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The First Fact Checkers

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For April 1, 2018:
  • The First Fact Checkers by Dean Feldmeyer -- Without our witness and testimony to its constant promise and power, the resurrection of Jesus is just an interesting phenomenon that may or may not have happened a long time ago.
  • Easter’s Footprint by Chris Keating -- Mary hears her name being called, and is startled by the knowledge that she is known and loved by the living Christ.
  • Sermon illustrations by Ron Love and Mary Austin.
  • Worship resources by George Reed that focus on our knowing and being known by God.
  • Not Fooling Around Children's sermon by Bethany Peerbolte -- Take advantage of April fool’s day and Easter falling on the same day. We are all forgiven and we should let other people know they are forgiven too. No FOOLING!


The First Fact Checkers
by Dean Feldmeyer
John 20:1-18, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Acts 10:34-43

In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as that year’s international word of the year. They defined “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

The phrase, which became popular during the Brexit controversy in Great Britain and the presidential election in the United States, implies an atmosphere wherein truth is considered irrelevant and facts are considered unnecessary. Truthiness is sufficient and we believe what we want to believe regardless of what the objective and empirical evidence shows to be the case.

It should come as no surprise, then, that in such an atmosphere, “fact checking” has become nearly ubiquitous in the mainstream news media and especially on the internet. If we can’t trust our elected representatives or the so-called alternative news media to tell us the truth then we better find someone who will.

Enter Factcheck.org, Politifact.com, Opensecrets.org, Snopes.com, TruthorFiction.com, and Hoaxslayer.com. These six are considered by many to be the best and most trustworthy, non-partisan fact checking websites. To them you can go to see if Obama really is raising a private army, if Trump really is a secret member of the Illuminati, and if Charles Barkley is really Hillary Clinton in a clever disguise.

In a culture where truth is considered an expendable luxury and facts are treated as bothersome nuisances, fact checkers are a necessary corrective and speaking the truth may just be a divine calling.

Never is this truer for the church than at Easter.

In the Scriptures
The lections for this Easter Sunday provide two complimentary points for us to ponder as we confront and are confronted by the shocking truth of the Resurrection.

The first has to do with fact checking.

John’s gospel relates the story of Mary Magdalene finding the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Immediately, she runs to tell Peter and John what she has found, that is, an empty tomb. Resurrection does not even occur to her. As far as she is concerned, someone has purloined the corpse of Jesus.

Upon hearing this horrible news, Peter and John become the first fact checkers. They are not willing to simply take Mary’s word for it. They dash to the tomb to check it out for themselves and, sure enough, it is empty. Not understanding what is going on, they accept Mary’s explanation, that the body has been taken and simply return home, even sadder than they were when they woke up that morning.

In the passage from Acts, Luke takes us to Caesarea and the home of Cornelius the Centurion, a good and righteous man who has asked God to bring Peter to his home so that he might be instructed by the Apostle. Peter accepts the invitation and is now preaching to all who have gathered at the centurion’s house.

In his homily, he introduces everyone to Jesus Christ, and then notes that the fact checkers have deemed Jesus and his resurrection to be authentic: “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen -- by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10: 39-41)

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he, too, does some fact checking: “… he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and… he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of who are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (v. 3-8)

After all the fact checking is completed and the story of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection are shown to be authentic and true, there is left but one thing to do: Tell people!

That’s the second point which today’s lections bring to us: Telling others.

In John, after the disciples have departed, Mary lingers at the grave and sees two angels in white sitting in the tomb. They ask her why she is weeping and she tells them that she is sad becaue the body of Jesus has been taken away or stolen and she turns to leave only to bump into Jesus, whom she does not recognize until he speaks her name, a symbolic way of showing that he knows her.

He instructs her to go and tell the disciples that he has risen and is ascending to God, and she does just that. She runs to where the disciples have gathered and says to them, “I have seen the Lord.”

We’ll come back to that particular witness in a few moments but, first, let’s look at the witnessing that takes place in the other lections for this day:

In 1 Corinthians Paul says, simply: “Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” Having learned the truth of the resurrection, Paul has no other option but to preach it.

In Acts, Peter says to the crowd: “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify...” (10:42) And, of course, preach is what he does, right there in Cornelius’s living room.

2000 years after the first Easter, the gospel still calls us to two activities: First to examine the claim, once again, for authenticity and, second, upon establishing the truth of Easter’s claim, to tell others about it, that is, to preach and witness to the reality of resurrection not just as a thing that happened once, a long time ago, but as an existential reality for all who believe and live in Jesus Christ.

