Creation Day: Thoughts on our God given responsibility to care for creation.

Creation Day

When I was a boy, Pittsburgh was called the Smokey City.

I remember seeing pictures of the streetlights on downtown at noon because of the darkness caused by the industrial smog.

Then in the late 1960s a series of environmental catastrophes focused the nation’s attention on the need to control pollution.

Two are particularly noteworthy because they were so extraordinary.

First was the remarkable 1969 Cuyahoga River fire near Cleveland, Ohio.

You heard that right.

The Cuyahoga River caught on fire.

The river was so full of industrial waste that it actually burned.

The fire reached heights of over five stories.

While the fire went out in less than an hour, that did not diminish the impact of a river on fire.

Then there was the 1969 blowout of an oil well off the coast of Santa Barbara, California.

A thick layer of oil sludge covered many miles of beaches and basically wiped out the local coastal ecosystem.

The nation was horrified.

Kathy Morales was a high-school student who witnessed the destruction.

Morales was approached by a reporter as Morales, with tears in her eyes looked at a convulsing loon stuck in the oily sludge.

“This is my life—out here,” Morales cried.

“I can’t think of coming down here for a stroll again.

I can’t think of someday bringing my children here to watch and to play.”

Richard Nixon, newly inaugurated president, was also horrified.

Three months later Nixon inspected the beaches and made some comments and some promises.

“What is involved is something much bigger than Santa Barbara. … What is involved is the use of our resources of the sea and the land in a more effective way, and with more concern for preserving the beauty and the natural resources that are so important to any kind of society that we want for the future. I don’t think we have paid enough attention to this. … We are going to do a better job than we have done in the past.”

And that happened.

On April 22, 1970 there was a “national teach-in on the environment” organized by Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson and Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey.

That was the first Earth Day.

Then, over the next 4 years came the National Environmental Policy Act; an Executive Order creating the Environmental Protection Agency; The Clean Air Act; The Clean Water Act; and the Endangered Species Act.

Over the next eight years a significant number of other environmental laws and regulations were enacted to clean up our country and the world.

And they worked!

Smokey cities and burning rivers were cleaned up.

When Ronald Regan became president in 1981, his administration’s environmental protection approach was less enthusiastic.

James Watt became his Secretary of the Interior.

Watt was opposed to much of the environmental protections that were then on the books.

Yet when asked in a Congressional hearing if he thought it was important to preserve the environment for future generations, fundamentalist Christian Watt said this:

“I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.”

He also said this.

“The Bible commands conservation — that we as Christians be careful stewards of the land and resources entrusted to us by the Creator.”

Why would Watt say these things?

Because the Bible says these things.

And while I certainly disagree with just about all Watt’s views on how to be good stewards of God’s creation, he and I agree that God calls us to do it.

Why do Watt and I think that?

Let’s look at our scripture reading.

Genesis 2: 4-9; 15

4b In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

We spend a lot of time in church talking about our relationship with God.

Bottom line?

God loves us.

We love God.

But it’s a bit more complex than that.

First, how do we know God loves us?

Look around.

Everything you see has been created and given to us by God.

From the deepest parts of the seas to the highest peaks on the planet, God’s love for us is demonstrated.

Really, take some time with the docuseries Planet Earth.

Take a tour through the national parks.

Look around your neighborhood.

Then there are your friends, the community that you live in, the people you rely on and even the people you argue with.

They are God’s creation, too.

And finally, there is the water we drink and food we eat.

Enough for everyone if we distribute it right.

Yeah, God loves us.

Loving God back is a bit more complicated that you think, too.

It’s not just coming to church on Sunday.

To love God, you have to love what God created.

We do that by taking care of what God created.

You, know.

The planet.

Each other.

But most of the time when we talk about our relationship with God, it’s … well … a bit narcissistic.

It’s like the only thing God cares much about is us!

I don’t think that is theologically correct, though.

