The Risk of Believing

Mark 16:1-8
Easter Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert

It’s Easter and my challenge again to inspire you to believe in the truth of our Christian faith, the resurrection at the heart of it, a truth that none of us can prove. The risk of believing begins with showing up, like the three women did. You can only see two of them there. I think the angel and the other women are inside. Don’t ask me to prove it though. I can’t prove it. These women showed up, thinking Jesus was dead. They came to pay their respects. Some of you showed up today to pay your respects, to be part of the celebration. though you’re not sure he’s alive.

So you’ve taken the first risk of faith – showing up. You’re not sitting at home with your coffee mug and chocolate eggs and the news. Coffee is good, chocolate is good. The news, well, most of it, is not so good, unless you filter it through a lens of faith. I am sick of hearing of incidents of random violence – schools, churches, nursing homes, shopping centers. And unemployment numbers keep rising, and there’s a new corporate scumbag every day. And WE live in a relatively safe and comfy part of the world. But I still believe God is powerful and God cares even though God hasn’t stepped in and magically fixed all our global problems, not to mention personal ones.

It’s been a year of death in my family. Two first cousins in their fifties – one, my cousin Jay, had been sick for many years, two kidney transplants. And the other, Sherry, dropped dead, presumably a heart attack, with absolutely no warning. My mom lost all three siblings in a four month period of time. Ralph and Ivy Ruark lost their dear friend Don to pancreatic cancer on Thursday night – one month’s warning. Barbara Staton’s son lost everything he owned in a fire last week. Nearly everyone of you has lost someone or some thing significant in the last year
– a job, a house, a friend, a marriage, your health, or a loved one. Some of you have experienced major losses – parents, siblings, children, spouses. And some of you live with a constant awareness that death is just around the corner. At the Deibert house, we’re always folding funeral bulletins for Richard’s next service. I had a very interesting conversation with the quality control guy from a lawn care company the other day. He a widely read atheist, who grew up fundamentalist. He says, he’s okay with this life being the only life there is. That’s where he and I differ. I’m not okay with that. I cannot convince him to believe as I do, but I did enjoy talking to him and I hope, dispelling some of the misconceptions he had about me.
You see the risk of my believing is that modern atheist and agnostics will think I’m crazy (without a brain) or that I’m some kind of religious exclusivist without heart, thinking that we Christians are the only ones God loves. So I work at dispelling those myths. I do have a brain and a heart. Don’t you?

Some might point out that the other risk of believing is that I might one day discover this belief in the Resurrection was unfounded. So the risk would be that I am wasting my time or that I misguided other people to waste their time.

Are we wasting our time? That’s a real question, not a rhetorical one. I am sure that the mysteries with which we deal are as real as the rational logic used to refute them. I cannot prove the resurrection as scientific fact, but I do believe this story to be true. After all, why would a first century patriarchal culture make up a story like this – with women being the first recipients of this message? What kind of credibility would three grieving women have in a first century world?

Let’s hear the narrative.

Before we engage the narrative with language, let’s engage it with art from around the world, much as sixty of us did on Friday night with the Stations of the Cross. First an middle eastern image from the Orthodox Church. Next from the Far East of Asia. Chinese artist He Qi. We go to the southern hemisphere for this piece of African art. Finally, we turn to the Western European art that has shaped most of us. Each image has the empty tomb and the three surprised characters.

Mark’s Gospel is known as much for what is left out of the story as what is there. There are three women, one man in white, presumably an angel, no Jesus – only an empty tomb, and a promise of seeing him if we go where he want us.

Matthew tells of the disciples seeing Jesus and having him preach the great commission message – go into the world and make disciples. In Luke Jesus appears to two disciples on the way to Emmaus and then to the whole group, who shares a meal of fish together. In John’s version, Jesus surprises the tearful Mary and then, when he appears to the group, invites Thomas to touch his wounded hands and believe. He gives a final instruction to Peter after a meal together to feed his lambs, tend his sheep. But Mark seems content to leave us hanging. Yes, the most authoritative texts leave us dangling with a preposition in the Greek. “for they were afraid that...” That’s the last sentence.

What do you want us to do, Mark? Risk finishing the story ourselves? So we believers cannot rest comfortably and simply hear the story again and be satisfied. We cannot get resolve enough just by showing up, like the women. No, we have to risk more than just coming to church on Easter again. We have to go tell people what’s happened. We have to follow where Jesus tells us to go, and then, only after we commit ourselves to this discipleship, do we get to see him! I wish it were easier. I don’t really like taking risks. Do you? Yet look at us, taking the risk of starting a new church. Only 1 in 10 new church plants survives Thanks be to God who gives us the grace to endure, even to thrive. Taking risks is hard work sometimes.

We’re like the little kid who wants the joy of going down the slide but is too scared to climb to the top. Rebecca is an excellent swimmer now, but when she was a little kid, she hated the water – anything larger than a bathtub was too big. Swimming pools, the ocean – no way. Richard and I tried to help her adapt. We’d take her in our arms into the water, she would scream nearly choke us clinging to our necks. Only when she risked letting go, trusting a little, did she learn the joy of swimming.

So it is with faith. You have to enter the mysteries with some trust and be willing to take the risk of believing something that cannot be proven if you are ever going to enjoy the great ocean of Christianity. This is not the only place one might swim, but it is the best place, in my experience and presumably in yours. There are some sharks in this great Christian ocean, who will bite. There are some irritating little crabs. There are some waves which will knock you down and take you under. You can get sunburned too, but I still say the water is refreshing and wonderful, so take the plunge. Let’s swim together in the deep and dangerous and exhilarating waters of Christian faith. If I get out too deep or swept away by the undertow, you rescue me and I’ll do the same for you.

Remember in the movie Bucket List, how many of the activities that the two guys shared involved taking a risk. But they could do it – knowing they were going to die soon anyway. And the biggest risks of all turned out to be not sky diving but the relational risks – choosing to love when it is hard. Choosing to be faithful (Morgan Freeman’s character) and choosing to be forgiving (Jack Nicholson’s character).

Jesus took the risk of loving us all the way to the grave. Faithful and forgiving take their definition by his life. By raising him from the grave, God makes it clear that his life, suffering and death were not in vain, and that our life, suffering and death are not in vain.
Our friend Mark just officiated at a memorial service for his stillborn grandson... in the sanctuary of the church that asked him to leave a little more than a year ago.

Two places of deep pain collide. But in the hope of the resurrection he could still say this grief was shared by the one who was rejected and died a horrible death, and yet lives.
We need this message of hope, yet modern culture has made us embarrassed to claim it. It feels like a big risk to believe. It’s scary.

The Gospel of Mark ends with the women being afraid to say anything to anyone. Is that exactly where we are now, church? Afraid to say anything? Or will we risk telling the story, crazy as it sounds, because we too know that the hope of the resurrection means our grief is shared and our life is not in vain. We too shall live and be loved forever, not forgotten. Will we risk appearing foolish? Will we risk appearing exclusivist? Will we risk wasting our time and energy on something we cannot prove but which we know in our heart and soul to be valid and true?
The end of this Gospel story in Mark depends on our willingness to risk believing enough to follow Jesus, to go where he says, and discover that he is meeting us there, in the middle of our fear and disbelief and pain. He is there and he is bringing life to our deadness, joy to our sorrow, companionship to our loneliness. But we have to risk following him before we see him, talking about him, even when are afraid. That’s the risk of believing.

Let us approach our Risen Lord in silence and pray for open eyes, open minds, and hearts.