In the News
“When government takes away citizens’ right to bear arms it becomes citizens’ duty to take away government’s right to govern.” -- George Washington

Follow the debate about the 2nd amendment and gun control and, sooner or later, you’re going to come across that quote from our first president. It is touted by gun enthusiasts to show that the enthusiasm for gun ownership reaches back to the very first days of the republic and was close to the heart of at least one of the founding fathers and that the purpose of the 2nd amendment is to guarantee that citizens have the means to overthrow the government if it gets out of line.

The problem is that George Washington never said it.

In fact, given his reaction to the “Whiskey Rebellion” of 1794 -- he showed up with 16,000 armed troops and the rebels put down their guns and went home -- it’s more likely that he would have felt just the opposite. Besides, there’s no written record of his ever having said it at any time or in any place.

It doesn’t take a college degree to discover that this quote is a fake. I found that to be the case in about 10 minutes of searching on the internet.

On the day I’m writing this piece my computer home page lists 23 articles fact checking Donald Trump’s speeches, tweets, and utterances. It also has one article fact checking a speech by Bernie Sanders (he used old facts) and one article fact checking anonymous claims of voter fraud in the Pennsylvania special congressional election (there was no proof of any fraud) as well as one article fact checking the claim that the Florida teens who started the movement for stricter gun laws were, in fact, not really high school students but Hollywood actors (they weren’t).

Fact checking has become a necessary way of life in America as has witnessing and testifying.

Last week, Loren Zitomersky, ran the entire 26.2 mile Los Angeles Marathon backwards to raise money and awareness for epilepsy research. He did it in memory of his little brother, Bryan, who died of the disease at the age of seven. His goal is to break the world record by running the Boston Marathon backwards in under 3 hours, 43 minutes, 29 seconds.  More than a physical feat, he hopes to make it a testimony about the need for more and better research into the disease of epilepsy.

On Saturday, March 24, hundreds of thousands of youth and adults all over the United States and Europe braved cold and snow to articulate their concerns about the ubiquity of gun violence in America. Among them were students who were survivors of mass school shootings who gave witness to the violence, the death, the grief, and the post-traumatic stress that they have experienced.  Having been shot at in their schools, they have earned the right to speak on the subject as experts. Other speakers included parents and family members of the victims of other mass shootings. Community leaders, organizers, child care workers, surgeons who treated the wounded, all spoke of their own experiences.

And others talked of being discounted, insulted, patronized, and ignored because they were young and they held opinions that challenged the gun culture and those who make their living from it.

Whatever they said, they spoke from their own experience. They testified as witnesses.   

Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are guaranteed by the Constitution because we know the value of personal witness and testimony.

Which brings us back to Mary’s testimony to the disciples: “I have seen the Lord.”

In the Sermon
The traditional greeting and response of Easter is: “Praise the Lord, Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed.”

It is an assertion. It holds that a certain set of claims is, in fact, the case. And as a ritual between believers who have already committed to the truth of the assertion, it has about it, at the same time, a certain kind of celebration and comfort.

Praise the Lord, Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed.

As a form of evangelism, however, it falls short.

No matter how fervently we believe it, we cannot expect others to believe it just because we do. They are, after all, citizens of a post-truth culture wherein facts are disposable and truth is optional. They are going to want to do some fact checking if you expect them to believe that Christ, really is, risen.

Now, we could spend long hours arguing that the biblical accounts list multiple occasions with multiple witnesses. We could argue the statistical unlikelihood that so many unrelated people in separate areas at separate times could be joined together in a giant conspiracy that has stood, unbroken, for so many hundreds of years.

We could gather our evidence and make “The Case for Easter” as author Lee Strobel would put it.

But we know that people are rarely convinced by facts and evidence, no matter how overwhelming and weighted they are. People are more often convinced by their hearts than their minds. And their hearts are convinced by their relationships.

Mary Magdalene, their friend, friend and follower of Jesus, one of the few who did not flee from the scene of the crucifixion does not say to them, “Christ is risen!” She does not slam them with an assertion of fact. No. What does she say?

She says, “I have seen the Lord.”

The pronoun is the personal one: “I.” She is telling them her story. She is telling them what she has experienced, what she has seen, what she has done.

“I have seen the Lord.”

You can argue with me about whether or not he is risen, but you cannot argue with me about what I have or haven’t seen. I know, as witnesses have said from time immemorial, what I saw. And what I saw, what I experienced, has changed my life.