God cares about a great many things and while we might be at the top of the list, we are not the only item on that list.

It’s a bit like parenthood.

I love my kids and care about them more than anything.

But I care about other things, too.

I care about my wife.

I care about my home.

I care about this church and all of you.

And I care about the world.

I care about those generations of folks who are coming after us.

Our relatives we will never know or see.

I care about what we will leave behind for them.

But God doesn’t want us to just care about God’s creation, go wants us to care for creation.

Which is why we were created.

According to Genesis 1:26:

26 … God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’

God gives us creation to subdue and have dominion over.

What does that mean?

That humanity is to rule over creation, not as a dictator, but a benevolent caretaker.

We are to walk in and have a relationship with creation so that creation can thrive.

And us with it.

That is our first mandate.

God created us and basically said, “Take care of my stuff, and it will take care of you.”

Look at our text today.

It says that the principal reason God created us was to care for all the other things God created.

God wanted to create plant life, but needed something else first.

What was missing?

A gardener.

That was us.

God created humanity and placed us in the midst of creation to tend and keep it.

We are not here to consume it.

We are not here to abuse it.

We are here to take care of it.

Like Richard Nixon said.

Like James Watt said.

To preserve creation for future generations.

This is our origin story.

This is our original purpose.

We are caretakers of God’s creation.

And it makes me wonder why we don’t have a church holiday for this big event?

We have Christmas to celebrate the incarnation.

We have Lent and Easter to celebrate our reconciliation with God.

We have Pentecost to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Why don’t we have a “Creation Day” to celebrate the beginning of it all?

The secular world does.

Earth Day.

April 22.

Commemorating the beginning of our desire for environmental protection.

You know … creation care.

You might say that all those environmental laws codified what is in our text today.

So let’s get back to today’s text.

What was our first assignment?

Tend the garden.

Care for the plants.

Plants that are “pleasant to the sight and good for food”.

Two things.

Pleasant to the sight and good for food.

But let’s start with pleasant to the sight.

What does tending the plants that are pleasant to the sight look like?

Before the pandemic, I visited the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

It was pretty awesome!

The place smelled of fertile soil and flowery fragrances.

The diversity was incredible as I walked through the different “ecosystems”.

It was beautiful.

It was inspiring.

It was peaceful.

It was pleasant to the sight.

But we don’t need to go to Phipps to see beautiful arrangements of foliage.

Many of us here plant flowers and trees and bushes at home or in public places that add beauty to the community.

When we do these things, we are doing the work God assigned to us.

Tilling and tending God’s garden that is pleasant to the sight.

Then there is the other type of gardening.

The cultivating of plants that are “good for food”.

If you want to see that, head down to Trax or Simmons farms.

Row after row of trees, bushes and plants, all bearing fruit and vegetables.

It is spectacular!

Gardens and orchards that are good for food.

But you don’t have to own a huge farm to grow fruit and vegetables.

Many of us have small vegetable gardens at home that are good for food.

When we till and tend these gardens, we are doing God’s work.

Tending the garden.

Why do so many of us do this?

We like to watch things grow.

We like beautiful flowers.

We like fresh vegetables.

We like to give the world beauty and sustenance.

Things “pleasant to the sight and good for food.”

Doing the work God has created us to do.

It is part of who we are.

It is our purpose.

That is what our text tells us.

But there is more to it than beauty and food.

There is also the preservation of the balance of nature.

God created a garden.

God created gardeners.

Each needs the other.

That is a just a small part of the extraordinarily complex interconnectedness of plants and animals, that God gave us to preserve.

The problem today is that the gardeners, us, are not doing a good job.

We are depleting the natural resources, polluting the land, air and water, and heating up the planet.

The climate changes.

Creation goes out of balance.

It cannot continue to support us.

To be clear, this is sin.

It is failing to do what God calls us to do.

But as gardeners, caretakers, and stewards, we can help to creation to regain the balance.

