Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Crafting of a Sermon - #1

Apparition de Jésus à Madeleine

Artist: James Tissot, French, 1836-1902

I preached this morning on Mary Magdalene running to Peter and John with the news that Jesus' body is gone. They run to the tomb. Peter ends up shaking his head in confusion about this turn  of events. But John the 'seer,' the 'perceptive disciple' (Bauckham), the discerner, the abider, the dweller, sees and believes. I loved preaching this text this morning!

Now I'm already looking at next week. I and my colleague Josh Bentley have been preaching chronologically through the four gospels for almost 5 years. Sometimes I work ahead, but in this case I have not. I have not looked seriously at the verses for next week, which are John 20:11-18. I have never preached on these verses before. I am excited to do so.

Here's John 20:11-18

10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?"

"They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15"Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

16Jesus said to her, "Mary."

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

17Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' "

18Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Throughout this week I'm going to share how I do this and the progress I am making. Here are some thoughts I now have, before looking at my commentaries.

  • Method: I will print these verses around and carry them in my pocket throughout the week. I will just read them, get familiar with them, make them mine. When insights or questions come I'll write those down. I will study them, using commentaries I find valuable. I'll meditate on them and let them study me. I'm asking God to speak through the text and beyond it to me, and to my people. I'll pray these verses, asking God about them.
  • At first glance the verses don't seem real preachable. I will not be misled by this. I must remember that God has told me to preach every verse, every word, and every punctuation mark of the 4 gospels. I think now of how fruitful this has been. Our people at Redeemer are a Jesus-literate people! This still strikes me, as it did over five years ago, as of the utmost importance.
  • "Mary" here is Mary of Magdala, aka "Mary Magdalene." A year or so before this Jesus cast 7 demons out of her. She never forgot that, and hung with Jesus until the bitter end. She loved Jesus.
  • Angels appear to Mary. I spoke a few weeks ago about angels, as we've slow-cooked in the empty tomb stories. I believe in the existence of angels. I now wonder if I should say some more things about this on Sunday? I trust that God will show me what to say. Pause: God will show me what to say. In preaching, my trust is in God. I wouldn't have it any other way. I also wouldn't want to listen to a preacher who didn't put his or her full trust in God. God, give me revelation on this. I know there are many who are Jesus-followers who struggle with the idea of angels and demons. I interpret that as a matter of our Eurocentric, Western enculturization. In preaching I do not want to come at the text from a Cartesian or Humean worldview.
  • Mary of Magdala is weeping. She is really, really heartbroken. She thinks the body has been stolen. She doesn't know where Jesus' body is. She refers to Jesus as "my Lord." Now I've got a lot of thoughts going through me. How would I feel if Linda died, was buried, and graverobbers stole her body? Even though she was dead I know I would feel for her. The body of the love of my life is in someone else's possession. I feel violated. I ache for her, though she does not ache at all. I'm angry and sad and concerned. Maybe the angels know? What the heck has happened to my Lord's body!!! Mary cries this out amidst tears and desperation. Jesus' body is missing. With a trace; i.e., with graveclothes intact. I know the feeling of losing something or someone precious. It's gone. It's a very weird feeling. It can be accompanied by fear if you think you've been robbed. Who would have done such a thing? Who could have done such a thing? I will need to preach the tears of Mary of Magdala, bringing the people into her situation.
  • Mary turns around and there stands the Missing One. Only she does not recognize him. How is this possible? When you are not at all expecting to see something you might not really "see" it even if it is right before your eyes. (I never bought into the idea that Superman could disguise himself from the entire world by merely putting on a pair of glasses. I know that If I put on glasses and walked around the house everyone + my dog would know who I am, and especially my dog.) Her eyes are flooded with tears, so physically maybe she doesn't see so clearly.
  • Mary thinks this man is the gardener. They have a little dialogue. Jesus goes with the dialogue. Why? Why doesn't he take of his glasses immediately and say "Mary, it's me, Superman!" Why this little game? Or perhaps: Why not? There's no logical inconsistency here. And maybe this is not a game at all? Maybe Jesus is breaking it to her slowly? After all, Jesus once cast 7 demons out of her. He knows what's in her heart and what she is capable of.
  • Jesus then calls her by name. "Mary." Now, right now, I feel touched by this. It feels beautiful and loving to me. Whenever I feel something like this in preparation for preaching I take it seriously, as possible revelation from-God. It's like God is saying to me: "Preach this, John." The way Jesus says her name... it's unique. The fact that he addresses her by name... it's personal and intimate. However she hears this, it is enough and dead-on. Jesus says "Mary" and it's like turning on a light switch. It's the illuminative moment. Now I am thinking this. A person today thinks Jesus is not real, and then turns around and it's him and he calls their name, and they know it's him because of the way he says their name. It's a revelation of his real presence happening in the place of total non-expectation. I like this very much! In fact, it happened at my conversion. One moment I didn't believe in a God who was experientially with us; the next moment my world is rocked and I meet Him. (I am now thinking of checking out a book I have called Conversions, and re-reading some of them, looking at these kind of sudden revelation-moments that come in the land of zero expectations.)
  • Whoaaa... I am now engaged in this text! I am with the text and the text is with me. This usually happens, and just now it has. It is, for me, exhilarating. It is going to be a very good week of total immersion in this passage.
  • Jesus tells Mary - "Don't hold on to me." What shall I say about this? If I were her I'd want to fall down and at least grab his feet. It's can't be a physical "holding on." It must mean, I think, an emotional holding on. Like when Jesus talks to his disciples about needing to go away.
  • Where is Jesus going? He says: "I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." This is so fun! I am diving off a high cliff into the deep, blue, crystal waters of the Trinitarian perichoretic dance...  I've got to be careful not to swim around in these waters too much. Yet I want to, very much. I've been upgrading my Trinitarian studies. This text gives me another excuse to do so. And with that blessing received I'll stop writing for a while, but I won't be able to stop thinking about this passage. Which is good, for me and for my people.