• Jach Hughes Robinson, Ph.D.

You’ve Got to be Kidding


John 20:11-18

11 Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.

13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

THE WORD OF THE LORD.

The college I attended in Arkansas (Hendrix College; Conway, Arkansas) had a requirement that to graduate you had to know how to swim. I thought this was an unusual requirement. I thought the reason was that perhaps the college resided in a flood plain, and the trustees wanted to be sure each student could make it from their dorm room to dry land in case of a flash flood. Whatever the reason, each person in the freshman class had to demonstrate that you knew how to swim. So, at the beginning of the fall semester, the entire freshman class would gather at this Olympic size pool and one by one we would prove to our instructors that we could swim – at least in a pool.

This was an embarrassing exercise. Here you were just having met these freshmen you were going to spend the next four years together, and the first thing they get to see is what you look like in a bathing suit. I was a skinny 108 pounds with a horrible bold purple and black stripe suit that makes me cringe to think I was once a member of the hippie generation. On the other hand, you got to see your classmates in their bathing suits. As I recall, it was not a pretty sight. Then, with the entire class looking on, one by one you had to jump off the highest diving board in this Olympic size pool; then, if you survived, you had to swim from the deep end of the pool to the shallow end. If you did this, you did not have to take the non-credit class in beginning swimming.

I decided to get this requirement behind me quickly, so I chose to be one of the first ones to jump off the board, and swim across the pool. Admittedly, the board was the highest one I had ever jumped from – 15-20 or 500 feet. I do not recall how tall it was. All I know is that once I jumped off the board, I had time to have a conscious thought before hitting the water. However, landing in 10 or 12 feet of water, I soon swam across the pool. Almost every one of my classmates did the same thing without hesitation. Then we just waited at the opposite end of the pool while the rest of the class jumped and swam. That is, every one except a girl who name was Mary. Mary obviously did not know how to swim. Yet, she was intelligent enough to know she did not want to spend her first semester of college taking a non-credit swimming class. She just needed a few moments of courage.

With Mary on the diving board the instructor said, “Okay, jump.” Yet, Mary did not move. Finally, this whole boring exercise was getting interesting. Here was a girl who, I thought, was going to be a model of courage, jump in the pool, and put us all to shame. I was wrong. Mary was having a crisis of faith on that diving board, and in front of the entire freshman class. You could see it in her face. The instructor urged her on saying: “It is okay; you will land in 15 feet of water, and we are here to help.” Mary replied, “You’ve got to be kidding. Ten feet or fifteen feet of water – it does not matter. People drown in a teaspoon of water.” The entire freshman class was held in suspense. Was this girl from Russellville, Arkansas going to take that leap? Well, Mary did not take that leap. She could not make it past that – “You’ve got to be kidding” phase, and take that leap of faith. The good news is that four years later, Mary graduated with our class; and she did one other thing. She learned enough about swimming that later in college each summer she would take a job as a lifeguard at a summer camp outside Little Rock. The girl with little faith grew enough to help others take that leap of faith.

Every now and again, I think about that moment of doubt that Mary the college freshman had many years ago. She reminds me of so many of the Marys we read about in the Bible who at one point or another also said, “You’ve got to be kidding,” when asked to take that leap of faith.

There is, of course, Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was told she was going to have a baby. She must have had her doubts and thought or maybe even said to the angel or messenger, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Then, there is Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who with her sister, Martha, said to Jesus, “If you had only been here, then my brother would not have died.” When told by Jesus, “Your brother will rise again,” this Mary also must have thought, “You’ve got to be kidding.” Now in our Scripture story, we hear of Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Jesus. Gone to anoint the body of Jesus, she finds the body gone; and is told that Jesus is not here, but has risen. Then she looks up to see Jesus. She also must have said to herself, “You’ve got to be kidding. I saw you dead. Now you are alive.” Instead, all she could say in astonishment was: “Rabbi!” Then she ran to the disciples, proclaiming, “I have seen the Lord!”

Like the rest, the disciples also doubted and had their “You’ve got to be kidding” moment. Yet, soon they saw that it was no idle tale she told. The unbelievable had actually happened – and to them. Their lives, and Mary’s life was changed forever. Their doubts changed to taking unbelievable leaps of faith.

There is no shame for any of us to share in the questions and doubts of those in the Scripture stories we read. Every one of us, facing the story of the resurrection honestly says what the man in a Gospel story said to Jesus – “I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Doubt gets a bad rap, as if it is something alien to us. But without questioning, there would be no progress – only the acceptance of the status quo and never the plunge to new depths. As the theologian Paul Tillich once said – “Doubt is not the opposite of faith. It is an element of faith.”

However, there also comes the time when we need to doubt our doubts. If our questions and doubts make us immobile, standing on the diving board, unable to take that leap forward, then we will never grow, never love, never seek out new adventures, and never take the risks that make us new people.

Sometimes, because we doubt ourselves, and we doubt the world we live in, it is difficult for us to believe good news when it comes our way. Yet, no matter what you have gone through, this Easter season remember the good news we recite each Sunday of “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” This good news is for you. In all your doubts, believe them. They are true - no kidding. Amen!

(Copyright by Jack Hughes Robinson – 2018. Use by permission only.)

Prayers –

Mighty God, in whom we know the power of redemption, you stand among us in the shadows of our time. As we move through every sorrow and trial of this life, uphold us with knowledge of the final morning when, in the glorious presence of your risen Son, we will share in his resurrection, redeemed and restored to the fullness of life and forever freed to be your people. O God, your Son remained with his disciples after his resurrection, teaching them to love all people as neighbors. As his disciples in this age, we offer our prayers on behalf of the universe in which we are privileged to live and our neighbors with whom we share it. Open our hearts to your power moving among us, until your glory is revealed in communities transformed by justice and compassion, and in the healing of all that is broken. Holy God, you have called us to follow in the way of your risen Son, and to care for those who are our companions, not only with words of comfort, but with acts of love. Seeking to be true friends of all, we offer our prayers on behalf of the world. Guide us in the path of discipleship, so that, as you have blessed us, we may be a blessing for others.

Receive these – our prayers, O God, and transform us through them, that we may have eyes to see and hearts to understand but what you call us to do.

And now as our Savior Christ has taught us, we humbly pray, “Our Father…..”

#sermon

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