It is not just a good idea.

It’s our God given responsibility!

How do we do it?

Solar power?

Wind power?

I am no expert on any of this, but I do know that we can do little things.

Plant trees.

Plant gardens.

When we do these things, we do what God has called us to do.

Make the world more beautiful.

Make the world more productive.

Make the world sustainable.

That is what we have been doing for several years now with the SHIM garden.

That is what we have started with our fruit trees.

The food we cultivate and ultimately harvest will be used to feed those who could otherwise not be able to afford fresh fruit and vegetables.

We not only plant a garden and orchard that are pleasant for the sight and good for food, we help the ecosystem we call Bethel Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the United States and the whole world.

Even if it is just a little bit.

When we get our hands dirty with gardening we go back to our origins.

The ones we first read about in Genesis.

Developing a community garden and orchard on JMPC property is part of that story.

It is loving God and loving neighbor.

It is living the Jesus way.

For JMPC, today is “Creation Day”!

Let’s celebrate!

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church: Creation Day!

I am my father’s son, so, like him, I enjoy a beer or two from time to time. My current brand of choice is called “Burning River Pale Ale” brewed at Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland, Ohio. The first time I was handed a bottle, I laughed because the label is a picture of a river on fire. The name and label come from a famous event on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught fire. It was a “burning river”. This was not the first time, either. This from the Ohio History Connection website:

The Cuyahoga River was once one of the most polluted rivers in the United States as represented by the multitude of times it has caught fire [.] [A] recorded number of thirteen starting in 1868.  The most potent blaze occurred in 1952 which caused over $1.3 million in damages[.] [H]owever, the most fatal fire happened in 1912 with a documented five deaths.  The 1969 fire, which did not incur maximum damages or fatally wound any citizen, was the most covered incident occurring on the river.  This was in part because of the developing [concern] over industrial actions[.] [T]he United States was becoming more eco-aware.  Also, due to the shift from industry to technology, waste dumping to recycling Time Magazine produced an article about the incident. 

A burning river … What does that have to do with our worship of the living God? Join us Sunday, April 23, 2021 when we celebrate “Creation Day” at John McMillan Presbyterian Church. We are on Facebook Live and in the church parking lot at 10am. See you then.

So Shall My Word: Thoughts on the impact, certainty and hope of God’s word.

So Shall My Word

Some years ago, I decided to take up fishing.

I went out and bought an ultra-light rod, some spider wire fishing line, metal head hooks and rubber slugs with wavy tails.

I got a license to fish and off to the dock I went.

I was fishing for pan fish, particularly crappy bass.

Later, I got some sturdier tackle and even bought a small boat so I could fish for largemouth bass in amongst the weed bed at the head of Edinboro Lake.

For me, fishing was pretty relaxing and peaceful.

The reason it was so relaxing and peaceful was that I rarely caught any fish.

And when I did I just threw them back.

In the middle of my foray into “fishermanhood”, I was asked to go out on Lake Erie to fish for walleye with my friend Bob.

Cap’n Bob, as we all called him, always recited the same mantra.

“We are not going fishing; we are going to catch fish.”

He was pretty sure we would, too, because his boat had sonar and outriggers that basically allowed him to put the lure, coated with stuff fish think smells like dinner, right in front of the nose of the fish.

When the fish grabbed it, the outrigger snapped up, setting the hook, and all we had to do was reel it in.

It was rare that Cap,n Bob would send out a line that did not bring back a fish.

Which brings us to our scripture reading.

Isaiah 55: 6-13

6 Seek the Lord while he may be found,
   call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake their way,
   and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
   and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
   and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
   giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
   it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
   and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12 For you shall go out in joy,
   and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
   shall burst into song,
   and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
   instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
   for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Now what does Cap’n Bob have to do with Isaiah?

Listen again:

So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

When Cap’n Bob sent out his line, it almost always caught a fish.

