Who Are You in the Dark?

Who Are You in the Dark?

April 21, 2019*

Easter Sunday

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:1-18                          Acts 10:34-43

 

What do you do when you are alone?

When Patti (my wife) is working, or out of the house, and I am home alone, I admit that I sometime don’t really do anything at all.  But other times, I use her absence as an opportunity to do chores in the garage while her car is out of the way or, despite the fact that Patti doesn’t mind that I have hobbies, I sometimes take time, in her absence, to engage in hobbies, or work on my projects, without worrying about what other chores might need done around the house.

But what we do when no one is watching can be revealing.

C.S. Lewis once said, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching”

And 19th century evangelist D. L. Moody said that “Character is what you are in the dark.”

It is by that measure that we discover a revealing piece of the Easter story.  In John 20:1-18, we meet Mary Magdalene…

…in the dark…

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

On Sunday morning, the first day of the Jewish week, the earliest that it was permitted to do work after the sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene is up before the sun and already on her way to the tomb where Jesus had been buried on Friday.  In an era thousands of years before the invention of the alarm clock, Mary is up and dressed and out of the house while the roosters are still asleep.  It is almost certain that she has been awake for most of the night.  And, while it is still dark, she discovers that the stone has been removed, the tomb is empty, and Jesus’ body is missing.  In her despair, she runs to find Peter and John, and they return with her to investigate, only to find that everything is just as she had described. 

After confirming what Mary had said in the first place, Peter and John go back to the places where they had been staying during Passover, but Mary did not.  Mary could be in no other place than the place where she had last seen Jesus.  She had followed him alongside the disciples for years, she had followed him and watched his trial, she had followed him and watched his crucifixion when almost everyone else had fled, and she had followed him that evening as he was buried in a rush before sundown.

But now, Jesus was gone.

And Mary could think of no place that she’d rather be than the last place that she had seen him.  And so, she sat beside his grave… and she wept.  But pausing to look inside the tomb again, perhaps for the twentieth or thirtieth time, each time hoping to see something different, but each time seeing the same empty tomb, and suddenly… there is something different.  Angels.  And the angels ask, “Why are you crying?”  And as she turns away from the tomb she sees, but does not recognize, Jesus.  Possibly because she was looking through her tears, and possibly because she simply didn’t expect to see a dead man to be standing upright and asking her questions.  But everything changes with a single word.

“Mary.”

Only Jesus spoke to her that way.  Only Jesus had that voice.  Only Jesus used that tone.  It was a voice that she knew so well, and had heard so often, that it was utterly unmistakable.  And she knew.

She knew.

Mary may not have yet understood how, or why, but she knew that Jesus was alive.

And in the last moment that we see Mary Magdalene in all of scripture, she goes to tell the disciples what she had seen and what she had heard.


Think about that for a moment.  After spending three years preaching, eating, sleeping, walking, and living with the disciples, Jesus appears first to Mary and not to any of the disciples.  In a culture that was all about men, Jesus appears first to a woman.  Surrounded by healthy people, Jesus announces his return to a woman who had been afflicted with, and whom he had cured from, demonic possession.  This is one of the pieces of the story that help us to believe that it must be true, because it is completely counter-cultural.  If you intended to write a fictional story in order to establish a new religion, this is clearly not how you would have written it.  Unless it was true.

Jesus was alive, Mary becomes the first missionary of the Resurrection, and I think that it’s quite likely that it had everything to do with Mary’s faith.  I suspect that these events may have been on Peter’s mind when he gave his great speech in Acts 10:34-43.

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “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, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 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. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

God does not show favoritism but accepts everyone who fears him and does what is right.  We must go out into the world and tell everyone that we can find about the Gospel message, the Good News, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ because we are witnesses.  We may not have been standing beside Mary or been in the room when she told the disciples, but we have surely seen the evidence of how Jesus has changed our lives and we know the miracles that he has done in our families and in the lives of the people around us.

We are witnesses.

Jesus has commanded us to preach, and to testify, that he is the one who God has appointed as judge, it is about him whom the prophets have written, and those that put their faith in him will be forgiven of their sins.

We know that Mary Magdalene probably came from a family that had money, but her life was anything but easy.  When she came to Jesus she was described as having the worst case of demon possession of anyone that the disciples had met.  She was said to have had seven demons, or allegorically speaking, a perfection of demon affliction.  But unlike nine out of ten lepers that Jesus healed, unlike the thousands of others whom Jesus healed of various afflictions, and unlike even the disciples themselves, Mary Magdalene did the thing that Peter promised and couldn’t deliver.  She stayed.

