It is NOT Over

Revelation 21:1-4, John 20:1-18

Rev. Doug Van Doren, Plymouth United Church of Christ

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Easter (April 1), 2018

 

A middle-aged woman has a heart attack and is taken to the hospital. While on the operating table she has a near-death experience. During that experience she sees God and asks if this is it. God says "no" and explains that she has another 40 years to live.

Upon her recovery, she decides to just stay in the hospital and have a face lift, liposuction, and a tummy tuck. She even has someone come in and change her hair color and give her a new do. She figures that since she's got another 40 years she might as well make the most of it.

She walks out the hospital after the last operation and is struck and killed by an ambulance speeding up to the hospital.

She arrives at the pearly gates incredulous, and says to God, "You said I had another 40 years?"

God replies, "Sorry, I didn't recognize you."

_

A boy asks his father to use the car and the father replies "No, not until you cut your hair!"

The boy replies "But Dad...Jesus had long hair!"

To which his father says, "Yes, and he walked everywhere."

_

God was tired, worn out. So he speaks to Saint Peter, "You know, I need a vacation. Got any suggestions where I should go?"

Saint Peter, thinking, nods his head, then says, "How about Jupiter? It's nice and warm there this time of the year."

God shakes His head, "No. Too much gravity. You know how that hurts my back."

"Hmmm," Saint Peter reflects. "Well, how about Mercury?"

"No way!" God mutters, "It's way too hot for me there!"

"I've got it," Saint Peter says, his face lighting up. "How about going down to Earth for your vacation?"

God shakes His head vigorously this time, "Are you kidding? Two thousand years ago I went there, had an affair with a nice Jewish girl, and they're STILL talking about it!"

_

A pastor explained to her congregation that the church was in need of some extra money, so she asked them to consider being more generous. She offered that whoever gave the most would be able to pick three hymns.

After the offering plates were passed about the church, the pastor glanced down and noticed that someone had generously given a $1,000 bill. She was so excited that she immediately shared her joy with the congregation and said she'd like to personally thank the person who placed the money in the plate.

A very quiet, elderly, saintly lady in the back of the church shyly raised her hand. The pastor asked her to come to the front. Slowly she made her way forward. The pastor told her how wonderful it was that she gave so much, and in thanks, asked her to pick out three hymns.

Her eyes brightened as she looked over the congregation. "I'll take him and him and him."

_

A man flops down on a subway seat next to a priest. The man's tie is stained, his face is smeared with red lipstick, and a half-empty bottle of gin is sticking out of his torn coat pocket. He opens a newspaper and begins reading.

After a few minutes the guy turns to the priest and asks, "Say, Father, what causes arthritis?"

"Loose living; cheap, wicked women; too much alcohol; and contempt for your fellow human beings," answers the priest.

"I'll be darned," the drunk mutters, returning to his paper.

The priest, thinking about what he said, nudges the man and apologizes. "I'm very sorry for being so harsh. How long have you had arthritis?"

"Oh, I don't have it, Father. It says here that the Pope does."

_

"Anyone with needs to be prayed over, come forward, to the front at the altar," the Preacher says.

 

John gets in line, and when it's his turn, the preacher asks: "John, what do you want me to pray about for you?"

 

John replies: "Preacher, I need you to pray for my hearing."

 

The preacher puts one finger in John's ear, and he places the other hand on top of John's head and prays up a storm over John.

After a few minutes, the Preacher removes his hands, stands back and asks, "John, how is your hearing now?"

 

John says, "I don't know, Reverend, it's not 'til next Wednesday!"

_

Though I tried, I just could not resist using this format that I have used before on Easter (different jokes, of course). I couldn't resist especially because this is April Fool's Day. It seems a perfect synergy when Easter falls on April Fool's Day, but it is rare. The last time it happened was in 1956. No foolin'!

Many have tried to explain Easter. Certainly many have theologized it nearly to death, but it is better experienced, illustrated. It has long been understood in the Church that Easter is God's grand joke on the powers of death in the world. That led to a tradition that goes back to the Middle Ages. On Easter Sunday, rather than preaching a sermon, the priest would tell jokes as an illustration that God has the last laugh. Can you imagine that? (A priest, a knight and a Lord went into the tavern for a tankard of ale...?) As firm and damning as Middle Ages sermons were, the people must have experienced quite a relief on Easter. (Maybe that is the real reason going to church on Easter became so popular.)

Easter is like laughing in church. It is like getting the giggles at the worst possible time. Sometimes it puts things in perspective. Sometimes it laughs in the face of deadly seriousness, or brings us up short when we take ourselves too seriously, and don't take God's promises seriously enough. Sometimes it cracks open a vision of a new way.