When God sends out God’s word, it always accomplished God’s purpose.

Cap’n Bob’s line rarely came back empty.

God’s word never comes back empty.

It accomplishes its purpose.

What is that purpose?

Isaiah gives us a startling response to that question.

God’s purpose is beyond our complete understanding.

God’s word does what God wants it to do.

And we don’t know what that is.

God’s word creates and sustains.

It is the natural order.

It ties all things together.

It is cosmic and universal, intertwined with history and the natural world.

It is the DNA of all things.

It comes down from God with purpose.

We see it in the rain.

The rain that comes down from above.

The rain waters the earth and brings forth food that feeds God’s people.

It ends the dormancy of winter and causes the earth to be reborn.

God’s word comes down from above and nurtures God’s creation, which includes us.

God’s word, and its impact, is reliable, trustworthy and certain.

God is always in action.

And so, we can have hope.

Isaiah is telling us about that.

How do we know that?

Well, let me offer a bit of a history lesson that illustrates Isaiah’s message.

Who was Isaiah and who was he talking to?

The Isaiah of chapter 55 was a prophet in the time when Judah, the remnant of David’s Kingdom, was in exile in Babylon.

Judah had been captured and the people of Jerusalem were removed and scattered among the Babylonians.

Removing conquered people from their homes was a common practice in those days.

Its purpose was to make sure there was little chance of revolt among the conquered people.

Taking conquered people into captivity took away their identity as a people and assimilated them into the conquering culture.

Isaiah was speaking to the Judahite exiles in Babylon who didn’t want that to happen to them.

They didn’t want to become Babylonians.

They didn’t want to forget who and whose they were.

They didn’t want to be imprisoned in a foreign land.

Spiritually starving.

With no way out.

Then along comes Isaiah with a word from God.

It was actually a word from God about God’s word.

Isaiah said that God’s word could restore God’s people.

God’s word, like spring rain, could bring life back to a dormant community.

God’s word was going to take the exiles home.

That was God’s word for these people and it would not return empty.

Now that did not mean that everyone would return, some wanted to remain in Babylon and be Babylonians.

But God’s purpose was that there would be a return.

The community would be reborn.

God’s word would not return empty.

Isaiah’s message is one of hope and certainty.

Does Isaiah’s message resonate with us?

It should.

It is applicable to our current situation.

We are in the same circumstance as the Judahite exiles in Babylon.

We have not been conquered and taken from our homes to a far-off place, but we are certainly under siege by the Babylonians of our secular culture squeezing the life out of us and the church.

Not to mention a pandemic that has exiled us from our sanctuary.

We are afraid that we are beginning to forget who and whose we are.

We begin to turn to “foreign gods” that promise a false security.

A promise that is never kept.

A promise that leads to … well … meaninglessness.

This is nothing new.

Our faith stories tell us that.

God’s people periodically forget God.

God sends out God’s word to lead God’s people back.

Look at Moses.

The Israelites had loved in Egypt for 400 years.

They forgot God and became enslaved.

God sent Moses to lead them back to God.

God gave the people meaning and purpose and community.

But it did not last.

Read Exodus.

Read Joshua.

Better yet, read the book of Judges.

Judge after judge after judge rescued the tribes of Israel when they “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”, only to have it happen again and again and again.

And that kind of thing has never really stopped.

That’s why the prophets came.

That’s why Isaiah came.

That’s why Jesus came.

It is happening again today.

According to a report form NPR:

Fewer than half of U.S. adults say they belong to a church, synagogue or mosque, according to a new Gallup survey that highlights a dramatic trend away from religious affiliation in recent years among all age groups.

The new Gallop Poll, published Monday, indicates that religious membership in the U.S. has fallen to just 47% among those surveyed — representing less than half of the adult population for the first time since Gallup began asking the question more than 80 years ago. …

In conclusion, Gallup states that though the “U.S. remains a religious nation … far fewer, now less than half, have a formal membership with a specific house of worship.”