Mary.  Never.  Left.

Throughout his ministry, throughout his trial, throughout his crucifixion, Mary was there.

And in the dark of that Saturday evening, and the dawn of Sunday morning, Mary was there.

And so, if D. L. Moody was right, if “Character is what you are in the dark,” then on this Easter Sunday morning we know what kind of character that Mary Magdalene had but all of us are confronted with this question:

Who are you in the dark?

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Why I Would Argue for the Earliest Definition of Life


    In my last two blogs, “Abortion: Pro-Life/Pro-Choice Both Right?”and “Abortion: Why Both Sides Will Lose in the Supreme Court (Again)” I explained why the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was not a clear win for either pro-choice or for pro-life supporters and why I thought that both sides would once again be disappointed if a modern Supreme Court consented to review the case. 
    But while my reading of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, modern medicine, and our current political climate lead me to believe that a review of Roe would not be substantially different than it was in 1973, I do think that there are compelling reasons that argue for a dramatic change.  Instead of beginning with biblical, theological or doctrinal reasons (which I obviously have), let’s begin with reason and logic. 
    As I have explained, Roe v. Wade was a decision that attempted to find a balance between two rights guaranteed by the Constitution, a right to privacy on the part of the mother, and a right to life on the part of the infant.  In my reading of the court’s ruling, it seems that there was never a question that both rights existed and the both deserved to be protected.  The question was, if two rights are in conflict, which has a superior claim and when (or if) does that superiority change?  I have a right to privacy in my own home, but if I were to commit criminal acts, particularly those that harmed other human beings, my right to privacy is superseded by the other person’s right to life and liberty.  This delineation is well accepted as both moral and legal.  This same question, when brought into the realm of abortion, becomes a question of a) is a pre-born infant a human being, and if yes, b) when does it become one?  The Supreme Court answers to these questions in 1973 were a) yes, and b) at the earliest point at which the infant is viable (with medical intervention).
    In 1973 the womb was something of a “black box.”  We knew that an infant developed in the mother’s womb and developed from a fertilized egg, we had all sorts of microscope slides and fetuses in jars that had been aborted at various stages of development.  What we didn’t have were the spectacular images that we have today.  Today expectant parents can sit in the office of their OB/GYN and see live 3D images of their child.  They can see that preborn infant scratch its nose, cough, sneeze, and suck its thumb.  So real are these images, that 78% of women who were considering abortion changed their minds after they had seen them.
    I’m not saying we were ignorant in 1973 and we are now “enlightened,” but what we know and what we have learned, seem to make it much harder to draw a line in the sand and say that “this” is a person with Constitutional rights, and a moment earlier “that” was not a person.  Does an infant become a person because it’s larger than it was yesterday?  If so, do tall people have more rights than short people, or do adults have a stronger right to life than children?  Does it suddenly become a person because it is no longer in the womb?  The human rights of any other “person” do not change based on location.  A person in Detroit, Michigan has no more or less rights than a person in rural China.  Location cannot, logically, convey basic human rights or take them away.  Is a preborn infant not a person because it is dependent upon its mother?  If so, then do adults on life support surrender their right to life?  We are all, in one way or another, dependent upon others for our lives.  Simply because an infant needs its mother cannot imply that it somehow has fewer rights than an infant only days or weeks older.  At other times in history, groups of people were declared a separate “class” of human being so that their rights could be denied, Jews, Gypsies, Blacks, and others.  Can we, in good conscience, declare a group of human beings, with measurable human DNA, to be a separate “class” of humans that are not entitled to human rights? 
    Biblically speaking, we know that God loves all of his children equally.  All human beings are of sacred worth.  The redemption of every person on earth was purchased by Jesus Christ at the cost of his own life.  We cannot gamble that God cares more about an infant more today, simply because yesterday it was in the womb and today it is not, or because today it is one day older than yesterday.
    I have heard various arguments from the position that Old Testament references did not consider an infant to be a “person” under the law until after it was born.  While this is arguable on a number of points, it assumes that people who lived four thousand years ago could have known any differently.  Asking this question would seem to place an unfair moral burden on ancient cultures.  How would any culture with little understanding of fetal development, no ability to detect a fetal heartbeat, no ultrasound, and no modern medical understanding of neural development have fairly ruled that a preborn infant is equal to one who independently draws breath?  Their decision on personhood was, much as it was in 1973, based upon viability.
    Please understand that I value my privacy as much or more than anyone, but regardless of my feelings or personal opinion, privacy has always taken a backseat to more important rights, and the right to life is among these.   Legally, I understand that declaring an infant to be a person too early can create other difficulties, such as the potential for criminal investigations against women who have miscarriages and certainly I understand those who struggle with knowing at what point an infant ought to be considered to be a person, especially in the earliest stages of development.    For me, however, I have few such doubts.  I believe that morals, logic and scripture declare in chorus that an infant is a person, and if an infant is a person at any point, it must be one from the very beginning.
To me, these arguments seem reasonable and logically sound.  If you can find error in the logic, I am interested in hearing your viewpoint.
———–