I worked with late-elementary-age kids in an after-school program as a field placement in college for my Social Work Major. One afternoon, I walked into our room right beside Greg, a tough kid from the projects. He had on a pair of loafers and, messing around, he kicked his foot up in the air, and his shoe came off, flew straight up in the air, and landed fast on top of one of the suspended lights. He immediately looked at me in fear and instinctively shrunk away as if a blow would follow.

I laughed. And he cried. He cried out of relief. And then he too began to laugh in a free uncontrolled way that I had never seen him do before.

If you are newer to the UCC, you may not realize that a comma has been part of our UCC branding for quite a while. It has been incorporated into our new denominational logo as well. It comes from the line from comedienne, Gracie Allen, "Don't put a period, where God has placed a comma." In other words, "God is still speaking." How fitting that a comedienne would supply the best theological statement for Easter.

When the human culture of defeat, terror, and death has done its all; when it has placed its arrogant period, thinking it has the last word, God shows that its effort are, at most, only a comma.

Mary, Peter, and the fleet-footed disciple came to the tomb. They knew exactly what to expect, so they could not comprehend what they saw. They knew they would find a dead body. And dead is dead! They had yet to discover the Christ who moves out of the tomb and into their, thought-to-be-ended lives. He moves into Mary's path of zombie-like incomprehension. He invades her cemetery space where grief, bewilderment, and a lifetime of experience in the pre-Easter world kept her from seeing Jesus alive. Later, Jesus will move into the room where the disciples are holed up like hunted rabbits out of fear and inconsolable grief. He breathes new life into them; resurrects them to be his church.

They had placed a period at the end of the death sentence meted out to their Lord. But the risen Christ moves back into their lives showing it was only a comma.

Easter declares that the world does not get to finish the sentence. The world does not write the ending. God does.

The world does not end the reign of God. The reign of God ends the world of death-dealing. God ends our debilitating sin and guilt, our fear of death and change, our fear of being out of control. God has the last word to our fearful bowing to earthly tyrants and to deadly values that act like they are the be all and end all. It is not over until God says it is over.

George and John owned adjoining dairy farms. In a very short time, they had become devoted friends. They were more like brothers than neighbors - helping each other out, seeking each other's counsel. That is, until one day when they got into a heated argument over a new-born calf.

The calf was on George's land, in fact, it was nursing from one of George's cows, so George said it was his. "That is my calf," John declared, "it was my heifer that was due, and you don't have any due for a few weeks yet."

The argument escalated and turned bitter until the two former friends screamed at each other that their friendship had ended, they would never speak to each other again. "This is over!"

George then built a dam which caused a stream to flow in the low area between the two knolls on which the two men had built their houses. "Two can play this game," John declared. So he ordered a large load of lumber to build a high fence at the edge of the stream.

As luck would have it, a stranger came by right after the lumber was delivered. "I am hungry and have no money," the stranger said. "Do you have any work I can do?" "Can you build a fence?" John asked. "Why yes, I am a builder, I can build most anything." John took him to the stream. "I'm going to be gone tomorrow, but I want you to start building a fence right along here, by the side of the stream. Make it strong and tall so I will never have to see my worthless neighbor again."

As soon as John got home the next day he hurried down to see how the fence was coming. To his astonished outrage, there was no fence! Instead, the stranger had built a bridge across the stream between the two farms.

In a rage, John turned on the stranger, but before he could light into him, he heard George running across the bridge. "John, John," he yelled. "Thank you! Thank you so much for building this bridge." He threw his arms around his surprised friend. "Just think, it would have been over between us had you not built this bridge. I am so ashamed of myself. I was just too bull-headed to admit I was wrong." "And I can't believe I was ready to end our friendship over one stupid calf," John said.

Then John turned to the stranger and said, "You have done more for me this day than I could have imagined. You have a job here for the rest of your life."

The stranger smiled and shook his head. "I cannot stay. I have other bridges to build."

Where have you placed a period where God has placed a comma? In what ways have you decided to have the last word in your own story, rather than becoming part of God's ongoing story? Where do you walk around in zombie-like grief or "going along?" Are you unable to see the new things God is doing because you only expect the same old, same old, from yourself, others, and the world?

Where have you decided, by your silence or inactivity, that the abusers of our faith, our democracy, and our friends, will have the last word?

We are an Easter people! We believe it is not over until God says it's over. And the last time I looked, Jesus did not allow Mary to hold him in the cemetery, but he moved on to Nazareth. It is not over!

So let me leave you with an image that first came to me, and that I shared with you a few years ago. I hope you remember. That is, that God must be a very rotund woman.

Because we all know, it is not over until the Fat Lady sings!

Praise and thanks be to God.