Then there is the more recent Barna research that found one third of Christians have stopped participating in church during the pandemic, including 50% of millennials.

That is the case even though most churches have streamed worship online.

Here we go again, right?

People seeming to turn their backs on God.

They are in spiritual danger.

Where is God’s word?

Right where it always is.

Right here.

When Barna did its research, the data also suggested that people who remained connected to their faith communities, whether in person or online, managed the challenges of the pandemic much better than those that dropped out.

God’s word does not return empty.

Will all those people who have walked away come back?

No.

They like their false gods.

But those that do come back are most welcome.

That is what Isaiah said was the impact of God’s word.

It reconciles and restores.

And Jesus, the incarnate word, is the final manifestation of that promise.

Jesus Christ, the incarnate word, came to liberate us from our perceived meaninglessness.

Jesus came to teach us a way to live and thrive.

And we can have confidence and trust that it will happen!

Our job, as disciples of Jesus, is to reach out to those exiles with what we do and what we say and what we stand for

We must live as best we can consistent with the Jesus way.

If we do that, we, too, are proclaiming God’s word and it will not return empty.

Isaiah told the exiles, and tells us today, that in a broken world where sorrowful things happen, God will always be a part of our future, a future filled with hope and purpose.

But this is not always easy.

We are still living among the Babylonians.

Sometimes we cannot see the return on God’s word.

Maybe you have some friend or relative for whom you have prayed for a long time.

They live as secular people, as if there is no God.

You talk and pray, seemingly to no avail.

Your heart is broken.

At times it seems like a hopeless cause.

Nothing seems to change.

The object of your affection, a son, a daughter, a wife or husband, a father or mother, dear friend just seems lost.

Here in today’s word, there is hope.

God tells us: “My Word goes forth … it shall not return to me empty.”

So have your say with them.

Have your prayer for them.

Know that even one word from God will have its impact.

And they can be changed.

They can be different, even if you cannot see it.

According to Isaiah, there are few things in life which you can count on, but you can count on these two: the Word of God goes forth, and the Word of God does not return empty.

God speaks.

His words cause action.

His words have results.

And for those who look for them and are led by them, the world is a different place.

The Kingdom of God.

Isaiah describes that scene:

We shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before us
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

And it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

All creation will rejoice at the event.

We will be joyful.

All will be at peace.

The mountains will sing, and the trees applaud at the work of the word.

The dangerous conditions of the world from which we are saved will become the cool shade of the cypress and the soft green groundcover of the myrtle.

The natural order will be returned to its intended serenity.

And it will all be a monument to the word, proclaiming that it will be eternal and undefeated.

That was good news to the exiled Jews.

It is good news for us today.

It is our hope and our certainty because it is the promise of God.

The hook is set.

We are bound to the lifeline.

Transported into the Kingdom of God.

So says Isaiah.

So says God.

Amen!

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

In 1994 The Lion King premiered. It is one of the great Disney animated movies of all time. It opens with the anointing of lion cub Simba, the heir of Musafa the Lion King of Pride Rock. Simba will succeed Mufasa, his father. This scene is intensified by the movie’s most memorable song, The Circle of Life. Here are the English lyrics,

From the day we arrive on the planet
And, blinking, step into the sun
There’s more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There’s far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round

It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
‘Til we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle of life.

The circle of life is the way of things. It makes existence predictable, though the events that take place in the circle are often hard to understand and difficult, the circle continues. Creation will continue, on and on and on. This idea is not new. Isaiah speaks of it in terms of both creation and our personal connection with God. It is a message of hope, faith and, yes, comfort.

Join us at John McMillan Presbyterian Church on Sunday, April 18 when Pastor Jeff preaches “So Shall My Word” based on Isaiah 55: 6-13. A message of hope.

Easter Sunday Message The First Apostle: Thoughts on Mary Magdalene.

