Liberating Love and Hope

Written by Dr Deidre Palmer

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Dr Deidre Palmer delivered this sermon at Lautoka Methodist Church in Fiji on Sunday 14 July 2019 at a combined service of the local congregation and members of the 2019 UCA President's Conference.

BIBLE READINGS: Luke 8:1-3 and Luke 23:50-24:12 (NRSV)

Some Women Accompany Jesus

8 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others

, who provided for them out of their resources.

The Burial of Jesus

50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

The Resurrection of Jesus

24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

What or who has drawn you here today? To this Christian community? Why have you come?

Some of you are here, because this is your regular community of faith – this is where you belong, this is the community through which you offer your praise and worship to God, serve Christ  and are nurtured in Christian discipleship through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Some of us are here, because we have come together from across Australia from the Uniting Church – to be part of the President’s Conference, and to focus on major themes for us as churches: for the renewal of God’s creation, for gender justice and to reflect on ways we nurture one another in holistic Christian discipleship.

As we focus on these readings from Luke this afternoon, I wonder what drew these women to journey with Jesus?

What drew them to be in that place on Easter morning?

I wonder if you are drawn here this afternoon by the same call that these women had heard and experienced as they journeyed with Jesus?

The call of God’s liberating love – expressed so fully in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth?

These women had experienced liberation through the ministry of Jesus they had been “cured of evil spirits and infirmities, and Mary Magdalene, we are told, had been released from the oppression of what the Bible describes as “seven demons”

I have always loved Luke 8:1-3, which names women who were followers of Jesus throughout his ministry. 

These women were named, they were heard, they were seen by Jesus and released into a life of abundance which opened up new horizons of hope for them personally, for their communities, for their world.

I believe this is what drew these women to follow Jesus, and to support him through the resources they offered.

Today as we gather for worship, Christ names us – beloved daughter, beloved son of God.

Today, Christ hears us – hears our cries of longing for love, for justice, for reconciliation, and hears the cries of the earth, the creation.

Today Christ sees – sees who we are, and who we are becoming – living into the fullness of life, that God desires for us..

And Christ invites us to name one another as beloved daughters and sons of God.

To hear and to see one another and to act with God, as God draws us into this worshipping community, that witnesses to the liberating love of God.

We encounter the women who followed Jesus early in Luke’s Gospel and the next time we hear two of their names again, (Mary Magdalene and Joanna) they are at the tomb of Jesus, coming to prepare his body.

These women came to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body with spices and ointment, as one commentator has described, “in a final act of love”.  

They did not expect to find what was before them.

They saw that the stone had been rolled away and they went in – expecting to find the body – but it was not there – this caused them to be “perplexed”.

In the midst of their confusion and distress, two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. They were terrified. These messengers of God, ask: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

And in words that are a joyous declaration of faith for us: The women hear: “He is not here, he is risen!”

 The women are called to remember – how Jesus told them “that he would be handed over to sinners, crucified and on the third day rise again.”

 The women remembered.

The women believed and they witnessed to what they had heard and seen.

"Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest." 

As we gather for worship this afternoon, we are invited to remember.

To remember Jesus’ words to us, to remember the liberating love that has the power to transform our lives, and the lives of our communities and of our world.

These compassionate, faithful followers of Jesus, did not expect what they encountered at the tomb.

It was more than they had dared to hope!

And yet what they had seen and heard in following him, opened their hearts and minds to hear the words “He is not here but he is risen”, and to believe.

They became believers and witnesses to his resurrection – their sorrow and terror were transformed into  joy and hope.

 There may be times in our own journey of faith, where we are not sure, what we will find, as we seek to faithfully follow Jesus.

We may come in sorrow and at times, fearful or confused, and the Risen Christ comes to us, transforms our fear and confusion with love and hope.

 These women in the Scriptures and their story of faith and liberating encounter are our sisters in the faith.

Our lives are woven together with theirs, as we hear again the good news declared in the Gospels: He is risen!

The women were not immediately believed.

Some described their tale as ‘idle’ or nonsense. This didn’t stop them.

They shared the good news anyway.

These were women who stood by Jesus and supported him.

They travelled with him. They shared at table with him. They were moved by his healings, his teaching, his compassionate actions.

They would have agonised over his cruel death and his leaving them.

They did not abandon him. They were there at the foot of the cross to witness his last breath.

They were there to prepare his body – to anoint him.  

While we do not know a great deal about these women,

In her commentary on the Lectionary, Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, Dawn Wilhelm notes:

“But of this much we can be certain they shared a common faith in Jesus Christ and an uncommon love for him. Although many persons might discount their words as nonsense (verse 11) their roles as disciples and witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ is indispensable to the church and world.”

Over the past decades, Biblical scholars and historians, have worked to raise some of these significant women from anonymity - inviting us to remember these women, who are disciples of Jesus and witness to the transformation that comes through his Risen presence.

As we focus this week at the President’s Conference on gender justice, we will be encouraged to think of these and other women, who have faithfully and courageously borne witness to Christ.

We will reflect on the partnership we share as women and men witnessing to the liberating love of Christ in our lives.

I have been inspired and encouraged by these women and others throughout history who have continued to share the good news, to encounter the Risen Christ

 Who are the women who have shared their faith, the good news of the Risen Christ with you – who have been persistent, faithful witnesses?

 I think of those women and men who have encouraged  women to find their voice in the church and our wider society.

Women and men in this room with whom we are sharing in ministry.  

We know women and men like the ones who are named in Luke’s Gospel.

Women and men who journey with people through grief and trauma embodying Christ’s love and comfort.

Women and men who are not deterred when their voice is not heard.

Who persist in their witness to new life, compassionately working for justice and healing for their communities, families, work places and nations.

I bring to mind women and men in the Methodist Church in Fiji – who will be sharing with us at our President’s Conference – who are raising up the witness of women – their gifts and leadership in proclaiming the good news of the Risen, Crucified one.

In his commentary on the account of the women coming to the tomb in Luke’s Gospel, Methodist historian and theologian Justo Gonzalez notes that the resurrection is both a joy and a challenge to us as followers of Christ:

 "… But now the empty tomb opens new possibilities. Now there is no way back to the former life in Galilee. .. The resurrection is a joyous event; but it also means that Jesus call for his disciples to take up their cross and follow him is still valid. . The full message of Easter is both of joy and of challenge. It is the announcement of unequalled and final victory, and the call to radical, dangerous and even painful discipleship.” 

 As we leave here today, we are called to remember (to bring to remembrance) Jesus – his words to us, his love and hope, his call to compassion, peace and justice.

We are called to respond to and witness to the good news of the Crucified Risen Christ.

As we are sent out may God give us courage to find our voice, to share the story of Christ, the One whose liberating love continues to transform people’s lives, and offers hope to the whole world and all of creation.