Ground Breaking and Earth Shattering
Ezra 3: 10 -11
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
April 8, 2018
In our culture, we celebrate Easter for one day. We give Easter baskets and hide Easter eggs and have the big worship service with brass as we dress in our Easter best and then Easter brunch or dinner afterwards. Monday morning we wake up and go about life as usual. But in the church, Easter Day is only the beginning of a season called Eastertide. Eastertide is a time to celebrate resurrection, hope, abundant life. In the spirit of the Eastertide, I would like to share an Easter story with you.
It is a true story. It is about a young preacher who was to preach his first Easter sermon ever. It was time for the 10:30 a.m. service and the preacher wasn’t there yet. People thought maybe he had a flat tire, got caught up in traffic. People started to feel a bit antsy. This was his big day. The organist stretched out the hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” as long as possible. Finally, at 11 a.m., the President of the congregation stood up and explained she didn’t know where the preacher was. She started in on the announcements and then of course, we will take up an offering. When all of a sudden they could hear tires screeching down the highway, literally the rubber burning. They heard swerves. They heard gravel in the parking lot as it was being splashed everywhere. They hear a car door slam and little footsteps running rapidly against the gravel. The footsteps became heavier and heavier. The church doors slammed open like saloon doors in a bar. The preacher ran down the middle of the congregation and he has this wild, wild look on his face and he screams at the top of his lungs, “Jesus Christ…is alive!” He turned and left the church. It was the most memorable Easter sermon ever preached said people in the congregation. A sermon they would never forget.
I was tempted to preach that same sermon last Sunday – but then thought that if I did that, it may end up being my last sermon here. But the brilliance of this young preacher’s sermon is that he caught the astonishment and wonder of the resurrection. Can’t you see Mary now sharing this extraordinary news with the disciples? After all she was the first one to encounter the empty tomb. Running from disciple to disciple, town to town with this wild look on her face and shouting at the top of her lungs, “Jesus Christ…is alive!” Yes, astonishing. Ground breaking. Earth shattering news!
Yes, I know that in our scientific age, we find stories of the empty tomb hard to take in. The gospels don’t help much because each of them tells a different story with contradictory details. How many women came to the tomb Easter morning? Was it one, as told in John? Two (Matthew)? Three (Mark)? Or more (Luke)? Was the tomb already open when they got there? Matthew says no; the other three say yes. Could Jesus’s followers touch him? John says no; the other gospels say yes. Where did Jesus tell the disciples to meet him? In Galilee (Matthew and Mark) or Jerusalem (Luke and Acts)? How do we really know for certain what happened?
What we do know is that a frightened group of disciples witnessed Jesus of Nazareth, their leader, be brutally executed. Because of their association with Jesus they feared for their lives – that they too may be brutally executed. Yet, they experienced something so momentous that they realized that Jesus was still alive – whether literally or metaphorically. We don’t know the exact details. But they were so convinced of the essential truth of this resurrection experience that each of those 12 disciples was prepared to go to their death rather than deny their commitment to Jesus as the risen one. Something astonishing, ground breaking, earth shattering took place on that resurrection morning.
Unfortunately, many in the Christian faith have lost that sense of astonishment. In fact, says one theologian, the critical issue facing Christianity today is not the disintegration of family values, moral absolutes, or school prayer – the critical issue facing Christianity today is dullness. The Good News is no longer good news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life-changing, it is maybe (at its best) life enhancing (Mike Yaconelli). The church alumni association, that is – those who have dropped out of church because church no longer holds meaning and purpose, wonder and astonishment, is growing by leaps and bounds.
There is an incredible rise in the numbers of people who used to go to church but who no longer do as well as C.E.O.s attending church. Do you know what C.E.O. stands for? Christmas, Easter, and Other Special Occasions. Why are there more church alumni and CEOs than ever before? Tens of millions of people are opting for cutting edge science over a literal interpretation of the Bible (Bible was never meant to be a science book), mystery and wonder over rigid dogma; radical inclusivity over patriarchy and same sex bigotry; unity and global oneness over separation, exclusivity, and tribalism.