The First Apostle

In court, lawyers often have to call expert witnesses to offer opinions what certain evidence means.

Experts explain things that are unfamiliar to a jury.

Thins the jury can’t understand without an explanation from someone who is qualified to tell them.

But before the expert could offer an opinion, he or she must describe their qualifications.

What makes them an expert?

So they tell the jury about their experience and education and their knowledge of the facts of the case.

All this was to assure the testimony was sufficiently reliable that the jury could depend on it when deciding the case.

You are probably asking what this has to do with Easter.

Let’s take a look.

John 20: 1-18

20Early 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. 2So 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.’ 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and 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. 13They 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.’ 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ 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.’ 16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17Jesus 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.” ’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Our Lenten sermon series presented the biographies of some of the12  disciples.

Peter, James, John, Matthew, Thomas and Judas specifically and on Palm Sunday the two unnamed disciples who went and got the colt Jesus used to demonstrate his messiahship.

But we also know that there were many followers of Jesus besides the 12 in his inner circle.

Were they also considered disciples?

Luke says they were and said there were at least 72 of them!

And according to Luke, some of them were women!

One of those women was Mary Magdalen.

According to Luke, Jesus cast out seven demons out from her and understandably, she became a follower.

So, Mary was a disciple of Jesus.

What else do we know about her?

When we see lists of women who followed Jesus, Mary Magdalene is typically first.

That means she was likely the leader of the women like Peter was the leader of the men.

She, along with the other women, also helped support Jesus financially.

But was she an apostle?

Is there a difference between a disciple and an apostle?

Yes.

A disciple is a student.

An apostle is a disciple sent by his or her teacher to teach others.

But there appears to have been one very specific additional thing necessary to qualify someone as an apostle of Jesus.

According to Paul, an apostle was one called by the risen Lord to be his witness in the world.

So, to be an apostle, you had to have seen the resurrected Jesus!

That is what qualified a person to be Jesus’ emissary.

To pass on his wisdom.

You would start out by saying something like this:

“The resurrected Jesus came to me and told me to go and tell you this.”

To be sure, Peter would add that an apostle also had to be a disciple first.

Someone who was a follower of Jesus during his earthly life.

While Paul might take issue with this, here’s what’s interesting.

Mary Magdalene qualifies under either definition.

She was a follower and supporter of Jesus who had appeared to her after the resurrection and told her to go and tell the disciples that Jesus was alive again.

She was an apostle.

And according to our scripture reading today, she was the first one.

Why would Jesus appear to Mary Magdalene first?

Who knows?

Maybe because she was with him while he was on the cross at the end of his life.

Maybe because she was there when Jesus was buried.

 Maybe because she was the first to come to the tomb.

Who can say why she was the first?

Scripture is silent.

Yet, all four Gospels say she was.

What else do we know about her?

Not much more than what I just said.

We might think we know stuff.

Many think she was a prostitute, an adulteress, a woman with a bad reputation.

But there is nothing in scripture that says she was any of those things.

Jesus did come across such women, but none are identified as Mary Magdalene, who in scripture, is always specifically named.

So, Mary Magdalene was just a woman who came from a place called Magdala, had been possessed by seven demons which had been cast out by Jesus, and understandably became a follower of Jesus.

There is a lot of apocryphal stuff about Mary Magdalene.

Some say she and Jesus were married!

Thank you, Dan Brown!

Others say that only Mary Magdalene really “understood” Jesus.

Some say that Peter was jealous of her close relationship with Jesus.

Some say she travelled to southern France where she died and was buried.

Not many people take any of these stories seriously.

But, the only thing everyone seems to agree on was that Mary Magdalene was the “apostle to the apostles”.

So, what does this mean to us on this Resurrection Day?

Maybe this:

When we think of Mary Magdalene, we might see ourselves.

Ordinary folks trying to understand what this resurrection business is all about.

Did it happen?

What does it mean?