And that, brothers and sisters, is the most convincing evidence of the resurrection: our own lives, resurrected from what they were to what they are. We do not say “Christ was risen.” We say, “Christ IS risen.” The resurrection is not simply an historic event that we must believe in to be saved. It is current events. It is a present reality in our lives, a reality that motivates and moves us, that empowers and unfetters us, that liberates and emancipates us to powerful and authentic living.  

There is an old joke, an ecumenical joke, if you will, that a Methodist asked a Baptist if he believed in infant baptism. The Baptist responded, “Believe in it! Heck, I’ve seen it!”

My friends, we don’t just believe in the resurrection. We’ve seen the resurrection. We’ve seen it in the lives of our Christian sisters and brothers. We’ve seen it in the lives of broken people made whole, of estranged people reconciled, of lost people found, and of wondering people brought home.

And most importantly, we’ve seen it in our own lives. Because resurrection is an existential reality for us we can sing with the hymn, “I once was lost, and now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.”


Easter’s Footprint
by Chris Keating
John 20:1-18

John’s Easter narrative reads like a spell-binding mystery.  With all its foot-racing, breathless drama, and mistaken identities, John’s account is a bit like a classic whodunit. Mary races back to the disciples, Peter and the Beloved Disciple race back to the graveyard. The empty tomb, with grave clothes neatly folded. It could be title “R is Resurrection” or something like that.

But this story is not just a tale of piecing together clues. Even McGruff the Crime Dog could do that. There’s more to this story than learning about the breathless disciples, or visualizing Mary’s encounter with the angels. This isn’t just a tale of discovering what happened to Jesus.

John’s details round out the story and give it dimensions, but there is much more happening here than a fill-in-the blanks mystery. This is a story that leads us to question just about everything we know about the world. After all, as many have said, if the dead do not stay dead, then what do we really know about the world?

In many ways, it’s possible that is the sort of question many of our congregations may be asking this Easter. The usual suspects will show up Easter morning, of course, but so will many whose Easter baskets are filled to the brim with the sorts of questions which cannot be easily answered by a tweet or status update. Many are touched by grief or overwhelmed by fear. Like Mary, they’ll be waking up on Easter morning a bit confused and unsettled.

If so, then John’s mystery may turn out to be pretty good news.

On Easter morning, take a trek down John’s footpath to the resurrection. Follow the clues and discover a story that is more than just an episode of “Grantchester.” Instead, as Serene Jones observes in her Feasting on the Word commentary, John’s account moves us beyond intellectual affirmations of the Jesus’ resurrection.

This is a story of knowing and being known.

One of the fascinating realities of modern life is the availability of knowledge. We’ve migrated beyond the information age into the age of microdata. Want to know more about the visitor you just met in church? Pull out your smartphone and google their name. See how much their home is worth, where they went to high school, which baseball team they like, or what brand of beverages they buy. It’s all there. Maybe even guess their politics.

The facts of our lives are all easily, and quickly, known.

Just ask the data miners at Cambridge Analytica, the researchers who combed through the profiles of millions of Facebook users in order to build political strategies. Some of this data mining appears to have broken Facebook’s terms of service, and it appears that results are still widely available. Government investigations have begun. Large numbers of people are promising to say goodbye to Facebook, though there’s speculation that the price tag of dropping the social network could be steep.

That funny Hello Kitty meme you downloaded, or the “Which Godfather Character Are You Most Like” quiz you took a couple of years ago? It likely yielded a trove of information about you to political strategists. The breadth of that data may be astonishing, but it should not be surprising. The truth is the internet is filled with our digital footprints. We are known by the footprints we leave behind, just like the print of Mary’s sandals in the sands outside the cemetery.

It’s unsettling to think that so much is known about us by others, but it seems to pale in comparison to the footprints of Easter. As Mary weeps, she is confronted by angels who ask her why she is crying. Incredibly, Mary doesn’t seem shocked to encounter the angels -- another sign that the things we know about the world are challenged by the resurrection. Instead, she continues to talk to them, only to find Jesus standing there.

But she doesn’t recognize him. She doesn’t know it’s Jesus, at least not in the way that scientists can know you from your social profile. She’s still operating in the pre-resurrection reality. That is the world of steel-hardened facts that cause us to weep: the world where teenagers are murdered in classrooms, or where black children grow up to earn less than white children, even if they were raised in the same well-to-do neighborhoods.

Those coming to our Easter services know all about that sort of world. Like Mary, they weep over the reality of what is known. John, however, offers a different way of knowing. John’s gospel gives the promise of abundant, everlasting life. It points not to the footprints we’ve left, but the footprints of where God is headed. It offers the imprint of resurrection, a way of knowing that is far greater than anything Facebook yield.

