04/04/21 – The “New Normal” Easter Sermon

THE “NEW NORMAL”

April 4, 2021
Easter Sunday
Mark 16:1-8
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

Getting back to in-person worship gives us a hopeful sign that our quarantine life is opening up to more freedom. Yet, for me, the phrase “getting back to normal” is not as hopeful sounding as seeking a “new normal.” In the spirit of the Easter season, I am hopeful for a time of re-creating the world to be more like God’s kingdom. I don’t want to go back to all of the “pre-pandemic normal.”

In the past two weeks, there have been three mass shootings – eight killed in Atlanta and ten in Boulder, Colorado, five in Orange, California. One Capitol police officer was killed and another seriously injured by a man driving his car through a barricade. After a year of relatively few mass shootings, as compared to before the pandemic social gathering restrictions, this is not the normal to which I want to go back. Voter suppression, reminiscent of the Jim Crow era is being pushed by state legislatures. I do not want to go back to the pre-Civil Rights era. In recent years, political partisanship has reduced public discourse to vile name-calling and violent threats. I do not want to go back to that after Easter.

In a recent New York Times article by David Brooks, a New Testament professor at Wheaton College, Esau McCaulley, was interviewed to discuss the historical vision of Christian social justice. Mc Caulley commented:

“This vision begins with respect for the equal dignity of each person. It is based on the idea that we are all made in the image of God. It abhors any attempt to dehumanize anybody on any front. We may be unjustly divided in a zillion ways, but fundamental human solidarity in being part of the same creation…”

The Bible is filled with stories of marginalization and transformation, which we continue to live out. Today, many Americans are trying to tell the true history of our people, a tale that doesn’t whitewash the shameful themes in our narrative nor downplay the painful but uneven progress — realist but not despairing. That is Resurrection thinking.

McCaulley notes that some of the most significant social justice victories in history: William Wilberforce’s fight against the slave trade, the Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, and the Confessing Church’s struggle against Nazism. And, of course, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, were Christian-based and biblically based.

Theologian and civil rights activist, Howard Thurman, wrote in his book, Jesus and the Disinherited, that “hatred is a great motivator, but it burns down more than the object of its ire. You can feel rage but there has to be something on the other side of anger.” Like the terrified disciples’ running away in fear and the angry mob’s shouts of “Crucify Him” on Good Friday, the Resurrection on the other side brings peace, hope, and justice.

McCaulley urges that we must not “revile the reviler nor allow him to stay in his sin. The Christian approach to power is to tell those with power to give it up for the sake of those who lack. There is a relentless effort to rebuild relationships because God is relentless in pursuit of us.” He writes in his book “Reading While Black,” “the Old and New Testaments have a message of salvation, liberation, and reconciliation.”

This is why God sent Jesus to tells us and show us what the world needs to be — what God originally intended for it to be — before sin marred the divine creative vision. Jesus preached:

‘You’ve heard it said ‘an eye for an eye? No! turn the other cheek,

 love your enemy.’

‘You think the rich man is living the good life? You know, the one

who let a poor man lie at his door covered in sores? No! He will

go to the place of eternal suffering, but the poor man will be

with me in heaven.’

“Why do you worry about filling your barns and building new

ones for all your surplus? What if you died tonight? What good

are those full storage spaces to you then?”

Jesus pulled back the veil on our sin and folly to teach us what really matters: loving God, loving our neighbor, and serving those who are poor and suffering—the widows, the orphans, the foreigners who live among us, the hungry, the sick, the naked, the imprisoned.

The work waiting for us beyond Easter is to create a new normal, to ‘pull back the veil,’ and expose what is broken and needs to be healed and transformed. Jesus did that when he challenged the Roman Empire and the religious leaders. He challenged long-held beliefs, rules, systemic injustices and presented a vision of “the earth as it is in heaven.” For this he was crucified but, by his Resurrection, he claimed victory over all the death-dealing evils humanity produces, so we can re-create ourselves into the image of God and allow God’s kingdom to enter and transform the world in which we live now.

Mark’s unfinished ending challenges us to write the rest of the story ourselves. What lies beyond our fears, our silence, our running away that God is waiting for us to be and do? Mark didn’t just want us to believe in the Resurrection, he wanted us to read the gospel and be transformed so as to live Resurrection lives. Mark never intended to pose the question of whether the Resurrection really happened; instead, he proclaimed that the Resurrection will continue to happen where healing of the mind, body, and spirit is a priority. Where God’s creation is treated with reverence. Where outsiders are fully accepted as insiders because they are children of God. Where abundant life for all replaces hoarding by a privileged few.

As we enter into this Easter season, celebrating the new beginnings the Resurrection offers, let us renew our commitment to strengthening and nurturing ourselves as the body of Christ in the world – for creating a new normal that reflects the kingdom of God. Let us work toward a new normal; where race does not divide or mean one lives with greater fear and fewer opportunities; where violence is not part of everyday life; where those who live in poverty have the opportunity to be lifted up. The social justice against which Jesus took a stand calls for a “new normal” where refugees and immigrants leave villages, in which their children’s lives are threatened and droughts have made growing enough food to live on impossible, are welcomed and able to build new lives; where people find the resources, they need to begin again. Resurrection calls us to a new normal where the love of Christ truly transforms— not just our individual hearts and lives, but the brokenness all around us.

Our eternal life has already begun.
The chance to live into this “new normal” is what the Resurrection promises.
May it be so!
The Lord is Risen!
He is risen indeed!

Amen!

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2021, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Ave. | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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