(with reference to Matthew 28:1-10 )
The trouble with coming up with a clever sermon title weeks in advance is… what if you change your mind? Well, I haven’t really changed my mind, just the order of things – so it’s recycling, restoration, resurrection and taxidermy. Let’s go for a ride!
Recycling: Welcome to Sicamous United – a little church with a big heart and a fabulous Thrift Shop. Our ministry in the community through the thrift shop gives the community a place to obtain gently used goods at a very reasonable price, keeps things out of the landfill, helps pay for a manager and my salary, and gives back 10% to the community in scholarships, food program funding, emergency help to local families and transients alike, and ministry well beyond Sicamous. Oh – it also outfits the minster!
For our guests in the Vintage Car Club, I think recycling might also be known as Hot Rodding – you pretty up the old body and put it on some high powered running gear so you can go faster and further more reliably. Or if the project isn’t going exactly as planned, you get creative – for example, a 1928 Ford rad grill wont’ fit a `30 Model A, but it makes a great frame for a picture or a mirror.
Restoration: Let’s look at restoration, which means “to return to its original condition.” Churches in the early 21st century and restorers of vintage cars have some things in common.
Why would people restore old cars, I wonder, besides the recycling factor? I think it brings back memories of what we think of as our `prime’ time. Back when we weren’t burdened with cares, responsibilities, failing health, high gas prices and the awareness of the environmental damages of excessive use of fossil fuel. (Who has the marque that lists the attributes of the car, and under gas mileage it just says “makes dinosaurs weep!?”
It reminds us of a time when we were stronger, maybe even invincible. Also, it’s physically and mentally challenging and it’s an art form and the result is something beautiful to behold.
In the church we like to pretty things up with banners, and stained glass and such, and there is a part of us that also longs for restoration of what was. In the church in Canada, the 1950’s was the crest of the wave of participation and strength. Apparently (although I wasn’t there) we had overcrowded Sunday schools, youth groups, junior and senior choirs, UCW groups, Men’s groups, Bible studies and it was politically and socially astute to go to church and all was right with the world. And wouldn’t be more comforting if that’s the way it was now? But the world has changed. And we struggle to find our place in it.
I wonder, if sometimes we fix physical objects, or church structures, because we can’t fix relationships, we can’t fix the world; we know how to deal with things the way they were, but not so much with the way they are.
There is a stage in the restoration project where what seemed to be a simple fix has you completely baffled and you think `what fresh hell is this’ and you would happily slip someone ten bucks (after getting insurance of course) to set a fire to the whole damn thing.
In the church we don’t have fenders and carburetors and ignition switches to fix, so we restructure administration, which can be a bit of a letdown, because we don’t have a pretty car to show for it. We end up selling the church, or amalgamating or closing the doors, or, as Sicamous United has done in the past couple years – look at all the alternatives, and decide we still have life to live and life to give. We can’t be all things to all people, so what’s the one thing we do really well? This congregation chose the Thrift Shop as a ministry, and it’s doing a fabulous job of it.
It may be helpful to look again at the definition of restoration – “to bring back to its original condition.” We may forget that the original vehicle was called a horse, and that the original church was a scared and struggling little group whose leader had been beaten and crucified as a common criminal. That is the real root of the Easter story.
So what is it about this story that goes beyond restoration to that which we call resurrection, which is defined as “to restore to life, to rise again?”
Sometimes, no matter how skilled you are and how hard you work at it, there are some things that can’t be fixed. Relationships end, hearts get broken, people get sick and die, and you feel useless and hopeless; everything feels like loss and death, and you don’t even recognize new life when it’s staring you in the face.
Often, you will see the symbol of a butterfly at Easter, and this is not because they are so cute and pretty! It’s to remind us that resurrection can only happen through experiencing death. And who wants to line up for that! For a caterpillar to become a butterfly, it has to die as a caterpillar. It spins a cocoon, it has to go through the chrysalis phase, which means it basically liquefies into mush – it ain’t pretty, but it’s necessary. It is from that mush, that new life comes forth.
We don’t really know what happened that first Easter. We have four gospels and they all tell the story differently. What they all agree on is that Jesus’ death is not the end of the story. That somehow he was experienced in a new way, an unexpected way, but in a way that was genuine, life-giving and on-going. We each in our own way, have to decide in those times when life turns to mush, – are we going to stay in the tomb/the cocoon, or step out and welcome the resurrected life that is calling us forth.
Now, a brief word about Taxidermy. Why taxidermy? Well – just think of it, the first part of `taxidermy’ is taxi (that’s a vehicle, right?) Ok, really what I mean is trying to make something look alive, that really has no life in it.
If you spend lots of time, money and energy restoring a vintage vehicle, but never drive it for fear that it might get scratched, or chipped, that’s a taxidermy job.
If you pretty up a church but don’t want people to have coffee for fear of spills on the carpet, or toys to trip over, that’s a taxidermy job.
A wee story – In a former congregation, of primarily seniors, there was a young boy who lived across from the church, in a home that was pretty rough. But, befriended by my son, he came to church one day. He came in his new roller blades. And an elderly gentleman in the church gave him hell and told him he was disrespectful. I don’t think the boy ever came back. On my last Sunday at that church, rather than processing up the aisle, I roller-bladed down the lovely sloping floor to the front of the church. 🙂 Notice it was my last Sunday at the church.
Later… they put in a nice new carpet and painted the front of the church – but I thought, `Who is that for? If children are wanted, but not welcomed for who they are, as they are, that’s just a taxidermy job.
If you live your life, always looking and acting proper to the outside world, but don’t have a passion for life, if you’re not willing to get into a bit of trouble for the sake of something greater, that’s a taxidermy job. Take some basic precautions, but enjoy your vehicles. Take basic care of your body so it will serve you as long as possible, but don’t’ hide away – enjoy your life, live it as fully as you can while you can. Leave the taxidermy work for the mortician.
The Easter story tells us that the women who loved Jesus wanted to honour him by anointing his body with burial spices – sort of a taxidermy job, but all accounts say, that didn’t work out as planned, as the tomb was empty. God – that Divine Energy of Love was, and is, at work in the world. Make of that what you will – but for me, in my experience, it means you can’t kill the Spirit of the living Christ – that holy spark will not die. It lives within us as we open ourselves to the God who calls us all to new life. My prayer for each of you, and for the world today, is that we may all experience the fullness of this Easter life. Amen.