It Matters To This One

Easter Sunday, March 27, 2005
Rev. Victoria Weinstein

GOSPEL READING Luke 24: 1-35 Stuart Twite, Reader

Why do you look for the living among the dead?
Were not our hearts burning within us?

1On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' " 8Then they remembered his words.

9When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

13Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16but they were kept from recognizing him.

17He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"

19"What things?" he asked.

"About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

25He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Did not the Christ[b] have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.

30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

33They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." 35Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

THE SERMON "It Matters To This One" Rev. Victoria Weinstein

I am glad to see you all here again this year. Some of you I haven' t seen since the last Easter service. I wonder why that is, sometime. It can' t be that all that cat meowing I did last year was so spiritually uplifting that it inspired you for the whole year. (You remember!)

Maybe you' re too busy. Maybe you are filled in other ways. I certainly hope so. Maybe you' re scared, and you' re not sure what goes on here. Well, what goes on here is pretty simple, although it' s not very easy: we try to care for each other in a real way, and we try to care for our world, by ordinary paying attention and showing up to make a small difference where we can. The Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says something that I hope is true for this community: "We don' t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people' s hearts."

The church is a kind of training ground, or gym, if you will, for the soul. We spend regular pew time in here with the aim that on the other days of the week, we might find it easier to remember that the Earth is a living organism that needs our care, and that each person upon it is actually a brother or sister of ours.

Here we train ourselves to look at the insides, rather than the outsides, of people and situations. We remind ourselves of the need to speak peace, bring peace, act peace, be peace. Our children desperately need to see this in us and we desperately need to extend it to each other. I dare say that the dominant culture of our day does not much encourage the peacefulness and sense of kin relation between us.

So we come together on Easter morning affirming the things that need to be affirmed if we are to endure as a species, and we do it knowing that it' s tough work indeed. We are such complex and secret creatures, as you know. You know as well as I do that we can spend an hour in here with the very best intentions and with full hearts, but that the minute we walk through the door we are going to see a whole lot of evidence that everything is crazy and broken, and we might as well chuck the church nonsense, go shopping and stay drunk on chocolate and denial for the rest of our lives.

If you think the Easter story is crazy, it is. It is absolutely crazy and ridiculous, as we are. Deciding together to experience life and joy where there is every reason to proclaim death and failure is absolutely ridiculous. As the composer Stephen Sondheim wrote, "Send in the clowns. Don' t bother; they' re here."

We celebrate a ridiculous story here today, a fantastic story. Jesus' original community of disciples went home on Friday afternoon thinking the whole enterprise was over, failure. Enough with this kingdom of equals, enough with the promises of God' s healing and love for all. It was done. Finished.

And then the women went back to tend to the body of their rabbi the next day and they found the tomb empty. They saw an angel. Or a figure in white, it depends who you ask. The details of their vision aren' t consistent among all the gospel accounts, but it startled them just about out of their skins and they went running off to tell the men. The men said, of course, you' re being ridiculous.

This is what we usually say when something seems an enormously obvious failure and ending by our conventional wisdom. "Don' t be ridiculous, there' s no life to be seen there, and there certainly aren' t any angels."

So a couple of those downhearted men walked to a town called Emmaus, seven miles out of Jerusalem, as Stuart just read to us. They were doing some Monday morning quarterbacking, no doubt, and assessing what went wrong, who screwed up, getting ready to label everything with a big black marker called "We Lost" and going to get back to their oppressed, frustrating lives.

But you know, there is that human spark of hope and God that beats in every one of our breasts and has since the beginning of time, and lo! these men too had a vision. It began ordinarily enough, with a stranger walking beside them. The two men had already decided the women disciples were fools for believing that Jesus was still alive, and yet they got pulled into the very same experience of life and faith as the women did. They got pulled into just as much ridiculousness.

Wait a minute!
Wasn' t that Jesus?
Where' d he go?
Was that really him?
Wait, that was him, wasn' t it?
Oh my God, you' re kidding me!

All that time they walked along the road together, but they didn' t see who it was keeping them company, Luke tells us, until the breaking of the bread at the table. When they finally got it, they just about fell over themselves. And in this wonderful line, one of them says to the other, "Wait a minute. Let' s go over this. Didn' t our hearts just burn within us as he was teaching us on the road?"

Yeah, mine did. Now that you mention it. Yeah. My heart was burning. But I didn' t think I' d mention it or anything. I thought I was being ridiculous.

