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Easter, March 27, 2016

We all have a God story. I was raised in the church, but my God story probably started when I joined the choir. I loved to sing, and all the beautiful music about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit fueled my budding belief in the goodness of God and what God had done for us in sending us Jesus. In my early teen years, my God story was one of belief in God’s grace and my certainty of living with God eternally. And then my mother died. I kept going to church but I don’t think I knew what my God story was for many years. Yes, I believed my mom was with God, but no, I could not see why God had let her die when I needed her so badly. I still sang beautiful music that lifted me toward God, but I also had moments of despair and pain. I believed in God, but I didn’t trust God. I could be a witness to eternal life, but I couldn’t be a witness to a God I could count on in this life. I stayed in that place for a long time. Then something happened. God took action when I was sick and vulnerable, doing for me something I couldn’t do for myself. It was a life changing moment. Suddenly, I was a witness to a God that I not only could believe about, but I could trust in to be with me in life. Suddenly, I was looking for God among the living things of the now instead of the dead things of the past, including my self-pity and my insecurity about God and God’s good will. I decided I wanted to tell people about this God and I became a priest.

God stories are like that. We start out with one and then something happens that makes us have an altogether different reaction. What happened Easter morning was the empty tomb. The women from Galilee go to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial just as soon as they can. But they don’t find what they expect. They find an empty tomb with the stone rolled away. What’s this, they think. What has happened? What we thought was going to be true this morning isn’t. They are confronted by two angels, who ask them why they are looking for the living among the dead. They two angels remind them that Jesus predicted his suffering, death and resurrection, and they remember. Suddenly they understand, and their God story is changed forever. Their story about a wonderful Messiah killed by the powers of evil morphs into that of a Messiah who has been raised from the dead. They cannot contain their joy and they run to tell the disciples what they have heard. They are ready to tell their new God story. They are ready to look for the living among the living. They are ready for their lives to be changed. Their God story is one of joy and wonder at God’s grace.

But the tale of an empty tomb and two angels does not impress the other disciples. No matter how good your news may be you have no control over how it is received. And if your God story clashes with another one, disbelief is likely to result. All the disciples had shared the women’s first God story and they believe it still, dismissing the women as unreliable. All but Peter. Peter has to see for himself. So he goes to the tomb and is amazed. Now amazed is not the same thing as believing. Amazed is like seeing a magic trick you can’t understand. Amazed is like hearing some kind of unbelievable news but not quite trusting it. Peter comes home amazed. Peter’s God story holds possibilities for change. He has at least seen the tomb and the stone and can’t refute the women’s evidence. Peter is now open to looking for the possibility that dead doesn’t always mean you stay dead. He could be open to looking for the living among the living. He could be waiting for a new God story, which he gets in the next part of the gospel, where Jesus appears to him.

Then there are the other disciples. The women’s witness does nothing for them. So what if the tomb is empty. We have been following a failed Messiah. He died and now we have nothing. We know he came from God, so why didn’t God save him. They aren’t even thinking about witnessing to anything. They aren’t looking for the living. They are looking for the dead.

There are three God stories from one event – three different ways of looking at things, leading to three different witnesses (whether they are joyful witnesses, curious witnesses or disappointed witnesses). Of course things didn’t stay that way because Jesus appeared and now everyone was pointed in the same direction, toward new life and new hope. Everyone had to make a decision anew about being a follower of this risen Lord who called them into challenge and change.

You have heard the God stories of the people who were there and their responses of faith, curiosity, and failure. You have heard part of my God story. Now I invite you to think about your own God story.

Do you have a God story that is highlighted in faith – faith in God’s goodness to you in this life and for eternity? Do you have a God story that is centered in witness? The first thing the women did when the angels told them the news was to tell the others and it is their witness that has been passed on down through the generations to create the gospel stories we read on Easter. Are you looking for the living among the living? Do you look for God in your life, calling you to use your gifts and putting you in places that you might use them most effectively? Do you look for God in others, seeing Jesus in the ones he cared for – the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the oppressed. Do you feel a kinship with them as fellow children of God? Do you look for God when you are feeling particularly vulnerable and in need of some loving care and attention, confident that God will be with you. Is God available to you when you are trying to do something you just can’t do by yourself and need God’s help. Those are all places of life with God, places to find God among the living.

Or is your God story maybe one that is curious? Do you wonder about God and what God can do in your life and in the lives of others? Have you recently seen some evidence that you weren’t expecting, like Peter did, that leads you to think that God could be more to you than you have let God be, that God is longing to be part of your whole life and not just the little part you have given God. Do you waver between seeing God among the living and among the dead?

Or does the resurrection have no effect on you that you can discern. Do you have a belief system that is pretty solid and has been with you for a pretty long time? Do you have trouble hoping in the more grace-filled truths of the resurrection – eternal life here and after death, a God who loves us completely and unconditionally? A God who can breathe life into even our darkest moments.

The truth is the empty tomb probably brings all these God stories out in us – the faithful, the curious and the disappointed. Unless we are very unusual, we trust God with some parts of our lives, are uncertain about others and downright refuse to trust about others.

But today is a day for good news for all of those God stories. The tomb is empty and our lives are changed forever. Jesus who was dead is now alive, bringing forgiveness and reconciliation and new life to us wherever we are in our faith journeys. We can be faithful, hopeful, joyful and excited about what God has done for us and in us. No matter what our God story is now, it can never be the same again. The resurrection has brought us all new life. Jesus is just waiting for us to say yes to his offer. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!


     -- Rev. Ann Barker