The risen Jesus knows Mary by name. That sort of information is priceless, and leads to life.


Illustrations

From team member Ron Love:

Easter
The origins of April Fools’ Day are unknown. For this reason, there have been many traditions ascribed to its beginnings. One tradition dates back to France in 1582. To understand this, we must turn our attention to the Council of Trent, which was convened by Roman Catholic Church, and was held in session from 1545 to 1563. The Catholic church used the council to combat the heresies brought forth by the Protestant Reformation. The council also introduced some reforms for the Catholic church. One of these reforms was replacing the Julian calendar with the Gregorian calendar. France did not accept the Gregorian calendar until the year 1582. Individuals who were slow to get the news of the new calendar or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1st and continued to celebrate it on April 1st, became the butt of jokes and hoaxes. These pranks included having a paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as poisson d’avril, which means April fish. April fish symbolized a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.

Application: This year Easter and April Fools’ Day are the same. Perhaps even today there are many April fish individuals who have been slow to grasp the Easter message.

*****

Easter
On Valentine’s Day, February 14, there was a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida. During this rampage, in which the shooter used an AR-15 assault rifle, 17 students and faculty members were killed. In a social activist movement, the students of school organized a March for Our Lives. The March 24 rally was a protest against gun violence. It was centered on Washington, D.C., but demonstrations were held across the globe. Rallies were held in 390 of our country’s 435 congressional districts. In a speech, Sari Kaufman, a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas, expressed words that were shouted by many during the day. Kaufman said, “Turn this moment into a movement.”

Application: Those who witnessed the resurrection turned the moment into a movement. This Easter day, we are to continue that movement.

*****

Easter
On Valentine’s Day, February 14, there was a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida. During this rampage, in which the shooter used an AR-15 assault rifle, 17 students and faculty members were killed. In a social activist movement, the students of school organized a March for Our Lives. The March 24 rally was a protest against gun violence. It was centered on Washington, D.C., but demonstrations were held across the globe. Rallies were held in 390 of our country’s 435 congressional districts. The protesting students are the generation that has come of age after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, which left 13 dead and is considered a milestone in the evolution of modern school shootings. It is this generation, who will soon be of voting age, that many believe will finally bring about significant gun legislation. This view was expressed by Cameron Kasky, a Stoneman Douglas student, at the D.C. rally when he said, “Welcome to the revolution…The voters are coming.”

Application: The Resurrection was a revolution. Our lectionary readings call us to be witnesses to that revolution.

*****

Easter
Zlatan Ibrahimovic calls himself the “lion.” On his Instagram postings it is not his picture that you see, but that of a lion’s face. The 36-year-old is an accomplished soccer star who has played in the Champions League for seven different teams in Italy, Spain, France and England. Ibrahimovic is now coming to play for the LA Galaxy in Los Angles. Ibrahimovic has also continually refered to himself as “God.” In posting an Instagram picture of himself announcing his move to Los Angeles, the picture showed him in a white robe wrestling with a very muscular and defiant looking Devil.

Application: On this Resurrection Sunday, we know of only one who wrestled with and conquered Satan, and that is the Son of God.

*****

Easter
Sister Jean has become a media darling. Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt is a 98-year-old nun who belongs to the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The B.V.M.s, as they are often refereed to, are headquartered in Dubuque, Iowa. Sister Jean has for years been the chaplain to Loyola University’s men’s basketball team. With her spicy personality and with the Ramblers’ success, Sister Jean has become a media sensation. She has been interviewed by the major newspapers across the country and has made numerous television appearances. Most recently she appeared on “Good Morning America.” Yet, stardom has not replaced devotion. Sister Jean begins each day at 5 a.m. for daily prayer and meditation. During this time, she always asks God for a peaceful day. Sister Jean then meditates on a gospel story. Currently she is selecting stories that are reminders of God’s love for his children. Before she goes to bed each evening, Sister Jean thanks God for peace during her day, and asks God to grant her peace for tomorrow.

Application: Those who first approached the empty tomb may have been afraid and bewildered, but soon they came to know peace.

*****

Easter
In October, Pope Francis is going to oversee a synod of bishops whose topic of discussion will be “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” In preparation 300 youth from across the world were interviewed, and 15,000 youth engaged online through Facebook groups. The result was a 16-page working document for the bishops to use at the convocation. The report contained an abundance of useful information both for a denomination and a local church. One conclusion stated that youth want “to see a Church that is a living testimony to what it teaches and witnesses to authenticity on the path to holiness.”