Many church alumni feel like they have gone into a kind of spiritual exile. There is no spiritual place to call home. In our scripture passage today, during the time of Ezra, the Jews found themselves in a place of exile. Some history: In 586, the Jews were defeated and captured by the Babylonians, commanded by a general named Nebuchadnezzar. Jerusalem, the Holy City of God, was sacked. Houses and buildings were burned down. Most appalling of all, the Temple of Solomon, believed to be God’s dwelling place, was destroyed. Their nation was no more. Jerusalem was a pile of stones. The Temple, God’s earthly dwelling place, was laid waste. Some of the Jews were killed; others were deported to Babylon. They were exiles. The Babylonians would taunt the defeated Jews, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” But the Jews could not sing. They would weep and cry, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” They were exiles.
Likewise, there are former church goers who feel like they are exiles too? How can they sing, think, believe like they once did? There are many who have dropped out of church. It is estimated that over 1.2 million people will leave the church this year alone. As a result, there are many churches who are closing their doors. Selling their properties. It is estimated that over 10,000 churches will close their doors this year alone.
Yet, we are about ready to embark on a building project. We believe that we have good news, astonishing news, ground breaking and earth shattering news to share. A progressive message of radical inclusivity where all are welcome. A place of connection where one can deepen their spirituality (inner journey) as well as work for social justice (outer journey).
In our scripture today, we read that there was a small group of exiles who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. They returned with a different understanding of God – God was no longer the all powerful warrior who would defeat the enemies of the Jews. They returned with a different understanding of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was not the invincible city of God. They returned with a different understanding of God and a different understanding of Jerusalem – but they were not willing to abandon their faith all together.
So, too, some of you may have been exiles from other churches – but you have found your way here – maybe you come with a different understanding of God and a different approach to church than you once previously had. But you come to rebuild. Our building theme is “Build Up, Reach Out”. As we build up, we reach out in love, acceptance, and care. Offering new hope and new life.
Though we are not breaking ground quite yet, are vision remains strong. One of the ways we want to convey that vision is through the name of the new building. The building committee, along with input from the congregation has narrowed the name of that building to five choices. One of these five choices will be chosen and presented to the Board to vote on for a final decision. The building name will be revealed at the groundbreaking ceremony.
The five choices being considered are:
Agape Hall: Agape means love. It is the highest and most radical type of love. A love that is selfless and calls us to action. To do what is possible, for example to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, heal the sick. Paul says, “Faith, hope, love abide – but the greatest of these is love – agape love.”
Sojourners Hall: With our emphasis on social justice and the reference to Sojourner Truth, “sojourner” captures the spirit of our community. There is also the meaning of a visitor passing through and stopping for a day, we are all really just passing through or our way to wherever life takes us next.
Peace Hall: Peace refers both to the inward journey – the inner peace and the outward journey of creating peace in the world by praying with our feet.
Founders Hall: Honoring the Founders of this congregation. In 1975, Redlands United Church of Christ was formed. Our founders had a vision that one day we would have our own church building. On March 5th, 1984 we broke ground on this property. Six months later Covenant Hall was finished and dedication. On September 16th, 2001 – this Sanctuary was dedicated. Now we are working toward the third phase of our church – a building primarily used for education – a vision of our Founders from the moment we broke ground in this location in 1984.
Mosaic Hall: Art that is made of small broken pieces of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Small, broken pieces brought together into a whole, beautiful art piece. Mosaic speaks of our connections as a congregation, to our art heritage, to the physical mosaic we plan to install on the front of the building.
Though one name will be chosen for the building, other names may be used for specific rooms in the building.
This is who we are – a mosaic of peace and agape love, sojourners on the way, a vision of our Founders from the very beginning. And that is ground breaking, earth shattering, astonishing news for us all to celebrate!