Mary was one of those.

She did not go to the tomb to see if Jesus was alive again.

She went to mourn.

Many years ago, my good friend Mitch died of cancer.

He was 23.

His mother went to his grave every day for a long time.

She would put fresh flowers on the grave.

She would sit and read.

She would talk.

She would cry.

She would pray.

She just wanted to be near Mitch.

That is what Mary Magdalene was up to.

Maybe she just wanted to be near where she thought Jesus was.

But when Mary gets there, the grave is open!

Think about that for a moment.

Can you imagine what she felt?

Not joy, I assure you.

Alarm!

Fear that the body of her beloved Jesus was stolen!

What other explanation could there be?

Mary certainly did not expect to see a living Jesus.

Mary sort of staggers backward, hand over her mouth, then turns and runs away.

Mary bursts in on Peter and John.

She screams, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb …’!

Who are “they”?

Maybe “they” were the one’s who opposed Jesus during his life and now wanted to rid the world of any trace of him.

Peter and John look at each other.

Then they rush out the door.

The scene is almost comical.

Can you imagine Peter and John bumping into each other at the door frame as they try to get through the door?

Once out, the race is on.

John, the younger is also the faster.

He wins.

But when John gets to the grave he just paces outside.

Peter arrives a moment later and, true to form, heads straight into the tomb.

No body!

Just the grave clothes.

Peter slowly backs out.

He is speechless.

Now John crawls in.

The grave clothes are there but the body is not.

This makes no sense.

If people came and stole Jesus’ body, why waste time removing the grave clothes?

He tells Peter he believes something important has happened but can’t say what.

Certainly not a resurrection.

Then Peter and John just go home.

But Mary remains.

I like the way John describes it.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.

While Peter and John have left, Mary Magdalene is still there.

Pacing outside the tomb.

Then, very tentatively, she peeks inside.

And gasps.

Two angels!

They ask her why she is weeping.

They seem truly puzzled.

Maybe they say to each other, “What did she expect to find?”

Jesus’ dead body, she tells them.

I want to think that the Angels looked at each other and one of them says, “She doesn’t know!”

Before the angels can say anything, she turns to run and bumps into Jesus.

But she does not recognize him.

Why would she?

A living Jesus is not what she was expecting.

“Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” he asks.

Maybe Mary says something like, “Are you the gardener? Where have they taken Jesus?”

Then the man then calls her by name.

“Mary!”

Mary’s eyes get big.

Her hand covers her mouth!

She knows.

Her response?

Joy!

I can see her weeping with delight.

“Teacher!” she cries.

She opens her arms and rushes to hug him.

She wants to grab Jesus and hold onto him.

Maybe she just wants to touch him to make sure he is real.

Maybe she is afraid he will dissappear.

She does not want him to leave again.

But Jesus tells her something important.Jesus backs away and tells her not to hold on to him but go and tell the disciples, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Why would he do this?

Maybe because now he is the “Resurrected Jesus”.

The one who died and is now the one alive again.

He is now the Christ.

But he is not done.

He is ascending to the Father.

His God and her God.

Gathering his divinity back as he goes.

Jesus tells Mary, “Don’t hold on to this physical body because I am not done with all I need to do.

I need to go back to the Father.

I must bring the incarnation to a close.

By returning to the Father, I am opening the doors to the Kingdom.

And I am taking you with me.”

Mary has been told something that changes everything for her.

Her world is different.

No need to look for Jesus among the dead anymore.

Jesus is alive.

He called her name.

And has given her a task.

Go and tell.

Go and tell the disciples that Jesus is going back to the Father and taking everyone with him.

Mary starts crying again, but now these are tears of joy.

She runs off to do what Jesus asked her to do.

She tells the disciples.

Who tell others.

Who tell us.

Jesus is rising.

He is rising indeed.

And he is taking us with him.

That is the message of the first apostle.

Happy Resurrection Day.