Application: The reason why the Resurrection story still lives so vibrantly today is because of the authenticity in which it has been told and preserved. We are to continue that authenticity as we lead others on the path of holiness.

*****

Easter
In October, Pope Francis is going to oversee a synod of bishops whose topic of discussion will be “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” In preparation 300 youth from across the world were interviewed, and 15,000 youth engaged online through Facebook groups. The result was a 16-page working document for the bishops to use at the convocation. The report contained an abundance of useful information both for a denomination and a local church. One conclusion stated that youth are seeking mentors to guide them on their faith journeys. According to the report, a mentor should be “a faithful Christian…who constantly seeks holiness; is confident without judgement; actively listens to the needs of young people and responds in kind; is deeply loving and self-aware; acknowledges their limits and knows the joys and sorrows of the spiritual journey.”

Application: Those who witnessed the Resurrection have become our mentors. We must take their witness and allow ourselves to mentor others on their faith journeys.

*****

Easter
Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero has recently been approved by the Vatican to be canonized as a saint. Romero served in El Salvador and was human rights activist against the injustices and horrific crimes committed by the country’s military dictatorship. His stance came from his belief in the theological school of thought known as liberation theology. Liberation theology is based on the Exodus and Resurrection stories that God has set his people free. Liberation theology proclaims that salvation is not just something for the afterlife, but the message of salivation should be one that we are to make the world a better place today. After each sermon Romero would discuss what he called “the events of the day.” He would share the murders, kidnappings and social inequalities that recently occurred. On Monday, March 24, 1980, Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero was shot inside his church. The murder has never been solved.

Application: Those who witnessed the Resurrection were unafraid to preach its meaning of justice and holiness, and how it would transform society. As we leave our Easter celebration this day, we must continue to preach that message of justice and holiness.

*****

Easter
National Geographic is going to televise a series titled One Strange Rock. The series of programs will interview astronauts and astronomers. Fewer than 600 of the nearly 108 billion people who have ever existed on the planet earth have seen it from outer space, which will make the perspective of the astronauts so enthralling. Astronaut Jeff Hoffman has been on five missions into space. He has spent 1,211 hours of his life in space. He believes that there is other life in space. Regarding this, Hoffman said, “But as a scientist, I look for evidence. And as yet, we have no evidence. So, I have nothing to support my belief. But I still believe it.”

Application: We have no physical evidence to prove the Resurrection, and we never will. We know it happened because we believe the testimonies of those witnesses recorded in the gospels. We know because we believe.

*****

Easter
During the meeting of the Continental Congress, George Washington was the only attendee to wear a military uniform. He was also the only one in the chamber that had combat leadership experience during the French and Indian War. One duty of the Congress was to select a commander for the newly formed Continental Army, that was to battle the British and secure America’s independence. To the delegates, Washington became the obvious choice for that position. Upon receiving his commission, Washington said, “I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.”

Application: We may not feel equal to our command to preach the Resurrection message; but, it is still a responsibility we must accept.


From team member Mary Austin:

John 20:1-18
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
Noted author Parker Palmer speaks often about his experience of three major episodes of depression. He says that people often ask him what to say to a loved one who is contending with depression. “I usually respond, “Well, I can’t prescribe in detail, but I can tell you this: do everything in your power to let them know that you’re not afraid of them. Be present to them in a way that expresses faith and confidence that they have what it takes to make it through. Don’t come to them with cheap encouragement of the sort some people tried on me: ‘But, Parker, you’re such a good guy! You’ve helped so many people, you’ve written such good books, you’ve given such good talks. Can’t you fall back on all of that and pull yourself out of this hole?’…Having worked my way through that very lonely journey -- where only a few people were able to offer the kind of presence and support that I needed -- as I came out to the other side, a couple of things happened that allowed me to start making meaning of the experience. One is that I found myself [to be] a more compassionate person. When you suffer, if you hold it in the right way, in a supple and open heart, you become much more empathetic toward the suffering of others.” As she meets Jesus in the garden on that early morning, Mary has already suffered through his arrest, trial and the experience of watching him die on the cross. Out of that suffering, she speaks to the “gardener” she meets with great kindness.

Parker Palmer says that on the other side of our personal suffering, we’re better equipped to open our hearts to other people who suffer. He adds, “Another way to say this is that you become less afraid of other people’s suffering. You’re more willing to be present to it in a faithful, abiding way because you’re no longer treating it as a sort of contagious disease that you too might catch. You’ve been hollowed out by your own suffering, which makes space inside you for the suffering of other people. You’re better able to offer an empathetic presence to them.” Mary’s own anguish, not just the suffering Jesus experienced, allows her to receive the Easter gift of his resurrection. Suffering is the fertile ground of resurrection.

