From my Easter Sunrise homily this morning based on the text of Luke 24:1-12…

It’s been a week of sleep deprivation. The difficult thing about when I struggle with insomnia or even being just a little deprived of sleep is that sometimes there is a bit of confusion as dreams begin to seemingly take residence in my periods of consciousness. The lines distinguishing reality from fantasy begin to blur. Have you ever had a dream so vivid and filled with such detail that it seemed as real if not more so than your most sober of moments? Or maybe it was so detailed and your emotions were stirred in it to such a degree that it bled over into your daily life and affected how you interacted with others through the day or week?

One morning last week Julianne woke up mad at me saying that I had been mean to her. I don’t recall having done anything to her the day or night before that would give her reason to think that so all I can imagine is that she had a dream where I had disciplined her or just did something not to her liking. (That is not too uncommon of an occurrence.)

I’ll have dreams all the time that are so bizarre yet so vivid that I wake up wondering if the events of my dream had actually occurred. So as the details of the dream come a couple of days later, I’ll tell the story and Carrie will give me that odd look: “Ummm…that didn’t happen, hunny!” Must have just been a dream.

Carrie will wake up in the middle of the night with a dream that someone is trying to break in or has broken in and she’ll ask me: “This sounds crazy, but can you check downstairs to make sure nobody is down there?” And me, being the loving husband I am will go and check it out…usually. Sometimes, it’s just too crazy: “Jeff, will you be a dear and make sure nobody is hiding under the kitchen sink?” “No, Carrie, that’s simply not possible! Get some sleep!

It appears as though that’s kind of what happened with a group of grieving and probably sleep deprived women who went to the tomb that morning and reported to the disciples what they had seen and heard. And how did they respond? They thought it was an “idle tale” or as another version puts it, “stupid, useless talk.

Here we sit, some 2,000 years after that morning and many are saying the same thing that the disciples said to the women that morning, “A dead person came back to life after being buried? That’s just plain crazy. People don’t come back from the dead. You must be short of sleep. Come back to reality. Get some rest. Eat a meal. Something. Enough of this stupid, useless talk.

So much of this is as surprising and unexpected as one could imagine, both in the world of the 1st century and in our own. If God already had to overcome the hurdle of the universal knowledge that “dead people don’t come back to life,” one would tend to think that surely God would do whatever possible to make it more credible, by supplying some socially acceptable witnesses. If God wanted the most credibility to suggest the resurrection had indeed happened, then the story would’ve looked quite differently. There wouldn’t have been women at the tomb, but the disciples, which wouldn’t have satisfied some given the social outcast status of some of them, but would’ve been a little more believable. Women, unjustly, weren’t seen as credible witnesses in the ancient world. Instead the disciples or would’ve been there or some group of capable men, waiting and eager to believe and ready to lead the church into its bright future.

Instead, God chose women. (Take note: the first apostles to bear the good news of the resurrection were women!) And what about the women? They weren’t expecting it either. It’s not as though they were saying, “Well let’s take these spices in case he’s still dead, but let’s see if maybe he’s alive again!” They saw death like the rest of the world: when you’re dead, you’re dead. There’s no coming back. And they got the surprise of their lives when they were grief-stricken and probably sleep deprived from the grieving. This was came out of left field to these non-credible witnesses. Like the shepherds 30 some odd years prior…watching their flocks by night, most likely sleep deprived. And the greatest news the world had ever heard was proclaimed to a group of non-credible witnesses. And the shepherds, the women and we are the ones who are called to bear this good news, this surprising news that faces these odds: virgins don’t get pregnant; dead people don’t come back to life. This is “stupid, useless talk.”

Yet like Peter who ran to the tomb, some evidence is here before us, and we’re perplexed. Hmm…could it be true? How? I don’t understand! Well, would it be good news if we did expect it, if we were inclined to believe, or if we could fully understand? Perhaps it is precisely the good news that we and the world most need to hear because we couldn’t have dreamed it up this way for ourselves. Even the dreams of the sleep deprived wouldn’t come up with this. God is outside the box…or more aptly, outside the tomb.

