Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Can You Imagine a Castle on a Cloud?

Isaiah 65:17-25; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; John 20:11-18
March 31, 2013
© 2013


If you had the power to fix whatever you think is wrong with the world, what would your new world look like? Artists often express these dreams with great eloquence.

Candy and I saw the Les Miserables movie at Christmas with our son Erik, having seen the stage play years ago in Philadelphia. Young Cosette’s song Castle on a Cloud is her dream of escaping abusive servitude and drudgery.

There is a castle on a cloud,
I like to go there in my sleep,
Aren't any floors for me to sweep,
Not in my castle on a cloud.

There is a room that's full of toys,
There are a hundred boys and girls,
Nobody shouts or talks too loud,
Not in my castle on a cloud.

There is a lady all in white,
Holds me and sings a lullaby,
She's nice to see and she's soft to touch,
She says “Cosette, I love you very much.”

I know a place where no one's lost,
I know a place where no one cries,
Crying at all is not allowed,
Not in my castle on a cloud.

John Lennon’s Imagine has become the anthem of a generation and identifies religion, nationalism, personal property and the expectation of life after death as the sources of injustice and suffering that need to be abolished. All of this is packaged as a winsome, lyrical invitation to dream.

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one

The scriptures that we read this morning are visions of God’s renewed world.

The vision of hope in Isaiah 65:17-25 answered the disappointments that came when the people of Judah returned from captivity in Babylon and realized that did not inaugurate the ideal world. Through the prophet, God promised a new heaven and a new earth, which is echoed again in Revelation 21:1. In a time when life was short and any hint of personal, eternal life was vague at best, the defeat of death was longevity measured by centuries and the age of trees. No longer would people work to enrich others but would enjoy the fruits of their own labors. The end of suffering and weeping is also echoed in Revelation 7:17. God will not only protect but rejoice and delight in all who live on God’s holy mountain.

The Apostle Paul’s great treatise on Christ’s resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 jumps the vision of God’s renewed world a quantum leap ahead from where Isaiah left us. Longevity is no longer measured by centuries or the lifespan of trees but eternal resurrection. Justice and peace come not by restraining oppressors but by the destruction of every ruler, authority and power when Christ hands all the kingdoms of this world over to God the Father.

For centuries people have concocted all sorts of silly speculations about Mary Magdalene, though what the New Testament tells us about her seems more than fascinating enough to me. She is the main character in the account of Jesus’ resurrection in John 20. She, probably with a few other women, was the first to arrive at the empty tomb at dawn. She ran to tell Peter and probably John that Jesus had been taken out of the tomb. Peter and John ran to the tomb but returned to the others without seeing Jesus. Verses 11-18 report that …

… Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means my Teacher).17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Mary’s experience with the risen Jesus was intensely personal. Whether the other women were there at that moment, John focused on the personal encounter between Mary and Jesus. Mary recognized Jesus when he spoke her name, and she called him “my teacher.” Emotionally overwhelmed, she clung to him, not wanting to let him out of her grasp ever again. He said, “Don’t hold onto me.” Something bigger was coming. He said, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God,” bringing together the personal and the cosmic.

Mary ran to proclaim, to preach to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” Thus, as the first eye witness to proclaim having seen the risen Jesus, she is called the first apostle and the apostle to the apostles. Legend has it that she once had an audience with the Emperor Tiberius and told how she met the risen Jesus. The Emperor replied that no one could come back to life after a Roman crucifixion any more that the egg on the table could turn red. The story is that the egg on the Emperor’s table instantly turned red, and so many Eastern orthodox icons of Mary Magdalene show her holding a red egg. You can see some at the QR code or web site on the back of today’s bulletin.

The risen Jesus invites us to join him in God’s future that is at once personal and cosmic, immediate and eternal.

Back on August 19, my first Sunday to preach to you, I told of hearing Fr. Thomas Hopko speak on the spiritual life when he was Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in New York. He said that when he was a boy, his mother told him, “If you want to grow as a Christian, read your Bible, say your prayers, and go to church.” Then he said to us, “Now I am the dean of a seminary training people for a lifetime of ministry, and I tell them to read their Bibles, say their prayers and go to church.” As simplistic as it may seem, Jesus meets us in the pages of Scripture, in the quiet conversation of prayer and in the community of God’s people of faith.

Jesus also calls us out of ourselves into the world of struggling people he is loving and transforming, into his cosmic redemption of all humanity and all creation. I believe several of us saw that last Monday evening as we worshipped and ate with the people of Refuge Fellowship. As I listened to one angry young man complain that in this cold snap all the shelters were full, I remembered Jesus saying that the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head. Every Monday morning, those who deliver Mobile Meals look into the faces of people, many of whom are struggling with decline as their lives draw to a conclusion. By reaching out to the hurting, wounded people around us we do much more than extend the love of Jesus to them, we join Jesus in his redemptive mission for all people in all times and all places. Beyond that, we see Christ looking back at us and smiling at us through tears.



  1. Where can I find the second icon of Mary Magdalene (the third icon on this page)?
    Thank you

    1. I found it through Google Images at this link. You have to scroll down a bit to get to it.