*****

John 20:1-18
New Life from the Old
In his work with Homeboy Industries, which he founded to help former gang members, Father Greg Boyle specializes in helping young men and women begin new lives. Homeboy Industries exists to offer an alternative to gang life. Father Greg tells a story about Louie, who was growing rich selling crack cocaine. “He quickly became his own best customer. After my many attempts to get him into rehab, he finally agreed to check himself in. He was there one month when his younger brother Erick did something gang members never do. He put a gun to his temple and killed himself. Gang members are much more inclined to walk into enemy turf and hope to die than to pull the trigger themselves.” Father Greg called Louie to tell him, and to say he would pick him up for the funeral.

“When I arrive at the rehab center, Louie greets me with un abrazo, and once in the car, he launches in. ‘I had a dream last night -- and you were in it.’ In the dream, he tells me, the two of us are in a darkened room. No lights whatsoever. No illuminated exit signs. No light creeping from under the door. Total darkness. We are not speaking, but he knows I am in the room with him. Then, silently, I pull a flashlight from my pocket and aim steadily on the light switch across the room. Louie tells me that he knows that only he can turn the light switch on. He expresses his gratitude that I happen to have a flashlight. Then with great trepidation, Louie moves slowly toward the light switch, following closely the guiding beam of light. He takes a deep breath, flips the switch on, and the room is flooded with light. As he tells me this, he begins sobbing. ‘And the light,’ he says, ‘is better than the darkness.’ As though he had not known this was the case. We cannot turn the light switch on for anyone. But we all own flashlights. With any luck, on any given day, we know where to aim them for each other. We do not rescue anyone at the margins. But go figure, if we stand at the margins, we are all rescued. No mistake about it.”

Jesus turns the light on for us, and, following him, we have the grace-filled calling of turning it on for others.

*****

John 20:1-18
Meeting Death with Tenderness
Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, says he started the series of businesses to give jobs to young men and women who wanted to leave the gangs. He realized along the way that jobs were a start, but these young men and women needed a deeper healing to really change their lives. When the risen Jesus meets up with Mary in the garden, on that early Easter morning, she has already experienced the deep gift of healing from him. On this day, he will heal her grief, also. He meets her tears with tenderness, and she goes away changed by him again.

Father Greg says “Well, part of what we have at Homeboy is this irresistible culture of tenderness, you know, where people kind of hold each other. It's a place of containment, a place where people can regulate. And they all come with, you know, kind of chronic, toxic stress that's attached to them like a big, old heavy backpack. And if they can find relief then they no longer have to actually operate out of survivor brain, and then they can find our place as something of a sanctuary, and they can come to terms with what was done to them and also what they did. And then we always say at Homeboy if you don't transform your pain, you're just going to keep transmitting it. So it breaks this cycle, and pretty soon, if they cooperate and surrender to it then they become the sanctuary that they sought there. And then they go home and they provide that sanctuary to their kids, and suddenly you've broken a cycle.”

*****

John 20:1-18
God in Unexpected Places
Kate Bowler is a professor, an authority on the Prosperity Gospel, and now, someone living with cancer. At age 35, she was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and had to re-think many things she took for granted in her faith.  

Just as Jesus shows up in a surprising way to Mary, Bowler says she has found God in surprising places in her journey with cancer. “something of a surprise, I think, that -- so I was just kind of a regular ambitious person climbing ladders, dreaming dreams, and then I got a sudden diagnosis. And then all of a sudden, in the worst moments of my life, I’m thrown into a constant hospital world and an anxious look on everyone’s face and a sense of looming despair. And weirdly enough, I realized that the new world I was living in was a place where God lived somehow, and I honestly couldn’t quite figure it out. What is this weird peace? What is the sense that God is present in the people who are visiting me, when I didn’t always love the person across the hall that I shared a printer with? And yeah, it was weird, but now I think almost of God’s presence as, like, a place that I visit. And it was a place I was introduced to in the worst moments of my life, and now it’s a place I have to cultivate.”

*****

John 20:1-18
Not Alone
Weeping, Mary Magdalene feels all alone in her grief for Jesus. There’s no one around her to understand.