Looking out from within (credit: thenewself.wordpress.com)

Looking out from within (credit: thenewself.wordpress.com)

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

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And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.

And he shall be the one of peace- Micah 5:4-5a

I’ll never forget the first and only time I was referred to as a “fine young chap.” I was sitting up in the balcony with a few friends at Barlow United Methodist Church during a cluster revival meeting of the UMCs of Ballard County, Kentucky. The visiting preacher had this very distinguished British accent with an inviting tone and compelling stories that drew his audience (or at least me) in to try to capture the vivid details and concepts he was portraying. The visiting preacher’s name was Dr. Reginald Mallett and he was from England. Unlike most ministers with the prescript “Dr.”, Dr. Mallett was a medical physician, not a doctorate by means of a Ph.D.

The late Rev. Dr. Reginald Mallett was both a minister and a physician.

The late Rev. Dr. Reginald Mallett was both a minister and a physician. Dr. Mallett passed away on September 8, 2010. You can read more about his ministry in a lovely article written in the wake of his death. See http://www.lakejunaluska.com/reginald-mallett/

After the service was over, I went down to shake his hand upon my departure, and he said, “Oh, you were one of the attentive fine young chaps in the balcony today! I hope you will come to some more services during the week.” That is what I just did. I took in every message and found myself compelled and confirmed in my recent direction to answer the call to ministry I had been perceiving. I found his sermon delivery very appealing as he would repeat the same Scriptural text or line from a hymn to serve as transitions throughout his sermons. This is a practice I have employed as well, though at times I perceive I have much growing to do in making the transitional phrases flow much smoother.

For those of us who cherished Dr. Mallett’s sermons, we are grateful that he set several of them to print. Last year, I checked out a copy of a book with a collection of his sermons delivered at Lake Junaluska. One of the sermons in that collection was about shepherds and when I read the Scripture from Micah, at the top of this post, in preparation for this Sunday’s sermon, I remembered an anecdote he relayed to his readers…

Edward Rogers told us how on this particular Sunday as he and the family were just about to begin lunch there was a loud knocking at the front door. It was one of the farmer’s neighbors. “Quick,” the neighbor cried, “Your sheep are in the wire.” It was obvious that this was a fairly common emergency to which the family was accustomed. As if on cue they all immediately rose from the table and rushed out to rescue the sheep. Edward Rogers confessed that, wearing a clerical collar, he could not sit idly by so he reluctantly offered his services. He was assigned one part of the field and as he went amongst this high grass, searching for sheep he said dryly, “I was unlucky, I found one!” He struggled to extricate it from the barbed wire as the terrified animal wrestled with him. Eventually, he finished up with the sheep in his arms, although he confessed that he was not sure whether he was carrying the sheep or the sheep was carrying him. Just then, the farmer arrived on the scene. “Here, let me have that sheep Mr. Rogers,” he said. Rogers then told us how the farmer, a big, strong man, his sleeves rolled up, arms lacerated and bleeding from encounters with barbed wire, took hold of the front paws of the sheep in one big fist and the rear paws in the other. He then slung the sheep on his back like a sack of coal and carried it to safety. The preacher concluded, “Now when I think about the good shepherd, I see that strong man, his arms torn and bleeding, carrying that stupid, struggling, frightened creature from danger to safety.

Something about that story communicated to me the significance of the promise of a coming ruler who would reign more like a humble shepherd who was willing to put his life at risk to save and take to safety an entangled sheep than a domineering sovereign who would overpower his unruly subjects.

Advent is for the tangled and torn sheep like you and me, unable to break free from the barbed wire that holds us in bondage. And we’re promised here by Micah that our promised rescuer will administer peace, that is, bring reconciliation and wholeness, not from political power, economic coercion, nor military might, but from a small village that is home to the likes of disreputable shepherds…one who would make and give peace, “not as the world gives” but “through the blood of his cross, reconciling all things to himself.”

Tangled and torn? The shepherd who is the prince of peace is on the way!