I love that Jesus himself in this resurrection appearance even says to the disciples, "You' re such fools." He knows better than anyone that when your heart is full, when it is burning within you for love and inspiration and recognition of the holiness at the heart of being, you don' t worry about making sense.

I' m so glad that our Unitarian Universalist faith says in its first Source that our living tradition receives wisdom from many sources, including the "direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life." It' s right there on the first or second page of your hymnal. Now that' s the Easter experience in a nutshell, isn' t it? Direct experience of a transcending mystery and wonder. I' m so glad, because it gives me permission to be ridiculous. That Source says, okay, if you directly experience life where there was death – if you directly experience possibility where there was an apparent dead end in your soul, we' re saying that' s as legitimate source of religious wisdom and truth as anything you get in church, or in any book. I' m grateful for it. It says that spiritual truth is just as valuable as scientific truth in how we make meaning. It affirms the mystical. I respect that. I especially respect it when a group of people' s direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder leads them to see the possibility of life, ministry, healing and hope where there was death.

How blessed to be that ridiculous. It' s what I live for.

If you want to set out to be that ridiculous, and I hope you do, here' s how: set out to find bits of light, love and understanding wherever you can. Have a direct experience of ridiculousness that turns the way you perceive reality from death to life; from destruction to creation. Pick one small ridiculous act of life and commit it. (Commit random acts of ridiculousness!)

There is a corny story that I like about that kind of small, ridiculous act of finding life amid death. A boy is walking along the beach where thousands of starfish have been tossed up and stranded by the tide. He is tossing them back to the sea, one by one. An older man stops and watches him for awhile, and he chuckles. "What does it matter, son? There are still thousands of starfish on the beach." And the boy throws one more starfish back into the tide and he says, "It matters to this one."

It' s a corny story but it came back into my mind a few weeks ago and I couldn' t get it out. Here' s how it happened.

I went to see a production of the musical "Gypsy" at a local theatre. One of the characters, a pushy stage mother, is a real animal lover and she gets her daughter a lamb for her birthday present. The girl, Louise, sings a lovely song to the lamb, called (appropriately enough), "Little Lamb." I know the show pretty well and I wondered how this theatre would handle the live animal situation. Would they do it with a stuffed animal or what? So I was just as charmed as everyone else in the audience when a real, snowy white lamb got pushed onto the stage in a diaper at the beginning of the scene. It was just as cute as can be, going "baaa baaa" and pulling at its harness while the actress sang to it.

Later, backstage, I asked the producer about it: "Getting that lamb must have been a real challenge for you!" Yes, it was, he agreed. And I congratulated some friends who were in the show. "LOVED your performance, LOVED the lamb!"

"Oh, we love the lamb, too!" they said. But one of them pulled me aside and whispered to me that they had gotten the lamb from a slaughterhouse and that the lamb was going to go back there after the show. To put it delicately, she was scheduled to become lamb chops.

In the interest of full disclosure I will say that I am a carnivore and I thank my brother and sister chickens, cows, sheep and pigs for much of the food that I eat. But I am also a lady of the stage and it seemed to me that this little lamb was also a lady of the stage, and ladies of the stage are should not be served up with a side of mint jelly on anyone' s dinner plate. Even if they do pull at their harness and bleat while fellow actors are trying to sing.

It bothered me.

So I prayed about it. "I know I' m being really ridiculous, but I just feel I am supposed to protect that lamb."

The still, small voice inside answered me. It said, "Well, you have ten fingers and a mouth: get on the phone!"

So I called around, and I visited around, and through a lovely lady of this congregation, Persis Sterling, I was put in touch her daughter-in-law Amy McLellan. We had a great rollicking talk one afternoon at the Science Center down the street, along with Angela Sterling, and Amy was more than happy to provide a home for the lamb. She had had sheep before and she was happy to get another one. And the farmer was just as happy to sell the lamb to me.

The lamb is now named Little Compton. She is living happily in Pembroke. There is no mint jelly in her future.

And we welcome her and her mistress Amy to our church this morning.

(At this moment, Amy and Little Compton entered the back of the meeting house and walked up the center aisle. The rest of the sermon was delivered with Little Compton standing beautifully and calmly by my side).

Go ahead and be ridiculous. And when you are practicing the ridiculous Easter faith of loving the world, of finding life amidst lost causes, of practicing hope amidst despair, and of letting your hearts burn within you for joy -- remember the disciples, and remember the starfish, and remember this lamb. And remember that it matters.

It matters to this one.

You are the resurrection and the life. Happy Easter, hallelujah and amen.