Kate Bowler says she also felt completely alone after her cancer diagnosis.  She writes, “Most of my worst thoughts hover around a single word. Alone. For a long time, I felt like I was the only person in the world who will die. It was the weird feeling that began in the haze of my diagnosis. I remember standing in the lobby of Duke Hospital, waiting for them to admit me. I was talking on the phone to my friend, Margaret, with my hand on the window. ‘I feel like I’m behind glass now. And you’re all on the other side.’ Even today I still feel it in the moment between shaking someone’s hand and the spark of recognition in their eyes. Oh, it’s YOU. And then they cock their heads to one side like sorrowful cocker spaniels.”

She discovers, though, that she is far from alone. “These are the little whispers: youareloved, youareloved, youareloved…The most alone I have ever been is when I woke up from my surgery. The room was empty and all I could hear was the chirping of the heartrate monitor. The hospital had, of course, taken everything that was familiar to me. My dress I love to teach in. My ring from the man I love. All I had was my hospital gown and a carved up body I hardly recognized. And then I saw it. Something around my wrist. It was a bracelet. But not just any bracelet. It was a slap bracelet, the kind I played with when I was ten and they were all the rage. It was such an absurd situation, the more I thought about it. Someone had crept into my room, past security, and quietly slapped it on my wrist so I would have it when I woke up. It was bright neon. It was hideous.

And all it said was: “FIERCE.”

Even in her illness, she isn’t alone. Mary Magdalene isn’t alone outside the tomb. And, in the presence of the risen Christ, no matter what we’re experiencing, we are never alone, either.


WORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: O give thanks to God who is good.
People: God’s steadfast love endures forever!
Leader: God is our strength and our might.
People: God has become our salvation.
Leader: There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:.
People: The right hand of God does valiantly."

OR

Leader: Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!
People: Christ is risen, indeed!              
Leader: The one knows God best is raised for us!
People: In Christ we know and are known by God!
Leader: New life is offered to us in Christ’s resurrection!
People: Let us rejoice and share God’s new life with all!

Hymns and Songs:
“Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones”
UMH: 90
H82: 618
PH: 451
LBW: 175
ELA: 424

“Alleluia, Alleluia”
UMH: 162
H82: 178
PH: 106
CH: 40
W&P: 291
Renew: 271

“The Day of Resurrection”
UMH: 303
H82: 210
PH: 118
NNBH: 124
NCH: 245
CH: 228
LBW: 141
ELA: 361
W&P: 298
AMEC: 59/160

“Thine Be the Glory”
UMH: 308
PH: 122
NCH: 253
CH: 218
LBW: 145
ELA: 376
W&P: 310
AMEC: 157

“Hail Thee, Festival Days”
UMH: 324
H82: 175
PH: 120
NCH: 262
LBW: 142
ELA: 394

“Be Thou My Vision”
UMH: 451
H82: 488
PH: 339
NCH: 451
CH: 595
ELA: 793
W&P: 502
AMEC: 281
STLT: 20
Renew: 151

“Open My Eyes, That I May See”
UMH: 454
PH: 324
NNBH: 218
CH: 586
W&P: 480
AMEC: 285

“Holy Spirit, Truth Divine”
UMH: 465
PH: 321
NCH: 63
CH: 241  
LBW: 257
ELA: 398

“Come Down, O Love Divine”
UMH: 475
H82: 516
PH: 313
NCH: 289
CH: 582
LBW: 508
ELA: 804
W&P: 330

“Open our Yes, Lord”
CCB: 77
Renew: 91

“Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus”
CCB: 55


Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELA: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship


Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who knows all and desires to be known by all:
Grant us the grace to open our lives to you
so that we may know you and ourselves better;
through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.

OR

We praise you, O God, for you are the all-knowing one. You know who we are and you seek for us to know you. Help us to seek you more fully so that we may know you and ourselves. Amen.


Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our failure to know God and to know ourselves.
People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned.  We have not sought you with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength.  Sometimes we have not sought you at all.  Somehow we know that in seeking you we will find our own true selves and that scares us.  Remind us, once again, that we are truly loved and sought after by you.  Help us to trust your knowing us and that it is safe for us to know ourselves.  Open us to your true self.  Amen.
Leader: God does know us and surely loves us, anyway.  Open your heart and life to God so that you may know God’s healing presence.


Prayers of the People
We offer you our praise and adoration, O God, for you are the one who knows all.  You know the entire universe and you know all about us. 

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned.  We have not sought you with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength.  Sometimes we have not sought you at all.  Somehow we know that in seeking you we will find our own true selves and that scares us.  Remind us, once again, that we are truly loved and sought after by you.  Help us to trust your knowing us and that it is safe for us to know ourselves.  Open us to your true self.

