This sermon, preached at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison Wisconsin on Easter Day 2013, is built around the readings for Easter Day in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.
You can find those readings here.
I wonder when it happens… when our response to the world around us becomes fixed… when the way we respond to the world around us begins to gel, to set, to harden…
I am sure that there are folks among us this morning who have studied this, who can tell us how the stress that our mothers endure affects us in the womb, how the birth experience shapes us, how the way that our early needs are met defines how we will trust, or not trust, the people and the world around us. I know that all of these things impact our responses to the people and events in our lives. I know that our outlook on the world is impacted and shaped by more variables than we can count and that we are all unique and wonderful individuals in or own right.
But this morning I am concerned with something that seems to be pretty universal, part of the human condition, something that we recognize in ourselves, that we know we would be better off without, and that is so hard to overcome that we will spend our entire lives struggling against it.
I believe that this tragedy begins when we are very young, during that awful period known to parents as the terrible twos.
Yup! That’s when it happens. The terrible twos… when we develop our obsession with the word “No!”
“No!” it feels so powerful. It startles the people around us, causes them to pause. It even makes them a little uncomfortable. And when we say it often enough we can cause quite a stir. Everyone else seems to be saying it all of the time. It seems like everywhere we go, every time we reach out to try something new, every time we experiment with the freedom we are beginning to feel, people are shouting it at us… “No! Don’t touch that! No! Don’t do that! No! Don’t go there…” This must be how the world works. And if you are going to keep saying “no” to me then I am going to say “no” right back at ya!”
It happens so early. We don’t yet have the resources or the sophistication to recognize what is happening to us. And before we know it… It’s too late. “No” becomes a habituated response. It becomes familiar, predictable. It is what we know…
So we are really ill prepared to defend ourselves from the “no” that surrounds us when our circle becomes larger and we fall under the influence and spell of the larger world.
“Can I join you?”
“No! You don’t look like us!”
“Can I try this?”
“No! You will just fail anyway!”
“Can I go there?”
“No! You’ll just get into trouble!”
“Can I have some of that?”
“No! There isn’t enough to go around, and you haven’t earned it yet!”
“But aren’t I important?”
“Are you kidding? Who are you? No!”
“Am I not then worth loving?”
“No! Not until you measure up and give me what I want… No!”
“No” rains down on us from people we trust, people we respect, even people we love. So we don’t even recognize the fact that “No” is the tool that Madison Avenue uses to sell us their soap, “No you aren’t quite acceptable… But if you buy what we are selling you will be just fine…”
We don’t recognize what is happening when “No” and the threat of “no” are what the powers that be use to keep us in line. “No! But you shouldn’t be complaining… I am just protecting you from their bigger and even more oppressive ‘no.’ You should count your lucky stars that you only have to endure the ‘no’ that I am offering!”
Two thousand years ago, there was another word spoken. It was spoken very quietly, by a young girl, who whispered the word in response to and unlikely and seemingly impossible request.
The word grew a little louder when, in a city that was lining up to be counted, cataloged and taxed by a foreign occupying power, a child was born in the lowest of all places.
This word grew in volume as an itinerate preacher began to wander the countryside, speaking primarily to those upon whom the world’s “no” had wreaked the greatest damage
It reached a crescendo as this word began to challenge the “no” in very public and threatening ways…
Jesus, Emmanuel, God among us, is God’s Word; God’s resounding “Yes” uttered, spoken into being, and proclaimed, in the face of the world’s “no.”
“Yes! You can join us! You don’t even need to ask. Because you are already a part of us!”
“Yes! You can try that! And if it doesn’t work out… we will find something else… together!
“Yes! You can go there! And I will go with you on your journey!”
“Yes! You can have some of this! There is way more than enough to go around!”
Yes! You are important! You are precious in my sight and there is no other like you!”
“Yes! You are worth loving! And I have loved you even before you were able to love me in return!”
Can you feel it? It’s palpable! God’s “Yes.” Something like that could change the world!
It could… but the “no” doesn’t give up easily. In fact, the “no” has such a deep hold on us that, as attractive as the “yes” may be… we find ourselves backing away, distrusting the very thing we long for, yet find so hard to imagine.
God whispers yes to a young girl named Mary.
God says yes in a lowly stable in Bethlehem.
God walks the dusty roads of Palestine saying yes, yes, yes!
But we turn away from the Word of God and cry “No!” as we nail him to a tree.
That “no” is still ringing in Mary’s ears as she approaches the tomb this morning. It is screaming at the disciple Jesus loved and at Peter as they run to see what has happened. That “no” is so loud and strong that Mary, weeping at the tomb after Peter and the other disciple have left, doesn’t recognize the voice, the Word, when it begins to speak to her again.
Then something incredible happens. The Word, God’s “yes” calls to her by name… Mary… Yes!
It’s hard. The “No” has not gone away, has not completely loosed its grip on us. That voice is still ringing, screaming in our ears. Sometimes the “no” even finds voice on our own lips.
It is our longing that brings us here: our longing for a different voice, and different word, a yes that might just change us and change the world; a yes that will proclaim that love is more powerful than death.
The “no” will never silence the yearning. And this morning, as we stand weeping at the tomb… we hear it again. That still small voice, whispering to us… calling us by name… and saying, “Yes!”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!