We have evidence to the contrary, of course, do we not. This last week two people felt it so important to express their unwillingness to live in a world where people believed differently from them, lived differently from them, two people so desperately did not want to give others the freedom to live differently from themselves, that they blew themselves up in the airport in Brussels, killing thirty-one people and wounding 270 more.
From March 13-March 19, 19 people were killed in Ivory coast, 37 killed in Ankara, Turkey, A Saudi led airstrike hit a marketplace, killing 119, In Nigeria, suicide bombers killed 24 people at a mosque, and five in Istanbul.
It can be a lot easier to believe that hatred and intolerance and cynicism and bitterness and simple disregard for human dignity wins.
Here is what we say in the church. WE say love wins. Because Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia
We have indications of the resurrection, glimpses of the emptly tomb. The women in the Gospel lesson for today come and see the empty tomb. There are indications that death is not the only power.
For example, you may have heard of a teenager named Malala Yousafzai grew up in the Swat valley in northwestern Pakistan. Malala she argues with her brothers. She likes cupcakes but not candy, she is double jointed, so she pops her knuckles, sometimes just to annoy her brothers, she and her friends back in Pakistan think that Bella, from the books and movies Twilight, is terribly fickle, and why does she hang out with that boring Edward. As her friends in Pakistan say, he doesn’t give her any lift.
Malala’s father is a schoolteacher, and he always encouraged her to learn and do well in school. He encouraged her in everything, showed her what a beloved person she was. Malala’s father inspired her with his courage. The Taliban moved into Swat valley and preached against girls going to school. They couldn’t handle the idea of women and girls knowing how to read, knowing science and math and history. “Girls should cook and clean at home and never go out unless they are accompanied by a male relative.”
Malala’s father, named Ziauddin Yousafzai stood up to the Taliban, and said that girls should get a good education. All children should have a good education. The Taliban sent him death threats, by mail and on the phone and over the radio. He still stood up and said, All girls should be allowed to go to school.
Malala was inspired by her father’s courage. Gentlemen, please take note. His is what God calls us to do. To show our children what love means, and what courage is.
Malala, aged, eleven, ended up writing an anonymous blog about what it was like to be a little girl under Taliban rule. Later on, the Pakistani army pushed back the Taliban, and Malala spoke up for girls’ education more openly, even received an award from the government. But Taliban still had some followers in Swat valley. One day, two of them boarded her school bus, and one shot her in the head.
By some miracle, and I use that word intentionally, the bullet did not pass into Malala’s brain, but around her skull down her neck into her shoulder. She was transported to a hospital, then to another hospital. Her brain was swelling so they removed part of her skull to give it room. She got an infection so they airlifted her to England. Eventually recovered. Continues to work for children’s education throughout the globe, has been to Nigeria opening schools. Recently opened a school for Syrian refugees in Jordan.
She says she does not want revenge on those who shot her in the head. She wants peace, and education for everyone.
I know we have disagreements about some aspects of how God works in the world, and specifically about who Jesus is. But God still works through her. She is still a glimpse of the empty tomb, that love wins.
Another example, here in Louisville. In 1969, a couple of college students, Ben Watkins and Janice Carter wanted to spice up their summer jobs with some games at Algonquin park. One of those games was basketball. So started the dirt bowl. Double elimination, anybody could play. Major college players, professional players, members of the Harlem Globetrotters participated. In a time of turmoil and conflict over civil rights, over busing, over increasing poverty on the West side, you came to the dirt bowl, it was about basketball—something else than frustration and hardship and despair. Mid 2000’s, the dirt bowl faded because of too many violent incidents happening there. But in 2012 another man got it started again, with help from the city to maintain security and a safe environment. Happened again in 2013, in 2014 and 2015, and plans are set for 2016.
And indication that there is a power in this world other than frustration and despair, and that power is on the move.
Doesn’t have to be a big international thing. We can glimpse the empty tomb in the smile of a child, a father’s lullaby and a mother’s strong arms holding us up, in the kindly gesture of a friend or stranger.