Abortion: Why Both Sides Will Lose in the Supreme Court (Again)

    As I stated in my last blog (Abortion: Pro-Life/Pro-ChoiceBoth Right?), many people on both sides of the abortion debate would like to see the Supreme Court revisit their 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion in many states.  Some hope that the court would ban abortions altogether and others hope that the court would clarify and broaden Roe v. Wade so that all abortion is legalized.  At the same time, others would prefer that this not happen because, as is often the case, once the court opens the case for arguments, anything can happen.  Based on what I have read, I think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  I think that if the Supreme Court is ever willing to reconsider Roe v. Wade, both sides will be unhappy with the outcome.

Why?  
     In the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the court affirmed that a woman had a constitutionally protected right to privacy until the second or third trimester[i].  The court later abandoned the trimester “framework” but affirmed that a woman had a right to abortion until the infant was viable.  Wikipedia says that “The Roe decision defined “viable” as being “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid”, adding that viability “is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.”[ii]
    For the court, the argument was never whether or not a woman had a right to abortion, but about how to discern when one right can be superior to another when two constitutionally protected rights, life and privacy, are in conflict.  For the court, there was never really a question of whether or not there was a right to life or a right to privacy.  The question was how to choose which holds a superior claim and when.  For the court in 1973, viability was the measure that worked.  When the baby was developed enough that it could survive, even with “artificial aid,” then the right to life held the superior claim.
    Neither “side” could declare a clear victory in 1973.  Abortions could be performed but could still be restricted and regulated by the states after the point of viability.  If the court were to reconsider Roe, I suspect that both sides would again be unsatisfied with the results.  Here’s why I think so: Science.
    In 1973 the court chose to use viability, even with artificial aid, as the point at which an infant secured a right to life, but the tools available to the courts, and to medical science, were limited.  It wasn’t until 1975 that ultrasound technology began to be introduced to obstetrics.  At that point, two years after Roe, a fetal heartbeat could be detected and ultrasound could show the skull and a general body shape.  Today, the available technology is dramatically different.  Now, ultrasound technology can provide three dimensional images of the fetus and parents can go home from the doctor’s office with “photographs” of their baby months before birth and long before “viability.”  While the 1973 court looked to viability as a means to determine when life began, medical science is now pushing against that boundary.  While infants in 1973 were considered viable at 28 weeks and possibly to 24 weeks, infants today routinely survive at 25 weeks and as early as 22 weeks.  While there were limited options in determining the beginning of life in 1973, today’s technology can detect a fetal heartbeat at 22 days gestation, brainwaves at six weeks and a fully functioning nervous system at 20 weeks (and some argue for an even earlier date).
    Based only on the court’s 1973 ruling, the present capabilities of medical science, and the current political winds, I think that it is very likely that a rehearing of Roe v. Wade would uphold a right to privacy (and thus a right to choose an abortion) but would also uphold more restrictive definitions of what constitutes life, when life begins, and the point at which an infant secures a right to life. 
Once again, both sides would win…
…and lose…
…and neither side would be happy with the outcome.

Women in Ministry

Most likely, anyone reading this knows that the United Methodist Church (and many others) not only allows women to teach in church but also to be ordained as pastors and bishops.  I have had many wonderful conversations about this subject with friends and colleagues from other denominations over the years but I have also been asked questions by folks from our own denomination and even from my own congregation.  Today I found this neat 7 minute video by Dr. Ben Witherington III, who is a leading New Testament scholar and United Methodist.  In this video from Asbury Seminary, Dr. Witherington sorts through much of the reasoning and theology without forcing you to resort to an hour-long lecture or to read a lot of books or attend a theology class.  There is enough information here to satisfy most casual questions but also enough meat to keep you looking things up for a while if you are so inclined.

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