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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mary and the Five Words That Changed the World

2014-04-20 Easter

Five Words that Changed the World


When I was a boy... and kids really love it when you start out like that. To do it right, you have to draw out the "I" as in, when Iiii was a boy... and maybe when you were little, too, we were taught the Three Magic Words. You remember the Three Magic Words?


Please, Thank You, and You're Welcome.


Which actually is FIVE words. But adults taught us there were three. And we're surprised by declining math scores? Kids thought, "My mom is SO dumb. She doesn't know three from five. She needs help." And your older brother said, "Shut up and nod your head." Six more words of wisdom.


Please, Thank You, and You're Welcome - those were our three magic words. Do people still teach about the Three Magic Words? Now they shorten them for texting. Plz, smiley face emoticon, NP (no problem). Those aren't even words!


"Grampaw, tell us again about the three magic text messages."

"Well, when Iiii was a boy, back in aught-14."




Isn't it funny what just a few words can do? The right words at the right time can change a life. "I'm proud of you." Four words. "I love you." Three. "Help!" One. The most important words come in short sentences. Not sermons. Not books. Not dissertations. And even if they did, which is unusual, you can probably boil the most important, most magical, most life-changing down to one short and favorite sentence. And a lot of them really are five words long.


All men are created equal. Five words.

I think, therefore, I am. Five.

Life is like a box of chocolates. I know that's not really five. I think it's three.


On Easter, the Bible gives us five words that changed the world. Five words that changed everything. "I have seen the Lord." The very first Christian sermon ever preached. The first-ever Easter sermon. One sentence long. Preached by a woman. And then the men took over and no one's gotten to lunch on time ever since. "I have seen the Lord." Five words. Not magic words. Not scholarly words. But words of truth. Words of testimony. Words of faith. Five words that changed... everything.




Do you know what word was #1 for 2013, according to Oxford Dictionaries? Selfie. Please shoot me. Which is exactly what it means. To shoot a picture of yourself with your phone. Do you know the #2 word of last year? Twerk. And yet some people think humanity's a lost cause. #3 was binge-watch.


After Good Friday, after the crucifixion of Jesus, but before Easter, the #1 word for the disciples was, well, what would you think? Death? Disappointment? Grief? Anger? Fear? There's five words that had to be near the top of their list.


Death, disappointment, grief, anger, fear. Could anyone possibly count the times those five words have changed the world? Where would you start? And in a smaller sense, how many times have they changed your personal world? When you're dealing with death, or disappointment, grief, anger, or fear, it can feel like the end of the world. It can feel like not just a change, but the final words. No wonder we distract ourselves by binge-watching selfies of people twerking. And when I say "we" I mean the general population.


"I have seen the Lord." It sounds so innocent, unglorified. Back at his birth, choirs of angels sang glory in the highest heavens, peace and goodwill to all. But at his resurrection to new life, which is much more - let's say - unusual (?) than the birth of a baby, there's no angel chorus. There's no "Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy." His second birth is a very unheralded hark. He starts with (notice, again) five words to Mary: "Woman, why are you weeping?" And then another five - "Whom are you looking for?"


Does it strike anybody else as odd that the first words of the resurrected Jesus are phrased in the form of a question? What does it mean that Jesus's new life starts with questions? It makes me think churches might get it wrong when we pretend we're  God's information kiosk, handing out answers in the form of slick, easy solutions. It also makes me wonder why he would ask in the first place? He's Jesus. Didn't he know?


"Woman, why are you weeping?" and "Whom are you looking for?" Where do these questions lead Mary? Not to Jesus. Not immediately. If he wanted Mary to focus on him alone he would have said, "Hi Mary, Look at me! Now you can have eternal life, too!" Instead, Jesus asks Mary questions. Questions about herself. Jesus asks questions that take her back to the five words that brought her to the grave in the first place: Death, disappointment, grief, anger, fear. Before she can see Jesus, she has to know why she's weeping. She has to know who and what she's looking for. Jesus is not a quick, painless solution. Before Mary can see him, before Mary can know him, she has to know why she's looking for him. She has to face the the Frightening Five words before she can preach her great, Easter sermon.




Jesus came to earth, lived, taught, died, and rose because the Frightening Five always threaten to overcome the simply amazing. Death, disappointment, grief, anger and fear always threaten to suck the spirit out of life. They conspire to crucify our joy. They dig at our hope, wanting to bury it in a hole in the ground. The resurrection of Christ is the simply amazing truth that the Frightening Five are not the final words and they will never have the final word.


"I have seen the Lord." Simple and simply amazing words. Even a child can say them. But they aren't magic. They won't make the monsters go away. They won't hide the hurt or sweep it under a rug. But these five do something stronger. Mary's five words confront the darkness. They simply, joyfully, peacefully proclaim that there is more than the frightful, that there is something more that's yet to come. That there is new life to preach. And that God will always have the final word.


"I have seen the Lord." It's the first sermon preached. And still the best.




But wait. There's one more thing. That's what preachers always say isn't it? "Just one more thing." You're not getting away that easy. Mary's not the only preacher in this scripture. Because after Jesus asks his two five-word questions, he gets to have his say. Jesus preaches. And if you think even a five-word sermon is five too many, you're gonna love this.


The Bible says: Supposing him to be the gardener, [Mary] said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!"


And her eyes were opened and she saw the Lord.


That moment of recognition, that's the basis for her sermon. That moment of simple clarity when Jesus said her name and she knew his.


I believe the Holy Spirit still preaches that one word sermon. I believe the Holy Spirit speaks your name. I believe Jesus speaks your name. God speaks your name and brings you moments of recognition more powerful than a million words of sermon. God is profound in divine simplicity. Change the world with five words? Pfft. God can do it in one.


You see God's word in acts of kindness. You hear God's word in words of compassion. You know God's word in forgiveness, in the new life it brings, resurrection life that confronts and overpowers words of death, disappointment, grief, anger, and fear. In the morning light of Easter they are the Forceless Five.


Jesus spoke Mary's name. And that was enough to give her five words that changed the world. God speaks your name. What will you do with the word God speaks to you? What will you do with God's word, God's one-word sermon in your name? Will it change your world? Will God's word, God's living word, bring new life to the sermon you preach by simply telling your truth?


And what will Jesus's sermon do to this whole church-full of people? What new life can we bring joining our words and actions in Jesus's name?




"I have seen the Lord."


It would be wrong to conclude, "And the rest is history." Not it's not. Because these five words aren't a conclusion. They're a new beginning. They're a fresh start every time they're spoken. They're Easter life.


These five were Mary's sermon. And they can be yours, too. Preach them. Live them.


In Jesus's name.