An Idle Tale
The Resurrection of the Lord; April 21, 2019
Peter went to check it out. The others waited, skeptical of what the women told them. Typical, right? Some women come with a remarkable story and the men don't believe them; they call it "an idle tale." But Peter interests me; Peter checked it out.
I realized that that's pretty much what I've been doing my entire life: checking it out, to see if Jesus really is raised from the dead. Today I want to talk to you about what it means to me to check it out, to try to see for myself if Jesus is raised from the dead.
Part of this search is intellectual, of course. I read, I think, I pray; my scientific doubts are presented and considered and worked through. I'm happy to talk with any of you who are interested about these things, but I'm not going to dwell on them this morning. The disciples didn't doubt the women's testimony because of their intellectual reservations; they doubted it because they were men and they didn't trust the testimony of women.
But I believe that Jesus is raised from the dead; so what? So this: it means to me that he is alive, not just an ancient figure to be admired or a legend to be honored, but a living Lord, and so I have to deal with him day after day. That means that living in the Kingdom of God is not a project for me to put off until I die, but it's something I'm trying to do every day. And it matters. It matters what I do, what I say, how I think, how I worship.
This didn't start when I became a minister; it's been true for me ever since I realized around the age of twelve that Jesus is my Lord and Savior. It means that the Church matters: it matters that we worship, that we do mission, that we study. It matters that we ask Jesus how to vote, where to put our emphasis politically, and how to treat other people.
We don't ever get it completely right in Jesus' Church. We hurt people (even though we don't mean to), we get involved in gossip and power plays and misplaced priorities. But we're trying, trying to be the Kingdom of God. Is anyone else even trying to be the Kingdom of God? Sure, lots of people are doing really good things for others, and some of them do it better than we do. But is anyone else trying to be the Kingdom of God?
Who else comes together week after week to bow the head humbly before God and acknowledge that we aren't God? Who else sings praises to God, rather than to politicians or entertainers or athletes? Sure, we don't always sing well, and some people can't be induced to sing, no matter what, and some people are always going to gripe about what the minister chooses to sing, but at least we're trying to praise God. Other than people of faith, who else in our society is?
For many people, the word "church" conjures up a building. Not for me. For me the word "church" describes a bunch of people who are checking out whether Jesus is alive and are trying to live as though he is, aware that we're a bunch of hypocrites because we never get it completely right.
People have been sharing their memories of Notre Dame Cathedral this week. My memory is this: not of the building. Kathleen and I visited there when we were in Paris a year and a half ago, and it was wonderful to see. But even so what sticks in my memory is not the windows, or the gargoyles, or the beautiful Gothic stonework. What sticks in my memory is a congregation gathered for worship, and a priest who parked himself in the middle of the congregation to help us know what to do during an unfamiliar Vespers service, and then afterward at Mass the celebration of the presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. I remember a great building, yes, but even more I remember the Church celebrating the presence of Jesus.
We celebrate the presence of Jesus because he is alive. That's what this communion is about; we can take bread and say "The Body of Christ" and take juice and say "The Blood of Christ" because he's alive and we can actually have communion with him. That's why I attend worship every Sunday, that's why every evening when I confess my sins I question whether I'm living up to my ideals, that's why I struggle to learn to forgive people and to appreciate people and to honor the creation, the earth, the sky, the sea, and all their critters: because Jesus is alive, and it matters.
So if our kind of Christianity continues to decline and Presbyterianism ultimately dies in the United States because people are not interested enough to check out the Tomb for themselves, figure it's an idle tale like the other ten disciples, I'll still be chasing Peter and trying to see for myself if Jesus is alive. I know many of you will, too. That's why we keep trying. That's why whenever we mess up – and we constantly mess up – we ask forgiveness and try again. Jesus is alive; it's not an idle tale; and it matters.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master