We give you thanks for all the ways in which you reveal yourself to us, O God.  You come in the majesty of creation and in the quiet of silence.  You reveal yourself in scripture and in the kind word or warm hand of our sisters and brothers. 

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our needs.  We are cut off from one another by fear and we ask that you would give us courage to reach out to one another and open ourselves to them.  Help us to share your love and grace with others. 

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service)

All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity.  Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Collect some pictures of people the children would know (famous or from the congregation) and pictures of them when they were very young.  See if the children can match them up.  We think we know people but sometimes we don’t know them as well as we think we do.  God knows us completely.  All of our thoughts and desires.  And God loves us.



CHILDREN'S SERMON
Not Fooling Around
by Bethany Peerbolte
John 20:1-18, Mark 16:1-8

Take advantage of April fool’s day and Easter falling on the same day and use these fun jokes to teach kids that Jesus’ resurrection was no joke. We are all forgiven and we should let other people know they are forgiven too. No FOOLING!

Preparation: Depending on prep time available choose one of the following April Fools jokes. 

1) Get an empty Krispy Kreme donut box, or a full box and eat the donuts yourself, no judgment. Once empty, fill the box with cut up vegetables. You may be able to find a veggie tray that fits.

OR

2) Buy a bag of egg shaped chocolates that are wrapped in colorful tinfoil, and a bunch of grapes. Carefully unwrap the chocolate (eating as you go is encouraged) then rewrap the grapes in the chocolate wrappers. 

Pro-Tip: Have some real chocolate to pass out afterward to keep the kids from rioting. 


Children’s Sermon:
Say something like:
Happy Easter! One of my favorite things about Easter is the sweet goodies. Why wait till after church? We should have some right now.  (Bring out the prepped joke.) Who wants some?! 

Give the kids time to reveal the joke and laugh. If the church does not have easy sight lines, narrate what is happening so the congregation can enjoy the fun.

Say something like: What happened? There aren’t any chocolate/donuts? What is in there? Vegetables/grapes? APRIL FOOLS! Did you know it was also April Fool’s day today? 

The grapes/vegetables weren’t what you were expecting were they? This surprise might be a little bit of a bummer but the surprise Mary and the disciples got on Easter made them very happy. They had been very sad because Jesus died. Jesus was a good friend and they didn’t know what to do without him around. On Easter they found out Jesus was alive! He had risen and wasn’t dead anymore. This was not a joke like our candy/box was, this was real. They were so happy at this surprise but they were afraid no one would believe them so they didn’t tell anyone. They thought people who hadn’t seen Jesus with their own eyes would think they were telling a joke. Slowly, though, Jesus appeared to more people and the word got out that Jesus is risen and more and more people got the happy surprise and learned it wasn’t a joke at all. 

When Jesus met with people he told them their sins were forgiven. How do you feel when someone forgives you? (good, happy, etc.) Yes! Everyone felt really good that they were forgiven. Jesus then told them to tell other people they are forgiven too. Turn to the person next to you and say “You are forgiven!” That feels really good, right? And that is no joke! You are forgiven. 

Let’s say a prayer: God of laughter and truth, we thank you for the fun jokes you bring us. We are also thankful that Jesus was no joke. We love the forgiveness you have given us, and promise to share it with other people. In the name of Jesus who is risen, Amen.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *


The Immediate Word, April 1, 2018, issue.

Copyright 2018 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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Call to Worship:
Jesus said, "Peace be with you. You are witnesses to the living Christ." Let us welcome the living Christ in our worship today.

Invitation to Confession:

Jesus, sometimes we are frightened and anxious.
Lord, have mercy.


Jesus, sometimes we aren't good witnesses to you.
Christ, have mercy.


Jesus, forgive us for all those things we think and do which we know are wrong.

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The theme of 1 John all along has been the love of God. The author now expands that love in the phrase, "the children of God," and for the first time he considers what it means to be the children of God. Earlier, he presented love within the fellowship and now he speaks of the meaning of God's love for us and its implications for the future. The consequences and proof of the love of God are evident in being called "the children of God." He is careful to point out that the love of God is a gift; we do not earn it.
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Here's the scene. The disciples are huddled together and they have just heard Simon's account of experiencing the risen Christ when Cleopas and his companion enter and add word of their encounter with the risen Christ. Luke describes the scene like this: "While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost" (v. 36).
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Call To Worship
Leader: Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!
People: Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven!
Leader: Let us proclaim in all the world the glory due God's name!
People: Let us bring our offerings into the courts of Almighty God!
Leader: Let us come together and bring praise for our salvation in Christ!
All: Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Collect

Special Occasion