September 20, 2019
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Looking for the Miracle


♪ music ♪ Hi. My name’s Jacob Armstrong. I’m the pastor of Providence
United Methodist Church. And today I want to talk to you
about the miracle of Easter. And to do that I want
to tell you about Mary, Petey, and Jesus. The first Mary I want to tell
you about was my grandmother. I never met her. I only
saw her in photographs. But I heard all these great
things about her my whole life, about her faith,
about her character. But she died before I was born.
For whatever reason, though, I told myself, if I ever
have a daughter, I will name her Mary
after this Mary. And when Rachel and I had
our first daughter in 2004, I asked Rachel if we
could name her Mary. And she said, “I love it!” When Mary was born I was a
full time student and a pastor. I was attending graduate school over an hour drive
from our house. So I had about 2 hours on
the road, all day in class, and I worked at the church, too.
And I had little Mary. And so even though this was
big time against the rules, while it was still dark before I
left for school in the morning, I would sneak into Mary’s room and I would whisper to
this tiny baby, “Mary.” And then louder I’d say, “Mary.”
And she would open up her eyes. And I would snatch her up
and simply just rock her back to sleep, saying her name, my grandmother’s name,
her name: “Mary”. And she’d close her eyes. I’d put her in the crib
and go to school. I did that, because I
wanted her to know me. I wanted her to know her name.
But I wanted her to know the way her name sounded
coming from my voice. Because, I didn’t
want to just be someone in a photograph to her. When Mary was about two, she
found a worm in the backyard. And like a lot of little kids
Mary gave everything names. And she named her worm Petey. Except when I saw it,
Petey wasn’t a worm, Petey was a caterpillar. So still working on the
‘dad of the year award’ in only my second year of
eligibility, I got a pickle jar, put Petey along with a twig
and some grass in the jar, and punched a couple
holes in the top. The perfect recipe for death.
We set Petey on the end table in our living room
and we watched him. It was fascinating at
least for a few days. For a few days we watched
Petey move around. Then he began to slow down,
and, yeah, you guessed it, eventually connected himself
to the top of the lid of the jar and built his cocoon. For a few more days Mary would
return to the jar and I would explain to her about the
intricacies of metamorphosis. And then she stopped
watching all together. There wasn’t much to see. After a week, the grass in the
jar kind of began to wither. At two weeks, I moved the
jar from the end table to a shelf up above our TV. You know, you do
things as parents you don’t totally think through. And I thought, why did put
the caterpillar in a jar? Why did we name it? Why is it up on a shelf now? We are on day 16.
Why not in the trash can? You know, you want to teach
the little girl something? Tell her sometimes
you get a caterpillar and it doesn’t go
the way you planned. But no, instead I set that thing
up on a shelf above the TV where she doesn’t
notice it anymore. But every time I sit down to
watch TV I have to see it. Was there something in me
hoping? I don’t think so. I just didn’t have the
heart to throw it out. That’s where Easter starts. Not a bright sunny morning with the buds emerging
on tree branches. Not in pretty clothes opening
up baskets of colored eggs. Easter starts in the dark. “Early on the first day of the
week, while it was still dark” is how the scriptures
tell us Easter starts. It starts with, What
was I thinking? How did I get myself into this?
Why did I get so attached? Why did I believe?
And it starts with Mary. “Early on the first day of the
week, while it was still dark, Mary, Mary Magdalene
went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been
removed from the entrance. Mary Magdalene was
one of Jesus’ friends, one of Jesus followers,
one of Jesus’ disciples. Mary is not a bit player
in the Jesus story. And she’s the Mary I want
to tell you about today. She is mentioned 12 times in
the 4 accounts of Jesus life, which is way more than
most of the disciples. Mary was with Jesus
on his journeys. She was there as he
hung on the cross. And according to all 4 Gospels
was either alone or with a small group of people who came
to the tomb on Easter morning. She was one of the few still
looking at the jar on the shelf. And when she got to the tomb,
it was empty. An empty tomb to her meant,
Oh God, you have got to be kidding me;
it’s even worse than I thought. A tomb with a body, meant:
oh yes, this is terrible. But an empty tomb, before you
know what happens on Easter, is just: you’ve got
to be kidding me, they killed him and
they stole his body. Mary goes and tells
Peter and John. And John comes and stops at
the entrance to the tomb. He sees the strips of linen that
had been covering Jesus’ body, and thinks, Oh, no.
He doesn’t go in. But Peter walks in,
and he looks around. And then Peter and
John go back home. But not Mary. Mary stayed. She stayed and she cried. She cried and she stayed. It’s then that Mary senses
someone is behind her. John tells us it’s Jesus. But she didn’t
realize it was Jesus. He looks so different or her
vision is so clouded by tears she can’t see what has happened. And she says, “Sir, if you
have carried the body away, tell me where you have put
him and I will go get him.” This supposed gardener,
says to her, “Mary.” And there might be a lot
of crazy stuff going on, but she does not mistake
the sound of HER name coming from his voice. She’s heard it too many times.
She knows, Jesus is not dead, anymore.
He’s alive. Jesus announces resurrection,
universe-shaking, world-changing resurrection by
saying the name of his friend. Jesus announces that through Him God has done all that
is necessary for us to be reconciled to God, through
the cross, through the grave. And he announces it by saying
the name of his friend. He knows her name. I love that Jesus announces
resurrection with “Mary.” Jesus shares the miracle that will be the miracle
that we need with a name. And that’s how I got to wake up
my Mary on a spring day in 2006. She was taking her nap, when I sat down on the couch
to watch whatever was on TV. That’s what you had do in 2006. You watched whatever was
on TV at that moment. I looked up and up above the
TV on a shelf was Petey, flapping his brand
new beautiful wings. I went and woke up Mary,
you know how, “Mary.” And I pulled her out
in her little shirt and Elmo branded diaper, and
with Rachel we soaked in the miracle of a butterfly who we
thought was a dead caterpillar. Look, I didn’t totally
think through putting that caterpillar
in the jar. If I had, I probably would have decided
against it. Too much risk. And as followers of Jesus
there will always be things we don’t totally think through.
And joining Jesus is like that. Like, you think Peter
weighed everything out when he joined Jesus? It says, “He dropped his
nets and followed him.” You think Mary had
it all figured out? It says she went
wherever he went. She stood at the base of
the cross while he died, and she got up before sunrise on
the third day to go to the tomb. That’s how Easter
starts for all of us. Today perhaps you are grieving
the loss of someone you love. You have cancer.
Your marriage is toast. Don’t give up. Don’t stop looking
for the miracle. How could Jesus do that for me?
I don’t know exactly. But I know he makes worms turn
into butterflies in glass jars for little girls and
skeptical dads. I know he had the power to sit
up in his grave and carefully take his bandages off,
neatly fold them in a pile on the floor, and then
bust through a cave door. And that God,
who has that power, the power to conquer
sin and death? That God does not have to just
be someone in a picture for you. That God knows
your stinking name. Christ is Risen.
Christ is Risen indeed! ♪ music ♪

Otis Rodgers

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