as 3 years old. They have no parents and no family…they are developmentally disabled. I have seen love incarnate in the hands and faces of our volunteers. It’s amazing.
  • I’ve seen the Lord here in our Fellowship Hall every Sunday night when people in our community who don’t have enough come for a meal…but not just for a meal. They come because they are welcomed into a community, and are treated with love and dignity.
  • I’ve seen the Lord when a woman who had just lost her husband the week before walks into the Narthex, and she is immediately surrounded by friends, who welcome her, listen to her, cry with her, hug her and who remind her that she is not alone.

I have seen the Lord. And you have too. Yes, I’ve heard people say that God is passive. No, God is active…through the people of God. It is God’s work, but it remains firmly in our hands.

Mary’s claim: “I have seen the Lord” isn’t just about what she sees, it’s a claim about how we as disciples of Jesus believe and live out lives.

  • “I have seen the Lord” insists that the ways of love will win over the ways of hate.
  • “I have seen the Lord,” confirms that the truth of kindness can be heard over the voices of ruthless, callous, and vindictive rhetoric.
  • “I have seen the Lord” gives witness to the fact that there is another way of being in the world: a way of being that is shaped by resurrection. It is a way that embodies anything and everything that is life-giving, a way of being that is so counter-cultural, so demonstrative of mercy, so exemplary of the truth of Easter that others will notice. They will watch you; watch you love and care, and they will say, “Wait a minute. Did I just see the Lord?”

The phrase, “I have seen the Lord” is not just a set of words we say. It is a lifestyle that we live. And it is an Easter promise that our world desperately needs to hear.

People feel trapped. They feel trapped in the tomb. They feel trapped by words of anger, by hatred, by jealousy, by frustration. They feel trapped by the need to perform, to succeed; by fear of failure and by competitiveness. We have all felt trapped at one time or another. Perhaps you are feeling that way today.

But the message of Easter is that the giant stone has been tossed to the side and the tomb is wide open. And today, Jesus’ voice is calling out to you. “What do you seek? Who are you looking for?” And when you recognize that voice as being your savior’s, you will recognize the one who looks you in the eyes and calls you by name: “Mary.” “Richard.” “Gary.” “Dean.” “Janelle.” “Erik…” And you will recognize Jesus. No one else could exert that kind of influence. And you will step out of the tomb and into the light, and you will know that you are loved.

And then you too, will be able to join Mary, and all the saints of light, who, on this Easter day, and on all days, can boldly and simply proclaim for all around them to hear:

“I have seen the Lord.”

Amen.

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