Different people will respond differently to the empty tomb, to these glimpses of God’s work. The women in the Gospel lesson for today, for example. They don’t quite understand what it means. They think someone has stolen Jesus’ body. Sometimes we see good things happening around us like Malala’s work or the dirt bowl and we get an incorrect impression. We think maybe it’s random chance, or people simply looking out for their own best interests, no God involved.
The women tell Peter and the beloved disciple and they run to the tomb, run to these moments where we glimpse God’s hope. Beloved disciple looks in, Peter goes in. Beloved disciple goes in and believes. Some of us believe. We say, “Clearly God is on the move and active in this world. Just look at the sunlight. Look at the springtime coming or the kindliness of strangers or the love of family."
Others of us are not so sure. Peter goes into the tomb, walks away wondering. He doesn’t know what’s going on. Some of us wonder as well. Who is God, really? What does Jesus mean for us? We walk away wondering.
You know what, that’s okay. It’s okay for us to have differing responses to the empty tomb, to the work of God in the world. Some of us are going to assume an explanation, some of us are going to believe, some of us are going to wonder, to not know what it means. Different people are different.
Some of us are going to weep. Mary stands weeping outside the tomb. It’s okay to weep too. Because there is still a lot of hurt in the world. Taliban still seeks to strangle the minds of a nation. There is still deep frustration and poverty and despair right in this city. There is still a lot to weep about. The world needs our grief to heal.
Just know this. Whether we think we understand, or believe, or wonder, especially if we weep, there will come a time when Jesus calls our name. Jesus calls out “Mary,” in the Gospel lesson for today. And Mary sees.
There will come a time when we will see.
Jesus sends Mary to the other disciples to tell them. She runs, she runs to them and says, “I have seen the Lord.”
This is our job too. This is what we do. We run, we run to the world and we say, “I have seen.” Everyone has their own way of sharing the good news. Nine times out of ten it involves actions more than words. It can be an offer to pray for someone, it can be a deed of compassion. It can be sharing a prayer book. Here’s one thing happening here at St. John. Bible study. Someone decided we were called to have Bible Study with people of different intellectual abilities. Pulled it together. Now, Wednesday nights at six, people from a variety of settings come. Some can read, some can’t. Some talk easily, some do not. It’s growing and needs more mentors. I guarantee you, if you come, you will see Jesus. It’s a way of saying ”I have seen the Lord. Christ is risen."
Another, is about a man named Desmond Tutu. Bishop of the Anglican Church in South Africa under Apartheid, when a small number of white people ruled over a large number of African people, refusing to let them vote for their leaders, taking advantage of them as workers in mines, in factories on farms, putting them down in all areas of life. The form of government was called Apartheid. If the African people demanded to vote, the Apartheid government would torture them, imprison them, even kill them. The African organization, called the African National Congress, also did some very bad things, killing opponents and informants.
Everyone thought that if there was a revolution, if the African people took over, there would be a bloodbath, because a lot of people would want to seek revenge.
Bishop Desmond Tutu said we must not seek revenge. He worked against apartheid, but opposed revenge. One time, at a rally, some of his supporters had cornered some apartheid demonstrators and were starting to hit them. Bishop Tutu ran into the crowd and threw his body over the pro-apartheid demonstrators. Even though the apartheid government they spied on him. Even though they tortured people, he still shielded them with his body because God is bigger than revenge, because God loved even them.
When the revolution finally did come, there was not a bloodbath. Instead of revenge, and instead of just sweeping all the bad things under a rug, pretending that they had not happened, Bishop Desmond Tutu helped lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which gave victims of human rights abuses by both sides, by both the apartheid government and the African National Congress, an opportunity to tell the truth about what happened, to confront the people who had killed their brothers and parents and children, or tortured them. Sometimes there was even forgiveness.
Remember that word, forgiveness.
Bishop Tutu wrote the words to a hymn that is in one of our Lutheran hymnals. I want to sing it for you, and invite you to sing it with me. Then, after I finish, we will sing it as our sermon hymn. It goes like this:
Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death;
Vict’ry is ours, vict’ry is ours, through God who loves us.
Vict’ry is ours, vict’ry is ours, through God who loves us.
Every one of us has the resurrection within us.
Every one of us has the place and time and purpose to share this light,
It may be small, it may be great. The message is the same:
Christ is Risen,
He is risen indeed, alleluia.